Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mock turtles, clammy blankets, and an oven that can do anything!

I just added the theme song from Killer Klowns from Outer Space to my Halloween playlist. I set my alarm to wake me up to the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" (set to the line "Can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire," just because I'm weird like that). I loaded up some coupons for my next grocery run and sent someone a picture of a snake that I took when I was on my daily walk. Sixty or seventy years from now, it will seem downright quaint that I think it's cool I could do all that on my phone. (Hell, it already seems kind of quaint as I write these words, but I wanted some way to illustrate that we are not now immune feeling awe for the things we can make electricity do for us. I'm just not tech savvy enough to know the next big thing that will actually reach the masses....)

And sixty or seventy years ago (no date on this one!), the brand-new owner of "Electric Cookery" from Montgomery Ward would have had no idea phones could someday be used to do all those things (although I rarely use mine to actually call people, which the original owner of this book would have known as the phone's only function). The original owner would have been excited (in a way that seems quaint now) that electricity could be used to cook!

Getting the new oven was an event:

All three generations of women had to be present, and even dad was there to smoke his pipe and admiringly inspect the new gadget.

The booklet promises all kinds of delights for the new electric stove owner. I was intrigued by this very mid-century-fancy looking dish:

Shrimp, peas, white sauce, some kind of ring (rice? noodles?), the obligatory olive and pimento garnish, but as far as I can tell, the book doesn't actually have a recipe for this one. Oh, well. I'm sure I can find recipes for white sauce and starch rings elsewhere.

The book does have plenty of other recipes, though. Here's one that used to be pretty common and is as popular as Blackjack gum and trying to stuff 78 people in a phone booth today:

I'm not quite sure why a soup of veal, catsup, lemon, and hard cooked eggs would ever have been popular, but apparently it would be exciting to make on an electric stove (with a deep-well side for making broth).

This next recipe is more popular as a retro dish, although I was initially puzzled to see it in the deep-well section of the booklet:

To me, Pigs in Blankets are hot dogs or sausages encased in a doughy blanket (crescent rolls or pancakes). I didn't know how the dough would cook in a deep-well cooker, but there is no dough here! Apparently to the recipe writer, Pigs in Blankets are stuffed cabbage leaves. This is just nonsense! What would you rather have as a blanket: a warm, fluffy pancake, or a thin, clammy cabbage leaf? I rest my case.

"Electric Cookery" is also full of promises that an electric oven can handle any amount of crowding. Not that I could ever see myself needing to bake eight loaves of bread at the same time (and I pity any cook back then who had to!), but I sincerely doubt that the oven could make this a reality:

Yes, they loaves are all crammed into the oven but perfectly risen and evenly browned. Maybe it would work-- if you had spare time to keep rotating the bread, necessitating a longer bake time because yo we're always opening up the oven to fuss with the bread configuration. But if you're the kind of person who needs to bake this much bread at once, my guess is also that you don't have a ton of free time for bread-rotating.

I'll leave you with a fall oven-dinner fantasy:

The stuffed pork chop dinner sounds just right for some fall evening-- chops, fries, roasted acorn squash, freshly-made warm spiced apple sauce. Just pop it all in the oven and 1-1/2 hours later, voila! A harvest feast is served! So easy!

Of course, before that, you have to make dressing from scratch and stuff it in the chops, slice the potatoes and roll them in melted butter, halve the squash without removing your fingers as well, and chop and season several cups of apples. The fantasy of popping dinner in the oven and going about your business has to start at just that moment, because the previous hour (maybe more!) will be spent prepping everything... and that's presuming you can actually manage to fit it into the oven and get it out again without spilling apple sauce onto the fries or accidentally flipping the squash onto the floor....

And will it all be evenly cooked? Properly browned? That's anyone's guess. It's nice to pretend the plan will work perfectly, though, just like I pretend my phone makes me more efficient when it mostly provides an extra way to watch old monster cereal commercials on YouTube.

Happy Wednesday! Enjoy your favorite electrically-powered devices!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Have some applesauce 'n' bread or an apple-y zoo!

