Commentary
9:19 am
Mon April 23, 2012

Book Review: At Home On The Range

At Home on the Range, a cookbook presented by Elizabeth Gilbert, by her great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter

Elizabeth Gilbert always believed that her calling as a writer came from her great-grandfather, Sheldon Potter. He had “inspired bookishness” and would give her challenging reading assignments during their visits. But when she unpacked and began to read At Home on the Range—a cookbook penned by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter—Gilbert started to wonder about the existence of a Family Voice.

You might wonder how a voice can present itself through a recipe. But these are not traditional list-of-ingredients-followed-by-instructions recipes. Instead, Potter—also known as “Gima”—tells you how to make these food items. And she doesn’t leave out a single step.

The main goal of this cookbook, it seems, is to teach you how to be a clever and entertaining hostess. Gima’s circumstances diminished through the years, with moves to smaller homes with reduced help, but that was never an excuse for her to stop entertaining. Like her great-granddaughter, Gima never met a stranger. You were always welcome at her table.

And she shares Gilbert’s sense of humor. When Gima’s son came home from boarding school one year, her younger daughter feigned contempt, saying that they “did everything but put up the flag.” From that day forward flag-raising became the first item checked off the list in preparation for his return. Not out of a sense of patriotism, but out of sheer orneriness.

And remember in Eat, Pray, Love when Gilbert was on a quest to find the best pizza in the world? In 1918, Gima not only discovered pizza for herself at a small Italian grocery, but she also convinced the proprietress to teach her how to make it at home.

Is there such a thing as a Family Voice? Oh yeah. Even though they are generations apart and have never met, these two women share the same blood, the same voice, and the same appetite for life.