Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Allergy-prone caterpillars and apples with digestive issues

Pillsbury is better known for dessert-laden bake-offs than for diet dinners, but in 1970 the company published Pillsbury's Family Weight Control Cook Book.

One interesting thing about this book is that while it assumes that of course the woman is going to be doing all of the cooking, it also assumes that she is not going to subsist on celery suspended in nonfat-dry-milk-enriched gelatin while feeding the kids and husband thick-cut pork chops and ice cream sandwiches. The book emphasizes that it is important to keep the whole family at a healthy weight. It's a little progressive for the time and (unfortunately for me) that means that most of the recipes are not objectively terrible. Seven-year-olds are not going to touch celery and dry milk gelatin no matter how much mom begs.

Another interesting thing about the book is that I have reason to doubt the previous owner's dedication to weight control, as it came with a nice pair of vintage restaurant place mats in the cover:

I'm not sure where they came from, but I sincerely doubt these are from a restaurant known for its diet entrees.

As I said, the recipes are generally passable, and sometimes amusing.

I like the note alerting cooks that the Cranberry Baked Chicken can be baked sans cranberries for some calorie savings. Never mind negating the recipe title....

I was a little concerned when I read the title Cherry Fries, but these involve neither fries nor cherries:

They're just sauteed cherry tomatoes.

My favorite part of the book, by far, is the section on garnishes meant to perk up a diet dinner. Here's the big, crazy, two-page spread:

So many choices!

A cucumber boat with a lemon sail should keep the kids enchanted:

Maybe a citrus tree for the holidays:

To me, the kumquat topper looks like a head, and those weird dark green things are are arms, waving wildly, as kumquat head begs for someone to help pull her out of this ridiculous citrus dress.

You could go with the classics, like radish slices in a partially sliced cucumber:

Such an elegant description for a caterpillar with hives.

If you love food coloring and turnips (and who doesn't?), here's a real treat:

I can't quite figure this one out. I guess maybe it's the radish rose's less-popular cousin?

And my favorite of all, olives stuffed with colored cream cheese...

... or as I like to call it, apple with olives rocketing out of its ass.

Have a great day! And may olives leave your ass alone.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A potpie apostasy

Do you ever think you know what something is, and then BAM! You find out that it means something totally different? Like when I was a little girl, I thought mom and I were invited to a bridle shower, so that meant somebody was getting a horse! Then mom explained that it was a bridal shower, and it just meant somebody was getting married and I'd have to spend a weekend afternoon pretending to be excited to watch the bride-to-be open 1000 picture frames.

Well, I got that bait-and-switch feel from the National Grange Bicentennial Year Cookbook (1975-- they planned ahead!). I kept finding recipes for potpies and thinking about steamy, savory stews under a beautiful, golden-brown pie crust-- the perfect dinners for chilly spring nights. The reality, though, did not line up with my expectations:

This is just ham-- not even with any little cubes of potato for yumminess or peas or carrots for color-- with dumplings, those sodden, tasteless lumps that I always wish I liked and somehow never do. How is this a potpie? Maybe it was a typo? 

Then I found another apparent potpie impostor:

Boiled Potpie is just that-- boiled, and not finished off with a baking to get a nice golden crust. This time we have potatoes boiled in beef stock and then topped with homemade pie crust-ish, noodle-ish bits referred to as "potpies." 

So I did a little noodling (ha!) around on the internet and learned that the Pennsylvania Dutch call boiled dinners like this potpies or, if you want to get even weirder, bot(t) boi. And apparently, the Pennsylvania Dutch were also crafty enough to convince people in Maryland and New York to consider this a potpie too. 

I guess my childhood self would still be slightly more disappointed to learn that the bridle shower was really a bridal shower than to be served a bowlful of dumplings under the guise of a potpie, but not by much.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cookin' it old school!

The title says it all-- we are cookin' it old school. Really old school...

This is Experiences in Homemaking by Helen  H. Laitem and Frances S. Miller, a 1944 home ec textbook. It's a general textbook rather than a cooking-focused one, so readers can also enjoy chapters with discussion topics such as "How can I help my younger brothers and sisters to develop socially?" (Hint: The answer is not "Encourage social interaction with a well-placed 'Kick Me' sign," even though I really hoped it might be.) or "How shall I care for my clothes?" (Hint: The answer is not "Step over the pile rather than on it.")

The world of this book is a little ... shall we say... uptight.

It's also kind of depressing. In fact, the sections on food selection and preparation seem to have waaay more pictures of the terrible things that will happen to rodents if they are deprived of various vitamins and minerals than actual recipes.

Even the included recipes come with their own warnings:

Yes, it's a pretty plain French toast recipe (with no flavoring beyond the eighth of a teaspoon of salt), but it is still dangerous.

No, not because of the saturated fat in eggs or (presumably whole) milk, but because "It fails to give variety in texture to our breakfast, and it does not give exercise to the muscles around the teeth. For these reasons French toast is best served only occasionally."

I had no idea I was supposed to choose breakfast foods not only for nutritional value, but also to exercise my tooth muscles... whatever that may mean.

