If you have been following me on my Instagram and Facebook accounts, you will probably know the topic of my post today. It is no surprise that I am talking about one of my favorite subjects in the world, cookbooks. As if books alone weren't fascinating enough, the wonderful publications that I have found over the years, revolving directly or indirectly around food, never cease to beguile me. Having in mind that I paint mostly about food, you can imagine that the editions that I value the most are the ones that include illustrations. The books that I want to discuss today, are precisely two beautiful rare vintage and super illustrated cookbooks that I wanted you to know. So if you feel that you are also a truly beautiful rare and vintage-inclined human being, prepare for a feast for your eyes...
Let me tell you, before I begin, that these two books are quite different in concept yet there is, in my opinion, a powerful connection between them. I believe that in terms of sensitivity towards the nature of their work and respect for adding value through a carefully created work, these two publications stand side by side. Something not tangible but very precious. Also there is something really authentic about both of them, that perfectly reflects the personality and philosophy of their creators. Quite frankly, no one can resist authenticity.
"Wild Raspberries" by Suzie Frankfurt and Andy Warhol
The first time I read about Wild Raspberries was through the fantastic Brain Pickings site which, if you haven't yet discovered, I really encourage you to do so. Always on the lookout for both vintage and new editorial gems, I was immediately taken aback by this strange book. Andy Warhol had illustrated a cookbook? This is amazing –I thought to myself–. According to Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, the project was meant to be "a series of handmade books that mocked the fashionable, mass-produced French cuisine cookbooks popular in the 1950s". As it turned out, the whole process was of setting up this limited edition books was quite hard and it involved Suzie Frankfurt, a prominent interior decorator and Warhol's close friend, his team of assistants and even, his mother.
It was almost like a studio project, produced in the same way that he would later develop in The Factory. As a result of that, they could barely make 34 full-color copies that never made it to the big publishing houses until Frankfurt's son, Jaime, rescued it from oblivion and had it published in 1997.
What I love the most about this publication is the fact that every page has a full size illustration and a few lines of a calligraphed recipe preparation. As opposed to the majority of cookbooks, illustration is the key element and one can sense the irony and cultural references all over the pages. Although I am not always familiar with its inside jokes, the expressionism of its art is universal. It even has a classic film reference featuring an Omelet Greta Garbo recipe which has to "always be eaten alone in a candlelit room". Greta Garbo's signature line in almost all her movies was "I want to be alone", no one could express it like her. I really loved this one!
In that sense, the book is filled with slightly more evocative than actual useful recipes. It is an artistic work that, I believe, was intended to inspire and prompt a humorous response from the reader. In my case, it absolutely served its purpose.
"A Treasury of Great recipes" by Mary and Vincent Price
The second cookbook I want to talk about is very special to me. I also learnt about the existence of A Treasury of Great Recipes was through Canadian food blogger Susie the Foodie. Being a classic film admirer, it had never occurred to me that film stars could also have other interests besides movies. Quite obvious, huh? Nevertheless, it was with some astonishment that I learnt about Vincent Price immense passion for traveling, art and gastronomy that led them to publish not one but several cookbooks. For those of you who haven't heard about Price, he was an American classic film actor mostly remembered for his horror film roles and for his peculiar voice. Younger audiences –as though I was an old lady, you might add– probably will link him to his last performance as Edward Scissorhands' creator, his last film. As for his voice, you only need to watch Michael Jackson's Thriller video and pay close attention to its narrator... Remember him now?
Enough about Vincent, or this could dangerously lead to another post and let's focus on the book. As I wrote in my cinema blog –to which I dedicated a whole post if you wish to learn more about it–, this publication is a thorough compendium of the most exquisite recipes, carefully curated from the couple's many trips around the world. Along with his second wife, costume designer Mary Grant, he visited some of the finest restaurants of the time.
Contrary to Wild Raspberries, this is a classic recipe cookbook but has a modern flare to it. Its plethora of recipes are broken up by countries and establishments and it has beautiful pictures of the couple, the food and even original menus they collected. It not only gives you tremendous and useful detailed information about culinary preparations but also, in Vincent Price's own words, you get to experience his point of view of the places and the era he lived in. Again, as I said –so cool to quote myself– in my post, if you sometimes feel like you have missed a wonderful era, this is your literary substitute for time traveling.
Regarding illustration, each chapter of this amazing book has a beautiful piece of Fritz Kredel, a German-born artist and graphic designer, depicting a local scene. His style consists of simple strokes, almost like he was creating quick sketches of the environment. It perfectly gives you the idea of a very personal approach, consistent with Vincent's words and philosophy. Even though it is a large book, one can sense that it was just as carefully curated and produced as Warhol's previous example.
What I love most about A Treasury of Great Recipes is how unique it really is. Long before the foodie movement that we are all somehow embarked on, this book offered a comprehensive and extensive approach to cooking and added an intimate, cosmopolitan and worldly approach as only Vincent Price could. I admire the detail in every aspect of this publication, from the texts, the recipes, the images, the illustrations... A treasure indeed for those who love cookbooks and books in general.
As I mentioned before, learning about the existence of this book entailed several wonderful experiences for me. First of all, I got to find out about other classic film and food aficionados who also devoted their blogs to such splendid publications, such as Jenny Hammerton from Silver Screen Suppers. In her site, she extensively recovers recipes from cinema's Golden Era in her unique and fabulous way. I also got to attend the UK Launch of A Treasury of Great Recipes 50th Anniversary edition which took place at Harrods and was organized by The Vincent Price State. It was a dream to have a guided tour along London's famous department store but, even more so, to meet Vincent's daughter Victoria Price and specially Jenny who gave a full account of the event at her blog.
As a final conclusion to this post, I would say that, from an artist perspective, I find Andy Warhol's book very inspiring and mind-changing. The idea of that a cookbook can be a personal and somewhat extravagant concoction was so eye opening to me. From a reader's perspective, A Treasury of Great Recipes is like a gift from the universe. The effort to craft every little detail and in all content, in an effective and beautiful way, is by all means the most amazing gift any author can give us. I value both books for their own specific merits and, as I said at the beginning, for their mutual sensitivity and authenticity.
I recommend these two very special cookbooks to those who, like me and Indiana Jones, love to recover beautiful things from the past and give them significance. I would love to read your thoughts on cookbooks and learn about your favorites!
I wish you all a great July!