Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Very Plaid New Year's Eve

With the new year approaching, everyone needs a fantabulous way to celebrate. Luckily, Better Homes & Gardens' Birthdays and Family Celebrations (1963) has us covered, especially if we have fresh-faced and golly-gee clean teens who would only be too happy to play grown-ups for the night by putting together burgers themselves (and would not so much as imagine taking a sip of champagne).

Here are two: one fussing over the condiment bar and the other smiling in her sweater and plaid wool skirt as she puts a burger from the table-side grill onto a comically oversized bun:

I imagine more than a few parents of the era looking at the picture and wishing their children's ideas of letting loose involved wearing a plaid jacket with a tie just inches from a Lazy Susan piled high with fresh fruit. I'm also sure those same children grew up to be far more interesting individuals than their parents had hoped, and now they can tell stories about hitchhiking across America instead of getting to put both raspberry and marshmallow topping on a banana split.

The companions across the table seem slightly more teen-like:

Second guy in a plaid jacket is looking straight up (almost at the camera) and taking a clownishly large bite out of his burger. He needs to be the center of attention. The girl is smiling too widely in her mustard-yellow sweater and green headband, gazing intently across the table at plaid jacket guy #1 rather than at the caramel sauce she will inevitably pour on her hand because she couldn't look away for a second. We can tell she's been distracted for quite some time because she apparently has a green onion on her ice cream. She also has years of therapy for codependency ahead of her.

If you want to have the party, the directions are all here! Be sure use a "little tote grill that's plugged in by the table" to avoid missing the action and be ready to "unzip those bananas needed for splits"!

In case the idea of making one's own sundae isn't clear enough, there are instructions for being "your own soda jerk":

I love the way the writers try to make the language seem  (like a middle-aged housewife's idea of) young: "crowning glories" for whipped cream and cherries, "go-alongs" for cookies, and best of all, the trying-too-hard "gooperoos" for sundae sauces.

Now is your chance to ring in the new year with your favorite gooperoos and plaid skirts and/or jackets!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday nostalgia, '70s style

Most of us feel a tinge of nostalgia this time of year. For me it's finding the badly wearing felt Winnie-the-Pooh ornament that I've put up since I was a toddler or smelling the almond extract and vanilla as I mix a batch of cookies. There are less cliche memories, too, such as trash-talking my cousins before the annual game of Spoons while grandma sat by the phone, sure she'd have to dial 911 when we managed to accidentally off cut someone's finger in the crush to grab a spoon. (We almost always drew blood, but Band-aids were sufficient first aid.)

It is easier to miss parts of the past than to recreate them, though. Today's proof comes from 1978's Everyday Microwave Cooking for Everyday Cooks, a cookbook meant for use with Toshiba microwaves.

Someone who missed the family's game hens for Christmas dinner but wanted to play with the new microwave might hope to serve this as a holiday treat:

I doubt these game hens would feed a taste for nostalgia, though. Even discounting the glaze (which I find repellent (apricots with soy sauce and mustard!?), though I am sure it would appeal to some people), this recipe seems way too optimistic about the powers of a microwave. The cooked chicken will likely have hard and/or rubbery overcooked spots and others that are cool enough to leave the diner wondering whether a bite or two is actually still raw and at this very moment imparting a festivity-ending dose of salmonella.

Even the cookbook authors have to quietly admit that the skin will be pale and flabby, noting that "Skin may be further[!] browned and crisped under broiler." Or for just a few extra minutes, the hens could be baked the whole time in the oven, rather than just thrown in for the last few minutes in an attempt to make the hens marginally more palatable.

The place where I find the mixture of nostalgia and microwave-modern most curious, though, is in the cakes section:

It all seems so old-fashioned, calling for actual suet, prolonged storage before cooking, repeated doses of alcohol. Then on the last day, stir in the eggs and microwave in a glass measuring cup. The contrast just makes me smile far more than the gummy, rubbery pudding ever would.

Happy holidays, and enjoy any fond memories that come to mind. They're probably far sweeter than the actual past was.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Choose your own (sad) tradition!

