Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Super-Stealth Health Food and Top Secret Ingredients

I'm a sucker for '70s community cookbooks with pictures of very '70s kitchens on their covers.

That led me to the creatively-titled Cook Book: Favorite Recipes from Our Best Cooks (by the Ladies' Prayer Band in Bonds Chapel Church, Waverly, Ohio, 1976/77).

All that brick, the shiny brown linoleum with a rusty shag rug off to one side, the dark wood and plaid border wallpaper, the way the harvest gold counters match the chicken railed in by the stove vent... I just love this kitchen (and wish I could check out the cookbooks on the built-in desk)!

The cover hints at the sunny outlook of the cooks who helped put this compilation together. They are always willing to look at the bright side to the extent that they make dietary excesses seem perfectly reasonable. That salty, greasy, deplorable mess of a casserole that I adored as a kid (and still occasionally try to more healthily recreate today, on evenings when I'm on my own for dinner so no one else will know how much I still crave it)? The good people of Waverly know it as this:

This isn't Tater Tot Casserole, as it was known in my house-- even though it covers the same slick of creamy, salty soups and burger with the same fleet of golden-brown Tater Tots. No, this is healthy because it's Vegetable Casserole. There's a whole bag of mixed veggies inside, so it's clearly good for you.

I also learned, tragically too late, that the "dessert" my mother-in-law makes every year for Christmas-- the one I love so much that she always tucks away an extra square or two to send home with me-- is not actually a dessert at all:

If I'd only known this confection consisting of layers of buttery nuts, cream cheese, sugar, pudding, and Cool Whip was really a SALAD-- well, then I could have felt pretty self-righteous about eating it-- maybe even had a double serving to double the healthfulness.

The good people of Waverly aren't all such optimists, though. A surprising number of cooks seemed pretty reluctant to give up their secrets, considering they were volunteering to send recipes to a cookbook. Some omissions are kind of blatant:

With so much white space in the recipe, the 1/2 c. ______ stands out above the cup of sugar. (I'm pretty sure the omitted ingredient is butter, based on the other, similar recipes around it.)

Some omissions are really sneaky:

All looks in order (except for using the regional term "mangos" to mean "green peppers") until we get to the very last line, where careful readers learn we can substitute 1 c. _____ for 1 c. meat.

Dee Steward doubled down on refusing to name that secret ingredient:

This recipe for Lazarus (a department store chain bought out by Macy's that once had restaurants in its Columbus, Ohio, location) Mexican Beef Sandwiches helpfully gives recipes for large and small batches. The third ingredient is a mystery, though. For a large batch, use 1/3 c., and for a smaller batch, use only 1/4 c. A third of a cup or a quarter of a cup of what are apparently up to the cook's discretion, as the detailed instructions for mixing (Combine all ingredients (except bacon)) don't provide much in the way of help.

As always, a few recipes are just plain weird. I'll end with something a little different:

Something Different in Fried Chicken browns the bird before coating it in sour cream, brown sugar, and bacon bits and throwing it in the oven. Never mind that it appears not to really be fried (unless we count the pan-browning)-- what will it be like coated with sweet brown sugar and those bits of artificial smoke flavored gravel known as bacon bits? Maybe "different" is the kindest description one could hope for....

Have a great Wednesday! I'll spend it wishing I still had one last piece of "salad" to finish off...


  1. That is the most 70s kitchen ever, I love it!

    1. I keep thinking I've found the community fundraising cookbook with the most '70s kitchen cover ever, but then a new one comes along and raises the stakes.