Wednesday, December 31, 2014

White Trash Cooking

I wanted one last newer cookbook for this final 2014 Cookbook Wednesday post, plus some way to tie it to New Year's Day, so I turned to a book sure to  have a "Hoppin' John" recipe:

I think the clearance sticker adds to the ambiance of Ernest Matthew Mickler's 1986 White Trash Cooking. The cover is loaded with images of the types of ingredients in the recipes. I see representations of Crisco, Hellman's mayonnaise, Sunshine [soda] crackers, Quaker oats, Arm & Hammer baking soda, Martha White self-rising flour, Borden, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Ritz crackers, Tabasco sauce, and Velveeta, to name a few, all against backgrounds of beans and greens.

So for our obligatory New Year's recipe, here's Hoppin' John:

This has those ultra-specific instructions that I love so much: "Some folks put in tomatoes and some put in okra." Apparently readers can too, but figuring out the logistics is up to them. They better know what they're doing or figure it out! I didn't know that the type of peas was negotiable, but black-eyed peas could be traded out too, and the result would still be Hoppin' John.

The informality carries throughout the book. Sometimes it's in the title:

What makes this a "single boy's breakfast"? I'm hoping that a pound of pork sausage mixed with a box and a half of soda crackers is more than a single serving, especially if it's accompanied by fried sweet potatoes! Maybe this is supposed to be enough for a week so the single boy won't have to cook again for a while? Maybe the recipe writers figure single boys won't have much on hand besides pork and crackers? It's fun just to look at the title and invent a back story.

This recipe also highlights an ingredient that runs throughout the book: soda crackers. They show up everywhere, even in recipes whose titles would seem to exclude such a possibility: 

This "recipe" for cornbread in a glass ("Pour buttermilk in a big ice-tea glass filled with toasted cornbread") manages to include a "sweet milk and soda crackers" variation in its three sentences! That is efficiency.

Soda crackers aren't always so shy, though:

This recipe has no pretensions. It's not a mock apple pie that tries to hide its Ritzy beginnings with a deceptive title. This is straightforwardly soda cracker pie. It's not trying to fool anyone into thinking it is anything other than soda crackers dressed up for dessert with brown sugar, dates, and nuts.

Whether your new year is full of hoppin' john and soda crackers, herring with apples, or plaid and table-side grilling, have a good one!

Programming notes: My new teaching schedule will mean two posts per week: one on weekends, and one on Wednesdays, starting next week. (Wednesdays may still be Cookbook Wednesdays, but they will generally be from the '70s or earlier.)

This post is part of Louise's Cookbook Wednesday for Months of Edible Celebrations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Have a General Foods New Year!

It's almost New Year's Eve, so let's party like it's 1959! The General Foods Cookbook has a New Year's Open House menu to help get the party started.

Since this is from General Foods, you might expect the recipes to call for General Foods products. A glance at the beverage options on this menu will prove you justified in that expectation:

Of course Southern Eggnog starts with a package of Jell-O Vanilla Pudding and Pie Filling. The traditional Southern lady has always taken pride in serving drinks that combine brandy and pudding mix.

The kids will probably feel left out on the sweet drink front since they can't have the eggnog, so General Foods has a different suggestion to get kids to drink a dessert mix:

I'm not quite sure why this is called Apple Punch. Yes, it's based on apple juice, but the flavor of the Jell-O is probably way more assertive than super-mild apple juice. The kids won't mind, though, since they'll be buzzing from all the sugar in Jell-O plus apple juice plus ginger ale. Even General Foods seems to understand this recipe is a bit of a reach, adding a note at the end to explain "The flavored gelatin enhances the color and flavor of fruit punch." So just in case you were thinking of just mixing apple juice with ginger ale and calling it a day, there is a good reason you need the Jell-O.

The book actually does have a fair amount of recipes that don't call specifically for General Foods products, though. The questionable suggestions branch into all types of food. Take the Chopped Chicken Livers:

No branded foods at all-- just a mound of chopped chicken livers with egg yolks, onions, and seasonings, molded and left to un-congeal on a table for hours as the neighbors wander in and out, perhaps tentatively dipping into it with salty rye or Mebla toast slices if they are really hungry and/or foolhardy.

There's even a surprisingly-spicy for the '50s and guacamole-esque Tomato-Avocado Dip:

It calls for four dashes of Tabasco sauce. FOUR! Most "spicy" '50s recipes I see call for opening (and then immediately closing) the bottle of Tabasco while in the same room as the rest of the ingredients, assuming the air molecules that touched the Tabasco sauce will settle on the rest of the food and impart a just-barely-survivable heat level.

