Saturday, September 23, 2023

Hard lessons from the classroom dehydrator

My initial post about Cook and Learn (Beverly Veitch and Thelma Harms, illustrations and calligraphy by Gerry and Tia Wallace, 1981) emphasized its boundless expectations for very young students and their teachers. Since the post was already lengthy, I decided not to even go into another facet of the book that seemed just a little wild. The teacher who should stock the class with an endless assortment of tiny pots, loaf pans, etc., expect small children to chop up hard veggies with sharp knives, encourage them to flip their own pancakes on a hot stove, etc. was also encouraged to build the class its own dehydrator.

All it takes is an electric griddle, hardware cloth, fiberglass screen, corrugated paper, carefully taped and vented foil, and a hand-cut lid! "That sounds super-easy," I whispered to myself sarcastically when I found this page, but then again, it probably would be super-easy to a teacher willing to try using the recipes in this book. At least the teacher can make a dehydrator on their own without 22 sets of tiny hands trying to help.

Yes, there are recipes for the usual suspects like jerky and fruit leather, but my favorites are a little more complicated (and they get bonus points for fitting quite firmly into the '70s health food category). Dehydrator Cookies are less actual cookies than a granola that takes only 24-48 hours to dry.

Will the kids be more disappointed or less disappointed to discover the cookies they expected are just wads of dried-out fruit, nuts, and oats if they have to wait a couple days to taste them? Maybe the anticipation will make the cookies even more of a letdown, but maybe by then the kids will have moved on to other things and just be surprised that they still have some kind of weird food to try after all that time.

Since we're talking '70s health food desserts, we also have to talk carob! Yes, there's a carob-based dehydrator "treat."

My favorite part of the instructions might be that they end with "turn over." I'm not sure whether this means that the other side of the "fudge" should also be dried for two more days or whether the instruction to turn over is simply to make sure that it easily peels off the plastic  and isn't too sticky on the bottom before trying to hand it out to the kids, who will inevitably be disappointed that this little block that looks like it should be a delicious, chocolatey fudge is nothing more than a lie with some nuts and seeds in it.

In any case, the classroom dehydrator seems like a real lesson in how anticipation is often more exciting than the payoff. Get used to being disappointed, kids! Waiting for a long time to get something that sucks anyway is what being an adult is all about...

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Pillsbury lets the chips fall where they may

When I picked up Bake Off Cook Book from Pillsbury (1971), I knew that the recipes would feature Pillsbury products. I mean, selling Pillsbury stuff is the whole point of the Bake Off. What I was not expecting was that so many recipes featured chips and puffs for no apparent reason. I was almost convinced that the Bake Off was cosponsored by Frito-Lay in 1971, but the recipes don't specify the brand names for the snacks used in the recipes.

Some recipes feature foodstuffs wrapped in Pillsbury biscuits and then covered with crushed potato chips, like Cheesy Biscuit Finger Rolls.

Cheese in a carb in a carb! 

It looks almost like the Cheesy Biscuit Finger Rolls could be a coffee cake for people who prefer savory and salty to sweet.

If dairy's not your thing, the Biscuit Fishwich is pretty similar, except it's a fish stick wrapped in a biscuit and covered with crushed corn chips.

I'd think that someone from Hawaii would prefer better fish-based recipes, what with the proximity of fresh seafood, but I guess Hawaiians have the same time and money constraints as the rest of us.

And speaking of seafood, when I saw the picture of the Easy Crust Bean Burger Bake, I wondered why there were shrimp on top of it.

Then I read the recipe and realized those were cheese puffs.

I'm not sure they're "broken into small pieces" per the recipe's instructions, but they are striking...

The weirdest use of cheese puffs, though, might be this one.

This is not a mini version of a regular Dutch apple pie. This is Cheese 'n Apple Pie Cups. And in case you haven't guessed...

...the "cheese" in question is cheese-flavored corn puffs. I imagine in the middle of all that cinnamon and sugar, they'd come off primarily as "crunch" rather than "cheese."

Beyond the grand prize, Pillsbury offered prizes for subcategories (like best consumer value and division prizes for the various product divisions). Maybe this year they should have given prizes for weirdest use of salty snacks. Frito-Lay could have thrown in some prize money if the cookbook would have recommended their brands. Companies must not have thought about cross-promotion as much back in 1971.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Pillsbury Pizza Party!

