in a local "junk" store a few weeks ago, I was delighted to come across a pile of neglected cookbooks in a far corner shelf. What caught my attention to this particular one was that as I searched for the copyright print.......... I noticed that the year was not in regular numerical form, but in Roman numerals. I have come across this often in very old cookbooks...........not sure if any of the new ones are done this way. The date in this one is MCMXLVI.................1946.
Of course, it had to come home with me, and yes, there are wonderful recipes inside. I researched the author, Sheila Hibben and was impressed with what I found out about her. I love this part the most in my journey of cookbook collecting. So if you love history, especially about cookbook authors, this is a great read. Enjoy!
In her article about the culinary miseries of the White House kitchen during the Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Laura Shapiro mentions that Eleanor Roosevelt sought the counsel of Sheila Hibben:
The best-known expert in American culinary history at the time was the cookbook writer and journalist Sheila Hibben (who not long afterward became The New Yorker’s first food critic). She agreed to visit the White House kitchen and advise the staff on such homey classics as stewed crabs, johnnycake, and chicory salad, as well as Presidential recipes going back to Washington and Jefferson. Honest fare like this, Hibben believed, could help people make their way through hard times. “Crisis or no crisis, the tension of the country is better for preoccupation with the art of cooking,” she counselled the First Lady.
Hibben had a culinary sensibility that was, in Shapiro’s words, “half a century ahead of its time,” but her tenure as White House kitchen adviser didn’t last long. Her departure was followed by the long reign of Henrietta Nesbitt, for whom a representative week’s lunch menus included “broiled kidneys on toast, chipped beef on toast, shrimp wiggle on toast, curried eggs on toast.”
Hibben, meanwhile, began publishing in The New Yorker in 1934, inaugurating the Markets and Menus column and also writing restaurant reviews and, later, the About the House feature within On and Off the Avenue. In all, she wrote more than three hundred and fifty articles for the magazine across three decades. At the outset of her career, her editor, J. O. Whedon, told her that Markets and Menus was a “service department”: that is, if she couldn’t say anything nice, she shouldn’t say anything at all. Nevertheless, Hibben’s preferences and opinions did work their way into her columns, which were frank and pragmatic. In a 1934 column about bread, she wrote,
Probably the worst setback to upper-class eating in recent years is the practice of serving caviar on pastry. The scope of this disaster is obviously limited, but all the same, it might furnish a better argument against capitalism than many in current use on Union Square. As a general rule, the uses made of a food in its native habitat are pretty sure to be sound, as witness what the Charlestonians and Javanese do with rice, or the Marylanders with crabs. That caviar is eaten on black bread in Baku and that in Erivan it is scooped up with bits of that strangely delicious galette made by Armenians all over the world, does not, of course, settle the matter, but it at least indicates that there is a certain virtue in the combination.
Her pieces covered the entire spectrum of food and drink, from Heineken to powdered ice cream; from Ching No. 1 Boy Zombie Mixer to the selection of grouse and woodcock at the Washington Market. She also took the service element of her job to heart, providing readers with advice about sending food to soldiers serving abroad and coping with wartime shortages at home, as in this article about coffee published in 1942:
An emergency product is the Altman[’s Delicacy Shop’s] Scull, a canned, ready-to-drink coffee which is more palatable than you might think and ought to come in very handy in a blackout, as it may be drunk right from the can either hot or cold.
Hibben lived an unconventional life. She was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1888 and passed an itinerant childhood in Italy and France. In 1916, in Athens, she married Paxton Hibben, a diplomat and writer. Paxton died unexpectedly in 1928, and Hibben began writing to support herself and her daughter, Jill. She was brought to the attention of Katharine S. White and Harold Ross by Lewis Gannett, a writer and man about town. In addition to her many pieces in the magazine, she wrote a number of influential cookbooks including “The National Cookbook” (1932) and “American Regional Cookery” (1946). She also provided the mystery writer Rex Stout with menus for his detective, Nero Wolfe.
Hibben died in 1964. In her obituary in The New Yorker, Robert MacMillan wrote that “she despised all gastronomic snobbery, and it was one of her ambitions to drive the word ‘gourmet’ out of the English language. She simply thought that good food should be respected.”