Luckily, a reader guided us to editor Ann Romines‘s At Willa Cather’s Tables: The Cather Foundation Cookbook (Allen Press 2010). The cookbook brings together recipes from Cather’s novels, as well as her family and friends, places she lived, and the Foundation itself. It is full of wonderful illustrations from her books and her objects.
The introduction is enthusiastic about Cather’s enjoyment of good food and the place food has in her books:
Willa Cather loved and respected good cooking. The evidence liberally seasons her fiction, her nonfiction, and her letters. Who can forget Professor St. Peter’s roast lamb with asparagus, Antonia’s Kolache, the elegant little French dinner that Hilda Burgoyne serves to her lover in Alexander’s Bridge? Cooking is art, Cather asserted:” The farmer’s wife who raises a large family and cooks for them” expresses “the real creative joy…which marks the great artist.” (p.iii)
In her mind, it seems, cooking and writing were both creative, artistic activities.
From The Bohemian Girl, comes Grandma Vavricka’s Chocolate Cake (p. 4) from a Joan Varicka who lives in Willa Cather’s Nebraska hometown. There is a Johanna Vavrika in the story who keeps house for Clara. French Mustard Pickles (p. 6) are included because one of the characters at a barn dance wins a pickle contest. Romines includes recipes to make the dinner eaten by the characters in Alexander’s Bridge, including Potage de Cresson (p. 8), Filets de Poisson avec Champignons (p. 9) and Sole Poached in Wine (p. 9). She includes a quote from the book describing the dinner (and inspiring the cook):
“It was a wonderful little dinner. There was watercress soup, and sole, and a delightful omelette stuffed with mushrooms and truffles, and two small rare ducklings, and artichokes, and a dry yellow Rhone wine of which Barley had always been very fond.”
For Cather fans and soon-to-be Cather fans, At Willa Cather’s Table is a wonderful gift. The images of menus, coffee grinders and cheese graters, and the houses where Cather lived add to pleasure of reading the book.