Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Great Cookbook Sale

Today was the day. People began lining up early this morning for the annual cookbook sale at the Schlesinger Library, part of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. I found out about it through my friend and co-worker, Annie. She's been doing research at the Schlesinger Library for her culinary degree poring over and translating ancient French cookery tomes for the past several months. She somehow managed to tempt me to get out of bed at 7:30 this morning to head out into the cold for an hour long commute out to Harvard Square. This unique and rare occurrence may have had something to do with the siren song of a bargain, and of course there's always my lustful passion for cooking and all things related to food and wine.

Thanks to good public transportation karma, I arrived in Harvard Square a little early, so I headed over to Burdick's for a great hot chocolate. I was happy to start my morning out on a good note. Annie, Shane, and I all met up at Cardullo's where we drooled over the gourmet foods and had fun perusing their well-chosen wine section. We walked over to Harvard where our friend Alex met up with us in line. While waiting to enter the sale outside in the cold, we were given a paper to read with the "rules" for attending the sale. We were instructed not to hoard books and to be respectful of other shoppers. We sort of snickered and made fun of it, but once inside I understood immediately why the "rules" had been distributed.

It was a free-for-all! You wouldn't think that people would get violent over bargain cookbooks, but they do. I was bumped into, brushed off, chastised, threatened, and pushed over by people greedily clawing at the sale items. One shopper was actually asked by a stern and unamused librarian to curb her behavior or leave without being allowed to buy anything! I got a kick out of seeing people get so animated about used cookbooks. I guess it's true that everyone does love a deal. However, undeterred, I managed to find a few things that piqued my interest in the madness that surrounded me.

I bought a couple of vintage books about Cajun cooking. There was a tidy little spiral bound Time/Life published volume for 25 cents, and I found a really interesting kitschy pamphlet put out by Tabasco with McIlhenny family recipes for free. I think this pamphlet may have actually been in my possession in the eighth grade when I did my research paper on Louisiana products. As a budding culinarian, I of course chose Tabasco Sauce. I also picked up a couple books about wine: one about the wines of Texas written by Mondavi and a pretty coffee table book of the wines of Washington State. Still another was titled Don't Ask Your Waiter; basically a pocket dictionary of culinary terms, restaurant etiquette, and a brief guide to European cheeses.

Perhaps the most interesting and unexpected find of the day was an LP set not related to cooking at all, but of chamber music. It's a set of albums featuring works by women composers Cecile Chaminade, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Amy Beach. I'm sure I will enjoy getting to know some unfamiliar pieces by listening to them. The Schlesinger Library, as it turns out, is primarily known for its women's studies department, hence the LP set.

This event comes but once a year every December. On our way out, one of the librarians said that I could keep an eye out on their website to get the date of the next one roughly a year from now, however this may be a once in a lifetime experience for me. I'm awfully glad I went though, I'll have some fun stories to tell and some interesting reads for the long cold New England winter.

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