Saturday, November 29, 2014


Thanksgiving is over, so it's time to think about candy! At least, that's what a little corner of my brain thinks. My family used to make big trays of goodies as gifts, so this time of year I start remembering rolling tiny balls of flavored cream cheese in granulated sugar before smashing them in mint molds (rose shape for cinnamon and leaf shape for peppermint) or whipping molten syrup into fluffy marshmallow clouds or trying not to devour all the sweet, peanutty dough before we could roll it in chocolate to make buckeyes.

People loved the trays, and we got away with giving relatively inexpensive gifts. Obviously, we weren't the first family to need a thrifty holiday, so I decided to check out what families in the 1930s might have given their neighbors and the cousins they saw once a year.

The Household Searchlight Recipe Book (1936) suggests those families liked to make fudge with whatever was on hand. 

Like traditional chocolate fudge, but need more volume than your meager stock of ingredients will produce? Try this:

Yes, fluff up your fudge with popcorn! Just be sure to check for grannies. Breaking a tooth on the holiday fudge would not make a good tradition (although it might ensure seeing the cousins less than once a year).

If popcorn isn't your thing, you could always go with raisins and molasses as fillers instead:

And maybe if you dreamed of Chocolate-Covered Cracker Jack fudge, you could omit the raisins and add the popcorn to combine the two recipes, using peanuts in place of the chopped nuts? I can totally imagine my grandma trying that.

What if you forgot to start the fruitcake weeks in advance? There's a fudge for that:

What if you opened your fridge and didn't have much besides a big bag of carrots? Not a problem:

Yep-- carrot fudge! (Put it on the plate left out for Santa and tell the kids it's for the reindeer.)

Okay, but what if the gift is an obligation for someone you really don't like?

Prune fudge: the official candy of regret.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An eastward slant for turkey leftovers

Now that the internet is trying to prepare us for the days after Thanksgiving with recipes for (gluten-free, paleo, and/or baconized) turkey-filled leftovers, I wondered what families in the '60s might do with their late-November bounty. I expected a sea of cream of mushroom soup-based casseroles and mountains of turkey hash. I was a bit surprised to find a peninsula of "eastern" offerings in American Home All-Purpose Cookbook (1966, edited by Virginia T. Habeeb).

I am not at all a fan of the sweet-and-savory fruit and meat combo (not even turkey and cranberries!), but for those who are, Turkey Far East seems like a holiday-appropriate use of leftovers. It's full of warm holiday spices like cinnamon and ginger as well as in-season apples and oranges.

Even if the fall tastes mirror some in the Thanksgiving dinner, this would be a big change of pace compared to the usual reheated leftovers.

What if you really want a turkey pie, though, and you don't want to crank out another pot pie? 

Like many of the putatively Chinese dinners in old cookbooks, this recipe's authenticity seems questionable at best. It has soy sauce, pineapple, and water chestnuts, though, along with ground almonds in the crust, so it's as Chinese as one might reasonably expect in the '60s.

I have to admit, I'm much more of a casserole-full-of-cream-of-mushroom-soup fan than a tolerator of fruit in my turkey, but it was fun to find recipes so different from what I expected.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the leftovers any way you want!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Want to at least pretend to be health-conscious? These appetizers might help....

Thanksgiving is coming up, and with it, the season for pretending that all the holiday goodies won't leave you with only one item of clothing that fits: a muumuu like the one Homer Simpson wore when he got serious about being fat.

So, how to avoid this fate? The less effective but more fun way is to pretend that everything you eat is healthier than it really is. Say you come upon this tray of yummy-looking, clearly deep fried appetizers (from Elizabeth Price's Hors d'Oevres & Appetizers, 1978).

Maybe you think, "I really shouldn't! Dinner will be ready in just a little while and that's more than enough."

Then the host sees you gazing longingly at these golden nuggets of goodness and says, "Oh, go ahead. They're good for you! They're made with Lima beans."

Maybe the words "Lima beans" make you suspicious, but you don't SEE any Lima beans. Then you start thinking about how delicious hummus can be, and it's mostly ground up beans. Plus it doesn't even have the advantage of being deep fried. Surely you should at least try these to get your legumes for the day and offset all the cream and butter you are about to ingest with the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie....

The more effective tactic to avoid the holiday hundred (like the freshman fifteen, but bigger!) is to not be tempted by the appetizers in the first place.