Like the chicken livers, this is my not be the best choice to sit on the table for hours during an open house since the avocado will darken "when left uncovered for long periods."

Interestingly enough, General Foods reserves its own branded ingredients for the recipe that seems most likely to give everyone food poisoning if it's left out for long:

I don't think the Good Seasons Old Fashion French Salad Dressing Mix will be enough to keep the eggs stuffed with crab meat from turning lethal after sitting for hours on an open buffet.

My favorite item, though, is one for which there is no recipe: "Herring Fillets on Apple Slices." This must sound fine to someone because a quick internet search yields plenty of herring and apple salad recipes. The thought of starting the new year with fish on fruit would only make sense to me if I wanted to start the new year with something so bad that the remainder of the year could only get better.....

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be better than an apple topped with herring.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Non-spiky appetizers

New Year's Day always feels like such a let-down: welcome to months of ice and gray skies! Now get back to work. It makes sense that people try to stave off the impending gloom with alcohol and appetizers. Nothing bad can happen if we unloose a pack of drunks in a room full of food bristling with toothpicks, right?

So today, for safety's sake, I give you a few appetizer suggestions that don't require toothpicks from The Midwestern Junior League Cookbook (1978), edited by Ann Seranne.

If you're hosting farmers with serious appetites, you might want to try this one:

Hamburger dip, with two pounds of ground beef, a pound of kidney beans, and six ounces of cheese, not to mention all the onion, catsup, and taco sauce, serves 12! As an appetizer! That's more than a quarter pound of dip per guest, not counting the "king-sized corn chips" needed for serving.

For something a little lighter yet more perplexing, you might want to try "Party Pizza":

This one sounds straightforward enough when it starts with hot sausage. That's a perfectly respectable pizza topper. It starts to sound a little iffy with processed cheese-- I think of pizza as at least having some kind of real cheese on top. Then it veers way off into left field: mix the cheese in with the sausage and add Worcestershire and soy sauce? Spread the whole mess on party rye bread? Can this even legally be called a pizza anymore? The name alone is false advertising. I might want to break out the toothpicks so I could turn them into little protest signs: "FAKE PIZZAS GO HOME!" Then I'd enlist some cocktail weenies to picket.

To get the bad taste of fake pizza out of our mouths, I'll end with the recipe with the most fun name:

Good old "Cheese Thing'A'mabob"! I love the midwestern informality of the name (although my grandma probably would have called it "Cheese Whatchamacallit"), as well as the way the name is spruced up with extra capital letters and apostrophes.

I also love that it calls for two sticks of margarine. In a recipe so heavily based on cheese anyway, why not call for real butter? It's not as if the margarine makes it healthier or tastier.... Maybe cheaper, but it's a party! Go a little crazy and spring for the real deal.

But this is the midwest, and going a little crazy means counting a full meal's worth of food as an appetizer or calling any damn thing with both bread and cheese a pizza. Using real butter when margarine will work just fine is just wasteful or something.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Savage snowmen!

Happy Christmas Eve! This is my favorite day of the holiday season because I can spend all day baking and not dealing with other human beings. Before I started my stacks of cutout cookies, loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, and pans of dinner rolls, I had to make a Cookbook Wednesday post just for anyone who would rather read blogs than cook (or spend time with actual human beings....)

This week I've chosen another holiday cookbook that sees Christmas as an excuse for a craft project, but this one has a slightly better grasp on reality than last week's entry. Today we have An Edible Christmas by Irena Chalmers (1992).

You can not only see that I got a good deal on this one, but also the white bit in the bottom left corner is the library call number tag. This is a library discard. Unsurprisingly, this book mostly got checked out from mid-November to mid-December, but it also got checked out in mid-March more often than I would expect. Is there some reason '90s library patrons suddenly needed holly cookie wreaths around St. Patrick's Day?

This book does pretty well at keeping the craft projects appealing:

The puff angels look like... well... angels. I imagine last week's magazine would find a way to make puff pastry angels look more like they should be Halloween bats.

The recipe itself is fairly easy since there is no dough to make. It just takes a lot of waiting around for the puff pastry to chill properly.

Sorry about the glare on the margin! I didn't want to dismember the book for a scan.

Of course, I can't ignore those little guys on the cover: the popcorn snowmen!

