Monday, June 30, 2014

In which your humble writer attempts to make a vintage pie (with a little help from an old friend)

This space is generally reserved for viewing, analyzing, discussing, and throwing (metaphorical) rotten tomatoes at vintage cookbooks, so it was with some trepidation that I signed up for a "Pieathalon." I had no trouble digging up a vintage pie recipe to let someone else try, mind you, but I was significantly less sure about making one myself.

It's not that I don't cook-- I do! But not generally desserts unless it's Christmas cookies or (on a good year) a birthday cake.

When I do cook, though, I mostly take recipes as the beginning of a suggestion. A vegan mac and "cheese" recipe may catch my eye and I'll wonder what that would taste like. Then I think about what leftovers I have in the fridge, whether my sweetheart will be home for dinner, what kind of food I'm in the mood for... And by the time I actually make the recipe I picked out, no one else would ever guess what recipe I started out with. (Yes, I know how a serves-four recipe for vegan mac and "cheese" becomes a single-serve cheesy vegetarian shepherd's pie, but the steps are not obvious to anyone outside my head.)

Following a vintage recipe was going to be a challenge. Luckily, the kind soul who sent in the recipe I was assigned actually sent something that sounded like it could be tasty:

It's a Black Bottom Pie! I remember looking at a similar recipe in my mom's Betty Crocker cookbook when I was a teenager and thinking about making it, but I never took the plunge. I guess this is my chance!

Okay, you probably can't see the instructions, so here they are:

Not only does this sound as if it might taste good, but it also uses a crumb crust! I am SOOOO lucky because I am seriously terrible at making pastry crusts. I try, but they always fall apart and look shaggy if I'm lucky. (If I'm not, they're soggy too.)

The filling sounds like it might be good. I know chocolate custard will be great! The fake rum chiffon sounds a little iffy, but even if it's not my favorite thing ever, I can't imagine it will be terrible either (unless I find a way to seriously screw it up).

Let's get started! First, the crust:

Three dozen gingersnaps, plus butter and a pinch of salt. Yeah, the bowl is too small, but I couldn't resist showing off my vintage avocado green bowl.

Two things about the crust. 1. It's supposed to be patted out in an 11" springform pan, which I totally do not have. This is going in my Pyrex pie plate. 2. I used the 1/2 cup of butter the recipe called for, but you might notice that this looks a bit swampy. It seemed like WAY too much butter when I patted the crust out. I actually ended up going in and soaking up a little bit of standing butter with a paper towel. Maybe my brand of gingersnaps was insufficiently absorbent?

Than it was time to make the filling. 

Maybe I should have thought about clearing up the backdrop a little better, but I'm lazy. I'm sure you know the salad spinner did not come into play for this recipe. You'll notice I got pasteurized eggs since the chiffon layer has raw whites in it and I don't want to give anybody salmonella. You can also tell I'm serious about this recipe because I sprung for actual baking chocolate. I usually just substitute cocoa and some extra butter.

The first step for the filling is making the custard, then taking out two cups of it to mix with the chocolate for the black bottom. The rest of the custard is for the creamy top.

I hope I don't offend anyone's delicate sensibilities by showing the bare bottom:

I swear I tempered the egg yolks when I added them to the hot custard, but I still got some lumps! You can see one at about 1 o'clock in this picture. I tried to pick out the bits that I saw, but I'm afraid it's going to be a bit lumpy....

Now to whip the meringue for the top layer:

I LOVE my '70s-orange KitchenAid mixer, and I got it on clearance, yet! Hopefully you can't tell that it's on the floor because I have nowhere else where I can use it (and nowhere convenient to store it). 

This is the third time I've used it in the 2-1/2 years I've had it.

Clearly, buying it was an excellent decision.

But you know what? I LOVE my '70s-orange KitchenAid mixer.

Then I had to mix the meringue into the custard to make chiffon for the pie's top layer. I knew there would be a little too much since my pie plate was too small, but I didn't really expect to have this much left over!

That's about a quart of extra filling! I'm not sure it all would have fit even if I'd had the right size pan. I will keep it in the fridge for a few days, pretending I will think of something to do with it, so I won't feel as guilty when I ultimately throw it away.

After a good chill, it's time to cut the pie. I can't put a person in the picture or I could blow my secret identity, so I'll have my friend Leatherface help with the cutting:

And now the moment of truth... I quickly discover why this was supposed to be made in a springform pan. The gingersnap crust has molecularly bonded with my pie plate! It was a good thing we had a chainsaw to cut through the crust. I bent my pie server and worked up a sweat wrestling slices of this out. The slice below doesn't look bad, considering. (I could have cleaned it up more, but I wanted my struggle to show at least a little.)