Markets are starting to bust out the real apples-- Cortlands! Ginger Golds! Braeburns! Honeycrisps!-- next to the always-available Red "Delicious" and Granny Smith varieties, so for a couple of weekends, I'm going to go apple (recipe) picking.

This week: Apple Desserts!

I expected apple desserts to start with apples and add delicious things to them: a rich dough of some type, nuts, spices. Okay, I wasn't too surprised by how austere The Rodale Cookbook's (Nancy Albright, 1973 copyright, 1977 printing) '70s health take on apple desserts was this:

Equal parts of breadcrumbs and applesauce-- seasoned with a touch of honey, cinnamon, and oil-- doesn't sound like a significant step up from plain old applesauce with a cinnamon on top to me. This is just applesauce with some filler.

I was a bit surprised by how bland some of the more mainstream cookbook desserts sounded, though. When I picked up The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook (1973 edition, from which the apple picking picture above was also taken), I expected some flavorful and decadent desserts. I found some, but there is also this:

It's just applesauce (can even be canned applesauce!) dumped into a shell of white bread and baked. I mean, I'm not exactly surprised by old recipes for "spicy" food that call for a dash or two of hot sauce or for spaghetti sauce that's only seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of fresh parsley. But who could object to apple pie spices? They're mostly just cinnamon and nutmeg, with a wild card like allspice, ginger, or cardamom thrown in for good measure. There is nothing to season this Charlotte except the suggested addition of heavy cream-- which will help, mind you-- but this isn't exactly the confection I expected.

The most fun dessert-y dish was actually the oldest, from my 1996 reproduction of the 1896 Fannie Farmer Cook Book:

Apple Porcupines sound like they actually might have some flavor (syrup-cooked apples stuffed with marmalade and coated in nuts) AND make an adorable end to dinner with their split almond quills. I wouldn't have guessed that 1890s cooks who had to make pretty much everything from scratch, in between hand-scrubbing the laundry and making sure the fire didn't go out, would bother with something this whimsical. I should have known that I'm not the only one with a strong whimsy drive.

Next week, we'll have some main dishes with apples. I didn't know where to put this one, though, so I'm using it as a transition. From Thomas Mario's The Playboy Gourmet (1979):

It's Welsh Rabbit with Fried Apple! The beer-and-cheese sauce is usually served as a main dish over toast, but here it's served with fried apples. Does the common European dessert of fruit and cheese make this a dessert recipe? Does the sweet-and-savory combination make this more of a side dish for the main meal? It's your call. Either way, it's a new bunny to me.

Come back next weekend for some scary, savory apples!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Praise the cook, dammit!

I'm returning to my cook booklet grab bag for today's entry. It's the demandingly-titled "Praise the Cook" from Pet Milk (1962).

Does this book have to implore us to "Praise the Cook" because the idea would not present itself otherwise? That's probably not a great sign.

And if the cook is the one reading this book, is it really just an order to praise oneself? Maybe this is written for people with no self-confidence?

I'm confused, but the scalloped potatoes look like they may well be praiseworthy. (Hard to go wrong with potatoes!)

The gelatin castle looks like it could have been a trick to unmold, too,so the cook must have known how to finesse a jiggly blob out of its home without breaking the thing into a jillion slithering pieces.

There are 14 total recipes, so not a lot to choose from. I think this one is pretty intriguing, though:

What are those? Thumbprint cookies? Cake donuts with jelly in the hole?

Nope! They are corn-crisped hamburgers. Mix hamburger with Pet Milk, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and seasonings. Shape and bread with more Pet Milk, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, and seasonings. (Notice a theme here?) Top with catsup and bake on Reynolds Wrap for crispy, milky, corny burgers.

I'm sensing that Pet Milk was not really the only sponsor....