This batch seems to be having a great time practicing for their curling tryouts, using their licorice and shredded wheat brooms to sweep the counter before the fruit-ring pucks. Well, most of them are, anyway. I'm not so sure about the one in the upper left. He's apparently bathing in a tub full of snowman body parts. (I'm imagining Calvin made this one with perhaps a little help from Hobbes. Maybe it's a commentary on depravity and excess in this holiday season made especially poignant by the fact that the other snowmen seem so willing to smile and overlook this monster's murderous ways. Is this the snowman Patrick Bateman?)

Should you want to make your own snowmen (Calvin-style or otherwise), it's not much harder than making Rice Krispie treats:

Happy Holidays! And remember, it's better to take out your holiday aggression on popcorn balls than on your family. Bite off a snowman's head for me.

As always, Cookbook Wednesday is courtesy of Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A '70s celebration

Last week we considered what it meant to make Christmas dinner in the 1890s, but what was it like significantly more recently? Today we're transported to Christmas 1973 in The New McCall's Cook Book by Mary Eckley. What holiday menu did Ms. Eckley recommend to dads in their argyle sweaters and moms in their sweater dresses?

With only about a dozen items (including more of the ultra-easy celery sticks! Those are the real heart of any Christmas dinner...), this is significantly less complicated than the 1890s version, even before we take into account that '70s cooks had modern conveniences like refrigerators. (Even well-off families were a lot less likely to have servants, though, which probably accounts for the biggest share of the difference.)

The writer seems significantly less invested in potatoes, too. They are optional on this menu! The 1890s menu was nearly a quarter potatoes.

One item from the menu that really strikes me as retro is this appetizer:

Apparently caviar on toast points would fail to showcase the wonders of gelatin. (I'm pretty sure there were laws from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s or so that required gelatin to be prominently featured at every holiday meal. Many families believe those laws are still in force.) In any case, this menu uses caviar as a garnish for beefy gelatin! Is this the best possible use for those expensive little fish eggs? I leave the answer to your discretion.

Most of the menu is pretty straightforward. I hoped there would be some kind of crazy twist. What might be the surprise in "Cauliflower Surprise," for example? Is the vegetable simmered in eggnog or coated with toffee? Is it garnished with cranberries and pistachios?

Nope. It's just topped with a frothy cream sauce. (The recipe does call for MSG, though, which is a rarity today.)

So to lend drama to this holiday lineup, I'm recommending a dish that will also increase the potato quotient:

Set the sweet potatoes on fire! And prepare to cherish the memories of the Great Sweater Fire of '73.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Retro floating cooky surprise!

I got a nice surprise as I was digging through my cookbooks. I didn't think there was anything between two of my big cookbooks, but when I moved them a little baking pamphlet fell out and it had a familiar-looking picture on the very retro front:

Those random treats floating against metallic cross-hatching are from Swift & Company's 1962 pamphlet "Our Best Cooky Recipes" by Martha Logan. This looked so familiar because my family used this booklet at least every Christmas (and usually, a few other times during the year too). My mom got her copy from her home ec class in high school. Apparently I picked this up at a flea market and promptly forgot about it, but now it's mine!

Here are a few highlights. First up: a recipe we usually made a few times a year:

The title does not lie. These are super-chewy, stretchy, gooey, and sweet as a collision between a semi full of sugar and a tanker truck of cream soda. I prefer brownies, but if you use good vanilla and expect to be hit with a wall of sweetness, these are a fun change of pace.

A few days ago, I mentioned some fruit cookies my parents made that I found disgusting, and I believe the recipe was from this book:

It looks right. I know they had some oatmeal, holiday spices, dates, mixed candied fruit, and extra candied cherries. They were kind of pretty with all the bright fruit and if you're the fruitcake kind of person, I guess they're supposed to be pretty good. I was happy to help mix them up, but not to eat them!

I just picked the next cookie because I like the title:

Snaparoons! A hybrid gingersnap and macaroon from the looks of it. We never made them because nobody was too crazy about coconut, but I couldn't resist a chance to write the word snaparoons. So snaparoons, snaparoons, snaparoons!

I saved the best for last. These were my favorite cookies:

And even though they were supposedly man-sized, as a little girl I had no trouble polishing these off in no time! If you want my holiday recommendation for delicious cookies, this is it. They're light and fluffy and loaded with chocolate flavor. Maybe they don't look very Christmassy, but they make up for it in pure deliciousness. You could always put red and green M&Ms or holly sprinkles on top if you had to dress them up.

