Photoplay Cookbook: Carol Dempster’s “French Peas with Butter”

Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes that I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.)  This time, we will be testing a recipe from a very controversial actress.

Carol Dempster is a complicated figure in the history of cinema. While she has some fans, the historical record has not been kind. Some of her contemporaries and a good number of modern viewers blame her for ruining D.W. Griffith’s career. “If she hadn’t pushed Lillian Gish aside– Alas and alack! What might have been!”


Horsefeathers! Griffith was in his thirties and forties when he decided to make a star of Dempster, who was in her teens and twenties. When an adult man in middle age decides to play Svengali to a teenager, it’s generally not considered polite to blame the teenager. Especially if said middle aged man is considered the “father of cinema” and wielded enormous creative control. Frankly, attacking Dempster as some kind of silent film Eve Harrington while letting Griffith off the hook seems just a little sexist. (And by the way, Gish leaving Griffith was the best thing that ever happened to her as a performer.)

Carol Dempster is not my favorite actress. In fact, she annoys the heck out of me just about every time she steps onto the screen. But the idea that Griffith’s insistence on miscasting her was somehow her fault… No. Not having it. Miss Dempster retired from films, married a wealthy man and was apparently quite the philanthropist. She left $1.6 million dollars to the San Diego Museum of Art. Good for her.

But the big question remains: Could Carol cook a mean pot of peas? That’s what we’re here to find out!


This may seem like a simple recipe but flipping through the cookbook, it’s obvious that it is out of the norm. This was the era of boiling veggies into submission. Just read the editor’s description of the recipe: “It really can be done.” Vegetables NOT boiled in a gallon of water? Why, it’s so crazy that it just might work.

I used frozen peas for the recipe because it’s winter but I followed everything else in the recipe, especially the part about keeping the fire low. I did not use the sugar because frozen peas usually are pretty sweet, at least to me.

Obviously, the success of this recipe very much depends on whether you like peas. I love them, myself. No, I don’t know what they mean by “mineral salts.”

Here’s how it turned out. Carol is right, they are very bright green!

Starting from frozen (sorry, Carol)
Starting from frozen (sorry, Carol)
A closer look.
A closer look.

Taste Test Video:

Score: 5 out of 5. The recipe is simple but those are some darn tasty peas! Buttery and sweet and pretty to look at. I wolfed down my bowl and quickly polished off the leftovers in the pot.

Miss Dempster, I salute your pea-making skills!


  1. Michael Kuzmanovski

    Wow! Five stars! I would eat this.

    Is the whole “mineral salts” thing like what nutrionists say today about losing the vitamins and minerals in vegetables if they’re cooked too long?

  2. nitrateglow

    I don’t like peas at all, but it’s nice to see the recipe is great. Dempster may not have been a talented actress, but it’s nice to see her recipe beat out Swanson’s fudge and Crawford’s “salad.”

  3. geelw

    This calls for some nice basmati rice to go with those peas. I wonder how this would work with fresh peas in season. Okay, now I’m hungry (again!)…

  4. Carter Burrell

    Wow! This is a surprise, especially considering that Dempster hadn’t starred in a movie since 1926. She wasn’t one of the greatest actresses of her time, but IMO she did have her moments. This is especially true for “Isn’t Life Wonderful”, which is definitely one of my favorite performances of any era of film, as well as her comedic turn in “Sally of the Sawdust”. Her early work is often rather crude and clumsy at times, but I still find it oddly charming in a way I can’t really explain.

    When I saw the title of the recipe, I was skeptical, but I will have to try it one day. Thanks for giving her a fair shake, and for posting the recipe. ☺

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      The first edition of the cookbook came out in 1927, I believe, so that probably explains why Dempster was included.

      She does have her fans nowadays. I run into them now and again. Even if she’s not my favorite actress, I do think she has gotten a raw deal from history. It’s significant that she took the high road and never returned fire. But then again, she was living in sunny La Jolla and enjoying fine art. (And delicious peas.) I guess living well is the best revenge.

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