Mud Pies and Other Recipes October 25, 2010
I was a child backyard cook. I made salads of dandelion heads or clover leaves and even baked up a mud pie or two. But truth be told, I wasn’t very inventive. Like an overworked parent serving macaroni and cheese night after night, I tended to fall back on a few favorite dishes that required little thought. Is it any wonder that my dolls, and eventually even the tiniest neighborhood ants, turned down my invitations to dine?
If only Marjorie Winslow’s Mud Pies and Other Recipes had been in print in those days! Maybe then I’d have ended up like Sara Moulton—a former editor at Gourmet with several cooking shows to her credit. Her grandmother gave her Mud Pies when she was a girl, and she’s cited it as an inspiration: “even though it was a pretend cookbook, it somehow persuaded me that real cooking must be fun.”
Like any good cookbook, Mud Pies presents you with a range of recipes: some so simple you wonder why you hadn’t thought them up yourself—”Mud Pies à la Mud”—of course!; a few that are nothing short of inspired, see “Dandelion Soufflé,” which directs you to place a pile of fluffy dandelion seeds on a plate “located in a light breeze” noting, “You will never have leftovers with this dish.”; and several that are perhaps more aspirational than practical, like “Putty Fours”—acorn shells stuffed with putty, which “may take days to harden.”
But Mud Pies recognizes that most of its audience will be beginning cooks, and tells us reassuringly, “If a recipe calls for a cupful of something, you can use a measuring cup or a teacup or a buttercup. It doesn’t much matter. What does matter is that you select the best ingredients available, set a fine table, and serve with style.”
Mud Pies and Other Recipes was first published in 1961, but Marjorie Winslow was ahead of her time. Even before the days of conscientious reducing and recycling, she reminded us that “cooking utensils should, whenever possible, be made from something that would otherwise be thrown away.” What’s more, though the children pictured in Erik Blegvad’s fine drawings, in their peter-pan collars and sweater-vests, would look at home on the set of Mad Men, there are nearly as many little boys as little girls “frying” up water and serving the results to a bevy of toy soldiers, teddy bears, and baby dolls. Winslow’s table was an inclusive one. Pick up Mud Pies and Other Recipes for yourself, give it to a girl or boy, and prepare to get your hands dirty.
Read the foreword to Mud Pies and Other Recipes (pdf)