Sunday, September 29, 2013

Farmer Humor

At first, I wasn't too intrigued by this picture from 1976's "Life-Saver" Cookbook: Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers. It looks like a pretty ordinary garden vegetable and sour cream salad.

In fact, it is a fairly ordinary garden vegetable and sour cream salad. The thing that intrigues me is the name:

I'm quite used to seeing chop suey recipes in mid-twentieth century cookbooks, but they are for the Americanized "Chinese" dish made with canned vegetables and a little soy sauce, like this one from 1963's The Good Housekeeping Cookbook:

What does the "Farmer's Chop Suey" have to do with typical chop suey? There are none of the usual hallmarks-- no soy sauce, rice, meat, canned "Oriental" vegetables, not even a bit of slivered almond or the fried noodles that are more often associated with chop suey's sister, chow mein. The only thing the two recipes seem to have in common is chopped vegetables, but one could just as easily call it "Farmer's Mulligatawny" or "Farmer's Pad Thai."

That's the charm of the name, of course. I imagine a farmer like my grandma being asked to bring a dish to a dinner put on by someone she considered to be a little too hoity-toity. "You want something fancy?" she'd think. "Fine, I'll bring you fancy." Then she'd make what she planned to make anyway and give it a "fancy" foreign-sounding name.

"This is just how farmers make chop suey. Now shut up about your shiny new microwave, miss money-bags, and eat it." Grandma would be too polite to say it, of course, but the subtext would be clearly implied.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I hate the word, but I think "chillaxing" is appropriate here....

Labor Day is long gone, and now it is officially fall. Most people who love grilling are reluctantly getting ready to cover the grill and/or roll it back into the garage. The redundantly-titled Barbecue: Pillsbury's Barbecue Cookbook (1976), however, reminds you that the grill doesn't have to retire just because the sun does.

If you don't mind hauling cheese, wine, a thermos of soup, crackers, buns, brats, various fresh fruits, utensils, glasses, a serving board, and a coconut(!) across snow and ice, in a few short months the weather will be perfect for a ski picnic! I hope you enjoy eating a nice slice of cheese directly off of a snow drift (and I hope you venture far enough into the wilderness that a neighbor's dog will not have gotten to the snow drift first).

Oh, by the way, you will also need a grill, charcoal, a saucepan, beer, onions, and butter. Shouldn't be any problem if you managed to bring all the other supplies too.

I will let you enjoy your relaxing ski picnic. Pretty sure I can hold out on grilling until spring.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fish for dessert!

Okay, no one suggested eating fish for dessert. It's just that when I see food made to look festive and/or cute, my thoughts automatically lean toward dessert. So when I saw this in Jane Beaton's Woman's Own Book of Casserole Cookery (1967), I saw ice cream swirls with a mint sauce and bright candy toppings.

The label, however, sent me to this recipe:

Yes, the "ice cream" is actually whipped potatoes and the sauce is watercress, spinach, and rosemary rather than mint. The candies are peas and "diamonds of canned pimento." I am officially shocked that the cookbook didn't insist this would be perfect for one's next ladies' luncheon, as all cute recipes used to dictate. Maybe there's not enough sugar in it or the lack of pink food coloring disqualifies it.

Even though this next picture is in black and white, it's still cute enough that I know my childhood self would have been quite impressed if I could have had a similar design for a birthday cake:

I love the fishy stare and the way the enormous lips and smallish tail look almost identical. Alas, this is not a dessert either:

What have I learned today? Well, aside from the obvious lesson that I shouldn't assume cute foods will be dessert, I also learned that Jane Beaton was obsessed, yes, obsessed, with piping mashed potatoes. Just in case these two recipes don't give you enough ideas, there was actually an entire centerfold on various ways to pipe mashed potatoes:

This is only part of it, and it is just from the stand-alone guide to piped potato designs. It doesn't even count the many other piped mashed potato recipes.

Now I'm thinking back to the psychology classes I took in college and wondering if Jane Beaton had a serious case of sublimation. Unable to express her baser urges any other way, she turned to mashed potatoes and a pastry bag....