Here's hoping we all get more happy surprises!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Funny Holiday Food Fun

I've been using Cookbook Wednesday as an excuse to write about cookbooks that are a little newer than the ones I usually feature, and today is no exception. I picked up today's cookbook (cooking magazine, actually, but don't tell anyone! I'm really stretching the rules...) because this one approaches cooking primarily as an arts and crafts project. Whether something is actually edible seems incidental. How it looks is what really counts... and even the look is questionable! Just as long as the recipe was painstaking and time-consuming, it would work. So I present Best Recipes: Holiday Food Fun from September 22, 1992.

The cover itself should give you an idea what I mean: jack-o-lantern cheeseball, angels with sugar cone gowns, pretzel wings, and Nilla halos. And what about that Christmas tree covered with Easter bunnies and boxing gloves?

Yeah, this one:

Apparently my instinct for figuring out what these are is more than a little off. The tree actually sports...

...Kittens and Mittens! (From the three little kittens who lost their mittens nursery rhyme, I assume.)

The kittens just look like Easter bunnies because the ribbon going through the holes in their heads makes their ears look way long.

And the mittens look like boxing gloves because... they look like boxing gloves? I'm not sure why the artist couldn't make these more mitten-y. Maybe she figured they were way out of scale with the kittens anyway and just didn't even bother to try.

And what insanity do you see next to the bunny and boxing gloves tree?

Yes, it is a turkey wearing a bow tie up by its ass. Is the stuffing supposed to be its hairdo? And what is the bizarre vest ensemble made of, anyway?

If you guessed Tuxedo Turkey was wearing a vest made out of refrigerated pie crust and paste food colors, congratulations! You understand this cookbook.

But the magazine isn't all tuxedoed turkeys and boxing bunnies. It has some more common winter treats, like snowman cupcakes.

Hairy, yellowish snowman cupcakes. Wearing Devo-esque hats. Are they not men?

A big thanks to Louise from Months of Edible Celebrations for Cookbook Wednesday and a chance to share the holiday insanity!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

5000 hours and about as many potatoes for Christmas dinner

I'm lucky as far as holiday food prep is concerned. I just have to show up at my in-laws' house with the treats that I'd want to make anyway, regardless of whether anyone asked me to make them: cookies and dinner rolls. It's just handy that I have someone else to eat them because I'm pretty sure I'm wired to make cookies and dinner rolls on Christmas Eve regardless of the circumstances. If we had robot overlords, I'd have to make them cookies and dinner rolls even though I'd hate the damn robots and they couldn't eat anyway.

I somehow doubt that many home cooks in the 1890s felt a similar affection for holiday cooking, at least based on what I see of the expectations placed on them in my 1996 reprint of the 1896 Fannie Farmer Cook Book. The menu looks a bit, shall we say, complicated:

Okay, some items would be a little easier than others. Even though the apple sauce would be homemade, it could be ready waaay in advance. But with 20 items on this list (more if you count individual components put together like lettuce, dressing, and cheese straws), this is a to-do list that would make me want to hide under the bed until, say, April.

Let's start with the first big component: roast goose with potato stuffing.

Even from the beginning, this does not look promising. Cooks have to start with the whole goose: remove pinfeathers and draw out the innards before even getting around to the stuffing, trussing, and roasting.

I hadn't heard of potato stuffing before, but it sounds interesting: a hybrid of regular bread stuffing and mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are awesome and so is stuffing, so this might be super-awesome. Or it might be pretty soggy, and heavy to go with such a big meal. Hard to tell.

Whoever put this menu together must really have loved mashed potatoes, too. If you look closely, you'll see the potato-stuffed goose is supposed to be garnished with watercress, cranberries, and potato apples. You may well wonder what potato apples are. Well, they are extra work that wasn't even officially listed on the menu:

They are essentially cheesy mashed potatoes shaped into apples and fried. If I were a guest at this dinner, I might just try to steal all the potato apples while ignoring the consomme and celery and applesauce and cream of Lima beans. I don't think I'd be the only one to feel that way, either. Some of the sides don't take much time or effort and they fill out the table so it looks impressive. I get that. Nobody wants celery, but it doesn't take much effort and everybody knows it's only there for decoration anyway. But cream of Lima beans? That starts with dried beans and takes hours while 5000 other things also need the cook's attention. And nobody will touch it anyway, not with potato apples (or duchess potatoes-- did I mention the author seems to have a potato fixation?) on the table.

