Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hot as a cucumber

Summer's starting to wind down. Some days, I'm all clammy by the time I'm done with my walk, the heat and humidity making me feel like I might be mistaken for the creature from the Black Lagoon. Other days, the early chill in the air means I can almost feel the onset of the Halloween season, even if I'm not ready to break out a Michael Myers mask just yet.

What cliche immediately springs to mind when I say cucumber? Cool as a cucumber, right? Somehow, I've never felt quite right about hot cucumber recipes, even though I've never actually tried one. They must be all right if I run across them with some regularity, but they just seem wrong somehow. Cukes are supposed to be cool, dammit! So today, in honor of that seasonal blending of hot and cold (You wondered how I'd tie that intro in, didn't you?), here are some hot cucumber recipes.

A lot of hot cucumber recipes pretty simple, like this one from Weight Watchers International Cookbook (Weight Watchers International, 1977):


This is a '70s Weight Watchers recipe for sure: a non-starchy vegetable, some buttermilk, seasoning, and not much else. I'm just surprised there's no dehydrated minced onion.

This recipe from the Rosicrucian Fellowship's New Age Vegetarian Cookbook (copyright 1968, 1975 edition) turns the hot cucumber and dairy mixture into a soup:


It's pureed and thickened with soybean flour because that's just what vegetarians did back then. Yay for hot, thick cucumber-y baby food.

Stuffed cucumbers were pretty popular, too. Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Vegetables (Including Fruits) (1966) offers a simple tomato-pulp-and-breadcrumb filling:


I know it wouldn't sound weird at all if it were a zucchini recipe, but there's something about the flavor of cucumbers that makes this whole thing sound inexplicably "off" to me...

Family Circle's Vegetables and Meatless Meals Cookbook (1978) gets more elaborate:

The cucumbers are stuffed with sauteed radishes and bread crumbs, partially baked, then finished in a pool of custard and with a Swiss cheese topping. That seems like a lot of work when I imagine peppers (or once again, zucchini) would taste way better (especially if the radishes were swapped out for something yummier-- like the tomatoes in the last recipe)!

If you want your cucumbers really, really cooked, then Rival Crock-Pot Cooking (1975) has the recipe for you:

Cook those cukes for up to ten hours with some condensed cream of chicken soup and additional broth! You can garnish the soup with reserved cucumbers to get some of the fresh cucumber taste with that long-simmered cucumber flavor (whatever that may be)...

I'm going to stick to my favorite cucumber recipe: slice fresh cucumber into rounds or wedges. Sprinkle on some salt. Eat. Then forget about cucumbers for another year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Slow-Cooked Sloppy '70s

The busy season is *sigh* fast descending upon us. How might 1970s families have dealt with long days of work, school, etc. when dinner still had to be on the table every evening?

Rival hoped that Crock Pot Cooking (1975) would encourage them to pull out the Crock Pot and let dinner simmer all day long so it would be ready and waiting when everybody got home.

The cover makes it look like a pretty tempting solution for the most part-- a savory pepper steak that still has some color, smooth, rich tomato sauce over rotini. There's even cheesecake for dessert! (Have to admit the raw-looking Swiss steak-- actually just cooked in tomato sauce-- kind of skeeves me out, though.)

What does the book offer beyond the tried-and-true favorites? Some recipes present ideas that might have seemed pretty exotic to '70s cooks:


Diners may take the slowly-cooked, well-seasoned pork dish for granted today, but clearly people didn't have much sense of it in the '70s if this passed for a carnitas recipe! At first I was wondering how it got away with so little seasoning-- just MSG, salt, and pepper, with a bit of onion and pimiento. Then I noticed that a whole bag of French-style green beans was also tossed in for no apparent reason! Imagine your burrito or taco coming with mushy French cut beans that had been cooked for seven to nine hours...

A lot of the recipes are pretty familiar, though, and rely on funny names to make them memorable:


I'm not sure what makes this Male Chauvinist Chili, but the name appears to have been enough to give it a life of its own, as the recipe is still widely available and credited to Crock Pot.