It's the time of year to bring out the retro recipes-- the ones that have been made every year for who knows how long (or for what reason...). If you lack traditional recipes of your own or need some last-minute sides to make you feel as if you're fixing something that is required by family tradition (but not necessarily because anyone actually likes it), here are a few Christmas recipes from Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers New Holiday Cookbook (1974).

First up: If the notorious green bean casserole doesn't make an appearance on your table every year and you can't quite bring yourself to make it despite your curiosity, here is a vintage variation:

I'm sure the canned asparagus spears will make the canned cream of mushroom soup and fried onions a lot classier than the canned green beans do. With water chestnuts to add a styrofoam-y texture and hard-cooked eggs to add random egg bits, it's an instant classic.

If you prefer sweeter sides and can't resist the allure of a promised "surprise," this next recipe is for you:

Roll mashed sweet potatoes around marshmallows, then coat in crushed corn flakes and bake until they explode. Serve with brown sugar glaze. Brag about how you get your kids to eat their vegetables without ever disclosing that the vegetable to sugar ratio is roughly 1:1.

Lastly, a gift for the gelatin salad fanatics:

Rainbow creme! There is no finer way to give friends and family salmonella by feeding them raw egg whites whipped with gelatin. I'm not quite sure what to think of the layers. The gelatin is unflavored, so the bottom layer would be chocolate gelatin, topped by a layer of maraschino cherry and lemon extract gelatin, crowned by vanilla and pecan layer. It sounds more odd than festive to me, but at least it's pretty!

If artificial sweetener were substituted for sugar, the bottom layer used nonfat dry milk powder and chocolate extract in place of the real chocolate, and the top layer left out the nuts in favor of some almond extract, this would be a vintage Weight Watchers recipe, I suspect.

I think I just blew my mind.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Give the gift of sliced poultry

If you need a last-minute gift idea, check out Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook (1967):

Who wouldn't love the gift of poultry shears? My strictly vegetarian husband, for one.

Since most old cookbooks imagined women in their primary audiences and presumed that men were uninterested in cooking except for the occasional grilling party, I really wonder whether even the editors considered it "an inspired Christmas present" to give a tool to make the man's one holiday chore slightly easier. I suspect this is a suggestion for a passive-aggressive way of getting back at husbands who thought a set of kitchen towels or a new vacuum cleaner would make lovely gifts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cut it out!

The Family Circle Cookies and Candies Cookbook (1978) is loaded with holiday suggestions, but the "Cut-Out Fun" section particularly intrigues me.

Readers who have a whole day to devote to a cookie craft project could have their work cut out for them. (See what I did there? If you're really my friend, you'll politely pretend that you didn't and read on anyway.)

These are some serious cutouts. You have to copy the patterns above, cut them out by hand, and paint them before baking. For all that labor, though, you get kids building a snowman, transporting a tree by sled, or digging through Christmas ornaments that can apparently survive being stored ball-pit style in an undersized box. You can also make adults kissing under the mistletoe or an old guy driving home in a tiny convertible (clearly the most seasonally appropriate car choice!) with a pine tree as the back seat passenger. (That last one is almost worth the price of admission alone!)

The instructions are just as involved as you might expect:

With the instructions, we get an extra picture to translate to cookie form. I like the way the kid seems to be physically merging with the tree as she stares straight up at the ceiling for no apparent reason. I know the kid and the tree need to be close or the cookie will lose structural integrity, but this looks crazy!

If the instructions all seem a bit too abstract, there are pictures to help illustrate:

This recipe is so involved, it is sheer madness! Of course I love it.

Just a few pages away from this project, I saw a page displaying various other cut-out cookies:

It may not seem remarkable at first. Nice little stars, butterflies, leaves, hearts, flowers: what we might expect from cutouts. One of these seriously puzzles me, though.

What is this?

