Perla Meyers: The Seasonal Cook

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Before there were Farmer’s Markets everywhere, before fresh cooking and being green were trendy, there was Perla Meyers.  I love this cookbook. I love all of Perla’s cookbooks, so you will see more of them later.  But for now, here is her first cookbook published in 1973.  “The Seasonal Kitchen:  A Return to Fresh Foods,” was voted the best cookbook of 1973 in the eighth annual R.T. French Tastemaker Award Program, and also best in the basic cookbook category, AND best in the author’s first cookbook category.  Whew!  It was the first book ever to win all three awards.  And deservedly so.
The Seasonal Kitchen is more than recipes, it is a philosophy of food.  Perla talks about each of the seasons and how we can tune in with them to cook and eat.  She will even explain how to develop your own home garden and reap the benefits in your daily cooking life.  Perla believes that cooking with fresh ingredients does not mean spending hours in the market or in the kitchen.  It means just starting small such as the addition of a fresh lemon sauce to green beans, or a saute of beets with cream, butter, and fresh herbs.  Introducing fresh items little by little will help to understand and taste each flavor and figure out what is best to use for each new dish you make.  When walking through a Farmer’s Market, or the fresh produce of your grocery store, Perla says let the fresh items speak for themselves.  If you were thinking of making a strawberry shortcake but the strawberries don’t look appealing, see if another berry looks better for today.  Seasonal cooking is catching freshness at its prime.
The chapters are divided into spring, summer, fall, winter, and all-seasons kitchens.  Before each chapter Perla will explain what is best that particular season and marks each recipe as inexpensive, moderate, or expensive; and whether it is easy, intermediate, or difficult.  The cookbook is written for the novice cook and the experienced chef.  I had the pleasure of watching Perla at a cooking demonstration at a Marshall Field store in Chicago sometime after her book was released.  I was still in my 20’s and becoming interested in learning more about cooking with fresh ingredients, as I had grown up experiencing the bounty of my great aunt’s Iowa garden.  Perla took it to another level.  The first dish I made upon returning home with the new cookbook was the Spaghettini Primavera.  It was pure heaven, although I had quite a time finding prosciutto at that time!  At the cooking demo, Perla also handed out copies of other recipes not in the book, which I still have, marked with all kinds of notes I took.  She told us her favorite brand of olive oil, mustard, and other essentials.
I love the photo of Perla on the cookbook cover.  She looks so happy walking down the street with a vegetable-filled bag on her arm along with a full basket of other produce.  She has on a raincoat, and her hair is blowing in the cool air.  I want to stop and ask her what she is making for dinner that night.  You can bet it’s going to be amazing.

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19 Responses to Perla Meyers: The Seasonal Cook

  1. Lisa April 22, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    Your love of cookbooks goes back a long way and makes for interesting reading. I am not familiar with Perla, so will be scouring book sales for this one. The primavera recipe sounds like one I need to make this Spring.

  2. Debbie Vanni April 22, 2010 at 5:17 am #

    Hi, Lisa! I hope you find her cookbooks. If you ever find one called “Spur of the Moment,” that’s another real favorite. Perla was way ahead of her time. She had things like chipotle peppers in her dishes years ago, before anyone knew what they were!

  3. MsZin June 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    I’m a cookbook lover, too. I have several hundred and constantly add to the collection.

    I have a vegetable garden this year, for the first time since my childhood. It got me thinking about Perla Meyers. I had a copy of her From Market to Kitchen book when it first came out that, sadly, was lost in the many moves I made as a younger woman.

    This past Friday, I had a stroke of culinary luck. I was at a local mall on a mission to Sephora and came across a temporary kiosk that was selling old books. I couldn’t resist looking through the cookbook section. There, among the old Weight Watchers and stuff from cans and boxes books, I found it. Hardcover, in excellent condtion, only $10. Needless to say, it now has a place in my collection. Now I have to find a copy of The Seasonal Kitchen. I came accross your blog while searching for it. I’m drowning in sorrel and need as many ways to use it as I can possibly find.

    Love your blog. I’m sure I’ll be visiting often.

  4. Debbie Vanni June 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Dear MsZin,

    I am thrilled you found my blog and especially that you found info on Perla Meyers, and even found her cookbook to add to your collection! I love “From Market to Kitchen,” too. I hope you can find “The Seasonal Kitchen.” I will keep my eye open for one, and will be happy to send it to you if I come across it. Also, I have a cookbook give-away every Monday, so don’t forget to enter! It’s just a random drawing where everyone has a chance to win. Look for the new one tomorrow! Thank you for writing, and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog. Happy cooking! (with Perla!)

  5. MsZin June 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    Debbie,

    Thanks for your response. I’ll definitely enter your drawing. One can never have too many cookbooks. Another recent find was Goat Cheese, a little gem by Georgeanne and Ethel Brennan. $1.60, new. Georgeanne Brennan is one of my favorite cookbook authors, so I was very excited to find this one, especially since I’m planning to try my hand at making goat cheese.