The book also encourages exciting kitchen maintenance tasks... washing the inside of the refrigerator once a week. Oh, what fun! Apparently it needs to be fully emptied and refilled for this task too, which I'm sure is great for food safety. Leave the eggs on the counter for half a hot summer afternoon while you smear bacteria around the fridge interior!

I guess the alternative explanation is that her family could only afford a fridge OR food, so she went with the fridge and now reverently washes it every week, fantasizing about the day when she will actually be able to put something in it. 

Either way, if I were a student in the '40s, this is the kind of picture that would make me want to turn in my bellybutton, as mom used to say as an alternative to swearing at the end of a rough day.

Luckily, I found a picture that made present-day me cheer just a little, then check to make sure there was no one to overhear me cheering for an old textbook:

Yeah! Salads! A platter heaped up with all of the most popular old-timey salad variations imaginable! Cubed gelatin thingies! A ring of something filled with peas!  Deviled eggs! Celery! That's what I came here for!

Unfortunately, though, the book is just a tease. While it's perfectly happy to show me these dubious delights, the recipes are nowhere to be found. I will leave you with this sad little salad recipe, just a page after this picture but not, as far as I can tell, among those on the platter:

I know Cabbage-Pineapple Salad is inexplicably common in these old cookbooks, but I always cringe a little extra when it involves marshmallows.

I can just hear the girls who learned from this textbook presenting this dish to their whining future children, yelling, "Eat! Vitamin-C-deprived guinea pigs would be happy to have it!" They could show off the pictures of guinea pigs with scurvy if they wanted the night to get really ugly. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nest egg noodles!

I can tell spring is almost here because the little birdies are starting to yell in the morning when I still want to sleep. I imagine that means they're getting ready to build nests, so today we're going to focus on eating nests.

Okay, not really. Old American cookbooks do not generally have recipes for real bird's nest soup, so we have instead a couple of nests from Magic Menus with Mueller's Macaroni Products (1937).

For the main dish...

...Egg Noodles Benedict. That's little nests of egg noodles topped with frizzled ham, a poached egg, and Hollandaise. I guess it's only fitting that the egg noodles make this twice as eggy as the traditional English muffin version.

Then for dessert....

...Egg Noodle Nests! If you've ever wondered what it would be like to eat a citrus noodle custard topped with a stewed apricot "egg" and stale cake crumbs, this would be your opportunity to find out. (And if you've never wondered about this, then why the hell not? It's obviously a very exciting opportunity.)

I love the bossy little chicken in the picture next to the recipe. For some reason, it reminds me of the chicken egg toy vending machines that always made me beg my mom for a quarter. She usually said no, probably because letting me get an egg would mean having to try to talk me into believing that some bullshit like four neon green fake fingernails or a generic balloon sticker with weak glue was a great prize.

Yeah, I get it, but you better believe I'd be digging around for quarters if I saw one of those machines again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The "Best" of Beef

Saddle up!

Today we've got Ranchers Beef Recipes (ed. Olivia Gross, 1977). I don't know about you, but I always pictured ranchers heading home to a nice platter of olive-covered Pizza Beef Loaf surrounded by sauteed zucchini.

I picked this booklet up mostly because I'm a sucker for the '70s "country" font. I also love the big article in the center of the booklet in which a beef rancher drags out folders full of newspaper clippings to prove to her city-slicker cousin that eating plenty of beef will lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels while at the same time saving the environment. (I suspect she had a few paragraphs about how people who eat plenty of beef are also less likely to suffer from alien abductions, but the editor cut those out when nobody was looking.)

Most of the recipes aren't too bad. The one for the cover picture sounds better than most meat loaves I've seen:

It even uses real tomato sauce and seasonings, not a bottle of ketchup! (The cute little drawing next to pizza beef loaf actually goes with the recipe that follows this one, but I left it on since I love drawings with half-onions that look like an eyeball with the nerves still attached.)

The fun recipes are at the end of the book in the "Best of Beef" section, with winners from the National Beef Cook-Offs sponsored by the American National CowBelles, a group of cattlemen's wives and other women with an interest in hawking beef.

I learned some interesting things about other states, such as that people in Nebraska seem to have a very tenuous understanding of Italian cuisine.

I know the meaning of "marinara" can be a little elastic, but I have never heard of ANY version that means a sauce made of ginger, beer, prunes, apricots, onions, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, and potatoes, served over a chuck roast... Well, not until now, and I'm still a little incredulous.

The CowBelles, unlike me, seem to enjoy a little sweet with their savory. You know all those fruit-and-miniature-marshmallow salads that used to be popular in the '60s and '70s? ("Uh-huh," you reply, thinking this can't possibly be headed where you think it's headed.)

Yep-- Beef Waldorf Salad! With beef, spiced apple rings, green grapes, mini marshmallows, celery, walnuts, and mayo! Because why the hell not? If you live in Maryland, you've got to make your own fun, and fun apparently involves tricking people into choking down two different salads that might have been passable on their own, but are ungodly together.

