Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mysteries of Bodie Beans

Even though I don't cook many vintage recipes, I do like cooking. I am not one for following directions, though-- I don't eat a lot and can only deal with so many leftovers, so the first thing I do with any new recipe is halve it. Then I'll realize that it calls for bell peppers, but I'm out of them, so I'll substitute green beans or mushrooms or whatever vegetables I have in the freezer. The recipe will look bland, so I'll double the spices and throw in something new, probably oregano or cilantro... You get the idea. By the time I'm done cooking, it bears almost no resemblance to the recipe I was "following." I love today's recipe because it narrates a similar approach to cooking in such an intimate, informal way:

There is so much good stuff here that I don't know where to start.... Even the ingredient list is great. "One large can -- 30 ounces I guess -- of peeled tomatoes." I love the thorough fact-checking there. Maybe the writer could have gone through the trash to look at the can or checked the pantry to see if there was another can of the same size, but that would be too much trouble. The people who will use a recipe like this don't need exact measurements anyway.

I'm totally baffled by the little list at the end of the ingredients, too: "I also found other things, eggs, bacon, orange juice, potato chips, etc., etc., but the dinner dish type things are listed above." I don't know where this writer was looking-- apparently at lists of similar recipes, trying to put them together to make a master recipe? The recipe DOES include bacon, but the list at the bottom of the page seems to suggest it doesn't. While I can get the logic of supposing that eggs or orange juice might be more breakfast-y, I'm not sure why potato chips as an ingredient wouldn't seem like "dinner dish type things."

Then the instructions! The writer "fiddled this thing together" in a cast-iron skillet. I love the emphasis on frying the onion and bell pepper "until they were BROWN." I also love the narration of dumping various ingredients in, tasting them, and thinking, "Not bad!" Then while "the whole mess" cooked, the writer had time to spin stories and get the inspiration to add "about a teacup full of the Bodie spring water." The spring water is the secret, too. If you want to make authentic Bodie Beans, you will have to 'load up your travel trailer, truck, or motor home and head for Bodie."

That might be especially hard for modern readers, as the recipe doesn't indicate where Bodie might be. There's a Bodie, California, but I don't see mention of springs. There's a Bodie House near Eureka Springs in Arkansas. There's a Bodie Island in North Carolina. My internet searches are not helping much.

The only clue I have about the origin of this recipe comes at the bottom of the page:

Maybe this was written by Phil Cole or someone who knew him well enough to want to help advertise his book? The publisher is in Kentucky (and the language certainly makes it easy to imagine the writer is from Kentucky!), but I haven't had much luck finding any Bodie, Kentucky, through Google searches. The mystery remains. Apparently the good lord was willin and the crick (!) didn't rise, because Phil Cole's book did come out. (My internet searches date it as 1981 or 1986-- not sure why there was a discrepancy.) That's the only clue I have about the date of this recipe, so it was probably from around 1980 or '85. It's just a loose page that was stuffed into a copy of The Service Cook Book by Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen (1933), but this recipe is obviously a lot newer than the book.

If anybody can solve the mystery of Bodie Beans, let me know!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Millions of peaches! Peaches for me... or on second thought, maybe for you...

The end of August is always a tough time because it means BACK TO SCHOOL. I dreaded those words as a kid because they meant spending long days of pretending not to notice the kids calling me Four Eyes or wondering aloud why I never combed my hair. (Answer: I DID comb my hair. My hair has its own agenda, though, and it is not amenable to persuasion.) Now, back to school means stacks and stacks and stacks of grading on top of wondering whether my hair is presentable enough that students won't gripe about it being distracting when they fill out their evaluations.

One of the few things that makes this time of year better is fresh peaches: sweet, meltingly tender, juicy peaches. We had a few peach trees when I was a kid and I remember spending the last few days of summer vacation helping blanch, skin, and slice pints of peaches for the freezer so we'd have a little summer sweetness all year round.

This is the long way of saying that today I'm writing about peaches. Today's entry comes from the 1955 pamphlet "Quick Dishes for the Woman in a Hurry." Of course, this is a cookbook from the '50s, so we're not talking about fresh peaches. Canned was the way to go:

What would you think of canned peaches stuffed with a bit of cream cheese? Sounds pretty good, right? Like a miniature fruity cheesecake?