    If you find a copy of The Seasonal Kitchen, please let me know (I’ll be checking your blog frequently).

    It’s good to know there are other people who share my passion for cookbooks. I enjoy reading them, even if I don’t always try the recipes.

  6. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

    I just tonight scooped up a good copy of Perla Myer’s classic, The Seasonal Kitchen, a first edition no less, in hardback (no dust jacket of Perla in her sexy duster, alas) at a Goodwill thrift shop for just two bucks!

    Sorry to brag — a fantastic book, one that sends me back decades, and one that was decades ahead of its time.

    Surprised to not see it still in print, or reprinted by Dover or Barnes and Noble.

    Paperback editions still available via Amazon & alibris.com; nothing today on abebooks.com

    Keep searching! Worth the effort!

    Paul

  7. Debbie Vanni October 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Wow, Paul! A hardback first addition. What a treasure, and as you say, ahead of its time. Perla used chipotle before hardly anyone knew what it was. Thanks for writing!

  8. GeorgiaRae February 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    I love that you love this cookbook! I found a copy a a garage sale and had no clue then that it would become my most prized kitchen possession. It is, in a word, fantastic! Thank you for sharing her importance with other food lovers.
    Georgia

  9. Debbie Vanni February 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Hi Georgia – I’m so happy you wrote! I still get comments here and in my email about the love of Perla’s cookbooks. I wonder if she knows how much she is loved?!

  10. Linda Rosenbaum August 20, 2011 at 5:03 am #

    Hi Debbie – I’ve had Perla’s Seasonal Kitchen so long, it’s now in tatters. The covers are actually missing in action, the spine is broken into three parts and the index is missing. It doesn’t keep me away, however. Her green beans tivoli, fresh tomato soup, cauliflower salad and crepe recipes are brilliant. Everytime I make something from the book, I wonder why I ever use any other cookbook. Then I remember: she’s a little heavy on the butter and cream. But yes, you’re right, Perla was ahead of her times with all the fresh market produce she uses, particularly fresh fruits for desserts. Thinking of that, I think I’ll go make some fresh apricot compote ala Perla right now. Perla always like to spice her cooked fruits with a little rum, brandy or eau de vie, so I’ll have to rummage around to see what we might have.

  11. Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Ack! my mom just threw out all of her cookbooks when she moved, including this one. She and my dad have simplified their diets as they’ve gotten older, and she is a good enough cook that she can just make stuff up and it will work, but…Cripes! So I’m doing detective work to retrieve this lost knowledge. Thanks for reminding me about Perla Meyers! I know she was one of my mom’s favorites.

    Eric

    PS I totally agree with Paul about the dust cover photo with the raincoat, her hair whipping about in the wind…

  12. Debbie Vanni August 30, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Eric, I hope you are able to find the Perla books that you want. If I come across any at book sales, I would be more than happy to send them to you.

  13. Debbie Vanni August 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    Linda, I am going to try the cauliflower salad you mentioned. I don’t know why I haven’t made it yet since I love cauliflower. Also, when you mentioned an apricot compote, I had an urge for a fruit dessert. I didn’t have any apricots at the moment, but had blackberries and raspberries; then my daughter poked around the pantry and found some raspberry liqueur from Australia to pour over them. Now we are looking forward to serving them over some vanilla frozen yogurt. Thanks for the inspirations!

  14. dagmar February 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    anyone know if Perla is still alive and teaching? i own 5 of her 7 books and am planing to get the rest. she was the first to introduce the concept of seasonal cooking to a culture that canned and froze most of its vegetables. we have come a long way thanks to that creative viennese chef.

    • Debbie February 23, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      Hi Dagmar- I would love to know the answer, too! From what I can figure out, her last book was around 10 years ago, and I think she’s still alive. I am hoping someone who knows can answer your question and post it here. I LOVE Perla’s books.

  15. Catherine September 29, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    I bought this in paperback when it first came out – my husband was working as a photog at Rodale Press in Emmaus PA, and I had a large veggie garden – those were the days. Twenty years later I was working in a small bank in Washington CT and who should come to my window by Perla!!!!! omg – what a moment in time – I’ll never forget it. I brought my book into the bank so I’d have it the next time she came in – she autographed it for me: “Thank you ever so much for having my favorite book, Fondly PM”. My most treasured cookbook EVER! thanks for having this blog so I could share my story. I came across it while searching online to see if she was still “here”… I hope so!

    • Debbie September 29, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

      Catherine, what a great story! You definitely have a treasure. Now I love Perla even more! Thanks so much for sharing.

  16. Tyler June 24, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    I’ve spent the morning rereading The Seasonal Kitchen. Old cookbooks are like old friends, aren’t they? Her pate aux fines herbes (p. 149) was always a favorite. I’d whip up a batch right now if I weren’t the last person alive who likes chicken livers!

    • Debbie June 24, 2015 at 10:26 am #

      I reread The Seasonal Kitchen too, and it’s time to do it again since our local Farmer’s Market opens tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder. And yes, old cookbooks are definitely old friends!

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