Saturday, October 16, 2021

Funny Name: Really Questionable Desserts Edition

When I saw the title "Brownie Rice Casserole" in Police Potpourri (Iowa State Policeman's Association Auxiliary, 1977), I immediately pictured something that would easily fit into a horror movie-- a 9 x 13" pan full of brownies that look kind of like they're infested by maggots-- but maybe you wouldn't notice under the thick layer of cream-of-mushroom-soup-based icing.

The reality, of course, is less interesting.

I really don't know why Betty Ammeter felt compelled to add "brownie" to the title, but I'm glad she did because now I've put that image in your head. You're welcome.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

He-Men secretly like frilly potatoes, and other revelations

I love the cover of The Culinary Arts Institute's The Casserole Cookbook (Jackie Johnson and the Culinary Arts Institute Staff) so much that I'll let its slightly too new date (1980) slide.

I mean, come on! The vintage frozen pea box that looks nearly generic with its plain white bordered by a picture of plain old peas! The bag of shredded cheddar cheese with colors and lettering that make me think more of potato chips than cheese, with no convenient zip-top closure built into the packaging! The block of ham that looks more like a brick than something edible! The way it all comes together in a plain brown crock, a big pea-and-ham glob bordered with a cheesy-potato ruffle.

Also interesting: This cover image is for He-Man Casserole.

I am not at all surprised by the random gendering of a recipe for no discernible reason. I am very much surprised that the Culinary Arts Institute would gender a casserole consisting of veggies and ham in a white sauce topped with frilly mashed potatoes as masculine. I mean, ladies ate ethereal soufflées with creamed turkey and men ate any meats they could throw on the grill. I don't know whose rules the CAI was playing by, but I like their subversion.

Well, they're occasionally subversive. They couldn't dodge all the trends. I mean, it was barely past the '70s, so they still had to randomly throw canned fruit into stuff.

I can imagine a lot of responses to canned luncheon meat with onions, potatoes, and a little greenery cooked in beef broth, but "You know what would be great? A topping of brown-sugary canned pear halves!" is not high on that list. Maybe the sugary fruit would be better as a separate dessert, with some nice streusel topping and/or cooked in a little wine?

What I really loved, though, is that this book does have nice full-color pictures to go with a few recipes, like this big old pile of sausages.

You've got big, dark-brown sausages! You've got little cat turd sausages! You've got big red sausages! All mounded haphazardly together with white globes of canned potato and an incoherent mush of other stuff on the bottom.

No surprise that Super Sausage Supper is pretty much exactly what it looks like-- sausage links, Polish sausage, tiny smoked sausage, and canned potatoes, all held aloft by a mush of sauerkraut, onion, garlic, apple cider, white wine, and apple. I'm sure my German ancestors would be appalled by how repellent that sounds to me. 

If we want something even more brown and the '80s midwest version of Mexican instead of German, there's this lovely casserole.

At least the brown-and-beige pit looks kind of like a monster's mouth with its row of tortilla chip "teeth." I also love that the raw ingredients (including some dried beans that are not even part of the recipe-- just a prop for "Mexican" food, I guess!) are at the top and the accompaniments of taco sauce, chopped olives, tomatoes, and sour cream are at the bottom. It just seems weird (and not entirely safe) to have raw ground beef so close to the finished casserole and the little custard cups full of toppings.

The Taco Casserole itself initially seems fine if you're an admirer of plain old midwestern taco-mix, cheese, and lettuce-style tacos (which I am).

But then, check the instructions a little more closely (and the picture of the toppings). What's going on with the lettuce? Who wants hot lettuce baked under a layer of ground beef? Why is the lettuce not a crunchy topping, but a soggy, unwelcome addition to the casserole? Why? The brown and beige pit is scarier than it looks.

It's so much fun to check out all the weird little touches in The Casserole Cookbook. Is hot lettuce really necessary? Wouldn't "Random Sausage Pile" have been a hilarious recipe name? And shouldn't that have been the "he-man" recipe? I'm so grateful to have found a book that inspires such deep thoughts.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Still not falling for The Book of Whole Meals

Now that fall is well underway, let's return to The Book of Whole Meals (Annemarie Colbin, 1983, but feels like it's from the '70s!) to see what culinary equivalents of Earth Shoes are on offer.

