George Rector: M.F.K. Fisher’s Dirty Old Uncle

We struck gold in the depths of the library the other day when I dug up Dine at Home with Rector: A book on what men like, why they like it, and how to cook it, by George Rector, c.1937.

Rector (1878-1947) was a restaurateur and popular author. This book is ostensibly a cookbook–I don’t know what else it would be–but it doesn’t have recipes per se. Instead, he just mentions how to cook things as he’s steaming along. I’m in love with the hardboiled yet strangely comforting prose (though I do have to ignore the casual sexism and racism of the period).

Seems most cookbooks these days range from bland to, at best, passionately sincere. Old George is just in it for the fun. The pleasure of reading him is filed in my brain alongside the pleasure of reading M.F.K. Fisher, though he’s more like her dirty old uncle. Which is to say you’d happily read either them even if you have no intention of ever cooking anything ever again.

Speaking of casual sexism, I’m particularly fond of the chapter titled “When the Wife’s Away”, which steps befuddled menfolk from the basics of grilling a steak (“Steak is a good thing to begin on; don’t be scared off because it’s one of the aristocrats of the cow kingdom…”), to how to scramble eggs over a double boiler (“that’s the dingus Junior’s cereal is cooked in…”) to making “that noble experiment known as Rum-Tum Ditty” for the boys when they come over for cards. Rum-Tum-Ditty, I have to say, defies explanation. Let’s just say the ingredients include whipped egg whites, a pound of cheese and a can of tomato soup.

Speaking of befuddled menfolk, Erik is quite fond of this passage about making Hollandaise sauce (from the chapter titled “A Touch of Eggomania”), not least because it has introduced the term “hen fruit” into our lives:

For eggs Benedict, you need Hollandaise sauce, an additional contribution of the hen fruit to the pleasures of the palate, and to the confusion of cooks. Hold on to your hats and we’ll round that curve. Add four egg yolks, beaten to the thick, lemon-colored point, to half a cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Stir as you add the eggs and keep stirring–stir with the calm and temperate perseverance of the mine mule making his millionth trip down the gallery. That’s the secret–that and getting the water in the bottom hot as blazes without ever letting it come to a boil. Just before the mixture gets thick–timing again–put in a tablespoon of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste, and I hope and believe you’ll have a crackajack Hollandaise. Which is something to have, because it’s cantankerous stuff, as the tears shed by millions of cooks down the ages all testify.

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  1. That is quite the library find! What an interesting bit of culinary history. And hen fruit? Well, that is pretty awesome, too.

  2. Hen fruit. 🙂

    Just found your blog today. Surprised I hadn’t come across it before. Looking forward to listening to your podcasts & thanks for alerting me to the Green Gardens Group.

    We’re in the midst of trying to “landscape” around our house in North Hollywood. I put “landscape” in quotes bc it’s been more a series of exceptionally slow changes made to the existing yard(s) over the last three yrs.

    In December we had some native trees and shrubs planted, & that’s been very exciting.

    Now looking at/thinking about what should come next and hoping the neighbors don’t leave another cruel, anonymous note under our door. 😉

    • Take heart! We’ve changed our yard countless times, and slow change seems to be the way of things. Glad you know about 3G, and of course there’s Tree People and the Theodore Payne Foundation for more educational opportunities. Also, I just heard about the Arroyo Seco Foundation’s new nursery in Hahamonga Park–haven’t been there yet, but apparently you can get natives there, and they’re less expensive that Payne. I love Payne, but it’s good to have more than one native nursery in town. And just ignore those cowardly note writers!

  3. My family has loved the term “hen fruits” for years. Right along with “boneless chicken dinners”.
    My personal favorite is “cow squeezings” for milk.

    This book is now a high priority on my reading list. Thanks for sharing.

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