By Heather Potter.
Fall is my favorite time of year: the leaves are beginning to fall around the Ferguson Mansion, Old Louisville is a sight to see, and best of all the weather has cooled down a smidge so I can begin to bake again. I kicked off my fall baking last night with two loaves of my mom’s banana bread and it made me want to further explore The Filson’s cookbook collection. After chatting this morning with Cassie, our Librarian, she helped me search our collection, and found just the book I was looking for, Dainty Desserts by Ida Bailey Allen. Now you may be wondering what is so special about this dessert cookbook compared to others in our collection. This cookbook -- in addition to Luscious Luncheons and Tasty Teas and Satisfying Salads, also written by Allen -- all feature book covers drawn by Carrie Douglas Dudley Ewen (1894-1982).Ewen, one of Kentucky’s most talented artists, was born on March 31, 1894 in Flemingsburg. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago and lived in New York, Italy, and California before moving to Louisville in 1963. Ewen painted stunning portraits and still lifes, but primarily supported herself as a commercial artist, illustrating children’s books and designing greeting cards for numerous companies. Ewen felt compelled to use a male pseudonym during most of her career and used “Doug Ewen” as her professional name. Most of her works The Filson owns (portraits, children’s book cover art, and greeting cards) are all signed Doug. What makes these cookbooks even more special is they are signed “Carrie Dudley.”
In addition to the fabulous covers designed by Ewen, who happens to be one of my favorite artists within our collection, I learned that Ida Bailey Allen (1885-1973) was also an amazing woman for her time. Allen was known as “The Nation’s Homemaker,” and was the author of more than 50 cookbooks. She was food editor for the Sunday New York American, a pioneer in early radio, hosting a regular daytime show by 1928, and possibly televisions’ first female food host on Mrs. Allen and the Chef. (I was unable to find more information on her show at this time).
While I love to cook, I love baking even more, and Dainty Desserts had me drooling all morning. Featuring recipes for Fig Lattice Pie to Steamed Berry Puffs, this dessert cookbook has something for everyone. Allen and I take dessert very seriously and know that it can make or break a meal. Allen writes in the forward, “Desserts can be the gayest or most destructive portion of the meal. Burroughs said, ‘The dessert of Life is to be taken seriously’ and this quotation should be thoughtfully considered when planning The Last Course. The Right Selection Equalizes the Food Value of the Meal. The Wrong Selection disturbs the digestion, makes the meal heavy and ruffles the temper.” For you sweet lovers out there I am sure you will agree.
Well in conclusion, I would like to end with two wonderful fall recipes from Mrs. Allen’s Dainty Desserts: Pumpkin Bits and Individual Squash Pies. Try them out and let me know what you think.