Leatherface looked at it for a few minutes, but he wouldn't try it. I think he was holding out for some headcheese. That's gonna be a looooong wait.

I guess it's up to me, so how does this taste? Pretty good, actually. The chocolate custard is the real star: thick, rich, and bittersweet. It's definitely my favorite part, and the gingersnap crust adds a delicious warmth. (Plus it must have kept me from noticing any lumps in the filling.) The chiffon layer is a welcome contrast: fluffy and mild. While I'm not a big fan of the rum flavoring, the top layer is still a nice addition to balance the intensity of the rest of the pie. (I'll bet it would be killer with almond extract instead of rum!) (Well, maybe not as killer as Leatherface, but you know what I mean.)

Be sure to visit the other Pieathaletes:

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Headcheese! Headcheese! Headcheese!

When I was working on my vintage recipe, a friend from 1974 helped me out a little. He agreed to help on the condition that he could pick out the topic for today's post. I pointed him toward my stacks of cookbooks and waited to see what he would pick. I expected him to choose something with an interesting picture, maybe a meatloaf covered with a gory-looking tomato sauce, so it was a bit of a shock when he grabbed The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery (1971 edition) and headed straight to the H's. I frankly thought he was illiterate, but I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. His family kind of bullies him and makes assumptions about his mind that are belied by a certain glint in his eyes.

"Headcheese? Are you sure?" I asked. He made a little squealing sound that I took as affirmation. Here is what the encyclopedia has to say about it:

A highly seasoned jellied loaf of the contents of a calf or pig's head.... Well, at least it's made with natural aspic instead of lemon Jell-O. We will take small blessings where we can...

I'm a bit confused about the recipe, though. It seems to be missing some steps at the page break. We're supposed to set aside the brains, but it never says what to do with them. Since the head note says the recipe includes the brains, I'm pretty sure they're supposed to go in at some point. And what does it mean to say "The tongue may be done with cayenne, nutmeg, and sage"? "Done" how? And how are we supposed to mix and pack what is apparently a whole head and tongue? I imagine some de-boning and chopping would be required first. (I checked five or six times to see if I accidentally skipped a page, but I didn't.)

Looks as if I will have to see if there's a better recipe.

It took some hunting, but Ruth Berolzheimer's The American Woman's Cook Book (1942) came to the rescue:

This one is shorter and easier to follow: boil head and tongue in slightly salted water. Drain, shred, pack, weight, and chill. And in just three days, six to eight pounds of yummy, yummy headcheese.

I read this last bit to my friend and he nodded approvingly. I tried not to notice whether he was drooling just a little.

We'll see you Monday!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Adorable cake failures

Coming soon: An actual adventure in making a vintage recipe! Looming large in my mind: The thought of failure. I can't say much yet about what you will see, but I will say my attempt did not turn out to be perfect... so today we will look at a vintage cookbook that makes failing seem much more cute and amusing than it usually feels. From The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cook Book (1954), I present possible causes of cake failure. (Too bad it doesn't have adorable failed pies, too!)

Does your cake look sad because it has a saggy butt?

Then the batter may have been too stiff or the oven too hot.

I love the way this little guy is gazing rearward with slightly misaligned eyes and a sideways frown. Uneven heat is the least of his problems since the other layers made fun of him for being lumpy.

What if your cake develops large, apathetic eyes and a drooly mouth?

Tell it to pull itself together! Bootstraps and all that. If it points out that cakes don't have bootstraps, yell at it for being mouthy.

Or cut back on the leavening and sugar and crank up the heat.

I feel kind of sorry for any layers that might end up under this guy. That can't be pleasant....

What if your cake is too soggy? Tell it to stop watching sad movies.

Or just turn up the heat in the oven and take it out of the pan when it's done.

Even though this cake seems to have been caught in a storm, it looks less distressed than some of the others. Apparently it really does like long walks in the rain.
What if your cake is humped? Get your mind out of the gutter! I mean, what if it looks as if a mole is trying to burrow up and out?

Maybe too much flour or an initially too-hot oven. (The oven temperatures must not have been to reliable in 1954!)

This is an optical illusion, too. If I look at it one way, the cake is rolling its eyes at something dumb I just said. If I look at it the other way, it's a Muppet lying on its back looking up at the ceiling.

