Friday, January 30, 2009

The Hen's Pantry

Tasha Tudor's illustrations for The New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook and three other books with Mary Mason Campbell, all written and illustrated in the late 1960s/early 1970s, were among the reasons I longed for New England as a child, even while living there, but also the inspiration for why I wrote The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses. Not only was The Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook my first real cookbook (and I have made many of the recipes in it--from Mary Mason Campbell's own New Hampshire and New England background--since I was ten years old), but it began a lifelong obsession with pantries. [Tudor's illustrations for My Brimful Book, another childhood classic of mine, were also evocative of New England summers with my grandparents.]

As readers of The Pantry know, a butt'ry is not named for its buttery sound, although that would be wonderful as that is what it conjures, but, like the later butler's pantry, is an English architectural term brought to Colonial America. A butt'ry was an early food storage room in English manors, and later early American homes, named for the butts of barrels filled with foodstuffs.

Imagine my surprise last weekend when my friend Cat was delighted to show us her recent book sale find (it pays to run one's library booksale!). It was a copy of The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac for 25 cents! These are still available, as are the three others in the Mary Mason Campbell/Tasha Tudor collaboration, on eBay or through second-hand bookstores, and are not only collectible but always much higher than Cat's bargain. As it is a book for which I had been keeping my eye out for her, I am delighted that she found her own copy. [I was as gleeful for her as I was when I found a first edition, from 1968, of The Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook, complete with dust jacket, on a used bookstore shelf for $3 a few years ago while writing The Pantry. Over the years I have picked up numerous copies of these Campbell/Tudor books and given them to friends--but never at that price!]

"Harvest Pantry" (1996), © Tasha Tudor, was actually called "Hen's Pantry" by her family because it was closest to the hen yard and thus was where the chicken food was kept. [This print is available on the Tasha Tudor and Family website.]

Recently, I had a posting from a blog reader (thank you!) who told me about Tasha Tudor's "Hen's Pantry." As I am soon to have a chicken house filled with chickens--and one that will eventually be transported up the hill to our farmhouse--I am intrigued by this nomenclature. Now I will definitely have to plan the hen house and hen yard near the back door of our future farmhouse pantry.

As an aside, Tasha Tudor was friendly with my grandparents when they moved to New Hampshire as she had been a neighbor of my grandfather's brother in Redding, Connecticut. She even drew a pencil drawing of a goose for their "Gray Goose Farm" sign, a landmark sign that has had several incarnations over the years. When our daughter was younger, we called Tudor's family in Vermont to see if we might meet her and bring some books to be signed. Also, I wanted to interview her, if at all possible, about her memories of my grandparents who, like her, were back-to-the-landers, although not to the same extremes. We were told, by her son, that we would be charged several hundred dollars (it is embarrassing now to say exactly how much) and that "everyone from New York was paying that" for their children. Well, I can understand wanting to limit access and be gatekeepers to an elderly mother who is likely besieged by fans but then to charge so much for a private audience? Why have them at all if not for the monetary rewards? Regardless, rest assured that we still have many of her books, all unsigned. [Image, above right, of Tasha Tudor with kindling, © Richard W. Brown, c. 1990]

Image of Tasha Tudor hanging up clothes, c. 1940, © Nell Dorr (1895-1988),
Amon Carter Museum

Tudor died in June 2008 at the age of 92. By all accounts she was still cooking, illustrating, gardening and probably doing most things as she always had: steadfastly and in no particular hurry. I think she likely embodied the Zen master quality of embracing each moment--of honoring time but slowing it down with precious tasks and domestic undertakings. Had I ever had the chance to meet her, here is what I would have said: Thank you, Tasha Tudor for the years of delight and inspiration, for not only making the nostalgia for New England's past a thing of longing but for living out and practicing your own beliefs during our modern age when such lifestyles were unfashionable. And thanks for being a pantry gal, long before they were again fashionable.

A NOTE to the readers of this blog: I will try to post at least once a month on different kinds of pantries or pantry photos not featured in The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses and encourage you to email me with pantry finds of your own--or your own pantry. Also, I'm always looking for literary quotes from the pantry or interesting pantry trivia and will be posting those from time to time here, also. As you can imagine, 100 pages was not nearly enough to include all of the marvelous pantry lore and literary references--or photographs--out there.


Meredith@MerchantShips said...

I, for one, love all this pantry goodness!

I am still searching of my own Butt'ry cookbook. One day--but until then the hunt is almost as enjoyable.

yvonne napier said...


I recently bought your book, "In the Pantry" (loved it) and delight in reading your blog. I'm new to your site, but I love reading everything you write about and enjoy your concepts on life. Keep them coming!

Catherine said...

Pantry goodness! A great term, Meredith. Thanks Yvonne, also. I'm having a bit of a computer "diet" right now but will blog again soon...

Mrs. P. said...

I LOVE all things Tasha Tudor! We even have a corgi dog in her honor, lol. I'll have to find a copy of The Hen's Pantry.