Part of the book's appeal is supposed to be reduced preparation time. That's a big deal in old health food cookbooks, as recipes often required hours of boiling dried beans and brown rice. Well, these menus still require all that, but in this particular book, cooks are just supposed to make extra for leftovers. (It's early-'80s meal prep!) In fact, the dinner menu is listed first, and then leftovers are supposed to be used to make the next day's lunch and sometimes breakfast. While this sounds helpful in theory, the changes between menus are often so slight that the food would quickly get monotonous. One fall menu calls for aduki beans (now usually spelled adzuki beans) seasoned with just a bit of shoyu to be served over plain brown rice for dinner. The next day calls for some of the leftover brown rice to be boiled with extra water into a "soft rice" (probably because most of the book's audience wouldn't know the term congee back then) for breakfast and for more of it to be stir-fried with leftover vegetables and served with an aduki bean soup (essentially, the leftover beans from the previous night simmered in extra water with some rolled oats). I'm not opposed to repurposing leftovers, but if they're bland to start out with and then they're served again in barely altered form-- mostly just more watered-down-- I can't imagine anybody being too excited. Plus, Colbin's instructions on storing rice make the next day's meals an excellent vector for food poisoning, as she recommends keeping cooked rice "in a covered bowl or pot near a window at room temperature for a day or two, making sure that air circulates in the container so the rice will not mold." Sounds like a great recipe for giving everyone a nasty Bacillus cereus infection!

The recipes in that menu were so basic and unremarkable that I decided to showcase another super-repetitive menu instead. Let's go for spaghetti night! This is a healthy cookbook, so we'll start with whole wheat spaghetti.

I'm not really sure why we needed a recipe to boil spaghetti, as few cookbooks at the time would bother with this step and just say to serve the meal with cooked spaghetti. Maybe Colbin wanted to make sure it was cooked to mush by advising 25 minutes of boiling, or maybe she was afraid cooks would stir with a spaghetti spoon instead of her recommended chopstick?

Let's get to the good part: the sauce!

Oh, yeah. I forgot that her idea of a sauce is usually just some vegetables in thickened water flavored slightly with shoyu. Still, the veggies are more exciting than plain overcooked spaghetti.

Now, how are they transformed into the next day's lunch? Well, it all starts with a béchamel. 

Colbin firmly believes that people have no business eating dairy, though, so her idea of the sauce replaces the milk with water and the butter with corn oil. Yum! Plus, it uses whole wheat pastry flour for the usual refined white flour, just to make sure you know that this is health food. And what is that "béchamel" used for?

It's the sauce used to bind up last night's leftover spaghetti with the leftover root vegetables in kuzu sauce and leftover kale. (If you're hoping that the kale might be seasoned enough to add a bit more spark, it was only steamed with a pinch of sea salt and showered with a few sunflower seeds.) So, uh, yeah. This is mostly just last night's leftovers baked in a sadder version of a sauce most people aren't too enthused about in the first place.

Well, maybe we can ease our disappointment with a few cookies.

They're sweetened mostly with raisins, packed with sunflower seeds, use corn oil instead of butter, and likely to be dense as hockey pucks since they have no leavening, though, so don't get your hopes up too high. At least they don't have whole wheat spaghetti or root vegetables in the ingredients, so they're a change of pace if nothing else. Take any small victory you can in a book like this one....

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Mysteries of the Peanut's Y's Mice

Today's book, Three Y's Mice on Cooking was bit of a mystery when I picked it up. What are "Y's Mice"? 