Okay, how about canned peaches stuffed with a "horse-radish"-flavored cream cheese and mayo blend? With celery and green peppers mixed in for good measure? I'm sure my well-documented aversion to condiments makes this sound especially repulsive to me, but I have a hard time imagining that this particular combination sounds good to too many other people either. Even giving the peaches a bit of blush with red food coloring and a sweet glaze of sour cream, cranberry jelly, and peach "sirup" isn't enough to save this idea.

Maybe canned pears are a better accompaniment to horseradish mayo? If you think so, try the Pear Blush Salad. (Not included: a third variation called Apricot Salad. I'll bet you can't guess the recipe for that one!)

(Okay, actually I bet you can. I was being sarcastic.)

(I'm pretty sure you knew I was being sarcastic. I like to step on my own jokes sometimes-- crush their little spines because they're so weak to begin with. I'm sadistic that way.)

(But not sadistic enough to make this recipe. So there's that.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Going crazy with Knudsen

I should be used to seeing pictures of aspics by now. I really should! For some reason, everyone in the '50s apparently thought it was a great idea to glue all manner of savory items together with gelatin and make them in a mold for a more impressive presentation, so I have seen dozens of pictures. Yet this "Corned Beef Salad Loaf" picture (from the 1959 pamphlet "Knudsen Recipes") gave me a shiver:

Then I realized that on some level I was remembering an unhappy event from my childhood when I ate a red popsicle and barfed shortly thereafter. The chunky, reddish mass in the picture nudged the corner of my brain holding onto that event (because obviously being sick is a memory I will want to treasure forever). So if someone had molded my barf into a loaf and decorated it with hard-cooked eggs, pimento slices, and parsley for their own nefarious purposes, it would have kind of looked like this.

Now the actual recipe will sound delicious by comparison (which is pretty much the only way most aspic recipes will ever sound delicious):

Congealed corned beef, celery, horseradish, and cottage cheese: better than vomit! (I should work in advertising.)

Another recipe on the same page just left me feeling puzzled. It looks fine:

Looks like a pretty standard chef salad-type mixture: meat, tomatoes, and hard-cooked eggs on a bed of lettuce. Why is it in a skillet, though?

Because it is "Hot Salad Meal in Skillet." (Now that's a title! "Hot Salad Meal"? It makes me think of the "bone meal" or "fish meal" I see as an ingredient in pet food. Terribly appetizing. I imagine going to the grocery store, requesting a bag of salad meal, and getting a bag full of powdered bits of lettuce that were too slimy, wilted, discolored, misshapen, etc. to put in the bags of salad mix. Then I could take the dark green powder home to dump in a skillet and heat, for some reason that I can't imagine. But I digress....)

How does one make "Hot Salad Meal in Skillet"? Okay, not the way I've just imagined:

I get the first part; it's just a simple tossed salad (with cottage cheese because Knudsen). The part that has me baffled is the sauce. Basically, once the salad is ready, you're supposed to throw the whole thing into hot, lightly seasoned water with lemon? I've never thought a tossed salad would be improved by a brief dip in boiling water, but maybe there's something I'm missing here? Is it supposed to thin the sour cream added at the very end? Maybe diners are expected to prefer wilted lettuce? This recipe seems perfectly reasonable until the sudden turn at the end. At least the corned beef salad loaf has the decency to sound weird all the way through.

Programming note: I've been posting on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the last few months. My teaching schedule is changing again, so I'll be switching from Wednesdays to Tuesdays.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm going to Riceland for reasons I cannot explain

There's some part of me that wants to see Riceland.

Maybe I want to go to Riceland because I am amused by anything made in the oblong, ridged mold that makes me think the brain of some alien species with an oval head is being served for dinner.

In this case, the alien has a very white brain (maybe because aliens keep all their gray matter on the outside?):

I wonder how an alien would feel about its brain being garnished with peaches and topped with a cherry.

Maybe I want to go to Riceland to see the spectacular raspberry volcanoes:

Amazing that the lava doesn't melt the snowy mountain ridges.

