Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: A Holiday of Old Recipes

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.

AN EASTER MEAL always heralds spring, even in the dreary doldrums of March. When it is gray, cold, rainy, nothing is more hopeful than perusing through books for my first celebration of the next season, the one with sunshine, flowers, and extra daylight.  And some of my best Easter meal recipes have been from these three books.

A Pre-World War II  Treasure

The Flavor of France was published as two cookbooks, later combined into one larger book, pictured at left. Each recipe, authored by Narcisse and Narcissa Chamberlain, is just a paragraph centered under a black- and-white landscape photo taken by Samuel Chamberlain, who was a noted artist and printmaker. He also taught at MIT when he returned to the US. Their luscious interpretation of a Breton Roast Leg of Lamb (recipe below) is a perfect centerpiece for any Easter meal.

The Chamberlain family lived in England, Spain, Italy, and most of all France. Before the advent of  World War II forced them to return to the United States, the Chamberlains collected and cooked dozens of recipes from regions they visited. Samuel wrote a charming book in 1943 under a pseudonym, Phineas T. Beck, titled Clementine in the Kitchen.  It is a great read and it has some recipe gems also found in The Flavor of France. The Chamberlains collaborated with their daughter on two other cookbooks:  The Flavor of Italy and The Chamberlain Sampler of American CookingBoth of these followed
the formula—a recipe below a black-and-white photograph taken by Samuel Chamberlain.

My favorite source for these books and others like them is If you are considering purchasing the Chamberlain books, be aware that the authors presume you know more than how to turn on your stove. Yet a novice cook can certainly dig into some of the recipes, easily make adjustments and emerge triumphant.

Breton Roast Leg of Lamb With Flageolets

Serves 8
The original recipe calls for the small white beans (French navy), but we much prefer the flageolets.
Recipe by Narcissa & Narcisse Chamberlain
Adapted from The Flavor of France.
  1. 2 cups dried flageolets or white navy beans
  2. 1 bone-in leg of lamb
  3. 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  4. Flour for dusting lamb
  5. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  6. 2 whole peeled yellow onions
  7. Bouquet garni (see note)
  8. Softened butter
  9. 2 medium peeled tomatoes
  1. Put the dried beans in a bowl of cold water to soak overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F and use a roasting pan that fits the leg comfortably. A rack is preferable.
  3. With a flexible knife (see picture) remove as much of the lamb fat, or “fell,” as possible from the roast.
  4. Insert garlic slivers throughout the roast on both sides by inserting a knife tip into the meat and then pushing the garlic through the slit. Lightly dust the whole leg with flour, and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Roast the leg 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Check your thermometer for desired temperature (see Note below).
  6. Drain the water from the beans and cover them with boiling salted water. Add two whole peeled onions and a bouquet garni. Cook beans slowly and drain when tender.
  7. In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and add the two onions from the beans and the two tomatoes. Cook the mixture down to a purée.
  8. Stir this purée into the beans, stirring gently so as not to break the beans, and check for seasoning.
  9. Arrange the beans in a deep platter or gratin and add juices from the roast.
  10. Carve the roast leg and lay the slices across the beans.
  1. This recipe has been one of the most frequent features in our Easter meals. We prefer medium-rare to rare, so 128 to 134F for center. Allow the leg of lamb to rest for 15 minutes.
  2. The beans can be reheated before serving.

The Best Years of Gourmet Magazine

I think the golden decade for Gourmet Magazine stretched from 1986 through 1996. This appetizer appeared in one of their delightful seasonal centerfolds in the 1997 cookbook, which features recipes from the previous year. I struggled to organize and catalogue all the issues I had subscribed to, going so far as to bind all the same months for 15 years in separate notebooks. In the long run, it did not work out well. But I deserve brownie points for putting them all into recycling. I then collected just the yearly books that were produced from 1985 through 2006, when I  finally gave up my subscription. Both my husband and I love wandering through all these retrospective cookbooks from Gourmet.  It makes for relaxing reading, getting inspired by the photos and occasionally discovering a recipe for which we already have the ingredients!

Kudos to Gail Zeigenthal, the Executive Food Editor, for an incredibly rich period of inspiring dishes, including this one (below). Everyone who has come to our Easter meal has loved this recipe for a first course featuring local asparagus.