Is it a cookie with a misshapen purplish turkey leg on top? Is it a very sad attempt at erotic baking? I have no idea what this cookie is supposed to be, and nothing in the caption or the rest of the chapter helped me figure it out. I will leave you to ponder this cookie enigma.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Although my persona here is mostly shy misanthrope (which is pretty accurate to my real personality.... I am such a joy!), I do occasionally try to share and do nice things for others. My best intentions aren't always enough to make things turn out right, though.

For example, my father-in-law loves black licorice and similar anise-flavored sweets. I can't stand the stuff, but we try to find him some new candy treat for Christmas every year. A couple years ago, I came across this recipe in Family Circle Cookies and Candies Cookbook (1978) and decided to make him a special treat:

No-- not the strawberry-flavored ones! The "Green Gum Drops" with anise. (I used black food coloring, though, so they'd look more like licorice.)

The recipe is not kidding when it says "cloud-soft." The first year when I made these, they were so soft it was impossible to cut them into any shapes. I had to scoop teaspoons of the goo out of the pan and roll them HEAVILY in sugar (and then add layers of extra sugar between the candies as I packed them) to keep the drops from pooling back into a single, huge candy blob. (This left me questioning the "very easy to make" claim.)

That was the year that they turned out WELL.

For some reason, I tried again the next year, thinking they might turn out better now that I'd tried the recipe once before. Maybe powdered fruit pectin has changed since the '70s. Maybe I'm not following the directions as well as I think I am. Maybe the weather or some other factor is a problem. Maybe the recipe is missing some crucial step or ingredient. I'm not sure what the cause was, but the gumdrops never moved beyond the thick, sticky soup stage. No amount of rolling in sugar would turn the pan full of smelly, purplish goo into candy bites, so I ended up having one fewer gift than I had planned and a massively annoying dishwashing job. (On the plus side, it was pretty easy to get the sludge down the garbage disposal, but not much fun trying to wash out all the sticky, clinging film left in the dish).

This is why I try to be an eternal pessimist. It's better to be pleasantly surprised when things do work out than disappointed when they don't. Lesson learned.

While the gum drops were a clear fail last year, this next recipe's status is more subjective. It's from my beloved 1973 Betty Crocker's Cookbook:

Most holiday seasons, I make two batches of cookies to share. One is always cutout sugar cookies from a family recipe. They're fun to make and the family loves them, but to be honest, I feel pretty indifferent to them. They taste of Crisco and sugar to me-- not objectionable, but not particularly worthy of all the sugar and fat calories.

That's part of the reason I usually make a second batch of cookies-- the ones I think of as the fails. They only fail in the sense that hardly anybody else eats them because everyone wants the cutouts. The fail batch is the one I actually like, and this is one of my favorite choices.

I always make strawberries, peas, and oranges, taking the time to tint three shades of dough. I like the chance to play with my food-- rolling the strawberries in red sugar, making tiny balls of green dough for individual peas, and using whole cloves for orange navels. The cookies are buttery-rich and delicately almond flavored, small enough to leave room for other holiday delicacies, and almost entirely ignored by everyone else. Perfect failures.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Random Groupings of Food

Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Ham and cheese.

There are classic food pairings that everybody knows. Then there are some that just strike people as odd. (My personal pairing preferences back this up. I wanted p.b. to be a little more savory, so I insisted on peanut butter and butter sandwiches as a kid. I've always preferred rice with eggs, even though I know bacon is the craze. Ham and cheese are a great pair, though, especially if it's a nice smoky cheddar.)

The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (1965) vegetable chapter includes some pairings of both varieties:

The upper left has a classic pairing: corned beef and cabbage. We've all heard of that, and it's not St. Patrick's Day, so there is no need to linger on this one.

The center is what interests me, mainly because it seems like such a random collection of ingredients: candied squash and sausage with buttered peas.

Candied squash is not my thing: too sweet for a main dish and not tasty enough to constitute a dessert, so I wouldn't bother. I know it has a constituency, but I am no part of it.

Sausage: tasty, but I'd like to see it on the savory side. I'm sure the people who like it with maple syrup would probably like it with brown sugar glaze, but again, I'm not in that camp.