If it weren't for the garnishes around the edges, I'm not sure it would even occur to me that this glistening pink tower was meant to be edible:

It looks like some ill-conceived children's art project that you'd have to display on the coffee table for at least a few months after the kid brought it home. Then in the spring you could declare that it would be a good mosaic tile for the walkway to the garden, but you'd have to dig an extra-deep hole to bury it so it would be level with the ground, and before the kiddo knows it, the art project has vanished....

Those eggs (your guess is as good as mine why they are stuffed with pink and green filling) suggest someone is meant to eat this, though. So what is it?

Ham mousse! So if you prefer your ham cold, congealed, and pounded in a mortar, looking like (to borrow a phrase from a movie I watch every December) a pink nightmare, this recipe might not help with weight control. The rest of us suddenly have the fortitude to wait until dinner.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pumpkin pie as translated into '70s health food

Okay, now that we know what some truly historical pumpkin pies were like, I'm moving on to a much more recent historical style I love to gawk at-- '70s health foods. What did pumpkin pie look like in the age of alfalfa sprouts and granola?

The Rodale Cookbook by Nancy Albright (copyright 1972, although mine is from the 1977 printing) suggests this:

This might count as a pie, but barely.... No rich cream to make a luscious, velvety filling-- just a half cup of skim milk powder. Will it be sweet? With a quarter cup of honey and a tablespoon of molasses for the whole pie, it certainly won't be cloying. It's probably less of a dessert than the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes served as a side dish at less health-conscious gatherings.

You might wonder about the suggested barley-oat crust. Wonder no more:

It's barley and oat flour held together with oil. (Or make it with whole wheat flour instead! Variety!) I'm sure it wouldn't be flaky, but at least it would probably be tender (and, as most '70s health food, heavy).

If you think this pie is spartan, at least it offers a crust. Gary Langrede's Tofu Goes West (1978) suggests getting rid of the crust entirely and using a special ingredient to make the concoction thick and creamy. (Given the book's title, I'll bet you have no idea what that ingredient might be!)

Yep-- tofu! And this has double the nonfat milk powder of the other recipe for double the goodness! At least this should be sweeter with a full cup of honey... and some orange juice. (The idea of oranges in a pumpkin pie just doesn't seem quite right to me, but maybe it would add some much-needed brightness to cut through all the tofu and powdered milk?)

These are not exactly swaying me from my original conviction that impossible pumpkin pie is the retro pie to make!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Historical pies

It's the height of pumpkin season-- just past the jack-o-lantern stage and into the pie stage, with pumpkin pie's big day just over a week away. What did pumpkin pie look like in the past? Today I have some seriously old pumpkin pie recipes for you.

This first is a translation that was originally from De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine (Of Honest Voluptuousness and Health) by Platina in 1475. Obviously, I don't have the original! The recipe is from Margaret Rudkin's Pepperidge Farm Cookbook (1963). So how did one go about making a pumpkin pie in 1475?

First, get an old bald guy with a beard and a slightly bemused expression to fetch an enormous pumpkin.

Then, shred the pumpkin and cook in a little heavy juice (whatever that may be). Mix sieved mixture with "a half-pound of sow's belly," butter (or liquamen, apparently a fish sauce!), sugar, ginger, cinnamon, six eggs, two cups of milk, and saffron. (I'd never seen saffron listed as an ingredient in pumpkin pie before, and I have to admit I'm a little intrigued. I had saffron ice cream one time, and it was softly floral and lovely. I'll bet saffron would be good in pumpkin pie, if a bit too expensive for everyday use.) (I'm really not sure about saffron in pumpkin pie if it's made using a fish sauce, though! With butter, sure...)

I love the way there are no measurements for the main ingredient-- pumpkin-- while many of the lesser ingredients get measurements. The writers trusted cooks to know what they were doing!

I also have to love a recipe that ends with the warning "It is difficult to digest and nourishes badly." There are sooo many recipes from the '50s, '60s, and '70s that deserved a warning! Apparently ending a recipe with a warning was out by then, though.

If you want a much more recent historical recipe, here is pumpkin pie from the 1896 Fannie Farmer Cook Book. (Mine is a 1996 facsimile-- I don't have the original for this one either!)