What if your cake is fallen? Well, I'm not sure why you feel the need to make moral judgments about cakes but... Oh, it's got a sunken middle.

Probably too much shortening or leavening or sugar-- So it was overindulging? Still no reason to judge. We know you secretly like gobbling up the evidence of cake failures so no one else knows you're not as good a cook as you want people to believe.

Anyway, I love that the drop has caused this cake's eyes to levitate.

What if  you've got a tough cake? Better give it some sprinkles for whiskers so everybody knows it's tough.

Wait a minute... Did this guy have anything to do with the humped and fallen cakes? He did say he needed a more sugar.

Then again, I don't think I want to know the answer.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ham it up!

What should I eat for energy? People who ask that today might reach for an energy bar, not realizing that "energy" in the food world simply means that the food has calories, so technically any food is energy food! Well, unless you consider indigestible matter to be food. Enjoy eating that legal pad.

The quest for energy is nothing new, though. Today's pamphlet, "60 Ways to Serve Ham" (undated, but I've seen estimates that it is from the 1920s), wants readers to know that "Ham Is One of the Best Heat and Energy Producing Foods." See?

You know it's true because Royal S. Copeland, Former Commissioner of Health of New York City and then U.S. Senator, says so! I love that this claims ham is full of "those essential oils most needed for the maintenance and proper functioning of the body." Apparently people in the '20s ran on ham grease (and were mangled to death by errant farm machinery when they were still too young to worry about heart disease).

So what recipes helped harness the power of ham grease?

I don't get what makes this a "ham duck." I guess it's the stuffing, similar to what's usually put in poultry. I mostly just posted it because I like writing "ham duck." So ham duck!

You might notice that the chart above suggests appropriate accompaniments to a ham duck: currant jelly for relish, plus baked sweet potatoes, buttered carrots, pineapple salad, and cottage pudding with orange sauce. I think that combination might get cloyingly sweet after a while, but maybe the salt in the ham duck ham duck ham duck would help cut through it.

I was surprised that a pamphlet this old would have a "Mexican" recipe in it, but:

I wonder how much effect a tablespoon of chili powder will have in half a cup of brown sugar, but still, I'm surprised to see chili powder and ham at all. I just wish I had some idea what readers were supposed to serve with their "Mexican" ham. Peas and dinner rolls? Or might the writers have recommended something more interesting like seasoned rice and refried beans? I'd love to be surprised.

They did have recommendations for one "exotic" dish, though:

Chop suey! It was never the most authentic dish anyway, but this version doesn't even have soy sauce or bamboo shoots. I guess the celery and molasses transform it from ordinary ham. Serve with rice for the "potatoes," plus stuffed olives, creamed peas, a date and pineapple salad, and sponge cake.

Yep, chop suey with creamed peas. Okay, I'm pretty sure Armour wouldn't have surprised me if they had recommended sides to go with the Mexican Star Ham....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A factory of one's own

Today, I will start with something that looks relatively innocuous:

Okay, maybe you're thinking, "What's the big deal? It's bean spread." Probably not the tastiest bean spread recipe you've ever seen: mashed lima beans with pickle relish and mayonnaise. Still, not that big a deal.

Have you looked at the last sentence, though?

Yes, it asks you to spread the beans on a halved donut! And why would you do that? Because this is a recipe from the "Dazey Donut Factory Instruction and Recipe Book" (1977). Just as Wilton tries to convince cake makers that specialty pans work for any occasion and early microwave cookbooks suggested that the appliance could do anything, the Dazey Donut Factory makers wanted to work donuts into every place they possibly could.

How about donuts with hot spreads?

I love the way this says most spreads "could be used between the Corn Meal Donut halves as after-school snacks." The "could" really sells it. Spackle could be spread on the halves and fed to the kids too, I suppose, but that doesn't mean it would be a great idea.

Why not have donuts for dinner?

Top 'em with creamed tuna or chipped beef, and you've got yourself a main dish!

Or make Mexican donuts. (If you're thinking of churro-spiced donuts, then you don't know how this site works.)

You make them by topping donuts with Mexican scrambled eggs. (I love the revelation that you can mix "Rotell sauce" (Ro-Tel) right into the eggs.)

Of course, the trick here is that the dishes are probably not as disgusting as they initially sound. The donuts in question are not traditional glazed or cake donuts, but (as you may have noticed) corn meal:

They're essentially corn meal muffins cooked in a Dazey Donut Factory. Of course, we can't make actual corn meal muffins because that wouldn't involve the new toy.

