October 07, 2014
Julie Gordon, of J.H. Gordon Books in downtown Hamilton, got more than she bargained for when she picked up a copy of Vince Agro’s In Grace’s Kitchen: Memories and recipes from an Italian-Canadian childhood at the launch earlier this fall. Perhaps it was the festive air or the delicious food – or more likely, the “few glasses of wine” – but by the end of the afternoon, Julie had not just a new book but a new project:
The bookseller and blogger is cooking her way through In Grace’s Kitchen Julie and Julia–style.
Because she “didn’t want pasta every night,” Julie and husband Cory are “jumping around” in the book, selecting recipes at random rather than working their way methodically from cover to cover as Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And unlike Powell, Gordon isn’t actually the one doing the most of the cooking. While she’s busy minding the store (literally!), husband Cory takes on the responsibility of getting Grace’s dishes to their table. But much like the Julie of Julie and Julia, the Julie of Julie and Grace feels that cooking her way through another woman’s recipes is helping her better understand that woman, and the time and place in which she lived.
Stirring up Memories
I sat down with Julie Gordon to talk about her project, and though I had a list of questions about the book and the food, our conversation kept circling back to Hamilton and its storied past. Partly, this is because Gordon’s previous project was completely renovating the historic building in which she lives and works (the bookstore occupies the ground floor while Julie and Cory live in a two-storey apartment above). But mostly, this was the result of the “nostalgia” (to use Gordon’s word) evoked by the memories and recipes in In Grace’s Kitchen.
Located on King Street East, just west of Wellington, J.H. Gordon Books is not far from the old colonia, the then–predominantly Italian neighbourhood where Vince Agro was raised and in which the memories and recipes in the book were first tasted. Though most of the businesses from which Grace procured her ingredients no longer exist, Gordon does her best to recreate the experience by shopping locally, buying most of her ingredients at the Hamilton Market or Nations Fresh Foods. Nations, Gordon says, is particularly good for “the greens—the ones I almost never eat and maybe hadn’t even heard of [before this project].”
Eating Crow (Well, Pigeon, Actually)
When asked which recipe she’s most looking forward to trying, Julie doesn’t hesitate: It’s the pigeon. Though she jokes about “looking differently at the pigeons in Gore Park,” she has found a specialty shop just outside the city where she can purchase the necessary bird. Gordon says she’s excited by the “strangeness” of eating a bird commonly seen on windowsills but almost never on tables.
She is equally quick with the recipe she’s least looking forward to: In this case, it’s a tie between the tongue and the snails. Though she’s eaten the latter before, she says it’s “different when you have to prepare it yourself.” (If you haven’t read the book, there’s a great story in it from Tony Agro that will tell you just how different it can be!) As for the tongue, well, “I just don’t know if I can do it,” Gordon says.
One recipe she can do, and will almost certainly try again, is the meatballs. Says Julie, “I loved the story, and I loved the recipe. It’s definitely a keeper!”
You can read more about Julie’s adventures In Grace’s Kitchen on her blog, Shelf Life. You can also pick up your own copy of the book at J.H. Gordon Books and other independent booksellers.