As Curator of Books for the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Barbara Haber developed one of the country's most important collections of cookbooks and books on food history - over 16,000 volumes - to accompany the papers of such food luminaries as M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child and Elizabeth David. When the Boston Globe asked her favorite book in the collection, she named Cleora's Kitchens.
Cleora's Kitchens is a rare treat. Not just recipes, but a history, told by Cleora, of her life growing up and learning to cook.
Born in 1901, Cleora, an ancestor of slaves, traveled by wagon train with her family, from Texas to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) for a promise of free land. Cleora learned to cook on a wood stove at the age of ten and ended up being somewhat of a celebrity cook herself. She worked in Tulsa for oil barons and wealthy businessmen; she catered and cooked sometimes for 300 people and served them on a sixty foot table.
She had a joyful life and spirit, and on the last day of her life, she flew to Dallas with her publisher, to an affair at Neiman Marcus. They were going to do a fete to launch Cleora's book. That night, Cleora died, the same day her first book came from the printer.
The recipes are all so original. Besides Burnt Sugar Ice Cream (Cleora's favorite), the following recipe was one of her most requested and loved.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup broken pecans
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa
4 rounded tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
Beat eggs well; add sugar and butter and beat well again. Sift cocoa and flour together. Add broken pecans. Fold into sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Pour into 9x12 by 3inch pan. Set pan in a pan of hot water. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Fudge will have the consistency of firm custard and will be crusty on top. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
The following recipe is for an appetizer.
Wrap giant stuffed olives with strips of bacon. Secure with a toothpick and fry in fat. Powder (while still hot) with pulverized roasted peanuts.
Whether making home brew or Possum Grape Wine (Possum grapes are a type of wild grape), or baking Popovers or Orange Biscuits, Cleora's recipes sound divine. I could go on and on, but then you'd get tired of reading this post. You'll just have to get a copy of this wonderful cookbook.