I guess the pairing is workable enough if you're one of the sweet entree people, but what really makes it seem random is throwing the sausage balls and candied squash on a bed of buttered peas. (I know the recipe itself doesn't mention the last part, but the picture's caption specifies "buttered peas.") Did the recipe writers think that squash itself was not sufficient to keep this in the "Vegetables" chapter, so they needed to add peas to keep it out of "Casseroles and One-Dish Meals" or "Jiffy Cooking"? Was there not enough of a sauce to bother making this with a noodle or rice ring? Were they taking bribes from the National Pea Council for more product placement?

I just know that the only way a recipe for sticky-sweet squash and sausage more gag-inducing to my childhood self would have been to serve it over a mound of mushy peas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Sweeter Inscription

The same day I found the cookbook with the "Ted" note, I also found a different cookbook with a much more endearing note:

I love the way it's carefully written in cursive and mentions last summer's adventure without getting too specific. (Is "discovered new faces and places" a polite way of saying "For once we didn't spend the entire visit helping you dust your Hummel collection," or is it from someone who finds writing in cursive taxing enough that adding a specific detail or two just never occurred to her?) The signatures are all a bit different in style, suggesting that even though Mary may have written the note, Jean and Jane actually signed too.

I hope Grandma (and Arch?) enjoyed this copy of 1973's Good Housekeeping Desserts from A to Z. Here is something Grandma may have started just about this time of year, for the "X is for Xmas Treats" chapter:

I'm not sure why the photographer decided to take the picture in front of a window. The holly on the table may say "December," but the greenery outside makes me think of summer. Maybe it's supposed to be a wreath on the side of the house? In any case, it has effectively distracted me from paying attention to what is supposed to be the star of this photo: the fruitcake.

I don't see too many recipes that start with "Several weeks before serving." This is a weeks-long craft project! Not one that I would want to actually eat at the end, mind you, but at least this sounds more palatable than the other fruitcake I featured.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A quick math lesson

Industrial amounts of grading this week, so I'll give you a quick math lesson, courtesy of Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook (1967). Although this might look good:

do the math:

Canned Frosting + Cottage Cheese ≠ Cheesecake

P.S.- This is the only math lesson I'm qualified to give, but I think it's a good one.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Showing Ted some love

You know the feeling you get from a happy surprise? Maybe you're going through the pockets in a coat you haven't worn in months and find money you don't remember leaving there. Maybe you discover a playful friend hid a toy skull to stare at you as you wash dishes. (I'm guessing more of you can identify with the first scenario....)

Sometimes just such a happy surprise ensures I will have to buy a vintage cookbook before I've even bothered to look at the recipes. Marion Howells' 1972 Popular Italian Cookery got swept out of the thrift shop based on the inscription alone:

Okay, I know it's the wrong holiday for this time of year, but I didn't want to wait until Valentine's day and risk losing this in the stack....

Ted seems like such a thoughtful guy. Whoever received this could be in for some embarrassment when friends, parents, children, or (significant?) others wanted to try out a recipe. Plus, I feel a hint of "now you can fix me something decent when I come over" in this gift. Getting a gift that Ted actually bought for himself must have been a real thrill.

With the right recipe selecting skills, however, one could quite properly thank Ted. I think I would make pizza.

If you like the more genuinely Italian no-cheese-and-plenty-of-anchovies style, then this may not look too bad. I would warn you to look in the background, though.

The pizza topping recipe starts with frying onions and dessert pears in the oil drained from canned tuna. Just in case the gravity of this situation is lost on you: The pizza topping recipe starts with frying onions and dessert pears in the oil drained from canned tuna.

Then add the canned tuna, tomatoes, and seasoning. Put on top of the crust with anchovies and black olives or pickled walnuts. Prove, bake, and serve hot to Ted in the hopes that he will think more carefully about his gift choices in the future.

Bonus: If you are interested in the basic pizza dough recipe, here it is:

There are no baking directions because they are included at the end of the recipe above.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! Break out the egg molds!

