Memories, with Love -August 2008
by: M.R. Stanton
As August begins and sailors gear up for Nantucket Race Week, culminating with the Opera House Cup race, we pay tribute to the woman who started it all. Gwen Gaillard founded the Opera House Cup in 1973, named after the restaurant she and her late husband Harold founded in1946. For 40 years The Opera House was the epitome of social style and culinary genius. In 1966 Gwen put pen to paper and turned out her one and only cookbook, “Recipes with Love,” illustrated by her dear friend, the late Roy Bailey.
From 1946 to 1986 the chicest place to be on Nantucket was The Opera House. Gwen and Harold Gaillard founded the island’s most sophisticated eatery that just oozed glamour and style, not to mention chef Lucien van Vyve’s decadently wonderful food.
Indeed, dining at The Opera House was an experience that has not been duplicated since the restaurant closed.
Gwen herself was a marvelous cook and needed only the staples in her kitchen pantry to create a memorable meal. Cooking, said Gwen, “can be the greatest pleasure and reward per carrot that you can find, outside of a blue-white perfect diamond.” Her restaurant was all about culinary excellence, and she didn’t deny herself that pleasure at home either. She saw cooking as an art, and a way for women (for cooking was largely women’s work back then) to be creative every day. In 1966 she teamed up with her great friend, the late artist Roy Bailey, who provided the illustrations for her cookbook, “Recipes with Love,” and provided us with her guide to the good life through cooking.
Carefully turning the pages of this venerable tome is like stepping back in time to a simpler, more enjoyable Nantucket when the island had its characters, and people had character as well. Gwen’s book was written at a time when gourmet cooking was reserved for, well, gourmets. And most people did not consider themselves worthy or capable of fancy cooking. That explains the reason she felt a need to put the description “A kind of fish stew” next to her recipe for New England Bouillabaisse, and “a sort of chocolate pudding” next to Mousse au Chocolat. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when “The Silver Palate Cookbook” appeared that everyday cooks were encouraged to be adventurous in the kitchen.
Gwen was truly ahead of her time when it came to her approach to food. Her advice that “if you have to spend that time in the kitchen, to make it worthwhile… as there are others who share in the results” is classic. While those who knew Gwen and what she could do in the kitchen held her in reverence, her words are most encouraging to everyone who would consider preparing a meal from scratch.
Gwen died in 2005 and her book is long out of print, but with permission from her family we share some recipes here we thought appropriate for the summer season and that make us nostalgic for her and an elegance gone by.
Whip up a crock or two of Gwen’s Special Cheese Spread and a pitcher of Planters Punch when you watch the Opera House Cup race this year. Whip up some gazpacho or vichyssoise and set a nice table for lunch in your garden on one of the dog days of August. Bake a batch of Gwen’s rich ginger cookies to pack in your bag the next time you go sailing, and celebrate the good life on Nantucket one bite at a time.
Remember Gwen’s last bit of advice: “That to be a good cook is a joy forever… your passport to everywhere!”
Gwen’s Special Cheese Spread
During the summer social season it is a good idea to have this on hand in the refrigerator to serve with crackers at cocktail time or to spread on French bead to serve with a salad for a light lunch.
11⁄2 pounds sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 tbsps. butter
1 tsp. dried mustard
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. horseradish
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tbsp. chopped onion
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 dashes Lea and Perrin Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 cup dry Sherry
2 tbsps. Cognac
Have all ingredients at room temperature.
Mix everything together in a food processor until smooth.
- Pack mixture into a crock or several jars and refrigerate for several days until all flavors have blended.
A great summer drink to make for a crowd (Opera House Cup party, maybe?) to quench one’s thirst on a hot August day.
12 ounces fresh lime juice
1 quart fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 cups white sugar
2 fifths light rum
1 pint dark Jamaican rum
1⁄2 pint Cointreau
Make a simple syrup with sugar and some
In a large punch bowl mix the fruit juices
with the simple syrup.