And since we are all crazy for gelatin molds, here's Recipe No. 14, from the cover:

Tutti-Frutti Mold is totally mid-20th-century, with a can of fruit cocktail in the gelatin. This one is dressed up with a fluffed-up base layer of Pet Milk and lemon juice in the base layer. It doesn't sound too bad, but I wonder if canned fruit cocktail was a lot different in the '60s. I'm used to grapes, maraschino cherries, and diced peaches and pears. Look at the picture from the cover, though, and it looks as if there are some seriously big hunks of pear in there. This would be one mold that would be hard to eat gracefully unless you could somehow cut up the pears (and who cuts up a gelatin mold?)!

Have a corn-crisped, tutti-frutti Wednesday!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Not quite making the grade...

This is my first big grading weekend of the new semester. Yay.

Since I'm pressed for time and I get to spend my weekend doing something that is not particularly satisfying (unless you love grading dozens and dozens of essays as quickly as possible), my recipe theme for the day is "not particularly satisfying."

Our recipes for today come from the "Low-Calorie Dishes" section of the 1973 McCall's Great American Recipe Card Collection.

Need something to do with those last few tomatoes? I wouldn't really recommend this:

Okay, the plump, ripe tomatoes on fresh lettuce and stuffed heaping full of something creamy-looking may seem kind of tantalizing. (If you know what "kind of creamy" food goes into everything diet-related in the '70s, I bet you can guess what's coming!)

Yep, this is what the dish really holds:

The tomatoes are just stuffed with cottage cheese and bits of other vegetables. Carrot! Cucumber! Green onion! Radish! Not exactly a lavish lunch.

But you can finish it off with this:

I'll bet you will never guess what's in that bowl. At least, you won't guess if you're reading something other than this blog post, and then you won't even be thinking about this recipe. Why would you be? You'd be reading something else. If you've glanced at the picture for more than a second, you already know what this is and you're wondering why we actually need a recipe for it.

Peaches with yogurt! Made with peaches! And yogurt! Such creativity and zest in those low-calorie recipes...

Happy weekend! I hope yours is more satisfying than a perfunctory fruit-or-veg and dairy combo.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Health lessons from Wesson

Today I reached into a big grab bag of random cooking pamphlets I bought at an antique shop and fished this out:

"Good Eating With Your Heart in Mind" is a promotional pamphlet from Wesson vegetable oil. It's undated, but Michigan State University's Alan and Shirley Brocker Sliker Culinary Collection estimates its publication date as 1955. (That is a cool web site if you're interested in old cooking publications!)

The front cover gives a pretty good overview of the booklet's contents, most of which are pretty familiar. (The "Wesson Nest Egg" advertised on the cover is just an egg fried in the hole cut into a slice of bread. Add a sausage, and you can call it toad in the hole.)

Some recipes are a bit more interesting:

I'm sure you can guess that spiced chicken is NOT my thing. I know there are people out there who think orange juice, canned peaches, and brown sugar go perfectly well with vinegar, garlic, and chicken, but I am soooo not one of those people! I want my main meal to be savory and my dessert to be sweet, but smash them together and I will gag ostentatiously enough to make anyone in the near vicinity flee to at least the general vicinity.

Other recipes sound pretty tasty...

...but their commitment to heart health seems a bit suspect. Are fried strawberry-preserve-and-cottage-cheese or creamed chicken pies really gifts to one's heart? Well, considering the pastry and frying oil are made with vegetable oil rather than the lard or shortening most cooks would have used in the '50s, these probably are a step up. Still, calling them healthy seems to be pushing it a bit.

The most interesting part of the pamphlet for me is the back cover, which lists offers for other cookbooks:

I am intrigued by the claim here: "America's first Skillet Cook Book." I want to say this sounds like a debatable claim, but then I realized that even with internet access that people in the '50s wouldn't have had, I do not want to spend a day investigating this assertion. I doubt anyone back then would have had the time or inclination to investigate either. It could have been a golden era of professing to have the first cookbook dedicated to any one type of cookery without any foundation at all for the claim! Or they could just be telling the truth. I don't know why I find the question of whether this is really the first skillet cookbook in America (and whether many other cookbooks made similar dubious claims) to be so interesting, but that is just the kind of odd machine I am....