I'm a big fan of pizza, especially if it's got a spicy (not sweet!) tomato sauce and cheese that's such a deep brown that some people would probably consider it burnt. My in-laws are horrified by these preferences, as they prefer a candy-sweet tomato sauce with canned pineapple and barely-melted cheese on top, and my partner and I were both horrified when a family friend took us out for pizza and we discovered that his preference was for a place with a crust so thick and sweet that we thought the dough would have been better used to make cinnamon rolls than pizza. In short, pizza preferences vary widely, but the Pillsbury's Bake Off Main Dish Cookbook (1968) reminded me that people's ideas about pizza might have been even more variable in the '60s.

Of course, one of the "pizzas" featured in the book is clearly a mislabeled quiche. I'm still not sure why referring to quiches as pizzas used to be a thing.

I think the American Piece-A-Pie may have been an attempt to make pizza seem less "ethnic" to xenophobic midwesterners.

Top the quick bread crust (pink from tomato sauce and chili powder) with American cheese and chili-powder-seasoned ground beef instead of mozzarella and pepperoni to make sure it's midwest-friendly.

There's a pizza craft project for cooks who like an impressive presentation.

This one is made a bit easier in that it uses premade refrigerated dough, so the cook can put their effort into braiding. I have to admit it's pretty, but the sesame seeds on top seem a little odd (but not unwelcome).

The dipping sauce of condensed tomato soup with cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire might best be forgotten....

The layered dip craze may have inspired the Double Pizza Special, though the picture makes it look as if this is supposed to be a special-occasion dish.

"Break out the wine glasses! We're having the good Kool-Aid tonight."

This thing looks less like a pizza to me than a casserole, though-- perhaps with a layer of cheesy rice on the bottom and ground beef on the top, with a pair of alien eyeballs (one with a red iris and one clouded over with cataracts) for effect.

There's no rice, though-- just a crust topped with a ricotta-based cheese filling not unlike what would be found in a lasagna, which is then topped with a seasoned tomato-and-sausage layer, which is then topped with mozzarella and Parmesan. This would be one hefty pie.

For anyone who considers canned soup a necessity for 1960s recipes, the Cheeza Soupreme uses condensed Cheddar soup not only in the crust, but also in the topping.

Bonus 1960s points for using catsup as the base for the tomato sauce, and bonus disappointment points for using cheese soup as the only cheese in the whole damn recipe.

For sheer weirdness, though, the Pauper's Pizza wins.

While the buttermilk-flavored crust sounds like it might be interesting, the bean-with-bacon soup and frankfurter topping seasoned with catsup and mustard makes me wonder why people at the time thought that dough baked with any goddamn thing on top should qualify as a pizza. If this were my introduction to the concept, I'm not sure I would ever have been willing to try another.... At least my pineapple-loving in-laws and I might be able to agree that this monstrosity is irredeemable. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Classroom Cookery with a Side of Crazy

I almost didn't pick up Cook and Learn (Beverly Veitch and Thelma Harms, illustrations and calligraphy by Gerry and Tia Wallace, 1981) because it's just a bit too new to hit my sweet spot of 1970s and earlier. However, the book took a while to create-- the preface says it started in 1972 as a collection of 14 mimeographed(!) recipes, plus there was an earlier 1976 edition. I decided not to be too particular and just pick it up, and I am soooo glad I did!

Inspecting the cover might give you a hint about the madness within. The pictorial instructions suggest that the book is intended for children young enough to have shaky reading skills. Still, the cover features both a knife and a flour mill. The recipes look like they're going to be a little more complicated (and dangerous!) than making ants on a log with precut celery sticks or mixing a tablespoon of chocolate syrup into a cup of milk.

As for structure, the book offers 100+ single-serving recipes with step-by-step pictorial directions. It advises teachers to enlarge the directions on the copier, set up a station for each step, and send the entire class through the steps so each student makes their own individual portion. The back of the book even gives ideas about how and where to get small kitchenware (like tiny loaf pans) at a discount. I can understand in theory why a teacher would want to get each student involved and allow them to make their own snack. In practice, though... I was skeptical. Expecting kids to wait in line and go through a whole series of steps (even simple and straightforward ones) before they can eat just sounds like a recipe for chaos.

Some recipes seem odd but maybe workable. The Ironed Sandwich is at least pretty simple-- just a basic grilled cheese...

...well, a basic cheese sandwich "grilled" by being wrapped in foil and ironed on both sides. I guess it's a pseudo-panini? It's sure to be pretty flat with the kids ironing it. How safe is it to let kids handle a heavy, hot iron anyway? Even the one that seems moderately sensible is still pretty scary if you think about it for more than half a second.