Okay, one last recipe that sounds a lot weirder before you know the trick:

Green onion and bacon donuts!

Serve with creamed ham, mushrooms, and a little speech about how you're really getting your money's worth out of the Dazey Donut Factory, and your husband was so wrong when he said it was a waste of money and would just take up space in the basement and we didn't need it. So there!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Smells like imperialist spirit

Paging through The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook (illustrated by Erik Blegvad, copyright 1963, although mine is a 1970 printing) on a sunny back porch is a terrific way to spend the afternoon if you, like me, have an introverted streak twelve miles wide and fifteen deep plus an inexplicable love of old cookbooks.

The recipes are accompanied by playful drawings (Blegvad is primarily known for illustrating children's books), and there is an entire chapter on antique cookbooks. Rudkin is not kidding about antique, either. Her collection stretches back to the fifteenth century!

Here is just a taste:

Old cookbooks (the "1663" above the title indicates the date of the cookbook from which this particular recipe was taken) usually included recipes for home remedies too, so if you wonder about the explanation following the "recipe," it's because this is a medicine.

Rudkin usually includes modernized versions of the recipes too, in case readers want to try them, but she admits defeat with conserves of violets and lets this recipe stand on its own.

A book like this may just send me into charm overload, but I am saved from disappearing into a puddle of nostalgia for times I can't even remember by the "ethnic" recipes:

Suddenly, I don't miss living in a time when using broad stereotypes as a "cute" illustration could go unchallenged.

Or when any mention of curry could smell just as strongly of a longing for empire:

Sometimes, though, a faint glimmer of self-awareness may peek through:

Our bobble-headed and mustachioed Brit may be a bit of a joke himself. At least I can hope....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Let's not drink to my health

Now that spring is turning into summer, the days can make me feel like I'm growing a beard and crawling across a desert, ready to croak out a parched "It's...." when I finally reach the nearest camera. Those familiar with Monty Python references may realize that in this scenario, I'd be more likely to be met with a rousing rendition of "The Liberty Bell" than much-needed liquid refreshment. Today's healthy beverages from Natural Cooking the Prevention Way (edited by Charles Gerras; 1972) might be enough to make any thirsty traveler prefer a march.

First up: A lot of people like to greet the day with some tea or coffee. What's the proper way to do this if one is a health food fanatic in the '70s? (Hint: If your guess is "make a cup of tea or coffee," you clearly don't get '70s health food.)

No, if you want coffee it has to be "coffee." A teaspoonful of blackstrap molasses in a cup of hot water is fine if you are feeling lazy, or you can roast yellow soybeans in an oven and send them through a coffee grinder if you're feeling ambitious. If the thought of a steaming hot cup of roasted soybean water doesn't make you want to jump out of bed and start the day, your name is probably not Moonbeam.

If you want tea, you get super-thin strained oatmeal. I guess eating the oatmeal that gets strained out of the "tea" makes this a complete breakfast.

Okay, what about those who want milk? Yes, this book does have recipes for nut milks that we can easily buy at the store now, but it also has recipes for "milks" I've never imagined...

How about starting the day with watermelon seed-nasturtium milk, or zucchini seed-dill milk? I'm not sure these sound terrible, but they certainly sound odd. (Plus I'd be reluctant to drink any beverage in which the recipe starts with an instruction to "whiz.")

What if you need milk and you're out of seeds? Try some magic milk!

Raw eggs and oil... Wait-- is this arguing that mayonnaise is really just "milk" that needs more water?

The sunflower and sesame seed mix sounds like it could be good, but I'm not sure about cooked eggs in my "milk."

Add some soy sauce and this one is fried rice milk.

Okay. Let's forget the milks. How about a nice, refreshing shake?

That is, a hot soya shake! There is no way those three words belong together, ever.

Plus it's got carob powder! "Carob" is the magic word that makes cookies at a vegan bakery instantly invisible to me. "That looks goo.... oh, carob. Maybe they have some brownies? Ye.... carob. Never mind."

Maybe I should just have a nice glass of wine and forget about all of this.

I don't know who I feel sorrier for-- the writer who thought that vinegar dumped in a glass of grape juice is just like wine, or the child who is given such a concoction and led to believe that this is what she has to look forward to when she grows up. On the plus side, it may help prevent underage drinking.

