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For the Kitchen Bookshelf : Cookbooks. Big books, little books, showy cocktail table books . . . all arrive in time for holiday shopping each year. The Times' Food staff took a look at some of this year's offerings, many of which will make excellent gift choices for last-minute shoppers. Here's a rundown on some we found interesting.

December 21, 1986|Betsy Balsley

The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon with Jan Brown (MacMillan: $19.95, 400 pp.).

I first seized upon this cookbook for selfish reasons. It was written by the owner of a Eureka Springs, Ark., bed-and-breakfast inn, the Dairy Hollow House, and a member of her staff. Having been reared in that part of the country and having fond memories of the wonderful country cooking that was prevalent there in my childhood, my appetite was whetted by nostalgia before I even opened the cover.

Alas, the first thing I read was that this was not a book of traditional Ozark recipes. Instead, the book features foods for which the authors have, not inaccurately, coined the phrase "nouveau'zarks." Explaining that little traditional Ozark food is available today in its original form, i.e. mashed potatoes from boiled potatoes rather than flakes and corn bread from scratch instead of a mix, the authors/cooks also point out that many Ozark dishes, in light of today's standards, do not always make the best use of their ingredients in terms of taste and nutrition. Their premises are valid. Heavy use of animal fats such as lard and fatty ham hocks and overcooked vegetables are definitely out of fashion everywhere. Thus, although I was expecting to leaf my way through a book that was a reminder of my past, it turned out to be a book that is more of a contemporary mid-South potluck than a regional showcase.

But what a pot luck. This is a delicious hodgepodge of cookery gleaned from friends, guests at the inn and the fertile and accomplished minds of the two authors. It's an appreciation of the types of foods native to the northern Arkansas district, updated and adapted to today's tastes.

The book rambles, with bits and pieces of everything from doggerel to poetry to lengthy explanations of exactly how to prepare (and store) greens for a salad, to comments on how to arrange flowers. The recipes at times almost seem to be afterthoughts, but who cares. Once you get into the book, you become more and more curious about the authors. And about the inn. Buy this book primarily for bedside table reading. Then carry it into the kitchen for a little selective recipe use. It's a nice visit to the Eureka Springs of today.

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