Put a large chunk of ice in the bowl and
then add the light rum. Stir and let stand
for half an hour.
Then add the Jamaican rum and Cointreau
and stir again.
- Serve garnished with thin slices of lime and orange, and, if available, fresh pineapple. If punch is too strong, dilute with a little sparkling water.
Makes about 40 cups.
This is a delicious cold summer soup that should be made and served ONLY when you can get beefsteak tomatoes almost overripe, and when fresh herbs are available. You also need new, firm cucumbers, fresh from the garden.
6 tbsp. fresh herbs (dill, chives, basil, parsley, marjoram)
2 large cloves garlic
8 large beefsteak tomatoes
2 large green peppers, seeded
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups homemade chicken broth
1. Put herbs, garlic, tomatoes and green peppers in a blender and combine until smooth.
2. Pour into a large bowl and combine with chicken both. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Chill at least four hours for flavors to ripen. Serve very cold with bowls of garnishes to add to soup according to each person’s taste.
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 large green peppers, seeded and chopped
6 scallions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
1⁄2 pound bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 cups garlic croutons
2 cups sour cream
2 cups day-old bread cubes
2 large cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup good olive oil
Heat olive oil in heavy skillet. Add the 2 cloves crushed garlic and bread cubes and fry until brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
A classic from the Opera House.
1⁄4 pound butter
2 quarts chicken stock
1 pound potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
Chopped chives for garnish
- Chop leeks and onions very fine and sauté in butter. Don’t let them get colored.
Just cook until they are soft. Add stock and peeled and sliced potatoes. Then add salt
- When potatoes are soft, put mixture through a food mill or blender. Then add the cream, blend and serve hot or cold with the chives on top.
When hurricane flags are flying and a storm is brewing, warming bowls of Gwen’s lobster stew will tide sailors over until skies are clear again.
3⁄4 pound butter
3 pounds cooked lobster meat
1 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 cup dry sherry
4 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose cream
- Melt butter in a large pan, such as an enamel or stainless steel Dutch oven.
- Add lobster and cook slowly until the butter turns orange.
- Add pepper, salt and sherry. Simmer a few minutes and add heated cream and milk. Stew for about 15 minutes. DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
Cool and let stand for a few hours at least to allow flavors to blend. Reheat slowly, stirring all the time. NO BOILING, PLEASE! Serve with soda crackers or pilot crackers.
SWORDFISH WITH HERB SAUCE
An elegant preparation that is simple and a great alternative to grilled swordfish.
4 swordfish steaks, half-inch thick
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp. finely-minced mushrooms
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon juice
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
- Sprinkle fish steaks with salt, pepper and a little flour. Sauté in butter on both sides until almost done.
- Meanwhile, sauté herbs and mushrooms in butter for a few minutes. Add the wine and lemon juice and simmer for a few minutes.
- Pour this sauce over fish and cook for five minutes longer.
Rich Ginger Cookies
Best eaten with a tall glass of cold milk, or a cup of strong, hot coffee.
4 cups flour
1 tsp. each, ground mace, cinnamon and ground cardamom
21⁄2 tsps. powdered ginger
11⁄2 cups butter
2 cups dark molasses
2 eggs slightly beaten
1⁄4 cup blanched and ground almonds
1⁄2 cup thin-sliced citron
1⁄2 cup chopped candied orange peel
- Heat butter, sugar and molasses together until just about to boil. Set aside to cool.
- Sift flour and spices together.
- When molasses mixture is almost cold, add remaining ingredients, adding more flour as needed to handle the dough.
- Roll out a quarter-inch and cut into rather large circles. Bake at 375 F. until light brown. Remember, all cookies get harder as they cool.
Makes about 36 cookies.
Recipes reprinted from “Recipes, with Love”
by Gwen Gaillard, illustrated by Roy Bailey with permission from her family.