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Maybe you'll become Hawaiian if you wear a Hawaiian shirt...

A lot of brand name cookbooks are real horror shows because they try to shoehorn one ingredient into every single type of recipe the writers can think of, whether or not it belongs there.

Crisco, however, has fewer such problems. It's common enough in all kinds of things-- an ingredient in baked goods, an oil for frying or sauteing. I remember going through tubs of stuff when I was learning to cook as a teenager, using it in pie crusts, cookies, and popcorn. Even though I use considerably less now, I'm not surprised that today's recipe from 1973's Crisco's Favorite Family Foods Cookbook actually sounds fine. It looks pretty good:

King Kamehameha may indeed have liked this attractive pie, sunshine yellow and crowned with whipped cream and macadamia nuts. He likely would have been unfamiliar with the filling, though.

Yes, this appears to be a tropical treat, but look in the foreground and you will probably figure out what makes this nominally Hawaiian pie seem distinctly un-Hawaiian to me.

It is, in fact, an apple pie. The apples are cooked and covered with a pineapple juice sauce, but this is unquestionably an apple pie and Hawaii, for the most part, does not get cool enough to easily grow apples that are not of the pine variety.

I am not sure why the pie couldn't contain actual pineapple, but I will be happy to file this away with all the old recipes that magically became "Oriental" with the addition of a tablespoon of soy sauce or hot and spicy with two drops of Tabasco. Just remember, apples are Hawaiian if you cook them in pineapple juice.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are you more afraid of undead chickens or corn on the cob?

As an unfortunate member of both the clumsy and the socially awkward communities, I often look at recipes and consider whether that would be something I could eat in public. Some recipes are clearly written to create a beautiful centerpiece of food, but woe to anyone who actually tries to eat the damn thing. That leaves the eaters with the dilemma: avoid eating and risk offending the cook or attempt to eat and risk ruining upholstery, carpet, tablecloth, clothing, and/or dignity.

So yes, this Beef Soup in 1978's Better Homes and Gardens Soups & Stews Cook Book looks quite attractive:

It is colorful, full of orange carrots, green beans, yellow corn and bright pops of parsley. It's almost enough to distract you from the undead chicken that is haunting the foreground, trying to fix you with its hypnotic eyes. Yes, pick the beef soup, the beef.... Not the chicken! ("Why should an undead chicken care whether I choose beef or chicken soup?" you may well ask. "It's already undead anyway. How could its predicament get worse?" What you fail to take into account, dear reader, is that the undead chicken is out to peck at the living chickens until it can extract their sweet, sweet brains. The undead chicken does not want to have to compete with you. It is not worried that you will find an undead chicken to be a tempting treat, either, unless perhaps you are a cookbook writer, in which case you are surely easy enough to hypnotize and thus not a threat.)

While you were off on the tangent about undead chickens, though, I was mesmerized by something completely different. Yes, I am afraid of the corn on the cob. Why, why, why must the corn remain on the cob in the actual soup? There will be no clean and easy way to try to extract corn from a soup bowl and eat it off the cob as it drips broth and parsley everywhere. While I could understand wanting the cob to flavor the broth, why not just cut the corn off the cob before cooking and boil both the corn and the cob in the soup and remove the cobs before serving? I guess it's not as attractive or as much fun as seeing diners sweat over ruining all clothing and furnishings within an eight foot radius.

Makes 800 servings for people like me who pretend to be completely unable to perceive foods we know we will be unable to eat without making a scene.

Oh, I missed the soup, but I'd love another roll.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts of birthday cake

Nothing snarky today, in part because I'm writing about my favorite cookbook. I learned to cook with the 1969 version of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (although my copy is a 1973 printing), so I have a huge amount of nostalgia for it.

I also don't have time to be snarky. I have been grading papers like crazy and I should actually be making the recipes I'm presenting today as a birthday cake.... I know that's not going to happen today, but maybe over the weekend or next week. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Yes, our traditional birthday cake comes from my beloved old cookbook:

It's the perfect size for our small family. I do alter it slightly, though. It's only a brownie cake when I make it since certain people don't like nuts. I also substitute 9 tablespoons of cocoa and three extra tablespoons of butter for the unsweetened chocolate since I never have any on hand. We love the cake-- kind of dense and fudgy, perfect for someone who wants a cake for a special occasion but who would actually prefer brownies or other desserts to cake.