Apparently the Arkansas Rice Growers Cooperative Association liked playing with this recipe when it put together "Riceland Rice Recipes" (1952) because the booklet includes not one, but two pictures of the same dessert (and the alien brain is on the cover!).

This actually sounds pretty good-- a variation of raisin-less rice pudding packed into a mold and covered with fruit. I might actually make it if I could decide whether a peachy alien brain or a raspberry volcano were the cooler variation. Maybe a raspberry volcano erupting onto an alien brain? Or maybe I should try something new, like a heart mold leaking raspberry blood everywhere? A fish with kiwi slice scales and blueberry eyes? I am paralyzed by the possibilities.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Let's Try Some Eye-talian Food!

I love the way old cookbooks give me an idea of what foods were familiar in their time periods and what was exciting and new. Eating tongue for supper might not be much of a surprise for a farm family in the '50s, but "Eye-talian" food-- now that could be exotic, especially to Americans with no Italian heritage. Just looking at the titles of the recipes in The Italian Cookbook from Culinary Arts Institute (1956) shows how foreign the cuisine seemed.

Paging through desserts, I spotted this recipe

and giggled just a bit. "Cream Rolls"? Who really needs "Cannoli" to be translated? People in the '50s, apparently. And don't object that every recipe has a translation because a very few recipes do assume that readers will know what the food is without needing a translation. "Lasagna" is just labeled that, not called something like "Layered Sauce, Cheese, and Noodle Casserole." "Minestrone" is not called "Vegetable Bean Soup with Pasta." The book assumes some familiarity with Italian foods-- just not exotic dishes like cannoli.

I giggled even more when I saw this one:

"Macaroni Muffs"? (I'll admit, my giggling was significantly more adolescent this time. Don't tell anyone.) Imagine a time when "Macaroni Muffs" was a clearer title than the simple "Manicotti."

Sometimes the titles work the other way, though. What do I mean? I'm pretty sure that this is actually an American recipe that the Culinary Arts Institute wants to sound more authentically Italian:

I can't imagine too many '50s Italian grandmothers making "Pizza Biscottata all 'Inglese" in the old country. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Trade in your toast! Eggs have a new friend.

I usually write about books from the '70s or earlier, but today we are headed to the '80s because I couldn't resist this recipe from 1983's pamphlet "Chex: The Natural Way to Good Cooking."

The first chapter suggests breakfast and brunch recipes. Since everybody's first thought for a Chex breakfast is "Just eat a bowl of it," the recipe writers had to think of something else to do with the stuff. Most of the recipes involve crushing the Chex and dumping them into muffin or coffeecake batter, but not everybody wants sweet pastry for breakfast. What about the people who like something hot and savory like eggs?

Well, Chex has got them covered:

Why have boring old toast and eggs if you can have eggs on a bed of Chex? If you want to argue that the delectable buttery crunch of toast is a better counterpoint for eggs than dry, boring, stick-to-your-teeth Chex, then know that the eggs are not mated with ordinary Chex.

No-- with butter, marjoram, and grated Parmesan, those Chex are actually a rudimentary form of Chex mix. With eggs baked on top of them for some reason. I mean, whenever you grab a handful of Chex mix, don't you always think "This party snack would go from merely adequate to great if it just had an egg baked into it"?

This recipe gives you the chance to find out.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Night of the Shaggy Cakes

Okay, you KNOW I am a sucker for old cake decorating books. That made this week's find at a thrift store just that much sweeter. Today I present The Good Housekeeping Book of Cake Decorating, edited by Dorothy B. Marsh (1961).

The thing that is so charming about this book is that so many of the cakes really look like homemade, hand-decorated cakes. New cake decorating books are so slick and look so complicated that I have a hard time imagining human beings are capable of making the cakes (even though I know they must be!), much less actual home cooks. Most of the cakes in this guide look like something I could even have made as a teenager (when I actually did decorate a few cakes).

I'm in love with the page of children's coconut birthday party cakes, even though coconut is simply pencil shavings mixed with sunblock as far as I'm concerned. The most polished-looking of the trio might be "Swanee":

Swanee has a fairly gracefully curved neck and sweetly shaggy appearance. (Apparently cake swans don't need to worry about having sleek waterproof feathers.) Plus Swanee sports an orange gumdrop beak that pretends to be yellow for the sake of rhyming with "fellow" in the accompanying poem.