A quick look inside the cover revealed that this cookbook was a fundraiser for Young Women's Christian Association, Bristol Tennessee-Virginia, so the "Y" in the title is the YWCA. Then I wondered what "Tennessee-Virginia" was, and learned that Bristol is a city the states share. Then I tried to track down the date for this book. The cover page brags that this is from Walter's Publishing Company, which has been "serving Church, School, and Civic Organizations for over 25 years." Walter's Publishing Company was founded in 1939, so I assumed that meant that this was from the mid-1960s. After all, if Walter's had been around for substantially longer than 25 years, it probably would have said for over 30 or 35 (or 40, 45, etc.) years, right? That mid-'60s guess is wrong, though, as this book has a recipe for Watergate Salad, which puts it squarely in the mid-1970s. The mysteries of why Walter's makes such modest brags and why it loves random capitalization remain.

Let's move on from the mysteries of the book to a menu of mayhem, though! First, we need a good appetizer.

An appetizer, anyway. I know just about everybody loves bacon, but it seems pretty underwhelming to get it wrapped around a saltine. (And even more so when you see that the recipe encourages cooks to make these a day or two ahead of time, then reheat them. I can't help but imagine the saltine will end up being stale-tasting at best and a bit soggy at worst, regardless of any reheating efforts.) 

Maybe it's best to just get on to the soup.

You might think I've accidentally uploaded a dip recipe when I meant to post a soup (as this recipe is extremely similar to the popular Velveeta and Ro-Tel Queso dip). I assure you, this is in the soup section. Plus, I guess the added stick of oleo makes it runnier, so maybe that is supposed to make it soup? (It will also help make this one of the greasiest soups you're ever likely to eat.)

We probably should just move on to the main course before you fill up on bacon, oleo, and Velveeta. How about a meat loaf?

Another mystery: What makes this a Homemaker's Meat Loaf? Maybe it's that this one uses ground pork with chopped hot dogs and ham instead of the more traditional ground beef, so bored homemakers will get to spend some time mixing pork products for a change? Maybe it's the inclusion of raisins, so homemakers can look forward to expressions of surprise when the kids unexpectedly hit a pocket of dried fruit? Who knows? We should probably have a few more veggies, though, beyond just a bit of canned tomato with jalapeno in the soup and a fragment of chopped carrot in the meat loaf.

Creamed Onions with Peanut's what? I guess I'm wandering further into the mystery zone again, trying to figure out what belongs to Peanut. (If the recipe writer thought that apostrophes were simply meant to warn readers of an impending -s, I'd think the onions would have gotten an apostrophe too!)

We'll round things out with a dessert mystery that is only a mystery to me because I'm not a southerner.

I wondered if Pig Picking Cake had sausage in it. Nope! Well, then, what's with the name? Was it supposed to be a quick cake to make early in the day, before a trip to the barnyard to pick out which hogs to slaughter, so there would be something waiting when the family came home? Not as far as I could tell, as this has no explanation. A quick internet search, however, showed that the name is no mystery to southerners. This is apparently a popular dessert at barbecues where an entire pig is roasted, so people eat the cake when they're done picking the meat off the pig. (It's apparently usually written as "Pig Pickin' Cake," too. Maybe Linda Crowe was worried about the people of Bristol seeming too uneducated after that whole "Creamed Onions with Peanut's" debacle, so she decided to be more formal and add the "g.")

I had no idea that this little booklet would send me down so many rabbit holes of speculation, but it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon... way more interesting than wrapping saltines in bacon or chopping up hot dogs and ham. The pork levels in this menu make me think that Pig Picking Cake is the right dessert for the menu after all, even if there's not an actual whole hog involved.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

An Ominous October

The recipes for October in The Chamberlain Calendar of American Cooking (Narcisse and Narcissa Chamberlain, 1957) fill me with the same emotion as looking ahead to October does: impending doom. I always hope that October days will consist mostly of me listening to the crunch of leaves underfoot as I stroll through a historical cemetery, and the nights will be filled with watching a child's head melting into a pile of bugs and snakes or trundling through the murder ride. And then I remember that last October, one of my three jobs required 60 hours of labor in a week when I also had four classes' worth of essays to grade. So, yeah. Impending doom.

The first recipe for October shows how gardeners used to prepare for the doom of an early frost.

If the tomatoes wouldn't get any more time to grow this year, they could always be picked green and then pickled. It's nice that instead of simply feeling helpless in the face of adverse weather, the cooks could make something nice to last them until next tomato season.

