No one in the family seems to know how Margaret Yardley ended up on the pages of the Wilmington Sunday Star, but my guess is it wasn’t by accident. Grandma Sue has always made it very clear that Mrs. Potter was a forceful, sometimes intimidating woman. The two of them worked together at the Dorothy Bullitt dress shop on Ardmore Avenue in Chestnut Hill. It was an exclusive retailer for women of means, which Suzanne Simonin and Mrs. Potter had both once been. Grandma Sue, just eighteen but infectiously charming and self-possessed, was a good catch for any young man, despite her reduced circumstances. She had a good pedigree, but I suspect more importantly for Mrs. Potter, the makings of a good daughter-in-law. She was vivacious, attractive, and most of all, she was game. One weekend, Mrs. Potter invited Suzanne to accompany the family on a trip to Atlantic City. Suzanne, unaccustomed to the heavy drinking that the Potters introduced her to, took ill on the drive home and threw up in her hat. Mrs. Potter was wise enough to know that the Simonins would not thank the Potters for intoxicating their daughter to the point of regurgitation, so she telephoned the Simonins and informed them that Suzanne had taken ill and would be spending the night at the Potter domicile. The next morning, Mrs. Potter nursed a future Mrs. Potter’s first hangover with a homemade elixir and the mutual understanding that she was now part of the family. This is a long-winded way of explaining that Gima was a woman who generally got what she wanted, be it my grandmother for her son or a newspaper gig.
Cookbooks and women’s magazines were one of the few outlets of an aspiring female writer of the time, and Gima did her due diligence in the attempt to be recognized for her work. I imagine that a combination of gracious dinner parties and dogged legwork led to Gima’s winning a spot in the Wilmington Sunday Star’s new and improved women’s section. She makes her first appearance in the November 19, 1950 edition, with a letter about herself and her first episode of “Potter’s Kitchen.” She wrote two features almost every Sunday until the paper folded in 1954. There was some version of “Potter’s Kitchen”—sometimes you were “In Mrs. Potter’s Kitchen”—and “What’s Cooking in Delaware: Favorite Recipes from the First State” every Sunday. For the latter, Gima would convince a local housewife to allow her and a photographer to come in and observe while she made whatever delectable she was known for, be it the barbecued chicken of Mrs. John Brentlinger, of 5 Cragmere Road, or Mrs. Edwin Nielan’s guacamole.
Thanks to funding from Elizabeth Gilbert, the scrapbook has been digitized in its entirety. As time and intern labor law allows, we’ll make excerpts available to you here, dear readers.
The Sunday Star, Wilmington, Delaware, November 19, 1950
Introducing Mrs. Margaret Yardley Potter, Cooking Expert, Who Will Present Delaware’s Favorite Recipes Each Sunday
The Lady Herself
Mrs. Margaret Yardley Potter is the author of the Sunday Star’s new weekly features, “What’s Cooking in Delaware,” and “Potter’s Kitchen.” To introduce Mrs. Potter to Star readers, we asked her to send us from her Rehoboth home all the autobiographical material she could think of from which we might write a story. Because her letter introduces Mrs. Potter in the best way possible, we are reprinting the letter exactly as she wrote it.
Dear Mrs. Shuchman:
Since you wanted to know something about me in connection with my weekly food stories for Delaware women and readers of The Sunday Star here goes Me on Me and I hope it’s what you want.
Except for the slight accident of being born in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, where my family spent their summers, I’m a Philadelphian. I went to school (Miss Irwin’s) and lived right in the city. After I married Mr. Potter we moved to Chestnut Hill where we lived until the war, when my husband gave up his law practice to become a ship inspector for the Navy, and we moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was away a good deal and after finishing several “projects” – such as making curtains for the whole house – I thought I might as well try to write a cookbook, as the children were always asking me for the recipes. I was as surprised as they were when it was accepted for publication and I had to start writing more chapters. But it was a lot of fun.
I had a Quaker father and an Irish mother, which has been sort of a tough combination as I get pulled in two directions and never know which side’s going to win.
I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in cooking. My Yardley grandmother was a wonderful cook, I was her favorite, and she always was willing to let a little girl “help.”
I still think back to her coal range and the delicious food she produced from it. It’s been something to live up to but I keep trying.
Since my book was published I’ve written some recipes for a salad dressing company’s advertising booklet and bought and read every cookbook that I could lay my hands on. The ones in the picture are just the ones I use most.
