Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Surplus recipes

When I was a kid, my grandparents would get surplus food through some USDA program. We never knew what they would come home with-- enormous hunks of nondescript processed cheese, powdered eggs, powdered milk, canned potatoes, thick and grainy peanut butter. Everything came in white packaging with bold black print and simple line drawings, looking as generic as possible.

When I spotted  Favorite American Recipes: A Collection of Classics from Around the Country, I wondered why it seemed somehow familiar. I'd never seen the pamphlet before. Then I noticed it was by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA (1974) and realized this must have been a companion piece to all the oddball food the USDA gave away to needy families like ours:

The unadorned, straightforward black and white design on the cover tied it back to all those cans of potatoes and peanut butter. I think I subconsciously made the connection before the rest of my mind could catch up!

This cookbook has plenty of ways to use the free commodities. If the latest batch of surplus had cheese and peanut butter, this recipe could be the answer:

Cheese Bull's-Eye Cookies! Why have plain old peanut butter cookies when you can have them filled with shredded cheese? Nothing encapsulates the weird "here's some food-- now do something with it" ethos of the program quite like this recipe.

Not that others won't try. While "impossible" pies aren't too uncommon, they're usually made with baking mix. The USDA didn't give away baking mix so far as I knew, so they threw the "Impossible Pie" label (so nondescript! We don't even know what kind of impossible pie!) onto this concoction:

This is apparently impossible coconut pie. It would use up 2/3 of a cup of dry egg mix. Yep-- the USDA gave away powdered eggs, so why not suggest them as an impossible pie base? I remember grandma giving me a packet of those to experiment with. Something about powdered eggs gave me the heebie jeebies, so I put them way in the back of the cupboard and never thought of them again until just now. I hope they eventually got used or thrown away....

Note that this also calls for fluid milk, which might seem odd. The program gave away a lot of powdered milk, though, so this was probably code for "reconstitute the powdered milk we gave you before you use it in this recipe."

We were never the recipients of beans as far as I can remember, but it looks as if those were given away sometimes too. I'm no stranger to desserts with beans (I know black beans in brownies is a pretty popular combination right now), but this recipe title seems a little scary anyway:

At least with "brownies" in the name, you know black bean brownies are a chocolatey dessert. The more open meaning of "bars" makes these a bit mysterious (in a bad way). Are these like lemon bars, with crust on the bottom and a split pea layer on top? Thankfully, no. They are just nut, spice, and dried fruit bars (And you could use government raisins in these! That was another surplus item.) that happen to contain split peas, but the damage is already done by the name.

And split pea bars sound downright appetizing compared to this name:

Bean pudding cake sounds like it should come with a layer of bean pudding on the bottom. I'm not sure exactly what that would be like, but I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the pudding cake I grew up with-- hot fudge pudding cake! A steamy layer of hot fudge under a dense chocolate cake? Yes! A steamy layer of hot beans under a a spice cake? Sorry, USDA, but I don't think so, but thank you for helping hungry families in your own weird way!

This is part of Cookbook Wednesday, now hosted by Modern Day Ozzie and Harriet.


  1. You are as funny as ever, and you are linked! I'm with you on the Bean Pudding Cake being no substitute for Hot Fudge Sundae Cake!

    1. Thank you for linking me! Sorry I forgot to post on your blog.... This has been a crazy week. Thanks for reminding me of hot fudge pudding cake, too! I'm not sure I would have thought about it if I hadn't seen it earlier on your blog.

  2. Hi Poppy!
    Whew! I wasn't sure I was going to make it here in time for Cookbook Wednesday! I'm actually glad I didn't miss these recipes, lol...

    My grandmother use to get the surplus foods from the USDA too. We use to go into the city every Sunday and once a month we would come home with cans and packages too. Once in a while we would even get some sort of meat. Seriously, it looked like dog food and was impossible to work with. I know because I was designated cook. I did make lots of peanut butter cookies with the peanut butter though from a Metropolitan Life cookbook that I still have, lol...

    Don't laugh but I may just try those pea and bean recipes. I'll be sure to give them a better name if they are worthy of it and if I actually do make them.

    You sure do add a nice twist to the recipes and I'm amazed at that imposible pie although those cheesy cookies won't be on my agenda, lol...

    Thanks so much for sharing Poppy and for keeping up with Cookbook Wednesday!

    1. Do let me know how they turn out if you try the pea and bean recipes! It's so cool that you remember getting the surplus food too. I was never subjected to the dog-food-like meat, so it was interesting to hear about that. :-)

    2. I am going to try to make them, Poppy. when is a whole other question, lol...The meat was awful!

      BTW, I posted a Pudding Cake today. The comments from this post apparently were part of the inspiration, didn't dawn on me until I saw this post again...Crazy week indeed!

    3. It's funny how blogs can feed off of each other's ideas. It goes back to what you said about the collaborative nature of the web. :-)