I have woken up in bed, more times than I care to remember, with legendary cookbook A Treasury of Great Recipes nestled in beside me. It’s a bit like sleeping with a puppy, as it weighs around 4 lbs. I’m going to have to make pillow space for the new 50th Anniversary edition too, recently released in the States and launched here in the UK on the 7th November. This weighty tome is wonderful bedtime reading, and in a residence bursting at the seams with cookbooks, it is far and away my favourite of all.
A Treasury of Great Recipes has achieved cult status, and quite rightly so. Vincent and his wife Mary were seasoned travellers who ate at the very best restaurants, all around the world. They became adept at persuading top chefs, “the alchemists in tall white hats,” to share recipes with them. A tribute to the well-documented natural charm of the Prices, Vincent observed: “So far they’ve all been wonderful to us, and not a skillet has been raised in high dudgeon when we invaded their domain.” Once back from their travels, dishes would be replicated in their own kitchen, being worked into recipes that everyone could make at home. Measurements were translated into cups, and substitutions were suggested for ingredients that might be difficult to obtain for the ordinary American cook. The Treasury is a wonderful time capsule of fine dining, 1960s style, and a perfect example of the Prices’ belief that we can all eat like the stars do, even if we don’t have the time or money to circumvent the globe. As their daughter Victoria Price expresses it in her joyful introduction to the new edition: “My parents were populists who believed that everyone could live surrounded by beauty and share an elegant table filled with excellent food.”
The Treasury is a literary tour of the world’s finest restaurants and includes recipes from many legendary eateries that no longer exist, such as the Forum of the Twelve Caesars in New York, Old Original Bookbinder’s in Philadelphia and The Bali in Amsterdam. We have Vincent’s lovely descriptions of the delights of these long gone establishments and facsimiles of the menus of some, so we can really imagine how it might have been to eat there in the 1960s. It’s my dream to visit every existing restaurant in the Treasury, and so far I’ve managed seven. I couldn’t afford dinner at the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam, but I had a jolly nice afternoon tea. The Hole in the Wall in Bath, England is now a pizza restaurant, which suits my budget better, but I did save up for a visit to the Lasserre Restaurant in Paris, which is the swankiest establishment I’ve ever eaten in. It was the most expensive meal I’ve ever had, and as a solo diner, I was treated like a princess. I spent a lot of time wondering if the centre section of the ceiling would slide back as it did in the ’60s when Vincent and Mary ate there. Indeed it did, bringing a welcome amount of fresh air and delighted sighs from the regulars, several of whom were enjoying Crêpes Suzette, flambéed at their tables. The flock of white doves Vincent described being released on special occasions in the restaurant did not materialise, but maybe next time.
In the introduction to the Treasury Mary and Vincent reassure readers that even the most elaborate recipe in the book is within their power to create. They say: “…the recipes in this treasury are, for the most part, never grand, not too difficult, and well within your ability and budget to achieve.” It is very hard to choose a representative recipe from this weighty tome, there are over 400 to choose from. Some of my favourites are Chicken in Pineapple (each dinner guest is presented with their own pineapple, full of a delicious creamy chicken mixture), Hotchpotch of Curly Kale (a recipe from the Netherlands that involves frankfurters), Pepitas a la Curry (curried pumpkin seeds which, as Vincent puts it are “wonderful to nibble on with cocktails”) and Elote Con Crema A la Mexicana (Mexican creamed corn which I could eat by the bucketload).
But I’ve chosen this recipe, gleaned from Pierre Descreux, the Chef de Cuisine of the Tour d’Argent in Paris. This is a perfect example of how Mary and Vincent wanted ordinary folks to eat extraordinary things, and to enjoy the pleasures of fine dining in their own home. I include Vincent’s headnote, one of the loveliest things about the Treasury. I always hear his wonderful voice in my head as I read these juicy insights from the Master of Menace himself.
Soufflé Au Grand Marnier
One of the best dessert soufflés I know is this one made with Grand Marnier. The Tour d’Argent adds the nice little surprise of ladyfingers soaked in the liqueur and hidden in the middle of the soufflé. You pay a lot extra for that touch at the restaurant, but not at home.
- In a saucepan beat ¼ cup confectioners sugar and 5 egg yolks.
- Stir in 3½ tablespoons flour.
- Add 1¾ cups hot milk and cook, stirring rapidly, until mixture is smooth and thickened. Do not let it boil. Remove from heat. Add: 1 tablespoon butter, and cool. Stir in: 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier.
- Soak: 2 ladyfingers, halved in 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- Preheat oven to hot (400º F).
- Beat: 6 egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and fold into the egg yolk mixture.
- Butter a 6-cup soufflé dish and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar. Put in half the soufflé mixture. Place the ladyfingers on top, and cover with remaining soufflé mixture.
- Put soufflé into the hot oven. Immediately reduce oven temperature to 375º F and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle top with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and continue to bake for 10 minutes longer. Serve immediately.
For information about the 50th Anniversary edition of A Treasury of Great Recipes, and the many events organised around its release, please visit the Cooking with Vincent website. Victoria Price is currently on tour presenting her wonderful talk about her father, and signing copies of the new version of the Treasury.
Listen to Victoria Price on the Gilbert Gottfried Amazing Colossal Podcast.
Jenny Hammerton is a film archivist with a nosey parker interest in what the stars of Hollywood Golden era liked to eat and drink. She’s been scribbling away about film star recipes for around eight years at Silver Screen Suppers and her bulging collection of film star favorites now numbers over 5,500. When not cooking and writing, Jenny works with the British Movietone newsreel collection for the AP Archive in London, and DJs on a wind-up gramophone with The Shellac Sisters. You can read about and buy her new book Cooking with Joan Crawford here.