Another cake that oddly doesn't worry about being sleek and waterproof:

Sailin' Down the Bay! This one has shaggy sails and, appropriately, Life Savers portholes. (Okay, the book calls them "white candies," but those are totally Life Savers!) The style reminds me of the boat picture in the Simpsons' house, but this is actually slightly more sophisticated than their behind-the-couch art. I'm not sure why this one doesn't merit a poem, though. I hope it doesn't feel left out.

Finally, a cake that actually should be shaggy in its adorably boxy glory:

Spot, the Fox Terrier! I love the square-ish chocolate ear (that doesn't really seem to match anything else on Spot's coat) and the gumdrop, licorice, and dragee collar. The completely box-shaped head and weird, blocky tail (that almost suggests a lifted hind leg if you look at it just right) complete the look.

The licorice smile is the perfect symbol of these cakes' naive optimism. (Come on, where else will you read a sentence like that?)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Joy of "Salads"

A friend was cleaning her house the other day and in a stack of old papers found something that she thought I needed: "The Dispatch Cookbook." It's a newspaper insert "cookbook" from the October 14, 1979 edition of The Columbus Dispatch, and the front cover promises it is full of "Penny-Pinching Main Dishes, Salads, Desserts, [and] Holiday Dishes." I leafed through the yellowing pages, genuinely delighted to know that I am the most worthy recipient of cast-off old newspaper inserts, and wondered where to begin. A couple of salads (or should I use scare quotes and refer to them as "salads"?) convinced me that I shouldn't waste these last days at the height of summer on stodgy penny-pinchers. Today we'll look at two chilled recipes with "salad" in the title so we can keep cool and pretend they're healthy even though the ingredients that suggest... well... that we are full of bullshit.

First up:

Banana Peanut Joy! The title alone has me captivated because I'm a peanut butter fiend of the highest order. Loaded full of sugar, butter, whipped cream, and miniature marshmallows, this dish is obviously NOT a dessert because the recipe is in the salad section. (In fact, it won third place in the salad competition. It was not accidentally on the salad page!)

The more I look at it though, the less enthusiastic I am about this, shall I say, saladessert. Apparently to help pull off the illusion that this is a genuine salad, the recipe also calls for mustard and vinegar! I have never in my life eaten a concoction with peanut butter, bananas, and whipped cream and thought, "This could really use some mustard!" (Of course, I have never thought anything could use some mustard, but that is beside the point.)

I'm not sure how the next recipe even gets away with the pretense that it's a salad:

Yes, Amish Crust Salad consists of fruit, gelatin, cream cheese, and whipped topping on a crumbly brown-sugar-and-nut crust. There is no way this is actually a pie because 1. It's made in a 9x12 pan rather than a pie plate and 2. It says "salad" right there in the title. See? Amish Crust SALAD. Clearly this is the healthy course one eats to be polite at the beginning of the meal while waiting for the real dessert to arrive.

Maybe in this case, though, it would be okay to be extra healthy and polite and snag another piece.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Let's decorate a fish!

Happy August! My July was cool enough that it didn't feel excessively July-like, so I'm secretly hoping August will continue to chill out. Even with weather that's more late September-like than midsummery, I suspect Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962) will be right about the produce for the month:

Corn, green beans, and peaches! No quibbles here (except for the lovely "noble savage" stereotype keeping the corn company. I guess I should at least be glad that the artist didn't try to give the corn a headdress too!).

The recipe for the month was super-easy to choose because of this spectacular picture:

Yes, a whole salmon with the tail still attached, dressed up with pimento-stuffed olive eyes and a floral design on its side! If salmon could roll over in their graves, that design would be flying all over the dining room in no time, so '60s homemakers were lucky that dead salmon were so compliant.

So how to make this fantastic fish? It was a two-day process:

Day 1: Poach the fish in seasoned water; then refrigerate.

Day 2: The fun part! Make salmon presentable, put it on a platter, and lacquer it up with gelatin-enriched fish stock. Decorate and re-lacquer.

Serve with dilled mayo to creeped-out guests as a way to demonstrate that you have way too much free time (and to suggest that maybe the dosage to your special medicine should be increased)...