ECHO underway, posted Monday, November 22, 2010
The Bethel Public Library owes its origins to a cook with books.
Massachusetts-born Maria Parloa, orphaned at an early age, made her way in her early life by cooking for families and in hotels and summer resorts in New Hampshire. Before she was thirty, Miss Parloa published her first culinary work, The Appledore Cook Book, in 1872, and over the next three decades she concocted five more, all very popular and all based within the emerging home economics movement. Indeed, Parloa, along with Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (whom Parloa befriended on Maine’s Appledore Island), could be called the “grandmothers” of American home economics. The Beecher sisters took up many causes and activities, but Parloa was single-minded in her mission to teach the science of cooking. She offered public lectures on cookery — the first took place in New London in 1877 — and toured England and France to study how cooking was taught there. She was one of the original instructors at the Boston Cooking School.
How Parloa learned about parsley is hidden in time, but her cookbooks containing, in her words, “a great variety of toothsome dishes” make innumerable references to parsley as an ingredient and as garnish.
“Innumerable” is an exaggeration: “parsley” is mentioned 87 times in Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (1880) and 100 times in Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion (1897). Yet the word appears only six times in her first cookbook. So something happened — likely, it was her trips abroad that taught her the aesthetics as well as the science of cookery that encouraged the use of garnishes in general and parsley in particular.
Parloa considered green parsley “essential” to have through the winter. “This can be managed very easily,” she wrote, “by having two or three pots planted with healthy roots in the fall. … Keep in a sunny window and you will have not only a useful herb, but a thing of beauty through the winter.”
By her mid-forties, Parloa had attained a comfortable wealth through her schools, her books, and her writing for the Ladies’ Home Journal (of which she was part owner). She eventually settled in Bethel. There, she cared for two orphan girls and established a village improvement society. There, at age 65, she died, leaving in her will $2,000 and her personal collection of books to establish a public library.
You may still find Miss Parloa’s cookbooks on the shelves of the Bethel Public Library, 189 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel, CT 06801.