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.