Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A breath of powdered sugar

This is the last post in which I can plausibly celebrate Halloween (hopefully) without ruining other people's patience, so I pulled out some booklets to which I have a sentimental attachment.

My paternal grandma (not my maternal one, whom I have mentioned before) used to decorate cakes. I remember spending hours watching her painstakingly pipe flowers and borders, carefully stow layers of cake in her car, and build wedding cakes on folding tables in church basements.

She used to keep Wilton Yearbooks to show customers so they could point to designs to give her an idea of what they wanted. Today's pictures come from her old Wilton Yearbooks. I hadn't been through them in years, so it was a pleasant surprise to smell powdered sugar when I opened them up, absorbed, I am sure, as the books sat next to her Kitchen Aid mixer as she whipped up batch after batch of icing.

Her calls were mostly for wedding and birthday cakes, so I doubt she ever made Halloween cakes, but I found a few interesting ones to post. The book is so worn, however, that I can't even say with certainty which yearbook the first images come from. Grandma used it so much that the covers fell off! My best guess is that these are from the 1970-71 edition.

I have a thing for owls, so I love this one. The owl seems to be watching out for something-- maybe for some mice to catch in the pumpkin patch below. All the pumpkins seem happy to be watched over except for the one sad little pumpkin on the left. Maybe that one's friends with the mice.

You can see the book is well-loved because the bottom left corner is torn up.

From the same book, we also get a creepy trick-or-treat scene:

I know my grandma wouldn't have made this. She wasn't one to buy bits of plastic to drape all over the cake. Everything was old-school buttercream!

That doesn't stop me from loving the bats and the cauldron, though. There aren't nearly enough cakes topped with cauldrons.

The next picture is from a book that retained its cover, so I can definitively state that these cakes are from the 1978 yearbook:

The cat is obviously a sales trick trying to convince bakers that it's worth their money to buy the horseshoe pan. Look! You can use it to make a black cat! The cat's arched back and straight-out whiskers suggest the cat is a bit surprised to be an advertisement for a horseshoe pan.

Do you recognize the witches on the ghost cake? They should look pretty familiar. I love the squat little ghosts with their trick-or-treat bags and sincere eyes, even though they are another attempt to get bakers to buy a weird-shaped pan-- in this case, the Petite Doll Mold Pan.

I found one final surprise as I looked through the 1978 edition. Even though it's not related to Halloween, I'm going to end with this:

Here's the closest thing grandma had to an order form. It's a sweet treat for me and I hope for you too! Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A charming and horrifying Halloween

One thing I love about older cookbooks is that the pictures of food often really look like pictures of ... well ... food. Food that actual human beings could make in their actual houses with actual ingredients. The airbrushed perfection of more recent food photography makes the dishes look impossibly and discouragingly perfect (and leaves me wondering how much of the "food" is actually composed of office supplies or other tricks).

That is why I am thoroughly charmed by these Halloween cupcakes from 1963's Better Homes and Gardens Birthdays and Family Celebrations book.

These are cute AND they look like cupcakes people could really make in their own kitchens with their own families. The icing isn't impossibly smooth or impossibly glossy. There are bumps around the candy eyes, hair, and whiskers. Maybe the owl is a little bit lopsided. In short, they are perfect. I don't think I can even express how much I love the nonchalant look the half-jellybean eyes give to the cat or the wide-eyed attention the pumpkin candies give the owl.

If this is not enough wholesome Halloween goodness, there's a page-and-a-half spread of the ideal family Halloween weekend:

Still quite charming, what with the jack-o-lantern with green pepper slice ears, the popcorn ball witches with curly black hair and bow-tied black cats, the crazed pumpkin men and the ... wait a minute. Who are those guys on the apples?

And then I look at all the directions for this family weekend and remember, once again, why I am so glad to be writing about vintage books rather than living in their times.

I like that each creation has its own name (Thomas Candy Cat, Good Witch Curlilocks, Peter Pumpkin Eater). They are held together with "Marshmallow Stickum"!

I am less thrilled (but not surprised) that various jobs have to be assigned by gender role. Dad has to carve the pumpkin. Mom has to make popcorn balls. That is just the natural order of things, to be reinforced as often as possible just in case anyone wonders whether it really IS the natural order of things.

