In one of the most beautiful villages in America, long before zoning codes, there was the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society. In 1895, the twenty-one founders gathered at the Clinton Academy and made the decision to take responsibility for protecting their village. In 2020, LVIS celebrates their 125th anniversary.
Since the very first day these hometown heroes have been devoted to their village and its residents. They hold fairs, book sales, run a thrift shop, a bookstore, and a scholarship award program. Their short list encompasses a very bold initiative best summed up as follows:
- Preserving historic landmarks
- Maintaining ponds, parks, greens, and trees
- Charitable and educational welfare of the village
The four principles of the LVIS mission are:
And if that were not enough, the ladies of LVIS:
- Advocated for creating a Village Zoning Plan
- Were instrumental in establishing the Village Planning Board
- Curate local buildings to be submitted to the National Register of Historic Places
- Maintain the Village Nature Trail and its 24 acre park
- Hold Special Events throughout the year
Our Introduction to LVIS
In 1999, I was privileged to make the acquaintance of LVIS in a very special way …
I was still commuting between my city restaurants and the Mill House Inn in East Hampton Village. My wife Sylvia and I were the new innkeepers in town and were kept quite busy meeting everyone, having dinner, cooking dinner, and attending parties.
Not to mention, there was our new occupation of being innkeepers, but then time to sleep is never a given. And, so to speak, we had made our bed and were quite happy sleeping in it. Such is the life of an innkeeper!
Late one evening, back in the city, I received an email from Sylvia announcing another party we were being asked to attend. I responded with questions, wondering if we would need to be available for the additional festivities … but alas, this was a big deal, LVIS was asking us to attend the celebration of the formalization of the Hook Historic District.
The Mill House Inn would be a part of this newly formed district, so how could we say NO to such an invitation? Little did I know at the time what awaited me. This would be one of the most memorable luncheons I have ever attended in East Hampton Village or anywhere else for that matter.
Becoming Close Friends with LVIS
The day of the event turned out to be one of those midweek autumn afternoons blessed with perfect East End weather. Add a stunning location to that and the magic takes over! So off to the Maidstone Club we went to enjoy the amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean, lunch and a few too many cocktails.
I was, of course, hopeful! With my commuting and being awfully busy I had not spent much time with my lovely wife and was looking forward to her company and a quiet lunch.
Well, it turns out that a seating plan had been designed for the event, one that placed me across the dining room from Sylvia — so much for catching up on the past week. Off I went to find my seat and meet my dining companions for the afternoon.
I was thrilled to find myself seated between two veterans of LVIS who were well aware that I was the new chef who had just moved into the village. They wanted to talk food. It seems that they had been on the cookbook committee for LVIS, writing and collecting recipes for the last half-century. They explained that this tradition began over 100 years ago and that the first edition of The Way We Cook in East Hampton was printed in 1896.
These octogenarians knew their way around the kitchen and East End food. This is a chef’s dream, arriving in a new place and making friends with the food historians.
My new friends also shared my appreciation of a well-made martini. It seems I would be in charge of cocktails, so I made an end run on our waiter, found the bar and made fast friends with the bartender. Once the supply of properly crafted extra dry Bombay Sapphire martinis had been secured, we set about discussing East Hampton’s culinary past.
I learned much that afternoon, who cooked what best, where to go to purvey the best food, but mostly I learned about a delicious heritage of food and the cooks who loved the East End and curated its history.
My afternoon was a success, I had made new friends thanks to LVIS. It was a special gift that this new innkeeper and chef received that day. For several years to follow I received gifts of cookbooks old and new from these two special friends.
A Recipe for Scalloped Oysters …
Do visit the LVIS Bookstore for a copy of their cookbook as well as the East End’s largest selection of second-hand books, including many first editions and collectibles. With special thanks to these wonderful Ladies, here is one of my favorite recipes from Cooking Wisdom! Take a look …
Scalloped Oysters, by Mrs. DeWitt C Talmage
- Butter an earthen pudding dish
- Fill it with alternating layers of crushed crackers and oysters [the first layer should be the crackers]
- Wet them with a mixture of the oyster liquor and milk
- Add a layer of oysters. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bits of butter [the size of walnuts]
- Let the top layer be the crackers
- Over which scatter bits of butter quite thickly
- Add a beaten egg to a little milk, and pour over it
- For a medium sized dish, about an hour will be required for baking.
About Recipes, and Cooking Them
When I learned to cook, too long ago to mention, recipes were passed down in various styles … some with exact details of the process and the requisite ingredient list. In a much different style that mirrors the very old professional books in my library, books like Herrings Classical and Modern Cookery and Le Repertoire De La Cuisine, only present a description, and you work from there to build your personal version.
The LVIS cookbook presents a detailed description of how and what one might cook but not the exact details mentioned previously. Working this way assumes you are a talented cook with a good skill-set and are really comfortable in the kitchen. These ladies truly communicate their kitchen mastery in a professional manner.
I think Mrs. Talmage would give you creative license to explore the many possible variations of her creation. If you have a thought or two on how you might use this recipe, please do send it to me and I will incorporate it in my own take on Scalloped Oysters. If you would like this to become a regular column, let me know that as well.
We are proud supporters of LVIS and invite you to visit to see firsthand what they have helped achieve in the Hamptons. Call us or email us to book your stay.