Asparagus Flans

Serves 6
Pure asparagus flavor lifted by the addition of tarragon. A favorite Easter meal recipe.
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April 1996.
  1. ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened, for molds and flan custard
  2. 2 pounds asparagus
  3. 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  4. ½ teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled
  5. ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan (½ ounce)
  6. ½ teaspoon sea salt
  7. 3 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and butter six ¾-cup (6-ounce) soufflé cups or other similar molds. Line bottoms of molds with parchment-paper circles and butter the paper.
  2. In a baking dish large enough to hold the six molds, place a double layer of kitchen towels. This will keep the molds from floating.
  3. Snap off the ends of the asparagus stalks, cut off tips, and halve them lengthwise. Peel stalks and cut them into 1-inch pieces.
  4. In a steamer rack over simmering water, steam the halved asparagus tips, covered, until just crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Transfer tips to a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain tips and pat dry.
  5. Steam asparagus stalks covered, until tender but still bright green—about 8 minutes. Transfer them to paper towels and pat dry.
  6. In a blender, purée stalks, cream, tarragon, 3 tablespoons butter, Parmesan, and salt until smooth.
  7. In a bowl, whisk eggs until thoroughly combined, then add the purée in a stream, whisking until smooth.
  8. Divide mixture among your molds.and place the molds on the towels in the baking pan.
  9. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the molds and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
  10. Remove the molds from the oven when a thin knife inserted into the center of the flans comes out clean.
  11. Allow flans to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them onto small plates
  12. In the meantime, heat the remaining butter in a small pan and gently warm the asparagus tips..
  13. Top the flans with the warm buttered asparagus tips. Serve immediately.
  1. I found that the kitchen towels were not needed with my Pillivuyt porcelain molds as they did not float.
  2. Ceramic or silicone molds will give you a creamier edge than metal ones.
  3. You can make these ahead and then reheat them gently in a water bath.

My First Baking Bible

If you love to bake and do not have at least one book by Maida Heatter (yes, the daughter of 1940s radio broadcaster, Gabriel Heatter), let  your fingers do the racing over your keyboard to order one. This spattered and dog-eared copy, pictured left, is her original, Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts. Resellers abound and are just a keystroke away. Heatter’s books were my first baking teacher. There was nary a failure in any of them, and I am wearing the calories to prove it. And there must be some longer-life attributes as well to her recipes, as she celebrated her 100th birthday in 2016. (She died in 2019—at 102!)

You’ll see that many of her recipes have been “adapted” by other current baking-book writers.  As you bake through this stellar collection, know that in your home, “There’s good news tonight.”*

Although it is frozen and not baked, her Lemon Ice Cream from Jean Hewitt is an embarrassingly simple recipe from the woman who helped guide the New York Times Food Section in the 1960s. Jean Hewitt was the sharp-witted home economist who nailed all the errors in the published recipe for the White House wedding cake created for Tricia Nixon. As a finale to my Easter meal, it provides an effortless and light end to a joyous occasion.

Jean Hewitt’s Lemon Ice Cream

Serves 6
The easiest ice cream you will ever make. It works well with limes, but not with oranges, as their flavor is too mild for this recipe.
Recipe adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts.
  1. Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon or 2 Meyer lemons
  2. 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  3. 1 cup caster or superfine sugar
  4. 1 cup whole milk
  5. 1 cup heavy cream
  6. 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  1. In a bowl, combine lemon rind, juice, and sugar and whisk thoroughly.
  2. Gradually whisk in milk, cream, and salt, mixing well.
  3. Pour into shallow freezer container and freeze until solid around the outside and mushy in the middle.
  4. Whisk well or stir with a wood spoon until mixture is redistributed.
  5. Allow to refreeze for another 30 to 40 minutes and repeat process.
  6. Cover container and allow to freeze thoroughly before serving.
  1. Using caster or superfine sugar allows you get a really silky consistency. There should be no granular taste when you test it. This was an Easter meal recipe, but it is delightful throughout the summer with seasonal fruit compotes.
* For you youngsters, that was Gabriel Heatter’s radio signoff.

3 thoughts on “Kitchen Detail: A Holiday of Old Recipes

  1. Hello, Nancy,
    Any recipes from your Maida Heatter cookbook that you still love?

  2. Nancy G says:

    Love the history behind cookbooks! I actually have Maida Heatter’s book, the first I ever purchased right after I got married. All the recipes look wonderful, and can be made for Passover as well as Easter, with few, if any, modifications.

  3. Carol says:

    I don’t cook on Easter, I depend on being invited to a family member’s place 🙂 don’t like brunch either, always eat too much and feel sick. And I don’t like lamb… oh well.

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