And as I read further and further into the book, I realized that the authors must be out of their goddamn minds. Granted, I tend to think that of anyone who willingly works with any age group younger than high school, but this book takes it to a new level. Students can't just make pancakes, for instance. It's not enough to measure out a premade flour mixture, some buttermilk, egg, and oil, before stirring and baking on a griddle. 

No-- before all those other steps, the kid has to triple grind a tablespoon of wheatberries in a flour mill to make two teaspoons of wheatberry flour. (I'm sure it will be interesting to see the kids try to flip the pancakes, too! And the kids are definitely supposed to flip them, as the book advises using a "hand rest card" to remind "the child to lean on the 'other hand' far from the hot pan while he or she is turning the pancake.")

The book even offers multiple recipes for a type of food that many adults are reluctant to try to make: yeasted bread. One example is Milk and Honey Bread.

I just chose this one because it would require the teacher to have a full classroom's worth of tiny loaf pans, but the book also offers plenty of other yeasted breads, including pitas, cloverleaf rolls, English muffins, and pizza dough-- all requiring students to try to knead absurdly tiny balls of dough (with hands that with any luck mostly have the Play Doh, sand from the sandbox, etc. washed off), wait through a rising, and wait through the baking before they can have a bready snack.

Some of the recipes are so tiny that I can't imagine them even working. The Barley Soup initially seems like it would be much easier than the yeasted breads or the pancakes that require grinding the flour first. (Especially if the teacher cheats and precuts the onion, carrot, and celery rather than making the kids try to chop up hard and slippery vegetables themselves.)

Even if I could imagine a classroom with a stove that could easily accommodate a small class's worth of tiny cooking pots full of soup and a class of small children willing to wait an hour for their snack, I still don't see how this would work. The soup starts with a half cup of broth. Wouldn't it boil dry well before the hour was up? The only thing worse than a classroom full of cranky kids waiting an hour for a soup they're unlikely to be overly enthusiastic about anyway is a classroom full of kids suffering from smoke inhalation.

I appreciate the thought that went into this recipe book. Trying to teach kids about food, cooking, and nutrition has to be a difficult job under any circumstances. It just seems like this book would make it harder rather than easier...

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Canned Salmon Gets Friendly with the Bread and Spreads

My initial post on Magic Entrees to Make with Canned Salmon (Canned Salmon Industry, 1937) showed that the canned salmon industry wanted home cooks to do all kinds of things with salmon, from simply plunking it straight from the can onto some salad greens to hollowing out a loaf of bread and using a salmon-based mixture as a filling. I didn't get to a two-page spread on a more mundane use for canned salmon, even though that was actually one of my favorite sections. Today, we'll look at a few of the Canned Salmon Industry's favorite sandwiches!

I just loved this picture: perfect little square sandwiches, with a couple wrapped in waxed paper in that old-timey Ziploc-hasn't-been-invented-yet way. 

These are School Lunch Sandwiches! They're perfect for the already-unpopular kid who also wants to smell like fish all day.

And yes, they pair that classic peanut-butter-celery combo with flaked canned salmon. 

For the daintier cook who wants to make the ladies' luncheon look fancy and smell like a chum bucket, the book offers these little rolls.

They're Salmon Nut Tea Rolls-- essentially salmon salad spread thinly on slices of bread that are then rolled up and coated with cream cheese and nuts so they're all fancy.

And if the little tiny salmon rolls are not quite decorative enough, there's always that crafty cook's favorite: the sandwich loaf!

Just look at that hard-cooked egg "sun"(?) surrounded by the olive-slice "flowers"(?)! And all it takes is...

... an unsliced loaf of bread to have its crusts removed before being cut horizontally, slathering all the layers with mayonnaise, filling one with tomatoes and lettuce, another with canned salmon and tartar sauce, and a third with chopped hard-cooked eggs, pimento, and olives, then "icing" the entire thing with cream cheese thinned with a bit of milk. Actually, this does sound pretty easy compared to some of the other sandwich loaves I've featured, which require multiple types of homemade salads, usually in clashing flavors.

I am always intrigued by the combinations people used to see as perfectly acceptable sandwiches. Go ahead with your peanut butter and salmon! Get all fancy with cream-cheese-based sandwich "icing," as convenience doesn't seem to matter one bit! Just as long as you've got bread and an imagination (plus canned salmon in this case!), you've got a sandwich.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

In which your humble writer once again goes to battle with custard

It's that most wonderful day once again: Pieathalon Day! I don't usually cook except for when the delightful Yinzerella of Dinner Is Served 1972 facilitates a recipe exchange among a group of people who blog about old recipes and cookbooks. Everybody sends a vintage pie recipe to Yinzerella, she sends us someone else's recipe, and then we have to bake and post about whatever we got. 

