Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Mary Pickford’s Russian Caviar on Tomatoes

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay Cookbook but I sometimes take detours. This time, we’re looking at America’s Sweetheart once again and her recipe for a WWII-era cookbook.

Sincerely Yours was published in 1942 as part of a charity drive. The entire book very much has  a “welcome to the war” feel to it with contributions from the Russian ambassador, Maxim Litvinov, and American first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. And Mary Pickford. It wasn’t a celebrity cookbook without Mary Pickford. (I’m not complaining.)

Mary Pickford was a constant fixture of celebrity cookbooks from the 1910s up until her death in 1979, which easily makes her the longest running participant. As such, we are in a unique position to see how Pickford selected her recipes and adjusted her submissions to match the tastes and expectations of the time. Like any great star, Pickford knew what her audience wanted. (Buddy Rogers has his name on this one too but given Pickford’s publicity expertise, I am confident in naming her the mastermind.)

When she was a young wife, it was raspberry jam tarts. (Very tasty too.) When she was the biggest star in the world, it was an expensive truffle dish. The Great Depression meant simpler foods, stick-to-your-ribs meals like creamed Finnan haddie. And now this wartime cookbook shows Mary Pickford, ambassador. Bright red tomato and caviar on toast? A nice way to play the North American perceptions of Russian cuisine (it’s known for vodka, caviar, black bread and beets). And, we should remember, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks paid a visit to the USSR early in their marriage. In short, this is a friendly recipe.

“Fritzi, did you just happen to have a Russian sailor’s hat lying around to use as a prop?”
Doesn’t everybody?

I would say this recipe was another publicity win for Pickford on paper but let’s see what it tastes like.

This is an easy no-cook recipe, especially since you can buy marinated artichoke hearts in most American grocery stores. I chopped mine up. (In this context, “French dressing” would mean a vinaigrette.)

I took the liberty of substituting round wheat crackers for toast rounds because, well, I hate cutting toast rounds. The caviar was whatever kind the supermarket carried. This is what it looks like, in case you are curious. Just a very, very expensive jar of tiny fish eggs.

The instructions call for you to make sort of a little tomato doughnut and rest the caviar in the center but I found that everything stayed together beautifully by simply stacking the halved tomato on a bed of artichoke with a dollop of caviar on top. You’ll want to be sparing because caviar does have a strong flavor. A little dab will do ya. I used maybe 1/4 or 1/3 teaspoon per cracker.

Do you like my fish platter? The “champagne” is actually sparkling apple cider but it’s a secret, shhhh!

I neither garnished with pimento nor served on watercress because the store was all out of watercress. Don’t they know there’s a war on?

Score: 5 out of 5. Yippee, these are delicious! The sharpness of the tomato contrasts with the earthy whole wheat and the sweet aftertaste of the artichoke and then the salty caviar adds another zip to the affair. Yum!

I was worried that these would fall apart without some kind of “glue” to hold them together (hummus or cream cheese) but the artichokes create a little nest that supports everything beautifully. And they’re very striking to look at with dramatic colors. Well done!

This is a darn good appetizer in the old school tradition. In fact, after the photoshoot, I made a second batch to snack on. As an added bonus, they’re easy!

If you do not eat fish products or simply do not feel like shelling out the cash for caviar, there are several options. IKEA sells a vegan caviar and I think minced Kalamata olives would provide similar saltiness to contrast with the other ingredients.

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6 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Mary Pickford’s Russian Caviar on Tomatoes”

  1. Dear Fritzi,

    This is a really good article! I enjoy your articles about vintage recipes. It’s so interesting to read about the stars’ favorite dishes. This sounds delicious! It looked lovely when you prepared it. It sounds like this was a successful experiment.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join a blogathon which my sister, Rebekah, is hosting in November. On November 9-11, PEPS is hosting the Claude Rains Blogathon in honor of this marvelous actor’s 129th birthday on November 10. You can read the announcements and sign up here: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/five-minutes-everybody-the-curtains-going-up-on-the-claude-rains-blogathon/. We hope you can join. We could really use your talent!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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