You'll notice that the pumpkin version is just listed as a variation of the squash pie. Now, most people would expect it to be the other way around, with pumpkin pie being the common version. I imagine squash pie was more popular then because it may have been easier to make. My grandma usually made squash pie (I think from acorn squash) because it was easier to cook and puree a squash than a pumpkin. Now that cheap canned pumpkin is everywhere, most of us don't know what a pain starting pumpkin pie from scratch was.

This version was probably pretty bland. For the entire pie, cooks were supposed to use only 1/4 teaspoon of one spice (choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger). If that was too spicy, one could substitute a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract! I can't really imagine a pumpkin pie without any pumpkin pie spices and just a hint of lemon instead. If YOU want to find out how bland this is, the cooking directions for Custard Pie are "Bake in quick oven at first to set rim," then decrease the heat afterwards to cook the rest of the pie through. Yes, this was also of the "cooks know what they're doing so we won't go into too much detail" mindset. Good luck!

I'm pretty sure I'll stick to the good old Bisquick Impossible Pumpkin Pie. I love those to death!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How stupid are "they"?

Now that I've bored you to death by looking at the politics of some of the menus in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (edited by Dorothy B. Marsh, 1963), let's lighten things up by laughing at the titles of a couple more menus. (Okay, maybe I should have started out with this post. Kind of dumb to kill you off first and then write more when the post will be little more than a reflection on your glazed-over eyes. I never claimed to be bright, though.)

The title of this menu sounds like a challenge:

They'll eat anything with hamburger, huh? Canned tamales? Birdseed? Cow pies? Tacky lawn ornaments? Just the name would make me want to push the envelope on this one.

The menu is not nearly as sadistic as I imagine, though. The hamburger mixed grill suggestions are for the most part pretty tame (grill hamburgers with tomatoes, mushroom caps, and French bread slices), although the alternative suggestion to grill hamburgers with bacon and banana halves strikes me as a bit scary. (I'm sure someone out there thinks that sounds like a great combination. Just slather a little peanut butter on the hamburger bun and you've got yourself a sandwich Elvis might have been proud of.)

If you're curious about "Ripple-Style Tapioca Special," it is a suggestion to fold some extra ingredient into tapioca pudding before serving it. Try whipped cream, chocolate sauce, canned fruit, or the '50s favorite that was apparently still going strong, miniature marshmallows!

If the first title sounds like a challenge (What's the worst thing I can do to hamburger that the family will still eat?), this next one sounds like wishful thinking:

"They" love "it" this way? Moving up from not one, but two unspecified pronouns makes this title feel a little extra slick. The "they" is apparently still the family dumb enough to eat anything presented with hamburger (I'm beginning to sense a note of subdued hostility), and my guess is that "it" is a euphemism for the variety meat forced on children and dieters alike: liver. If the menu title can't even refer directly to the food without cooks fearing the meal will meet whining and temper tantrums that end with most of dinner in the trash can, my guess is that they do not, in fact, love "it" this way.

Want to find out if you love barbecued beef liver?

Will all the onions, Worcestershire sauce, and "catchup" be enough to make up for the obvious liver-osity of this meal? I doubt it will help much more than the insistence that this is, in fact, a beloved dish.

At least the Brazil Betty might help make up for it:

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A dissertation on menus

Browsing through my copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (edited by Dorothy B. Marsh, 1963), I spotted a section called "Family Meals" that lists dozens of suggested menus. A lot of them have pretty straightforward concepts ("We Love Meat Loaf" or "Spaghetti Supper"), but others were more, shall we say, interesting.

You know I'm a little obsessed with the politics of old cookbooks. (Could I have a more obscure interest? Maybe I should study the political and psychological underpinnings of the varying ideas about gluten and its merits over the past 75 years as my next project. That would really interest ... me. And maybe one other person.)

But anyway, occasionally a menu would surprise me.

I wouldn't expect a '60s cookbook to have a menu for a bachelor at all, considering the usual assumption that women cooked. If I'd had to guess what the menu would recommend, I would have chosen the stereotypical "man food"-- steak, baked potato with lots of butter and sour cream, maybe some green beans for balance, and a big slice of apple pie. Instead, this is a soup and salad menu, closed with a fruit tart. It could almost be a ladies' luncheon menu if it just used food coloring to dye something pink!