We’ve always had the sort of house that people come to (I hope that doesn’t sound too conceited) and when the children grew up, and after they were married it was even more so. I always counted on at least eight for Saturday night dinner and cooked for twelve for Sunday supper. Our married daughter, Mrs. Stanley Gilbert of Elmira, N.Y. seems to have inherited our ways. I counted eleven little boys’ bicycles in her front yard a few weeks ago. – Cookies were coming out of the oven!
Besides “Nini” we have a married son, Sheldon Potter, who is back in the Navy as a senior lieutenant in command of an L.S.T., and is in Florida at the moment.
Family history is repeating itself, for my favorite kitchen assistant is my eight year old Potter grandson, another Sheldon. He turns a mean egg beater and can flip a breakfast pancake with the best chef in Childs window. In the midst of preparing any dish he generally looks at me with large blue eyes and a beaming smile and says, “O Boy, Grandma, can’t WE cook!”
We moved to Delaware four years ago and hope never to live anywhere else. We love everything about and in the state, including the climate, the food, and most of all the inhabitants.
One of my very great grandfathers was Thomas Parke who lived in the famous Ridgely house in Dover. We have his will, witnessed by his good friend Caesar Rodney. It may be his blood that makes me love Delaware so much.
I regard the younger generation of cooks not only with admiration but with awe. Much more capable than my generation, the way the “young marrieds” keep their houses neat, their children spotless and their husbands well fed is a constant wonder to me.
My whole family, including the four grandchildren, have always been most tolerant of my ungrandmotherly activities. These have included, in the last few years, running a small tea room, and managing a dress shop, besides the cook book. I sometimes feel that if it was announced that I was about to swim the channel, the family would just give a bored “Yeah?” and wait for me to do it. I love to garden and am quite handy with the needle too.
My husband can’t cook but is a whiz at washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen, so it doesn’t matter. He can also open oysters like a professional and has never been known to complain of any dish I’ve put before him, no matter what odd combination I’ve been “trying out.”
My kitchen isn’t very big. About twelve by twelve. It has knotty pine walls and cupboards, installed by my husband. All the working surfaces, including drainboards, are heavy oak which I like better than the usual linoleum or plastic. The wall is the back our brick fireplace so the kitchen has a brick design linoleum floor. I plan to have the ceiling in bright blue and white check paper and the curtains to match. At the moment I have bamboo window shades. The only really different thing about it is the height of the working surfaces. 39 inches instead of the standard 36. This is because I am taller than average, and like to work standing up and really get in to my elbows. The extra height is a great back saver. Although I have an electric stove, I think gas is as good.
I am a pushover for any kind of kitchen gadget, from trick can-openers to electric meat grinders, coffee pots and beaters, and hope for an electric dishwasher for Christmas.
There I hope that’ll do! Writing about cooking is one thing, but writing about myself is hard work!
I am adding our traditional Thanksgiving menu which I thought might be of interest.
- Roast Turkey, Gravy
- Spinach Ring with broiled mushrooms
- Candied sweet potatoes
- Cole slaw with boiled dressing
- Hot Rolls
- Pumpkin Pie
- Nuts and raisins
We serve the opened oysters from big platters in the living room, before dinner, so that everyone can have plenty, and then eat the main part of our feast in the dining room.
I should add to all these remarks about myself that I am congenitally unable to get a meal without adorning myself with a spot or two—apron or no apron—and HATE to wash dishes; but shouldn’t we keep those facts from our readers?
MARGARET YARDLEY POTTER
POTTER’S KITCHEN: Ham for Easter
BY MARGARET YARDLEY POTTER
“The Sunday next before Easter,” the Prayer Book calls today, and with this date in mind, we’ve been quietly conducting a private poll which makes Dr. Gallup’s more famous efforts seem puny. All to find out how our friends and acquaintances cook their Easter ham. And we’re astounded at the number of different methods, each alleged to be the best and only. For years we’ve gone our peaceful unimaginative way placidly roasting our ham, rind side up, in a slow 227-300 oven about 25 minutes to the pound. Then a half hour before it’s done, taking the meat from the oven, removing the rind and scoring the surface of the fat into diamonds. We center each diamond with a whole clove and cover the surface of the fat with a mixture of 1 cup dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of English mustard, then carefully drip ½ cup of sherry over it and return the meat to the oven for an extra half hour, basting it frequently with the drippings until a rich glistening brown. Sometimes the cloves spell “Happy Easter” or slices of pineapple centered with cherries and toothpicked over the surface of the meat before its final baking make it a very glamorous dish indeed.