There's also an ad for this:

"Quicker Ways to Better Eating" shows once again that Wesson's idea of "better eating" includes things like "Chocolate Brownie Pie" and "Italian Pizza." (I'm sure it was pronounced "Eye-talian Pizza.") Wesson has odd ideas about healthy food, but they sound like more fun than, say, Rodale's or the Rosicrucians'.

Wesson, if I could still send you 50c in coin to get these cook booklets, I'd be chucking spare change into the nearest mailbox right this minute.

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Start with a can; end with extra work to make up for convenience

Pumpkin spice everything is showing up on shelves. The supermarket is getting ready to stock my favorite apples (Cortlands!) for the few short weeks they are available before the apple section reverts to the inedible red "delicious" variety. I'm feeling the stirring to watch House of 1000 Corpses and Nightmare on Elm Street rather than grade the stacks of essays from my new classes. That means it's time to start thinking about fall comfort foods, so I pulled out "Good Housekeeping's Casserole Book" from the 1958 Good Housekeeping's Cook Books collection.

Casseroles are great fall food: often relatively quick and easy for newly-busy fall schedules, one-dish meals, and a chance to turn on the oven for a little while. Some of them even look kind of autumnal:

The orange-yellow of the deviled eggs mirrors the brilliant hues of the autumn leaves, and the red mush beneath looks like a character who just went through a tree shredder or meat grinder.

How to construct this vision of the impending season?

Deviled hash should be pretty quick and easy: dump cans of corned beef hash into a buttered baking dish, top with cream and chili sauce, and bake.

The recipe writer seems to think the ease of the recipe would make it cheating, so there's an extra step: you've got to make deviled eggs to go on top! Not much of an imposition, I suppose, if you've got extras in the fridge, but if you don't then there's a whole new layer of planning for something that would otherwise be pretty quick and easy. (Plus, what would broiled deviled eggs be like?)

Deviled egg hash is not alone in looking fall-ish and being unnecessarily complicated to make up for convenience ingredients, though. There's also this:

A mish-mash of internal organs riddled with green alien eggs and the white alien larvae bursting through the protective mesh the mommy alien put in place when she laid this mess. Or "Beef Pie Alamode," as Good Housekeeping likes to call it.

How do you make it? (I've had to type the recipe; its placement in the book precluded getting a good scan or photo.)

Beef Pie Alamode

2 cans beef stew (1-lb. 4-oz. or 1-lb. 8-oz.)
1 8-oz. can white onions, drained
2 cups drained, cooked, or canned peas
1/2 teasp. dried thyme
1/2 teasp. garlic salt
1/4 teasp. salt
1/8 teasp. pepper
1 pkg. refrigerated pan-ready biscuits
1/2 tablesp. soft butter or margarine

Start heating oven to 425 F. In 1-1/2 or 2-qt. casserole, combine stew, onions, peas, thyme, garlic salt, salt, pepper. Heat in oven, uncovered, 30 min. Meanwhile, on sheet of foil, placed on baking sheet, make this topping: Flatten out each pan-ready biscuit; pull to desired length-- you'll need about 6 8" strips for center; 4 5" strips for sides. Arrange, criss-cross fashion, on foil to cover approximately same size as top of casserole; bake, with casserole, 12 to 15 min. To serve, transfer baked biscuit topping to top of casserole. Brush with butter. Makes 4 to 6 servings

Again, this should be pretty easy-- dump together a few cans, add some seasonings, and heat. That would be too easy-- cheating!-- so the book has to add this whole extra step of shaping biscuit dough into a lattice that will fit the top of the casserole dish without even having the dish for reference! Can't just bake biscuits to eat along with the casserole or bake them on top because that would be way too easy. Cooking should be sort of easy, but we don't want to take that concept too far!

Happy Saturday! Take it easy, but not too easy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Carodelle and "Chinese" Secrets from Birmingham

Want to know a secret?

The secret is that you're not going to learn much about southern cooking from Cooking Secrets from the Birmingham Woman's Club (undated, but the back cover advertises the 1962 Pontiac Catalina, so I'm guessing 1962). That's because this cookbook is not from the Birmingham you are probably thinking of. It's from Birmingham, Michigan.