The second image of impending doom has nothing to do with the recipe, and just like my visions of the impending work-pacalypse, there's not a lot anyone could have done to prepare.

Okay, I'm amused by the line "Clean, trim and wipe dry a handsome salmon trout." (Apparently you shouldn't eat an ugly one? And how does one judge a fish to be "handsome," anyway?) Overall, though, I'm more interested in the photo: a Mount St. Helens that is notably pointier than the one we see today. When this picture was taken, the volcano had been mostly quiet for 100 years, and of course now I know that it had less than a quarter century to go until it would erupt again. It looks so beautiful and serene from here, and yet, it all blew up pretty quickly. That's just what October tends to do to me. I hope you have a lovely month while I try to brace myself for the impending cataclysm. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Wonderful Country Cooking (that's really just typical '70s cooking)...

When I picked up "Wonderful Good Cooking" from Amish Country Kitchens (recipes collected and checked by Larry Rogers, edited by Johnny Schrock, copyright 1974, third printing, 1976) I kind of knew better than to expect this collection to call for fewer highly-processed ingredients than other '70s cookbooks.

When I commented on a supposedly Amish recipe in another cookbook, I asked whether the Amish actually spent "the '70s eating casseroles made with four cans of soup and half a pound of Velveeta, just like everybody else except the health nuts," as the recipe seemed to suggest. The answer from Julie D., a reader who said she lived in Amish country, was an unequivocal yes. (The full post, along with the comment, is here.)

This book pretty much confirms Julie's comments! The Amish topped off their hamburger/ bacon/ veggie/ spaghetti creations known as Wiggles with mushroom and tomato soups plus two pounds of Velveeta. (My joke estimate was too low!)

At least, that's when they weren't making their surprisingly violent-sounding Pancake Burger Bash...

...with ground beef, canned tomato products, and canned corn, all topped off with pancake-mix-and-crushed-corn-chip dumplings.

In contrast to the Amish, even my shortcut-happy childhood family made ham and bean soup starting with dried beans, but...

...the Amish version starts with oleo and goes on to add two cans of soup beans. It could easily be made in well under an hour.

The recipes are more decadent than I expected, too. The Strawberry Hotcakes don't just add fresh strawberries to plain, homemade pancakes.

They add sweetened strawberries to pancakes made out of cake mix. Yep. Cake for breakfast! It's fine if it's pancake shaped.

And despite the lack of refrigeration, the '70s Amish loved Jell-O just as much as anybody else, which meant ... 

mixing lemon Jell-O with onion, salad dressing, cucumber, and cottage cheese, as one did back then.


...getting really crazy and mixing the lemon and lime Jell-Os with Miracle Whip, horseradish, canned pineapple, and cottage cheese. (And oh, yeah-- nuts are also essential to either salad.)

Hell, they even had frozen salads, which is quite a trick, considering even in the middle of winter, you can't keep frozen food frozen if you pack it in the middle of a snowbank (as anyone whose electricity has gone out in an ice storm can tell you). 

No Jell-O this time, but we can see that the Amish also loved their miniature marshmallow salads just as much as any midwesterners.

In short, even if the Amish seem to outsiders like they're stuck in some other time, their '70s recipes were just as '70s as anybody else's in the All in the Family era.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Funny Name: Not up to the challenge edition

Based on the name of this recipe from The Garden Club Cookbook Casseroles Including Breads (The Montgomery Federation of Garden Clubs, 1969), I kind of expected it to include something that really doesn't belong in chicken casserole, like fruit cocktail, lime gelatin, paraffin, or thumb tacks.

Challenging Chicken Casserole is a pretty typical '60s casserole, though-- chicken, rice, multiple canned soups, and a little optional seasoning. The trickiest step is probably cutting up the chicken, so I'm not sure what makes this such a challenge. Maybe it's just pretending that this is much different from any of the other recipes in the chapter?

R.I.P. Norm Macdonald. You were so good at being Burt Reynolds/ Turd Ferguson that I kind of forgot I posted your picture so much.