On Sept. 24, the Chicago Dames were treated to a discussion of crowd-sourced spiral-bound cookbooks at the new restaurant TWAIN in Logan Square. The owners are the husband- -and-wife team Chef Tim Graham and Sommelier and Mixologist Rebekah Graham, and they have an extensive collection of these cookbooks, which were often produced as fundraising vehicles for various organizations.
Dame Stacey Ballis moderated the conversation about why these books were produced, and why they are so special and important in the culinary history of this country.
The restaurant, a “love letter” to the foodways of the Midwest in general and Missouri specifically (where Tim grew up), was inspired in part by these cookbooks. “The hands that made these books, that cooked these recipes, when I read them — when I cook these dishes — my own hands are reaching back through time to touch those hands.” Tim said.
Rebekah spoke about how the books influence her work developing cocktail recipes for the restaurant. “They often don’t have many beverages listed in the books, maybe a few non-alcoholic punches. But they have a lot of jam and jelly recipes, a lot of preserving. Making jams and jellies is very similar to making syrups for flavoring cocktails, so that became my jumping-off point for some of the cocktails for the restaurant.”
Both Tim and Rebekah appreciate the joy that the books bring them. “Sometimes after a long day, we’ll make a cocktail and flip through one of the books and just laugh at some of the recipes.” Acknowledging that many of the recipes are dated in a way that makes them less than appealing, culinarily, Tim nevertheless loves the “giggles” aspect of reading the books. “We aren’t laughing at them, we’re giggling a bit, but in a loving way. It’s like all those grandmothers from the past are tickling us.”
After the discussion, the team at Twain treated guests to wine and cocktails, and some nibbles, including ham and cheese crostini on house baked rye, fish cakes with sour cream and dill, and an ethereal hand-churned vanilla ice cream that had been made while the discussion was occurring. Dames and guests were able to bring their own cookbooks to show, and anyone who donated a book to Tim and Rebekah’s collection received a gift certificate to spend at the restaurant on a future visit.
“These recipes have names attached to each one,” Tim said as the evening wound down. “What gets a signature? Art. Music. Poetry. Those are the things that people attach their name to in an important way. That is how I think of these recipes.” – By Stacey Ballis