The title also has me wondering how a single woman can consider herself to be a club, but that's just my sarcastic way of suggesting that this is probably from the Birmingham Women's Club.

There are some interesting recipes in here. The first chapter, titled "Esquire Section," is devoted to recipes from men, such as this:

Sunday Brunch Carodelle is interesting on a number of levels. I have some trouble imagining what it would taste like to heat ham, bacon, sour cream, sherry, capers, Jones little sausages, oysters, cheese, tomato soup, mushrooms, and olives together... I could easily see combinations of several of the items on the list making a nice sauce, but ALL of them together? It feels like a hot ham and cheese recipe, a sausage tomato sauce recipe, and an oyster appetizer recipe got forcibly crammed together for no apparent reason.

I was also really curious about what carodelle meant because I hadn't heard of it before. Apparently, it's not a very popular term. When I looked it up, Google asked if I was looking for caramel recipes, crocodile recipes, or caravella recipes. That's a pretty diverse list, and none of the items have anything to do with this recipe. Your guess is as good as (and quite possibly better than!) mine as to what carodelle means.

I love that this is to be served over "antique toast"! It sounds suspiciously like Texas toast, but I like the implication that the bread is just really old. How is it still edible? I imagine that it is some kind of cursed antique bread from the Curious Goods store in the TV series Friday the Thirteenth. Sure, you could eat your antique toast, but then you'd age rapidly and die within a day because the bread had stayed young by preemptively stealing your life... or something like that. In any case, somebody would definitely have to die.

The most prominent part of this cookbook is not the recipes but the ads. There are TONS of ads, and anytime a page has a little extra space, it's filled with an all-caps line begging "PLEASE PATRONIZE OUR ADVERTISERS."

It's kind of cool to see the old ads, though. I'm really intrigued by this one:

I just cannot resist the little lightning-bolt guy standing on top of the stove, offering mom a taste of soup as her husband and son smilingly peek in, apparently completely unsurprised that there is a little lightning-bold guy standing on top of the stove holding a spoonful of soup. I'm a bit worried that this is some kind of an elaborate ploy to electrocute mom because dad has taken out a big insurance policy and he promised Timmy a new TV set when they get the payout.

Living better electrically, indeed!

Occasionally the ads seem to go with the nearby recipes. Today we hear that French women don't get fat, but this ad picks a different nationality American women who want to be thin should emulate:

Chinese women apparently have secrets to staying thin: vegetables, chopsticks, and well-rinsed rice!

This is right across from a dubiously Chinese recipe:

Yes, Chinese Chicken Goulash. There is nothing more Chinese than a traditionally Hungarian dish. To be honest, the only word in this title that really makes sense is "chicken."

How is the recipe Chinese? My guess is that throwing rice into anything gave '60s recipe writers in the midwest an excuse to call it Chinese. When the ingredient list starts with butter and ends with rich milk, though, its claim to Chinese heritage is shaky at best.

How is this recipe goulash? The most important ingredients in traditional Hungarian goulash (beef, veal, pork, or lamb plus onions and paprika) are mostly missing-- this only has the onions. This doesn't even have the elbow macaroni and tomatoes of the traditional American version!

They might as well call this Russian Chicken Paella or Swiss Chicken Gumbo. But what can you expect from Birmingham, Michigan, except geographical confusion?

Have a minimally confusing Wednesday!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Barbecue like it's your job

Labor Day weekend! For summer's last hurrah, I thought we should take a look at some barbecue party menus from the great big 1963 The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. The "When Company Comes" chapter has a section of "Barbecues With, For, and By Men" with recipe suggestions based on the men's professions and/or locations. The titles are sometimes comically specific: Los Angeles Salesman, Engineer from Turkey, Manhattanite with Skyline Terrace... (These men serve lemon-barbecued rock lobster tails with baked potatoes, shish kebab with raisin pilaf, and barbecued lamb shanks with demi corn on the cob, respectively.) (And demi corn on the cob means the ears are broken in half and apparently Manhattanites with skyline terraces are too precious to just say "half-ears of corn.")

