Defunct Cookbook Wonderland

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Front cover of “Herbal Salads from Caprilands” by Adelma Simmons (self published; 1974?)

“Herbal Salads from Caprilands” originally appeared in an octavo edition published in 1973. This pamphlet has the look and feel of a samizdat – peculiar for a cookbook that isn’t anarchist (even that one has an ISBN) or instructive on how to cook in the style of the New Mexican desert

Now that I’ve buried the lede deep enough to warrant putting myself on some kind of watch list, some context:

“. . . Mrs. Simmons, called ”the first lady of herbs” by the International Herb Association, used her farm as a school of herbal lore and history. For decades, she delivered a one-hour lecture five days a week to visitors, who were then treated to an herbal lunch in the dining room of her colonial house.

An imposing figure given to wearing a cape, Mrs. Simmons lectured authoritatively but with a touch of humor. ”Silver rosemary is good for mind and memory, in case you have need of that,” she once told a visiting group. ”It’s also good in tea. If you don’t like that, you can wash your hair with it. If that doesn’t work, you can wash your dog’s hair with it.’ . ..

. . . With the publication of ”Herb Gardening in Five Seasons” in 1963, Caprilands and Mrs. Simmons herself assumed the dimensions of institutions. The farm drew tourists, gardeners and chefs. One distinguished visitor was David Bouley, a neighbor who frequented the gardens as a boy and, after achieving culinary stardom with his restaurant Bouley, returned annually to cook a five-course dinner for his staff and friends. The menu drew liberally on the 300 herbs grown on the farm’s 33 thematic gardens, which include the Saints Garden, devoted to medicinal and food herbs; the Silver Garden, which has only silver plants, and the Shakespeare Garden, dedicated to plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

. . . Mrs. Simmons wrote 35 books and many pamphlets on herbs, including ”Saints in My Garden,” ”The Witches Brew,” ”The Gold Wreath Book” and ”A Merry Christmas Herbal.”

Obituary for Adelma Grenier Simmons, age 93, published in the New York Times, December 5, 1997

There we have it. Adelma Simmons, America’s foremost champion of the herb garden, was the zucchetto-wearing mastermind of a rather quiet revolution. From her farm in northeastern Connecticut, she orchestrated a cultural and culinary reappraisal of the herb in American life. I like herbs. I add them to nearly everything I cook. I may be a bit brazen with dill. I have been chided about anise hyssop. I’ve found time to deploy my cravings to unique theatres – Russian supermarkets, for example, to seek out bottles of Georgian tarragon soda. It’s no surprise I love Azerbaijani cuisine, for the centrality of fresh (and pickling) herbs – göyərti (greens) – draws me into an unstable, decaying orbit. I have yet to try my hand at paytaxt salatıa Russian, lately post-Soviet classic –  but when I had it in Baku, it fluoresced with fresh herbs.

But! Did Ms. Simmons advocate for spices? I don’t know; one can imagine. I have very limited information about Ms. Simmons; she appears to me a mysterious figure from a mysterious world. I’m not a gardener but I do appreciate the presence of fresh seasonings in my kitchen.

Speaking of which: In the 16th century, “to season” could be used to mean “to copulate.” This usage appears once in the Shakespearean oeuvre – in homoerotic context in Fletcher & Shakespeare’s The Two Noble Kinsmen. Maurice Cherney analyzes this discourse as part of a broader treatment of love and lust in Shakespeare, appearing here as a foil for the heroic and Platonic love of Pirithous and Theseus as presented through Emilia’s recollection of her innocent and spontaneous adolescent love for the long-deceased Flavina:


You talk of Pirithous‘ and Theseus‘ love;
Theirs has more ground, is more maturely seasoned,
More buckled with strong judgement, and their need
The one of th’ other may be said to water
Their intertangled roots of love.
John Fletcher & William Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634)
And what of the roots of love? Shakespeare writes of many roots – burdock, popular in beer at a time when hops* were only recently cultivated in England – is mentioned three times (As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida, King Lear) – surely our Simmons could manifest a decoding of Emilia’s anguish and Pirithous and Theseus’ love.
There’s a root for that, surely.
*FYI, the earliest documentation of hops roots in North America can be traced back to John Endecott’s expedition to Massachusetts in 1628/9.
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Back cover

Here we have a recipe for seasoning a wooden salad bowl.

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One of the most beautiful food pictures imaginable — go on…

…can be created with the many salad greens lying crisply against the smooth, oily wood of the bowl. — slightly awkward construction…

Bright radishes peer out here and there, purple onions rest in rings on the bright orange of the grated carrots and red tomatoes in chunks make a pleasing dissonance of color. I might argue this is a run-on sentence.

Over this gardener’s poem we sprinkle a cupful of herbs including chopped Chervil, Parsley in abundance, — this capitalization is unwarranted; also, herbs in majuscule over fruits and vegetables? What is this, some kind of visual poetry evocative of garden terracing practices?

…salad Burnet, a sprig of Tarragon, chopped Chives, bits of Savory and the tops of the Egyptian onion.” — inconsistent with previous use of “Top Onion.”

Mind you, the Herb Society of America follows strict Chicago Manual and CBE (Council of Biology Editors) styles; note Simmons’ capitalization and usage decisions…One might be tempted to call it capricious. Or caprilandicious.

I can hazard a guess that her work was banned within the Herb Society for a time, or otherwise proscribed against. The Herb Society of America, in 2011:


9. Common names are not capitalized unless they contain a proper noun.

Correct: rosemary, flax, agrimony, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susan

10. The use of botanical names as common names or the mixing of the two should be avoided.

Correct: The subjects of the fine arts contest are Salvias and Rosmarinus.

The subjects are sages and rosemaries.

Incorrect: The subjects are salvias and rosemaries.

Editors, The Herb Society of America, Inc. Style Manual (July, 2011 edition)

I desperately want this to be a samizdat cookbook from 1974 Connecticut. You don’t have to want that; I don’t really even want it for you, reader. You can take or leave what you will. I want to read about oustings from herb conventions; heated fracas over chervil shading techniques recorded on official minutes.

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