Mostly, though, the choices were depressingly unsurprising. The "Cooking for Two" section always seems like it HAS TO validate that it's okay to cook for only two. The titles give an excuse, suggesting a big date, or, for the older set:

Everyone has kids, and everyone has to find new menus once they move out. I'm not sure what makes this particular menu the right choice now that the kids are gone. Maybe the fillets are more expensive than one would want to feed children? Maybe the kids would get too much of a sugar rush from TWO desserts, so it's best to reserve them for the grownups? (Maybe it's just because sherbet is a required dessert once the kids leave?)

I thought maybe the "Chinese Cauliflower" would be considered a little too sophisticated for children's palates, so I looked it up and found this:

I'm not sure what makes creamed cauliflower with a sprinkle of paprika either Chinese or too sophisticated for children, but if you figure it out, let me know.

Most depressingly, I found a "fun" menu in the casual racism department:

Okay, wigwam sandwiches could be fun and maybe teach a little something about architecture. "Big-Chief Soup" inches closer to being condescending while pretending admiration, but "Squaw-Berry Shortcake"? That makes "Big-Chief Soup" sound nearly respectable in comparison. I guess we're just lucky this menu didn't feature "Scalped Potatoes."

Up next: A couple menus that make me question the food more than the politics. I know. That's what (all three of) my readers really come here for. Thanks for your patience with my obsessions.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Devilish, perhaps, but not deviled

What do you see in this picture from Elizabeth Price's Hors d'Oeuvres & Appetizers (1978)?

If you're like me, you see some seriously weird-looking deviled eggs in front of a bowl full of melted orange juice concentrate. What made the egg whites so orange? Were they aged for a few years before deviling? And are they stuffed with Fancy Feast? How does the wading pool of orange goo come into play?

Maybe you noticed that the egg whites are a little oddly-shaped. That's because these are actually

Stuffed apricots! My guess of Fancy Feast as the stuffing is closer than one might hope it would be. The apricots are full of (totally appropriate sounding) cream cheese mixed with (scary!) anchovy flavoring. (I didn't even know there was such a thing. I have never seen anchovy flavoring next to the vanilla and almond extract. That's probably good, because there is NO WAY you want to mix those up.) The filling is supposed to have pink food coloring too, though the picture looks more brownish than pink. My guess is its main purpose is to warn guests that the filling is not plain cream cheese. I think I'd dye it bright blue instead.

Like a poison dart frog, it could warn hungry diners "You DON'T want to eat me! Just keep on moving, and nobody will get hurt."

As for the wading pool of orange goo hovering in the background, your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

No! vember

Welcome (?) to November, the month when we begin descent into the deep freeze in earnest. I'd rather confine food to the deep freeze and keep myself out of it, but nature has other plans.

Here to take a tiny bit of the sting out of November is Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962). What are our fruits and vegetables this month?

Apples and potatoes! I suspect just about anybody can be happy with that! Everybody loves potatoes in at least one of their delicious manifestations: mashed, deep fried, scalloped, souped.

As for apples, I will admit that for a long time I didn't like them much.... Then I realized that I had mostly been given red delicious apples, which are about as good as trying to eat a wax apple that has been soaked in cough syrup before serving. Once I was old enough to realize there were other varieties and I could choose my own, I discovered that I am crazy for Cortlands (even if they're hard to find) and pretty fond of McIntoshes, too.

I was curious to see Thanksgiving recommendations for 50+ years ago, so here is Betty's idea of a good Thanksgiving:

I love the picture of the avocado green turkey running around the sheaf. Either they're not to scale or the farm grew seriously big turkeys and seriously short wheat!

Thanksgiving dinner is quite traditional: vegetable relishes, roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, crescent rolls, even perfection salad since no holiday meal is complete without gelatin. I half-expected Betty to recommend making everything for the holiday meal from scratch, but instead of the expected pumpkin pie, dessert is made from cake and frosting mixes. At least it will be fall-ish: honey spice cake covered with brown caramel fudge frosting and decorated with tiny, hand-sculpted pumpkins, squashes, and apples. I really wonder about the "fondant" made from white frosting mix, butter, and almond extract!

Maybe the thought of cozy autumn evenings filled with potatoes and apples capped with a Thanksgiving feast will make the coming of the cold and dark a little less daunting.... Try to enjoy what's left of fall!