As I noted at Halloween, Wilton saw holidays as a good opportunity to sell people on specialized equipment, even if it didn't necessarily match up to the holiday in question. Thus, maybe you too will get a hint of Easter from this Thanksgiving display from The 1974 Wilton Yearbook of Cake Decorating:

At least fans of giant chocolate eggs will have an excuse to make them more than once a year. I am a bit perplexed by the odd-shaped heads tipped waaaaay back. It's as if a turkey with an unusually small head and flat neck got stuck trying to climb out of a football. These turkeys look so stuck up they would drown if it rained.

Okay, maybe you can't be talked into eggs for Thanksgiving. There is always the traditional Pilgrims and Indians pattern (from the 1970-'71 Wilton yearbook, maybe? The cover is missing):

If you're not sure what to give thanks for, the correct answers are the warm relationship between Pilgrims and Indians (so lucky that the invaders and natives were such good friends) and of course, Wilton's magic Color-Flow! No holiday is complete without it.

If all of this seems a little too festive to belong here and you really just want one last scary dessert, though, I don't want to leave you feeling less-than-thankful. If you need a "healthy" "dessert" packed full of nonfat milk powder and tofu before it will feel like a real Grannie Pantries Thanksgiving, then you can give thanks for Gary Landgrebe's 1978 classic Tofu Goes West:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Floss at the table!

Okay, so I've been less than charitable in my Thanksgiving-themed posts. Maybe your goal isn't to make sure you don't have to host again. Maybe you just want to make sure your misanthropic friend doesn't come back again. If so, you're in luck. I noticed a trend in sides that would keep me away: celery as star!

I can't say I hate celery. It's fine to add a little texture to a bread stuffing. I don't mind it cut into tiny pieces and used to bulk up a soup or stir-fry. I mean, I won't pick it out and fling it at the wall or anything. I just don't see much point in it, and big hunks of it kind of gross me out. Celery is like taking a carrot, draining all the lovely color and flavor out of it, and threading it with several yards of dental floss so every bite is a crunchy but bland, stringy mess.

Since I see celery as a bit player at best, I was surprised to see some holiday cookbooks base entire side dishes around it for Thanksgiving. I'm always suspicious of home ec teachers, but the Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers New Holiday Cookbook (1974) at least seemed to recognize that celery would need a lot of help:

With all the half and half, cheddar, and toasty breadcrumbs, it might be easier to overlook that this recipe is, at heart, a casserole dish full of celery.

Okay, maybe that side wouldn't completely scare me away. If you don't want to leave it to chance, consult Better Homes & Gardens Holiday Cookbook (1959) instead:

A few sauteed mushrooms and toasted almonds are not enough to hide the shame that is a serving dish full of boiled celery. If Neiman-Marcus could pull it off, it is only because Neiman-Marcus had a fancy enough name that they could intimidate others into believing it was good. People in the '50s were just lucky Neiman-Marcus didn't decide to make a side dish out of cigarette butts and coffee grounds, or they would have had to pretend the bitter, ashy flavor and gritty texture were exquisite.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Scary turkey alternatives, part the second

In our last installment, we learned how to scare guests away with disgusting meat-based non-turkey recipes. What if you want to scare guests away with a vegetarian spread, though? New Age Vegetarian Cookbook (1968) can provide the perfect menu.

At first, I was at a loss for the main dish. The "Entrees" chapter has a seemingly endless list of veggie loaves that sound bland, heavy, and nearly identical except for minor variations in ingredients. I didn't know how I would choose, but luckily, they picked for me:

I'm not sure what makes this the Thanksgiving roast. My guess is the sage, a half teaspoon of which is surely plenty to season cups of boiled lentils, bread crumbs, and nuts. I don't really see olives in many of the other loaves either, so maybe those are supposed to make this extra festive.

The loaf is to be served with brown gravy, perhaps to help makeit seem more festive and less like a pile of bland mush.

I'm not convinced this will help much, especially since I've never liked the sweet and savory combination. That's okay, since our goal is not to have to host again. We don't want the "vegetable liquid" and "vegetable flakes" thickened with flour and margarine and sweetened with brown sugar to work too many wonders.

