With an introduction from Elizabeth Gilbert, Margaret's great-granddaughter, this unearthed treasure is both a beautifully-written, useful cookbook and an insight into a lifestyle previously forgotten.
Recently, while moving into a new house, Elizabeth Gilbert unpacked some boxes of family books that had been sitting in her mother's attic for decades. Among the old, dusty hardbacks was a book called At Home on the Range (or, How To Make Friends with Your Stove) by Gilbert's great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter. Having only been peripherally aware of the volume, Gilbert dug in with some curiosity and soon found that she had stumbled upon a book far ahead of its time.
In her workaday cookbook, Potter espoused the importance of farmer's markets and ethnic food (Italian, Jewish, and German), derided preservatives and culinary shortcuts, and generally celebrated a devotion to seeking out new epicurean adventures. Potter takes car trips out to Pennsylvania Dutch country to eat pickled pork products, and during World War II she cajoles local poultry farmers into saving buckets of coxcombs for her so she can try to cook them in the French manner. She takes trips to the eastern shore of Maryland, where she learns to catch and prepare eels so delicious, she says, they must be 'devoured in a silence almost devout'. Part scholar-she includes a great recipe from 1848 for boiled sheep head-and part crusader for a more open food conversation than currently existed, it's not hard to see from where Elizabeth Gilbert inherited both her love of food and her warm, infectious prose.
Stressing the importance of sourcing food locally and eating well, At Home On The Range is a fascinating, humorous and eminently useable cookbook from a past time that is essential for the present day.
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of three books of non-fiction, the multi-million-copy-selling Eat, Pray, Love (now a major motion picture) and its follow-up, Committed, as well as The Last American Man (nominated for the National Book Award and a New York Times Notable Book for 2002). She has also written a short story collection, Pilgrims (a finalist for the Pen/Hemmingway Award), and a novel, Stern Men. She was a writer-at-large for American GQ where she has received two National Magazine Award nominations for feature writing. Elizabeth Gilbert lives in Frenchtown, New Jersey.