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Some of my favorite cookbooks become my favorites because they consistently feed me and my husband reliably, quickly and deliciously.
Others I love because they transport me, through amazing photography and unfamiliar flavor combinations, to exotic places I may never visit, but they make it possible for me to taste.
Then there are the cookbooks that are mementos, relics from my personal archive, ones used by my mom or by friends' moms, stained with drips and smudges, pages dog-eared and crumbling. These books have served their owners — and me — very well. And now that time has gone by, cooking from them brings not only a comforting meal, but a warm nostalgia, and a sometimes poignant or perhaps bittersweet connection to a forgotten moment, a childhood family meal or an old friend.
"The Well Tempered Kitchen" is the first cookbook published by the Chorus of Westerly, then the Westerly Community Chorus, in 1978. It was printed by Sun Graphics, the commercial print operation of The Utter Company, the longtime owners and operators of The Westerly Sun, on the second floor of its recently demolished headquarters at 56 Main St. in Westerly.
It's an eclectic collection of more than 250 recipes, some of them holding up better than others over the years, many of them requiring downsizing unless you're feeding a big crowd. The most stained page in my book is the one containing Betsey Hall's recipe, "Spinach Salad II." It has an amazing sweet, tart, creamy, robust dressing that includes four hardboiled eggs that you puree in a blender with onion, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, cream and oil — yum.
So if you came upon a copy of the book at a tag sale or in a used book store (it's no longer in print but can be found online at websites such as www.alibris.com or www.abebooks.com) the recipes alone make it worth a look. But the book itself really is a work of art.
Edited by Katie Utter Schaffer, the book features hand lettering — yes, that's right, hand-written, impeccable, lyrical lettering — by Nan Young, and delicate drawings by Laura Kent, daughter of founder and then-music director George Kent, scattered throughout, a violin, here, a trumpet and a pair of tympani there.
Also throughout are a selection of quotes that focus on food, drink, music and generally living well. Most recipe contributors are names from the chorus' 1978 membership rolls but soloists and orchestra players of the time also contributed. Some authors — such as The Choir Camp Cookie Lady — remain cloaked in mystery.
Choir camp is an annual summer camp for child singers from the chorus and from the choir at Christ Church in Westerly. Still staffed to this day by a cross pollination of volunteers from each organization and still held at Camp Ogontz in Littleton, N.H., the camp is known for its beauty, its music, its creative recreational activities, both indoors and out, and its tradition of delicious and lovingly prepared food for the masses.
This recipe, Choir Camp Ginger Cookies, is one that reflects the "live life to the fullest" philosophy embodied by this group. As if a demonstration that these people don't do anything small, this recipe makes a lot of cookies, a gross in fact. I divided the quantities by eight to achieve what I feel is a socially acceptable number of cookies for two people to eat and share with others over the course of a week or so.
Cook them less and these warm, spicy disks will be chewy in the middle and crisp around the edges. Cook them a bit longer and they'll be snappy throughout, perfect for dunking into a glass of cold milk or a steamy cup of tea.
In the book, the quote on the page with the ginger cookie recipe is from Henry James:
"Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."
Choir Camp Ginger Cookies
Makes 18, 4-inch cookies
¾ cup shortening (better with butter, softened)
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour (half whole wheat would be delicious I think)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground cloves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two cookie sheets. I use a silicone mat under these cookies, which works perfectly, but I think parchment paper also would guarantee success. If you don't have either of these, I would spray the cookie sheets with cooking spray.
Put shortening and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on slow speed until well combined and creamy, scraping the bowl down as needed. Or cream them together by hand.
Add beaten egg and molasses, mixing until well combined, scraping the bowl down as needed.
In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until well combined.
To get 18, 4-inch cookies, use a 1.5 ounce ice cream scoop (about 7 teaspoons, a little more than 2 tablespoons) and drop the dough onto the cookie sheets, keeping the lumps of dough 3-4 inches apart. The original recipe says to flatten the dough with a fork, but I use the bottom of a glass that I dip in granulated sugar in between each cookie.
Bake 10 minutes for crispy edges and chewy middles. Bake longer (keep your eye on them though) for totally crispy cookies.
Original recipe from "The Well Tempered Kitchen: A collection of the favorite recipes of the Westerly Community Chorus and their friends."
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share comments and recipes with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 packages fresh spinach
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 medium onion
1 cup mayonnaise
Salt & pepper to taste
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cream (or milk)
2 tablespoons oil
Wash spinach and, if using big leaves, remove stems and tear into bite-size pieces. If using baby spinach, keep stems.
Combine all remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: If you don't have a blender or food processor, you can finely grate the onion and the eggs.
Original recipe by Betsey Hall from "The Well Tempered Kitchen: A collection of the favorite recipes of the Westerly Community Chorus and their friends."