I am horrified by Chief Jellybean. Fun fact: "A piece of giant candy corn has just the right angles for Indian's nose." He comes complete with "war paint" and a jelly string "feather headdress," perfect for reinforcing the racist stereotypes Junior learns when he watches the Westerns.

What started as a charming little scene actually snuck in to throw a couple dozen eggs at my mind.

Just in case you think the popcorn balls sound like fun, though, here's the recipe, complete with Marshmallow Stickum:

Just promise me that everyone can help make these and help clean up afterwards. And no matter how appealing it seems, resist turning your creations into racist caricatures.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Goblins, clowns, owls, and black cats

It's easy to find jillions of cute Halloween recipes today. There are usually a few holiday cook-booklets with ghosts on the covers by the checkout in every grocery store. There are Halloween Chips Ahoy and Yummy Mummy cereal, and Halloween Pop Tarts that will tell you how to make tart graveyards right on the back of the box. It was harder to find cute Halloween food in the '50s, especially with fewer packaged foods and special holiday editions.

That's not to say that there were no cute Halloween recipes, though. The 1959 Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Cook Book had a few after its directions for jack-o-lanterns.

I guess these are goblins to keep the idea family-friendly, but the black-and-white photo makes me think of them as skulls with their brains popping out:

They're very CUTE skulls with their brains popping out, though. And their maraschino cherry topknots make them quite jaunty!

I think the next treats are supposed to be cute as well, but anyone other than a '50s homemaker knows the correct reaction to a clown is to be creeped out rather than amused:

Their vacant stares and tiny, upturned mouths just prove my point. Creepy Halloween, everyone!

The last set of treats look quite grumpy, but too sweetly grumpy to be taken seriously:

I'm not sure why the owls are called "jolly," as the knitted eyebrows and bulging eyes suggest they at least WANT to look menacing. I just wish that the cookbook had a picture for the "Spooky Cats" variation too! I love that everything on the cats is edible except the colored toothpick whiskers. I can just imagine some child thinking the toothpicks are bits of hard candy-- and as revenge starting the "razor blade in the apple" legend that survives to this day.

Those cats are more than spooky.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The '50s in jack-o-lantern form

I'm not exactly a bubbly person (Okay-- the type who would be perfectly happy to go for days on end poring through books and speaking to no more than two or three people), but a few things have the potential to make me unreasonably happy. One of those things is old cookbooks, and another is Halloween. This is a way of saying that if you like cookbooks but not Halloween, you're going to be disappointed by a few posts this month. I don't care, though, because the 1959 Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Cook Book will teach me how to make Outer-space Man out of a pumpkin garnished with olives, carrots, macaroni, and plenty of toothpicks:

I am not sure what makes this pumpkin an Outer-space Man. The V-shaped hairline? The triangular eyes that still manage to cross? With his few remaining sprigs of curly carrot-top hair, he looks more grandfatherly than otherworldly to me. It doesn't help that the macaroni "teeth" look more like a gray mustache in the picture. He isn't really trying to invade earth; he just wants to find his slippers.

Next up is Slap-Happy Sam. I suspect he has to act happy because as a butternut squash, he's part of the Halloween minority community. He knows what could happen if he speaks out about squash being segregated to its own patch of the garden, rarely allowed to serve in the more glamorous decorative role, and relegated primarily to utilitarian "ingredient" status. He wears a comical hat, playfully sticks out his radish tongue, and bides his time until the other butternut squash are ready for some collective action.

The Daffy Devil clearly leans more toward the "daffy" part of his name. Bushy celery-leaf eyebrows and carrot "horns" that look more like donkey ears help stave off complaints from the fundamentalist family down the block who didn't appreciate the less friendly devil last year. He can't be a real devil, but maybe a devil's goofy cousin.

Last up is Goblin Girl, her adorable saucer eyes careful not to reveal how tired she is of having to wait until the boys have all had their chance before she gets to answer a question in class. We know she's a girl because she has a cute radish nose, a big pink bow, and a stylish "Italian haircut."

I love these, of course. They have all the qualities I love in old cookbooks-- thrifty use of items readers probably have around the house already, whimsy, the imperfection of the homemade. They also remind me why I'm so glad to write about the '50s from a distance.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Halloween Dinner

Sorry for missing my usual Wednesday, but I had crazy amounts of grading! I'll make up for it by presenting an entire themed meal from 1974's Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: New Holiday Cookbook.

