This was the subject line on an email from Patti, who handles sales of my, my late husband’s, and my mother’s out-of-print books. Some we still have actual copies of; others we are set up (thanks to Patti)
to offer digital copies of, for downloading.
(My mother, BTW, is the children’s book writer Charlotte Zolotow. One of her best-loved books is titled Snippets, incomprehensibly out of print. Because it is referenced in several educational textbooks as well as on various teacher’s websites as helpful in inspiring young children to write, and is ridiculously expensive used, educators were always emailing me to see if by any chance I had a copy I could sell them. Thanks to Patti, now, we do).
But I digress.
Anyway, two of my very early books, published in 1972 and 1973, were The Bean Book and Putting Up Stuff from the Cold Time (the latter was about canning, pickling, and preserving). They were little tiny funny-looking books, skinny, spiral bound, kind of cute: in fact they were the first cookbooks ever published by Workman (which was then basically Peter Workman, an editor named Jennifer Skolnik, and one secretary/receptionist… my main memories of those days are Peter Workman running around, running his fingers through his hair like a mad professor, and many, many cardboard boxes of books, and the secretary/receptionist at her desk, an island in the sea of book-boxes). Workman, of course, went on to make publishing history with cookbooks like The Silver Palate.
And, like the old, old Olga bra ads, which used to say "Behind every Olga there really is an Olga," there still really is a Peter Workman. In fact I visited with him for fifteen minutes or so when I was last in New York, this past February, in their several-floor, jazzily-painted cheerful office, now on Varick Street, where they employ I don’t know how-all many people, and is quite a step up from those early digs… but all this is another digression.
At the time of their publication, The Bean Book and Putting Up Stuff for the Cold Time cost all of $2.95 apiece.
I am working on a revision of The Bean Book now, as it happens, lo these almost-40 years later (if you think that doesn’t make me feel old, then maybe you need to work on more effective thinking or greater empathy). Beans, happily, seem to me to be a food whose time has returned. (Not that their time ever went away… there are many of us "legumaniacs", in the felicitous phrase of Aliza Green, author of The Bean Bible.)
But why is beans’ hour particularly now? What with the emphasis on sustainability, moving towards a more plant-centered diet (which I think is the accurate phrasing: "moving towards" seems to apply even for people who have no intention of becoming vegetarian), heirloom varieties, seed-saving, general acceptance and the popularity of foods brought to the U.S. on various waves of immigration (in the last decades that being mainly from the very bean-centric Mexico and Central America), even the rise in usage of the slow-cooker / Crock-pot in American kitchens … all this suggests bean-timeliness.
We also can’t ignore the effect of the overall economy on bean consumption, actual and potential. As food prices rise along with unemployment and uncertainty, beans will always be loved and relied-upon, for they are consistently among the least expensive sources of protein, nourishment, and (when cooked attentively) deliciousness on the planet.
In fact, there’s an excellent blog, Becky and the Beanstock, in which Becky is taking us along as she eats her way "through a year’s worth of heirloom beans.
For all of 2008, each week I’ll track down, obtain, and cook with a
different variety of bean – Moon beans, tepary beans, black valentine,
Chinese red, a whole kaleidoscope of beans, most of them heirlooms (but
if I’m getting desperate by November, we’ll see). Fifty-two different
beans. This will be a true celebration of the beauty and diversity of
one small part of the foods available to us today.
I’ll give you the history of the beans, images, recipes, and info about where I got them…" It’s a wonderful project, and one undertaken for all the right reasons: biodiversity, supporting the valiant work of seed-savers, etc. I highly recommend that you check it out.
But, what does all this have to do with Patti’s email?
Well, The Bean Book‘s sister publication, Putting Up Stuff for the Cold Time, does not seem to me a book
whose time has returned (although with the emphasis on eating locally, this may change yet again; nothing and everything surprises me). But in general, people now seem to have less and less time, and thus less inclination to do the fairly labor-intensive kind of cooking that, well, putting up stuff for the cold time is. Too, there are far more interesting and excellent quality jams and preserves and pickles generally available than there were when I wrote that book.
But, Patti did her digital magic with the title, because some people still want the book, bless ’em. And one of those people is James K, a PhD student in Crop & Soil Sciences at Washington State
University, in Pullman, Washington.
It was his email she forwarded to me:
I’ve been taking exams
all week and was planning to read this as a treat afterwards. I
thought I should let you all know that this book was the most hotly
contested item during my parents divorce (after myself). There was
quite an argument over who would get ‘custody’ of it, which my mom eventually
won through some fierce bargaining. My dad fumed about it for years
until I bought another copy of it for him online a few years ago.
Somewhat scared to borrow such a cherished book from either of them,
decided to finally go and buy a copy for myself. I was very glad to see
that a digital version is available as I am a student and frequently have to
move around for my research.
Thank you again and please convey my best to
Ms. Dragonwagon; I am a big fan.
And you know: Patti was right. I did get a big kick out of that, and now, maybe, so can you.
A writer just doesn’t knows where his or her books might turn up in someone else’s life and what role they might play; in fact, maybe that’s good; it might be distraction to know too much.
But occasionally, someone like James does let an author know.
Thank you, James, I’m honored that you’re a fan of Putting Up Stuff.
(Proof that "Nothing is wasted on the writer" : his letter, of course, not only made me feel pleased, but sparked this post.)
I’d love to get my own digital copy of “Putting up Stuff” (and when the website is back up, I guess I will). I know my mother canned once upon a time, but only because she says she did. She gave it up before I was old enough to notice, with the result that I regard canning with an awe of which it is probably unworthy, much as one might regard pressure cooking if one’s only experience with a pressure cooker had been watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I am more jealous than ever of those who know how to can without killing themselves and others, now that my freezer space is completely exhausted and I have peaches coming out my ears. And of course I’d much rather learn the ropes from you than from anybody else, since it just sounds more fun that way.