A World of its Own

The other day my mom handed me a book she said she’d been wanting to pass along. When I saw it I was surprised that it was not an ordinary mass market book, but something that had been self-published and was bound with one of those plastic comb bindings and entirely handwritten. These are exactly the kinds of things I like to find in a book, so I thought I’d tell you about it, too.

In the 1970s these two British ladies, Felicity Taormina and Irina Smith, moved to Philadelphia after having lived all over Europe. Their travels and interest in cooking led them to shop for food in open air markets around the world, so they were very pleased to find Philadelphia’s Italian Market, a unique ethnic market that’s more than 100 years old and still thriving. It’s still a really colorful place to visit and a great source of fresh, local, and special foods. As the authors wrote in their book back then, “It is a world of its own. Many of the shops have been there for 50 years or more, and still the old ways of doing things prevail.”

This booklet came out in 1979, so it’s about 40 years old now. That’s long ago enough that I couldn’t resist looking the two authors up on the internet to see if I could find them. I was happy to discover that Irina Smith, at least, has published other books. In 1997 her cookbook / guide to the Reading Terminal Market, another Philadelphia food institution, came out, and a second edition was published just a few years ago in 2015. Both editions were put out by Camino Books, a Philadelphia-based publishing house that seems to specialize in nonfiction titles of local interest. The Reading Terminal book was coauthored with someone else, a woman named Ann Hazan. According to their bios, both of the authors have run cooking schools and still live in the Philadelphia area. They also published at least one other book together, something called The Original Philadelphia Neighborhood Cookbook in 1987. I may have to buy a copy of this one. I’m not much of a cook but I’m married to someone who is, and we are very happy to live in our Philadelphia neighborhood, except for on trash day in the summer. Even if I didn’t live here, I’d like the idea of these highly local cookbooks. Food and place are two ideas that are very closely intertwined, at least tradtionally, and like Taormina, Hazan, and Smith, it’s a tradition I’d like to hold onto.

None of this is especially important or interesting to note, I guess, but I think it’s cool. I like thinking about women who travel the world on their own, and I like people who like Philadelphia, my home by birth and by choice. More than anything, I feel a lot of affection for this early published work of theirs that, in the great tradition of community cookbooks, was carefully written out by hand by women who were working together to make something good. 


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