If these are the "best" beef recipes, I'm going to continue abstaining. I'm willing to take my chances on getting abducted by aliens.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Funny Name: Big Trees Edition

Are your conifers are getting corpulent? Are your firs a little fat? Well, Tantalizing Treats (The Naomi Circle of the Women's Society of Christian Service, Springfield, Ohio, 1955) wasn't quite sure how to tell you this, so they wrote a recipe to break the news.

You have Porky Pines!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Four Betties for the price of one!

I recently picked up a little treat.

Betty Crocker's 4 in 1 Cookbook Collection is a little newer than I usually get (1980), but that's the date of the collection as a whole. The four favorite cookbooks that comprise the collection all have 1970s copyrights, so I feel justified in writing about this one.

I want to dig into this book in more depth later because there are more gag-worthy recipes and a few double-take-worthy pictures (including one of some meatballs that somehow reminds me of the warden in Superjail!). That means today we're just getting a quick look at one outstanding recipe from each of the four collections.

Cooking American Style (1975) is the safest bet if you don't want something crazy. American-style primarily seems to mean "American-style before all the recipes were based on gelatin, canned fruit cocktail, and deviled ham."

There's still room to make things uncomfortable, though, like this take on that most-American sandwich, the cheeseburger:

Okay, I suppose it's not terrible if you think of a tuna melt as an acceptable sandwich, but come on! Giving it the "cheese burger" name, even with that tricky extra space, is bound to set up expectations this sandwich is not prepared to fulfill.

I was prepared for the pages of jiggling, sparkly molds full of lemon gelatin and canned fish/ radishes/ mayonnaise/ raisins/ celery/ staplers/ etc. in Betty Crocker's Salads (1977), but I was happy to see a number of other perfectly scary salads that didn't require any gelatin at all. For instance, have you ever thought, "I could really go for a bowlful of thawed peas mixed with green grapes and coated in oil?"

Then Grape-Pea Salad is perfect for you! Just be sure to serve it on shredded cabbage and some ripped-up iceberg so it's a proper salad.

Betty Crocker's Hamburger Cookbook (1977) has recipes for dozens of burgers and meatloaves, but the "Dear Meal Planner" letter at the front of the book immediately sent me to my favorite recipe in the section, with its promise of "a meat loaf filled with such exotica as bananas, green pepper and orange marmalade." Oh, yeah! It's Meat Loaf Tropicale:

This meat loaf manages to combine a healthy breakfast (banana and oatmeal) with a classic breakfast (bacon and egg), while also throwing in random other ingredients to keep it all company. Yes, there's the promised orange marmalade and green pepper, along with plenty of nutmeg, mustard, allspice, and onion! This little number is guaranteed to break the ice at parties! (And pretty likely to break the party up as well...)

And finally, from Betty Crocker's Do-Ahead Cookbook (1977), we have the perfect dish for when the party theme is "I carved part of a tentacle off of some giant sea creature and decided it belonged on the buffet":

Yes, it's that slimy orange-hued miracle, Apricot Ham Buffet:

It's great served hot or cold! As long as your definition of "great" involves canned apricots baked with ham and mustardy preserves.

Betty, I know you're both imaginary and roughly my grandma's age, but this collection kind of makes me want to kiss you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Funny Name: Italian Accent Edition

Let's say you're writing a sitcom episode in which they guy with the great big stereotypically Italian accent goes to a diner for dinner. Somebody asks Luigi what he's getting, and he says,

"I ham-agetti casserole!" (Try it a couple times. You'll get it.)

(Recipe from The General Electric Microwave Guide & Cookbook, 1977)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Silvery leprechauns and royalty

Are you ready to party? It's the beginning of the month, so that means more of those 401 Party and Holiday Ideas (Conny von Hagen, 1971) from our friends in all things aluminum, Alcoa.

Of course St. Patrick's Day is in March, and this book has a few recommendations:

We all think of mints and apple cake served by candlelight in the general vicinity of aluminum foil shamrocks when we think St. Patrick's day, right? At least there's some Irish coffee off to the side, but this spread looks like it could even be a boring party by Grandma's standards, and she considers explaining the medical conditions of people I don't know in excruciating detail to be a good time.

The best part of the St. Patrick's Day collection is probably this guy:

Are leprechauns supposed to be part werewolf with a weird dye job? The instructions for making him are super-helpful, too:

Is it just me, or are the directions only slightly more detailed than "Crush aluminum foil over a wire-stick figure until it looks leprechaun-y, then glue whatever you have lying around the house onto it for details and clothing"?

This book also offers Purim ideas for March. I will admit I know nothing about Purim...

...but based on Alcoa's depiction, I'm guessing that it's a celebration of the time some royalty pissed off a really hairy guy by discussing that weird foil crown full of apples without him.

There are no particularly scary recipes for March, so I'll leave you with the recipe for Hamantaschen:

If you didn't figure it out, Hamantaschen are apparently the things piled at the feet of Mr. I-Can't-Believe-You-Talked-About-The-Giant-Foil-Crown-Full-of-Apples-Without-Me.

Happy March! And if you do have important giant-headgear-full-of-fruit news, please keep me in the loop! I am so upset when I miss out.