It seems to be high summer for the moment here in Devon. Yesterday, I walked with the children along the seafront at Budleigh Salterton, stopping for an ice-cream and a brief visit to a charity shop. There, on the shelves among the usual collection of weight-loss and “how to” guides, I found an old copy of The Art of Fine Baking by Paula Peck. Originally published in 1961, this copy (soon to become ‘my’ edition) dates from 1966. I have to confess that I’d never heard of Paula Peck before then – I was simply attracted by the book’s wide range of recipes for all kinds of cakes, pastries, cookies, breads, frostings and petits fours secs … including a recipe for Chocolate Brownies.
An article by Mark Bittman in the NY Times extols the virtues of this recipe for “a true and beautiful brownie”. On the subject of Paula Peck herself however, I can find surprisingly little.
Others before me have struggled to find out about Paula Peck. Cookie Jill describes her search for information after finding her copy of the book at a local library sale. She at least appears to have had the advantage of a book flap, where James Beard has written:
“Her enthusiam for the work table and range is refreshing. Her way to combat fatigue and worry is to get into the kitchen and turn out a hundred or so croissants or two or three batches of puff paste with all embellisments. She is an outstanding juggler with rolling pin and mixing bowl, and the magic results fill her larder and freezer to overflowing. Her home is an oasis for hungry traveleers and guests, for there is always enough delectable food in her kitchen to serve a good-sized party.”
I certainly like Paula Peck’s philosophy!
Helen McLoughlin, a contemporary and apparent neighbour, confirms James Beard’s glowing recommendation in an endnote to My Nameday: Come for Dessert, a curious book written in 1962 on the celebration of namedays:
“This recipe is from our favorite cookbook, “The Art of Fine Baking (pub. by Simon and Schuster) by Paula Peck, who has contributed recipes to, and has had her pastries photographed for “The New York Times” and “Life,” and has taught at the James Beard Cooking School. Her kitchen next door fills us with joy at the whiff of the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread, and makes us nostalgic for the magic days of childhood when mother or grandmother made wonderful cake at home.”
Now I’m expecting great things from Peck’s brownie recipe. It must come close to being an original …