Like real wine, this recipe can give me a headache, but I only have to look at it! No need to even consume it.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A fridge for health

We have a special treat today: my oldest cookbook (so far, anyway). Today we're looking at Miss Alice Bradley's Electric Refrigerator Menus and Recipes: Recipes Prepared Especially for the General Electric Refrigerator (1927). This is a hardback cookbook that originally cost two dollars, not a pamphlet that came free with the appliance, perhaps reinforcing the point that an electric refrigerator was still a luxury item.

One selling point was understandably food safety. I was particularly amused by a fruit test that pitted a GE fridge against an "ice-cooled refrigerator." First, the book presents photographic evidence:

The black and white photos make it a bit difficult to tell what we're looking at, but it is apparent that the fruit at the top looks worse than the stuff at the bottom.

I'd say that the caption for the GE-cooled fruit seems a little optimistic, though. "There are no signs of decomposition" on this electrically cooled fruit? The banana, for one, looks pretty bad to me. The black spot isn't as extensive as the one on the other banana, but that doesn't make it an appealing snack. I wouldn't have been able to identify what kind of fruit is on the bottom right (apparently an apple) without the aid of the commentary on the next page.

This experiment was "an interesting proof of food preservation," storing halves of the same orange, banana, peach, and apple in an ice-cooled and an electrically-cooled refrigerator.

A few interesting points: during the experiment, the refrigerator "doors were opened each half-hour to approximate conditions of ordinary house-hold use." I know cooking was more labor-intensive then than it is now, but this figure seems pretty high. It would be hard to get the laundry done or milk the cows if the cooking duties were so extensive that someone was in the fridge every half hour.

The book also makes a big point of the fact that the GE fridge "never went above 45 degrees, Fahrenheit, and never below 41 degrees," which kept it "below the danger line -- 50 degrees!" Now the "danger line" is considered to be 40 degrees, so we'd have to get rid of a  fridge that could never go below 40.

The fact that the ice-cooled box was always between 59 and 68 makes me glad I never had to deal with one of them!

Besides being safer, a GE fridge was supposed to help with all kinds of tedious cooking problems, such as feeding "invalids." If one's family invalid were sweet and thoughtful, then this suggestion seems like a tasty (if nutritionally questionable) option:

You'll notice that this is even considered an appropriate lunch for children if one doesn't mind them being sticky and hyper for the rest of the afternoon.

If the invalid is disagreeable and perhaps malingering, there are other options that might encourage him or her to get well ASAP:

Ginger ale ice? That would be fine, especially for someone queasy.

Bouillon ice? That doesn't sound interesting or particularly good, but not terrible either.

Icy chunks of clam juice, on the other hand? I feel a bit queasy just contemplating it. All that washing and scrubbing and straining may be a lot of work for a revolting dish, but it might really be worthwhile if it finally gets great uncle Clarence off the couch.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Let's stay in strawberry month!

It's the beginning of the month, so that means Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962)! And it's June! This is the month I've been waiting for. "Red Letter Foods" of the month:

Peas and strawberries! I must admit that I am crazy for both. I buzz through at least a couple pounds of sugar snap peas every month, and who doesn't love strawberries (aside from those who suffer an allergy)? We would stay in pea and strawberry month all year if I had anything to say about it. But I don't. (And actually, I think I'd need to at least allow for October, too, so I could have Halloween and pumpkins. How about a year of alternating Junes and Octobers?)

Even though I wouldn't strongly advocate eating peas and strawberries together, I can think of an occasion when I would be tempted. One day when I was at an ice cream shop, the owner was experimenting with flavors and brought me a taste of sweet pea ice cream. It had such a delicate, fresh flavor-- a scoop of that with a couple scoops of strawberry ice cream would be a nice summery treat....

I chose our menu for the month because Betty seemed to have initially forgotten where she was and headed straight to November:

From the roast turkey to the jellied cranberries, the "Graduation Dinner" sounds more like Thanksgiving to me. Who wants to make roast turkey and dressing in early June? Good luck finding the cranberries... The dessert-- "Fruit Platter Pie"-- sensibly gets back to something more summer appropriate. Betty is committed to the idea of a fruit platter, too. This is patted out in a circle on a baking sheet, not prepared in a pie pan. The crust even incorporates the cheese one might serve on the side for a fruit and cheese platter. This platter/ pie is pretty enough for June:

It also gives me an excuse to sneak in a hint. At the end of the month, you can expect a post for the Pieathalon!