But in response to our questioning we hear, “What! You use sherry! Try Coca-cola. Makes the meat a wonderful color.” or “I always baste my ham with ginger ale. Can’t beat that flavor!” Pineapple juice, apricot juice, honey, red wine and even beer—all have been recommended—nay urged—as the only REAL way to bring out the true taste and by now we wish our pocketbook and oven could by and bake a dozen hams so that we could try all the ideas out. So whatever you chose, you’re surely in good cooks’ company, including the school that covers the meat as it bakes, with paper, flour and water dough or aluminum foil …
Frankly we’re a bit dizzy, though intrigued, by all the argument we’ve stirred up with our innocent questioning. Below we give you one of the best recipes from our survey. It calls for aluminum foil, hard to come by nowadays but still procurable, and these directions sound so marvelous that we are about to sacrifice some of our tenderly guarded heavy freezer foil to enhance next Sunday’s dinner. Treat the shiny stuff carefully and it can be used again.
BAKED HAM. Remove the rind carefully from a 10-12 pound ham. Place the meat, fat side up, in the center of a very large sheet of aluminum foil. Or join two similar sheets together with a double folded steam proof seam. Sprinkle 1 cup of granulated sugar over the surface and follow with ½ teaspoon of powdered cloves. Fold the foil over the ham, closing the top and one side. Before folding the last side pour 2 cups of unsweetened pineapple juice into the bottom of the package. Close the last seam. Place the ham on a baking pan and roast at 300 for 2 ½ hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before opening. Then cut away the top and sides of the foil leaving the meat in a shallow trough of the foil. Score the ham fat and spread with 2 tablespoons of prepared mustard getting it well into the cuts. Sprinkle on a little more sugar and cook uncovered at 275 until a light brown. Serve hot or cold on a bed of shredded lettuce or fresh green watercress. Make “flowers” of thinly sliced turnip centered with a bit of carrot and green pepper stems to place on the greens or tint shelled hard boiled eggs with delicate food coloring for another appetizing Springlike garnish.
The Meat Institute tells us to wrap the ham in heavy paper—wheedle a piece or two from the butcher—and roast at 325 degrees for twenty-five minutes to the pound. Then take from the oven, remove the rind, score the fat, cover with brown sugar, with or without mustard, decorate to your taste and bake a half hour longer.
Now matter how the ham is cooked, pass the following MUSTARD SAUCE for that extra something. Substitute dry white wine for vinegar in the recipe and you’ll have what swank restaurants call “Champagne Sauce.” Either way it is a special treat. Mix 1 cup of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of dry mustard, 3 well beaten egg yolks, ½ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of consommé in the top of a small double boiler. Add salt, pepper and celery salt to taste. As the sauce thickens fold in the stiffly beaten whites of three eggs. Cook a few minutes longer—watch out, don’t let it curdle!—and serve while warm.
For our Easter menu we are going to serve crisp icy cold slivers of celery, carrots, cauliflower and whole red radishes to be dipped in spicy curry mayonnaise as a first course. Make the mayonnaise by adding 1 teaspoon or more of curry powder to 1 cup of real mayonnaise. Then the piece de resistance—the handsome ham, baked acorn squash heaped with fresh green peas and cold slaw sprinkled with plenty of chopped spicy “winter cress” from a nearby field. Watercress or spinach leaves will look as pretty and taste as good to a city dweller. And for a final finishing Spring touch, we’ll have for dessert, egg shaped ice cream filled meringues. The ice cream from our freezer and the meringue shells made the day before. Not as extravagant as they sound for the egg yolks go in the boiled dressing for cold slaw and the curry mayonnaise.
EASTER MERINGUES Beat the whites of 4 eggs until frothy. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and beat until stiff. Gradually beat in 1 cup of sifted granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla. Form into egg shaped mounds with a tablespoon on an ungreased paper covered cookie sheet. Bake in a slower 275 degree oven for 50 or 60 minutes until a light brown. Remove from the paper before cold. If the shells stick, lay the paper on a damp cloth for a few minutes. Gently hollow out the soft inside. Place in the oven for a few minutes to dry. Serve in pairs with a scoop of ice cream in the middle. If you wish a really “Easter-y” looking dessert, tin the meringues a pale pink with the food coloring before baking and decorate with a few sliced strawberries just before it goes to the table. And who will say the Easter Rabbit hasn’t been around!