Most Thanksgiving tables also include some kind of stuffing. We want to seem hospitable enough that guests won't suspect our less charitable notions, so let's find some stuffing.

I really have no idea what makes this stuffing! Baking canned soybeans with diced celery and eggs sounds like it could be another loaf? Or maybe stew-ish? I'm not sure what the texture of this might be, but I don't know how this fits the legal definition of stuffing.

Oh, right. There is no standard of identity for stuffing. That must be how this one slipped through.

If all of this isn't enough to make sure Thanksgiving is at Uncle Joe's house next year, dessert should do the trick:

If you feel like being nice, go with the "Very Mild" formulation. If subtlety is lost on your family, "Not So Mild" is probably your best bet.

And hope dessert doesn't kick in until they're on the way home!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scary turkey alternatives

Thanksgiving is coming in just over a week, so food writers are all gearing up for the big feast. Turkey is the star of the show for most people, but it's not foremost among my own ideas of Thanksgiving. When I was a child, we usually went to Grandma's and she didn't like turkey, so she usually made several chickens and a ham. When I grew up and became mostly vegetarian, I learned to make a tofu-based roll full of homemade stuffing and that became the centerpiece. This week I'm examining what vintage cooks could  make in place of a turkey.

Today I'm looking to Good Housekeeping's Cooking for Company (1971) for some ideas of meat-based non-turkey "company" food. I'm not as hospitable as my grandma, though, so these recipes assume that the cook doesn't want to be in charge of Thanksgiving again!

And what could make your guests say "How about we go somewhere else next year?" faster than "Company Tuna-Rice Cones"?

Yes, a ring of gigantic popped zits spewing pus around a bed of overcooked broccoli should work quite nicely at suggesting you'd rather not be subjected to Uncle Joe's political opinions for five hours only to be rewarded with a messed-up house and a pile of dirty dishes afterwards.

These look like real treats, too: tuna and rice glued together, rolled in corn flakes, and deep fried, served over broiled canned pineapple and topped with condensed cream of mushroom soup. I think the fact that these are actually called "Company Tuna-Rice Cones" suggests the editors had the same attitude toward company as I do.

Okay, maybe you don't want to be quite as overtly hostile. Maybe you'd rather have something that seems a bit more Thanksgiving-ish. Maybe if you're really lucky, some of your guests have coulrophobia and you can conveniently "forget" this when you decide to make the innocuous-sounding "Chicken, Danish Style."

Turn a roasted chicken into a horror by painting it white and using pickle and carrot chips to give it a clown outfit. If you're really lucky, the kids will refuse to be in the same house with the thing and will insist on staying in the car!

All it takes is chicken, some veggies, horseradish-mustard sauce, a few toothpicks, and the will to overcome any lingering traces of hospitality or human decency.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On being easily amused....

I am easily amused. I can happily spend an afternoon finding wooly bear caterpillars and chuckling at their divergent predictions about how harsh the winter will be. I can have fun rearranging the dinosaurs that look down from the top of my desk as I type. (They need to be fairly balanced, too-- no letting the carnivores sneak up on the herbivores without a fight!) And of course, I love spending an afternoon thumbing through some old cookbooks.

In short, I'm pretty boring by most adults' standards. But the beauty of being easily amused is that a few pages from McCall's Family-Style Cook Book (1974) can make my day.

If you can look at those pictures and honestly say that they don't make your day just a little weirder (in a good way!), then I should be the one feeling sorry for you!

I don't think I can express how much I love these. The crazy overstuffed absurdity of the poodle and the sheep! The comically over-sized elephant ears! The spiky lion looking like a child's picture of the sun! The ludicrously long giraffe's neck and dachshund's body! The hungry hippo! The minimalist birds! I can understand someone whose idea of a fun time is gluing marshmallows together, especially if the end result is a whimsical marshmallow zoo.

Should you want to make your own, here's how they did it:

I have a secret obsession with lime flavored marshmallows. The little turtle would work pretty well in lime, but I wish they would have made an alligator. Then the zoo would have been complete.