I am in a Halloween mood through the entire month of October (and September too!), so I hoped the trusty home ec teachers were open enough to include Halloween on the list of recipe-worthy holidays, and indeed they were! Let's start out with a nice salad:

This is just about a perfect representation of the food trends that amuse me to no end. It features a salad that glues fruits and veggies together with sweet gelatin. (Carrots sounds fine, but cabbage?) The gelatin is molded in a rather finicky way. (Let's balance cone-shaped glasses that someone has stolen from the office water cooler inside real glasses so we can use them as molds!) Once the cones are done, they're unmolded and used as centers to balance canned asparagus as the corn shocks. (Canned asparagus with lemon jello. Yay.) To top it all off, surround the tableau with tiny pumpkins molded from process cheese spread decorated with cloves and yellow food coloring.

That's a lot of labor for something that is bound to look adorable and taste revolting.

For the main course, I can't resist this recipe based on the title alone:

The beef is dressed in a pumpkin costume! This actually doesn't sound bad-- seasoned ground beef and vegetables baked and served in a pumpkin. This recipe even gets a picture so readers can see the beef all dressed up in its costume:

For dessert, we will have fudge. I've heard of a lot of variations: peanut butter, candy cane, cranberry, rocky road, cherry-vanilla, coffee. I even made Velveeta fudge once as a gag gift for a friend. (It was actually not bad, so the "gag" part of "gag gift" was surprisingly NOT literal.)

I had not, however, heard of this:

Carrot cake is fine, so carrot fudge might not be too bad. It will certainly be orange to go with the Halloween theme. I guess dessert is both a trick and a treat!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More colliding trends

I love it when trends collide to make something even weirder than either would make alone (and most can make something pretty weird on their own!), so today's trend pair is diet cookery and retro "foreign"/ "ethnic" foods.

Both are iffy propositions. The diet foods tend to rely heavily on presentation to get diners to consider the offerings to be actual food. The "foreign" recipes often use minuscule amounts of specialized ingredients to give a familiar dish a slightly different flavor from the expected "mid-century bland." Then writers throw in a bit of casual condescension to help justify the mistreatment of original recipes.

So what can we expect from 1978's Family Circle Creative Low-Calorie Cooking? Let's try some "Quick 'N' Easy Oriental Fare": 

This seems to fit the bill: dabs of soy sauce, some ingredients that don't really fit the cuisine, and "Oriental" to mean anywhere in Asia. As if to reinforce my points, the chapter notes, "Orientals [sic] are skimpy meat-eaters by Western standards; fish, poultry and soybeans are more their meat. Lamb and veal were unheard of..." So by all means, let's make a veal recipe with a sweet-and-sour sauce that's mostly sugar-free apricot preserves thinned with water. 

The other "foreign" chapter, "Zesty Italian Dishes," has a bit of an advantage since Italian-ish dishes were probably more familiar to home cooks and some ingredients (such as Italian cheeses) were more readily available than Asian foods. The disadvantage, of course, is that Italian-American food tended to be heavy in the meat, cheese, and noodle departments, none of which were considered calorie-conscious. What could the book do to Italian food?

The "lasagna" is basically scrambled eggs layered with cottage cheese and tomato sauce before baking. Probably not terrible, but certainly odd, and perhaps a concoction that could get the cook run out of town if it were served to real Italians.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Does this recipe count as a celebration?

Months of Edible Celebrations is celebrating its blogoversary with a pasta party since October is National Pasta Month. I knew I had to get in on the action, but I needed to find a pasta recipe to fit the spirit of Grannie Pantries.

I have a certain weakness for recipes from the '60s and '70s that implore cooks who are used to cooking from scratch to try out the new convenience foods in bizarre and disgusting ways. This preference might put a damper on the spirit of celebration for some of you, but we don't actually have to eat what I brought, after all! I am told (although my introverted self finds many tales of parties hard to fathom) that the best part of a party can be the conversation, so maybe my entry should be considered conversation fodder rather than refreshment.

I also have a deep and abiding affection for Betty Crocker. For a special occasion, I like to see what Betty has to say.

