New Acquisitions Highlight: James Beard and the Gastronomie Pratique

James Beard's beautiful bookplate at the front of his copy of Gastronomie Pratique
James Beard’s bookplate at the front of his copy of Gastronomie Pratique

In our New Acquisitions Highlight posts, we’ll tell you about new items we’ve recently brought in to the Bentley, and share some of their stories with you. I’m very excited to share this month’s highlight, because it’s one of my first acquisitions in culinary history (a new area we’re collecting in), and one I’m very excited about because of my own background in culinary history research and my passion for all things food-related.

Gastronomie Pratique: Etudes Culinaires is a huge volume (1158 pages), and includes an impressive array of recipes, menus, beverages, entertaining tips, and other information related to preparing and serving French food. It also includes a brief history of food and cooking. We bought this book from James Cummins Booksellers, who are great to work with (and much of the background information about the book that we know so far comes from the research they did as a part of listing it).
This particular copy is the fourth edition of the Gastronomie, published in 1925. The book was first published in 1907, and went out of print in 1950. It was published by an engineer named Henri Babinski, who published the work under his pen name of Ali Bab (for more information on the book and its recipes, check out this site).
Our copy was well-loved, because the spine is repaired with electrical tape (with a little typed label over top) where the hinges split (for those not familiar with book terminology, the hinge refers to the place where the cover meets the spine, which is where the cover folds when you open it). However, the text block is in pretty good condition: No pages are falling out, nothing is torn or stained, etc.

The book's spine is heavily repaired with electrical tape
The book’s spine is heavily repaired with electrical tape

What makes our copy so special isn’t the fact that the Gastronomie is somewhat uncommon to find online, or even the creative repair its previous owner made with electrical tape. What makes our copy extra special is the fact that the previous owner was renowned culinary figure James Beard (the copy later went to his friend and colleague, Harcourt editor John Ferrone). This copy is particularly special because it was owned by Beard before he changed careers from performing arts to culinary arts. As you can see in the photos, Beard inscribed this book in 1932, five years before opening his food shop, and eight years before the publication of his first cookbook.

The front cover of the book is stamped with gold lettering and (besides the electrical tape) is in remarkably good condition for a cookbook
The front cover of the book is stamped with gold lettering and (besides the electrical tape) is in remarkably good condition for a cookbook

James Beard is a personal hero, both because of his passion for his craft and because of his dedication to sharing his knowledge with others. Beard embraced new technologies to help him share his love of food, and had a segment on the first televised cooking show in 1946. He also published numerous beloved cookbooks throughout his career, and founded the James Beard Cooking School in 1955.
After his death in 1985, the James Beard Foundation to continue his legacy of teaching and sharing, and you can learn more about his incredible career on their site. The Foundation established the James Beard Awards in 1990, to recognize outstanding professionals in all areas of the culinary world.

I’m going to be doing some more in-depth research with this book moving forward, in order to understand exactly how James Beard might have used it. I’m looking forward to building a collection that encourages other scholars, students, and food enthusiasts to explore such important pieces of history!

 

James Beard's signature in the front of the book, along with the place (New York) and the date (1932).
James Beard’s signature in the front of the book, along with the place (New York) and the date (1932).

 

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