Here are a couple other entries that cracked me up:

For the most part, the artist and photographer's dinner sounds pretty standard-- spareribs, potatoes, blueberries with sour cream. The part that makes me do a comical double-take is the first recommendation for "The Introduction" course: mugs of hot pea soup! I don't know anyone who would start a barbecue with big old steaming mugs of hot pea soup. For the after-ice-skating party, fine. For midwinter family dinner, sure. But for a starter at a barbecue? I just don't get this at all. Maybe this is the cookbook's subtle way of hinting that artists and photographers must be crazy.

The art director seems like he might be a little big eccentric as well:

Barbecued flapjacks? I'm suddenly imagining grill-marked pancakes with barbecue sauce (rather than syrup) poured over them. Want a short stack?

The recipe reveals that I'm not quite right on this one (thank goodness!)...

It's a short stack of Parmesan-topped pancakes serving as buns for a double burger with barbecue sauce.

Serve it up with "special coleslaw." I know the book just means for readers to pick a slightly fancier than usual coleslaw recipe, but any time I see the unexplained word "special" in a recipe title, I assume that it's code for booze, like "Daddy's 'Special' Coffee." Liquor might perk up a lot of things, but coleslaw? Seems like it would be a waste to me.

Adding coffee liqueur to the dessert further reinforces my impression that this hypothetical art director is a whimsical yet driven tyrant to work for. Good thing it's Labor Day and he can spend the day subjecting his friends and family to himself and his cooking, freeing the artists and photographers to serve steaming hot pea soup with their spareribs.

Happy Saturday! I hope you get Monday off too, but if not, at least you don't have to work for this art director.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Watermelon stew and platter-topped ladies

Cooks in the '60s who were tired of 157 recipes based on canned soup and/or Jell-O might have been pretty excited by today's cookbook:

The New Idea Cookbook (edited by Janet Wood, 1965) brought together 25 cookbooks, many of them for regional or foreign cuisines, and few of them using much convenience food.

Of course, part of the reason I love this cookbook is because there are foods that I have trouble even imagining:

Chungking Watermelon Soup (the "ACC" under the recipe name means it's originally from Mimi Ouei's The Art of Chinese Cooking) is almost enough to make my head asplode. The idea of a two-foot watermelon hollowed out and used as a vessel to hold six kinds of meat and seafood as well as celery, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, and seasonings is amazing enough. 

Then I think about the practicality of it all. If I have an enormous, steaming stew baking away in the oven, I want it to be freaking cold outside. If I have a giant watermelon, it is almost certainly waaay too hot for an oven full of steaming watermelon.

I am just fascinated by this because if you put a million of me in a room for a million years and tasked us with making up new recipes, I don't think one of us would ever have envisioned something even close to Chungking Watermelon Soup.

Another great thing about The New Idea Cookbook is that it captures the voices of the various cookbook authors. This recipe (originally from Mildred O. Knopf's The Perfect Hostess Cookbook) may not be especially groundbreaking...

...but I love the note at the end. Not many cookbooks would try to get away with the arch tone of "It is not necessary to serve these slices on rounds of buttered toast, but if your guests have an aversion to licking their fingers at a formal party, they will appreciate having them served that way." I love that Knopf would write this way AND that Wood didn't excise the personality from this collection.

This recipe (originally from The Master in the Kitchen, by Don Pierce with Charlotte Turgeon) might have the biggest personality of them all, though:

Son-of-a-Bitch Stew is more story than recipe. We definitely get more words about Grandma running her cattle ranch and feeding the cowhands than we do about how to make the stew (which should contain a bottle of corn, rye, and/or rotgut liquor). I'm sure Grandma was "quite a gal!"

I didn't know how to end today's post, so I will close it the same way The New Idea Cookbook ends. Here is a completely unexplained picture of old-fashioned upper class ladies in front of a fountain with platters on their heads. Enjoy!