Putting these preferences together, here, from the copyright 1965 (but mine is fourth printing from 1970) Betty Crocker's Dinner in a Dish Cookbook,  is my contribution to the party:

It should really be "Can-Can-Can-Can-Can Casserole" since it uses up five cans. In true convenience food mashup fashion, the casserole uses canned soup as the sauce to cover canned carrots, tuna, and macaroni and cheese. In an effort to counterbalance the bland mushiness of the layers, the whole concoction is topped with canned onion rings.

I invite you to eye it. Prod it. Sniff it. Discuss. Taste it if you want an interesting story for the next party you attend.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Waffle Party!

Given my well-documented aversion to adding sweet elements to savory dishes, it should be no surprise that I am completely nonplussed by the soul food chicken and waffles combination that has lately become more popular. Recent spins on the concept have even made more open-minded reviewers think the trend has gone too far. My old cookbooks show that we have long loved to play with our waffles, though, and here are a few other waffle variations.

Although I would expect 1953's 500 Delicious Dishes from Leftovers to include some of the most appalling creations, their variations are not incredibly crazy:

Many of these actually sound pretty good, although most of the additions this calls for don't strike me as the kinds of problematic leftovers readers will need to use up. It might be nice to tell yourself that you're just making chocolate waffles as a thrifty way to use up leftover chocolate, but nobody's going to buy it-- not even you, if you're being honest.

By the way, the book offers no recipe for waffle batter (doesn't even mention the amount of batter these suggestions were designed to be used with!), another reminder of how much recipe writers used to depend on their readers' cooking experience. 

The Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook (1961) will probably appeal to a lot of people too, but my stomach hurts just thinking about it:

I'm sure Elvis fans would serve these with sliced bananas.

This last recipe, from Better Homes and Gardens Meat Stretcher Cook Book (1974), probably sounds just as good to you as it does to me.

Suddenly the chicken and waffles chips don't sound quite as bad. That's not the same as good, but it's something.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Home economics teachers tended* to pride themselves on their frugality and practicality, even if their ideas about being frugal and practical don't always translate well to the real world. (I could see no point to the locker organizer my class had to sew up. I threw it out shortly after I got that "C+" for forgetting to hem the inner edges of the pocket lining that nobody would ever see anyway, Mrs. X. Sorry!)

I guess that's what makes it all the more entertaining when home ec teachers let themselves go on flights of fancy, as they seemed to do for this picture from 1977's Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Foods from Foreign Nations:

I have stared at this for several minutes, and it looks to me as if someone has removed the light bulb from a '70s style hanging light and inexplicably stuffed its glass globe full of ground beef, tomatoes, and rigatoni. Then this individual decided the best use for such an ornament would be to suspend said creation over a lasagna that doesn't seem to fit well in its oval pan, noodles wiggling out in all directions.

I was so enthralled by the hanging beef globe and misshapen lasagna that I nearly missed the serving spoon full of-- raisins? still on their stems?-- ominously looming in the foreground.

Yep. Raisins! And anise! I had never heard of raisins in lasagna before, but a quick web search showed that it's not as uncommon as I might think, although most of the other raisin-containing recipes I found were for white lasagna rather than the tomato variety. I don't particularly like raisins or anise in dessert, and given my aversion to sweet things in main dishes, I'm sure adding them to lasagna would make them doubly repulsive. At least the recipe is practical enough to suggest using a 13"x9" pan instead of the oval casserole dish.

Bonus: When I was scanning today's picture and recipe, something fell out of the book. This is one of my favorite surprises from old cookbooks: discovering what kinds of recipes their owners would clip and stash away for later. I'll let you in on the fun too:

I love that it says, "This is a special recipe," but I wish it would have said why. This looks like a pretty standard oatmeal muffin recipe, so I guess we are left to make up our own reasons for the recipe's specialness. Since it's October and I'm in the Halloween spirit, I'm going to say the recipe is special because Margaret Blue got it from Gunnar Hansen, the guy who played Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is as out of character as Joan Crawford's party dish, which makes the story perfect as far as I'm concerned. You can make up something heartwarming about learning to make the muffins from her grandmother if you prefer to be boring. 

*They now prefer to be called "Family and Consumer Sciences Teachers," hence my use of the past tense.