This year, I got Coconut Cream Pie from A Picture Treasury of Good Cooking (1953). Camilla sent it in, and she is clearly a nicer person than I am.

Doesn't the version in the book look pretty? Of course, since I hate just about everything (except sugar snap peas and Reese's peanut butter cups), I hate this recipe. Why throw sunblock-flavored pencil shavings on top of a perfectly good pie?

Luckily, I have a family member who loves coconut cream pie and rarely gets to have it because she is the only person in the entire family who likes coconut. This one is going to be for her.

The first step is making the pie shell. I was going to buy a frozen one and bake it, but of course my grocery store was out of the regular ones! They only had deep dish shells (which might be too big) or gluten-free, and I didn't really feel like paying extra to get a shell that might not even be good, so I opted for a refrigerated dough disk to use in my own pie plate. Then when I unrolled it at home, I remembered that my pie plate is a stupid size-- 9-1/2 inches-- so it's always a little too big for standard 9-inch pies. The crust just barely fit and definitely didn't leave enough space for doing anything fancy with the edge.

And then it shrank a little when I baked it.

At least it's a pretty golden-brown.

Then I started on the filling. It initially got a little lumpy when I was mixing it up, but I used my immersion blender to get it nice and smooth before I heated it.

Once it thickened, I quit stirring, covered the pan, and cooked it for an additional 10 minutes, per the recipe instructions. Here's my improvised double boiler with an improvised lid. It was a little tricky to get everything to balance, but I managed not to dump anything, so that's a win!

And when the filling came out, it was thick and lumpy. I mean, really THICK and LUMPY-- so much so that I was having flashbacks to the 2021 Pieathalon. I tried using the immersion blender again, but the filling just laughed. It was way too thick for the immersion blender to have any effect on it, so I busted out my vintage food processor, dumped in the custard, and blended the heck out of it. Then I added the vanilla and blended some more. I would have taken pictures, but throughout the process my hands got progressively more and more coated in the filling. I was in too deep for pictures. Finally, I got a thin layer of whatever filling was left (and not hopelessly stuck to the bowl in which it was cooked, the immersion blender, my hands, the food processor, or the rubber spatula I was wrangling it with) into the slightly-too-large pie shell. 

Nothing is quite so inviting as crust covered with a thin layer of glue.

Once that was cooling, I toasted the coconut. I'm not really sure I got the right kind, but the grocery store had unsweetened flaked coconut, so that's what I bought.

And I didn't burn it! So I was briefly impressed with myself.

I got fancy and made stabilized whipped cream since the pie would be going on a half-hour road trip on a 90° day. I mean, we put it in a cooler, but still, it's a lot to go through if you're a pie. Here's the assembled pie at the point just before it became nasty-- at least, if you love coconut as much as I do.

When we got the pie to its destination, my coconut-loving relative was excited, but she was kind enough to let my special guest (introduced on Saturday) take some pictures with the pie before everyone got to try it. As my sunglasses-wearing friend Nada surveyed the pie, something seemed to be off...

Oh, no! His Saturday appearance must have tipped off the authorities after all! I accidentally led them right to him. 😨

Luckily, my coconut-cream-pie-loving relative set her foot down. They were not having a showdown in her kitchen. They were just going to try the pie.

I asked the guests what they thought. Nada just kept looking back and forth between the coconut topping and the ugly guy, saying, "I don't like this one bit." I know the feeling! 

The ugly guy kept yammering about how the old cynicism is gone and we don't need pessimism. I guess that's a positive? My relative started worrying that Nada would shoot up her kitchen trying to kill the ugly guy and kicked them both out, but I promised Nada I would tell all of you to wear the sunglasses.

Finally, my long-suffering relative then tried the pie and proclaimed it the best one I've ever made. She loved the rich custard (that luckily was not lumpy after all, and thick enough not to run the second we removed a slice!) and the way the perfectly toasty coconut contrasted the smooth, rich filling. 

To be honest, she probably did not get to eat as much of the pie left as she'd hoped because the coconut-haters had sizable slices too. A couple of us (including me!) scraped off the coconut and just enjoyed a mildly sweet and very creamy slice of pie. A couple of avowed coconut-haters even ate the coconut because they liked the toastiness so much that they didn't mind the addition. This recipe is a winner!