I make a half-batch of this to go on top:

It's so light and smooth! A great companion for the denser cake. (Again, I substitute three tablespoons of cocoa and an extra tablespoon of butter for the ounce of chocolate).

Well, I am off to do more school work and feel guilty about not making the cake today. If you do want to try a real retro recipe, though, I can recommend this.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cow Pies

My grandpa loved pies so much that grandma used to say, "He'd even eat a cow pie if I put it in a pastry shell." She didn't mean a beef pie when she said "cow pie" either. She meant the kind of filling the cows could make all by themselves.

For some reason, I thought of her when I came across this picture from the 1971 Good Housekeeping's Meat and Other Main Dishes booklet:

I really love rice pilaf, but I don't think I could be induced to eat it if it were topped by a cow pie. I guess I didn't inherit grandpa's fortitude.

I love the contrast of the picture, too. The bottom half of the picture lives up to the company-best name of "Guest Hamburger Pilaf": the large crystal serving dish clearly intended to impress, heaping with fluffy rice studded with brightly-colored vegetables. The top half, though, is a chunky brown, topped with a shimmery, gelatinous cap that seems to suggest that Bossie wasn't feeling so great when she made the topping.

In case you ever want to simultaneously horrify and delight your guests:

The pilaf still looks pretty good, but it seems kind of odd to mix raw carrots in with the burger/ ketchup mixture. Then top it all off with chutney. Why not?

The better question, as always, is probably "Why?"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When weird trends collide

My investigations of old cookbooks have revealed some weird ideas about pizza and others about the proper use of the French fry.

Yes, but what do these facts have to do with each other? If you know old cookbooks, you've probably already guessed what Good Housekeeping's Keep Cool Cookbook (1971) has in store:

Is this some kind of alien sunflower with a huge center and tiny petals? Is it an upturned mammoth arthropod, helplessly waving its limbs in the air and hoping some kind soul will flip it over so it can latch onto that idiot's body to drink all the vital fluids?

Maybe it's scary, but it's not quite that scary:

Yes, it's a pizza with a French fry crust! I have to admit I'm a little intrigued. I could almost see myself trying the mushroom variation sometime just to say I did, but even fantasy me doesn't really want to cut frozen fries into 1-1/2 inch pieces to stand up along the edge of a pan (and never mind that only my fantasy self has a Baklava pan). I'm pretty sure I wouldn't really need ten servings, either.... I think I will just leave this for my fantasy self to imagine making.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Electric Skillet Mania

Even though I usually post recipes because they're disgusting (or at least surprising), I am often just amused by the odd wording or assumptions of old recipes.

For example, what do you think of as the main barrier to making homemade pizza? I always think of the time it takes to make crust from scratch. I rarely plan very far ahead, so whatever I make for dinner usually needs to take an hour or less. Other people like the extra crispy crust that can only come from a restaurant pizza oven since home ovens can't get as hot. The concern in the Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook (1961), however, never crossed my mind:

The caption tells that the special electric skillet baking method requires "no pot watching." What? Since when is pot watching the main impediment to making a homemade pizza, and how does using an electric skillet to bake the pizza get rid of that step? There's no pot watching when the pizza is in an oven either.

If you want to know how to make pizza in an electric skillet, here's the recipe:

Easy enough. It probably wouldn't be too bad, especially if you really like a brown crust and don't care about browned cheese on top. It seems as if people in the '60s were really excited about their electric skillets, so it was probably exciting just to have another way to use the appliance.

Bonus recipe for people who really want to give electric skillets a workout:

A lot of rural grocery stores didn't carry English muffins back in 1961, so this is the quick and easy way to get the breakfast treats, yet more proof that quick and easy meant something quite different 50+ years ago. (And I haven't even mentioned the assumption that women always had to be in charge of preparing food! Well, at least not until now....)