More seasoned mashed potatoes made into fancy shapes, although these are baked instead of fried.

I always thought of croquettes as something to make to use up leftovers rather than as part of the main attraction, but just in case there weren't enough dishes (and enough busywork), this menu calls for the special occasion croquettes:

As if cleaning and dressing the goose wasn't enough, this recipe starts with cleaning and dressing a chicken. Then it has to be cooked, chopped up, mixed with a thick sauce, seasoned, shaped, fried, and served with green peas and sauce or wine jelly.

And we haven't even gotten to the desserts yet. For the traditionalists:

A pudding full of finely chopped fruits (and suet! I know it used to be pretty common in recipes, but I can't think of anything except feeding the birds when I see it. Might as well add millet and sunflower seeds while we're at it...) that has to be steamed for six hours.

Those who like their puddings on the cold and extra boozy side could choose one of these:

A frozen dessert might sound easy and reasonable enough until we remember that nobody had an electric freezer in 1896. Even in cold weather, cooks had to pack this in ice themselves and probably keep checking to make sure it was actually freezing. The end result would be this glorious dessert...

...which kind of looks like a package of frozen chicken breasts piled on a fancy plate in this rendition.

Plus assorted cakes and bonbons (homemade fondant candies).

So, yeah. Days and days of work for a spread that is probably only going to be half-appreciated. I wonder how many 1890s cooks just decided to hide under the bed until April or made a double batch of potato apples and called it a day.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cookies that show who's naughty and nice...

As holiday madness descends, some people are prepared to spend days decorating cookies... And apparently that was as true in the '70s as it is now. (I will admit to preferring the exuberance and eccentricity of the '70s cookies, even if they lack the polish-- no, because they lack the polish-- of their sleek, modern incarnations. I'm a sucker for Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, too.)

But what about the '50s? The Family Circle Cake & Cooky Cookbook (1953) suggests decorated cookies were usually pretty sedate:

If you wanted to get fancy, you could dump a ton of sprinkles on them...

Or roll them in powdered sugar...

Or add a pool of jam...

Or shoot them through a spritz gun...

Or spread them with icing and add a few dragees if you wanted to be really classy.

The fanciest decorating seemed reserved for the families that wanted to scare kids away from the cookie (I'm sorry, cooky) jar:

The gingerbread man with the enormous raisin eyes protruding from his forehead and into his hat could make anyone back away slowly... very slowly... 

But a little more searching showed me that decorated cookies had some traction. They seemed more reserved for occasions outside of Christmas, though. (Maybe '50s cooks were too busy making fruitcake and Jell-O molds to make too much of a fuss over cookies?)

So what did '50s decorated cookies look like? 

Some were pretty straightforward:

Animal cookies would be easy for a birthday party: top cookie with icing, animal crackers, and coconut "grass," et voila! Quickie kid treat.

And this was clearly the game that kids played in the margins of their notebooks when they weren't paying attention in class.

I always thought the spelling was "tic-tac-toe," though. I guess anything goes in a book that considers the singular form of "cookies" to be "cooky."

People who wanted to get really fancy might break out the candies to make Goldilocks:

Or a very... uh... rustic flag.

I just love this one: the blobby blue field in the corner with a dozen dragee stars. (The top two rows do NOT seem to trust that bottom row, either.) And look at the cinnamon stripes: another three rows (with the bottom one in exile) and one of the candies ready to fall off the edge while others are half-buried in icing.

This one makes me wonder about the selection process too. Did the cooks just make one example of each cooky and take its picture, saying, "Good enough," or was this the best sample out of a series of attempts? I'm not sure which answer would amuse me more.

Some of the cookies were just puzzling:

I looked at this one for a while. My best guess was that it was a bug's face. The three dark bulges are its eyes and nose? beak? pincers? mandible? labrum? That third bump is whatever bugs have slightly beneath and between their eyes. The pair of candy strips forms the antennae, and the other blobs beside the strips are unexplained. Maybe the bug is wearing barrettes on its antennae? Or maybe those are just in the background and completely unrelated to the bug head?

Okay, so maybe it is not a particularly festive bug:

The halved cherries make this a George Washington Cooky. This seems oddly specific. Presidents' Day must have been a much bigger deal in the '50s.

And, of course, a cooky that reminds me why I am happy not to exist in the '50s:

A sure way to make friends in the '50s: Bring over a plate of cookies that screams, "Please enjoy this edible racist caricature!"