As always, a bit THANK YOU to Yinzerella for putting this together. You can see her Villa Pie at Dinner Is Served 1972.

Kari of The Nostalgic Cook is probably planning to murder me for sending in the recipe for Aspic Salad Pie. When you see it, you will consider this a very reasonable reaction. I deserve it.

The charming Dr. Bobb at Dr. Bobb's Kitschen made Anthony Hopkins 4-Star Shepherd’s Pie, and I am trying to restrain myself from making a Silence of the Lambs joke here.

The hilarious and thorough SS at A Book of Cookrye made the summery-sounding Peach Glaze Pie.

Camilla of Culinary Cam did not chicken out when she was assigned Ballymaloe Chicken Pie.

Surly of Vintage Recipe Cards tried a Hot Fudge Pie.

Battenburghbelle at Kitchen Confidence got ready for the Halloween season with Vincent Price’s Apple Pie.

Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers got a good excuse to eat hash browns with Beef and Hash Brown Pie.

Taryn of Retro Food for Modern Times has a product placement recipe: Hershey Pie.

Note that posts will go live at various times, so check back later if links are still missing or do not work.

If you're interested, here's a list of my previous pies:

Year Six: Banana Split Pie
Year Seven: Avocado Lime Pie

I hope you enjoyed the Pieathalon!

Saturday, September 2, 2023

A guest is invited to CONSUME some pie

I was a bit startled but not scared when he crept into the junk pile that I refer to as my home office. I'd summoned this year's guest taster for the Pieathalon and he was willing to take on the task, even though he wanted to keep a low profile. I was also not surprised that he gazed at me through a pair of sunglasses, even though the "office" has light-blocking curtains and most of the bulbs in the overhead light have burned out and I'm too lazy to replace them.

"You-- You're okay," he said. Then as his eyes adjusted and he realized he was surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, horror-movie-themed toys, and Halloween decorations, he seemed to soften a bit. "Looks like they really got to you, though." 

I chuckled ruefully and explained the premise of the meeting. "Look, Wednesday's the Pieathalon. A bunch of bloggers who love old recipes send old pie recipes to Yinzerella of Dinner Is Served 1972, who sends us each someone else's recipe to bake and post about. I can't post pictures of my own reactions to the pie. I'm a teacher and my students already know I'm a weirdo. Can't post additional evidence of just how weird I am in case somebody stumbles across this thing, so I ask special guests to taste the assigned pie instead, and I use the post right before the Pieathalon to tease the upcoming pie post and the guest taster's identity. Don't worry-- by the time I post this, you will have moved on. They already know who you are anyway. You can use my platform to spread your message if you'll help me tease the Pieathalon today and appear in the pie post this Wednesday."

"That's quite a bit of exposition, there."

"Yeah, I know. I always give either too much or too little! So what recipe do you want me to post to tease your identity as my special guest taster?"

He glanced around. "You got any cookbooks from 1957?"

"I suppose I do, but you're seriously overestimating my organizational skills if you think I can find one before the 100th annual Pieathalon in 2114."

He looked at the nearest bookpile and picked Woman's Home Companion Cook Book (edited by Dorothy Cook) off the top. He checked the  title page and muttered, "This is from 1955. Close enough."

I was impressed. He handed it to me and said, "Find a cheese dip." Then he slunk off into the alley.

I searched the index, the appetizer chapter, and the cheese chapter. There was nothing titled cheese dip, but in the spirit of "close enough," I thought some of the cheese spreads could easily be thinned enough to use as dips.

Alternatively, Welsh Rabbit is thin enough to pour, so you could easily use it as a dip instead.

Okay, that's a TON of clues as to the identity of my special guest. Maybe you can figure it out. The big reveal of the guest and the pie will be Wednesday!

P.S.- I don't usually include any hints about the pie I submitted, but you might be interested to know that I sent in one of the worst recipes I've ever found in my 10+ years of writing this blog. It was so bad that Yinzerella uncharacteristically sent a response to the submission, declaring it "absolutely foul." I, being the type of person who always assumes I've just done something wrong, sent an apologetic email and a backup recipe that sounded unusual but much more palatable and crossed my fingers, hoping that I wouldn't be exiled from the group forever for sending in a weapons-grade terrible recipe. I should have realized that Yinzerella's sense of humor is not so different from my own, though. She was not angry. Perhaps in awe? That originally-submitted terrible pie is getting made. I just hope that whoever gets the recipe survives the experience and that their spouse, roommate(s), and/or child(ren) don't move out because of the smell.