The picture that accompanies the recipe seems to suggest it's male chauvinist chili because it's a bit of a sausage-fest.

Other recipe names didn't seem to catch on quite as much:


Jenny Joe's are sloppy joes for people who would rather have condensed chicken gumbo soup in their sandwiches than brown sugar, I guess? Either that or Jenny just really hated cutting up onions and peppers to put in the sloppy joes and figured the soup would be a good substitution. Even though I'm a huge fan of salt, I have to wonder how well the recipe works with both a can of condensed soup AND a teaspoon of salt on top of that...

And of course, a few recipes combined exotic (okay, maybe just weird) ingredients with similarly odd names:


Ever wanted to try ring bologna slow cooked with rutabagas? Well, Bologna-'Baga Bake is the alliterative recipe for you! It's a super-convenient recipe too, since at the end of cooking you have to fish out the sliced bologna, drain the hot cooking liquid from the heavy and still partially-full crockery, mash up the rutabagas with the potatoes and onions, then mix the meat back in... A nice bit of relaxation after a long day of trying to pretend not to notice the boss staring at your ass.

Maybe this cookbook should have had a nice "Women's Libber Chili" instead. That might be a much more soothing end to a '70s workday.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I cant(aloupe) even...

It's cantaloupe season! That means nothing to me because I'd rather dig into berries, plums, nectarines,or just about any of the other fresh summer fruits. I suspect I might not be the only one who feels this way because I don't run across all that many melon recipes. Either that or everyone else thinks those orange-y melons are just fine the way they are and wants to dig right in without needing the enticement of a fancy recipe, but that is a possibility I don't want to contemplate. In no world is a musky slice of cantaloupe greater than a perfectly sweet-tart raspberry!

Even though they're not numerous, I have come across a few cantaloupe recipes that call for something beyond cutting them into balls and mixing them with grapes and bananas.

Thomas Mario's  The Playboy Gourmet (1972) has a much classier recipe:


This play on the typical melon and prociutto pairing adds the extra frisson of excitement from hoping that the candied ginger loosely wrapped in the melon hollow will fall down one's date's decolletage and need to be retrieved.

If you're like me and automatically think "gelatin" when you see "mold," this recipe from The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery (1971) will be a bit of a surprise.

It's actually thickened with tapioca. Flavored with honey, coconut, and two kinds of melon, it sounds like a perfect "summer in hell" recipe to me, but your mileage may vary depending on your feelings about melon and/or coconut.

The most surprising/ least appetizing recipe might be from Collection of Recipes (Midway Assembly of God Women's Ministries Dept., 1978):


Cantaloupe Pie features cantaloupe cooked with sugar and butter "until mushy." (Are there any more appetizing words than those?) Mary M. Kellogg must have had great confidence in this recipe, though, as it makes two pies. Then again, maybe she thought the meringue (which I'm assuming was to be used as a topping and not a separate suggestion to make cookies to use up the leftover whites-- the instructions end pretty abruptly!) would be enough to trick people into thinking they were getting a far-yummier slice of lemon meringue pie. By the time they realized the awful truth, it would be too late to try to sneak that slice of pie back into the pie plate....

Honestly, I've had a bit of a fascination for cantaloupe pies for a while now. Way back during the first annual Pieathalon, I submitted a recipe for Seafoam Cantaloupe Pie and poor Yinzerella at Dinner Is Served 1972 had to make the damn thing. Retro Ruth at Mid-Century Menu made this recipe of her own volition several years earlier, so I'm clearly not the only one mesmerized by the siren song of the cantaloupe pie.

Now, get out there and enjoy a cantaloupe on my behalf. I'll enjoy some raspberries for you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This is a post about a collection of recipes

Can you guess what I'm going to show you today?

If you mumbled "Collection of recipes, like always," your sarcastic sense of humor shows that you do indeed belong here.

You are also factually correct. Today we're looking at Collection of Recipes, a, well, I'm not going to say it a third time... from the Midway Assembly of God Women's Ministries Dept. in Subiaco, Arkansas (1978). Something tells me my copy used to belong to Nell Alford.

The book's title is waaay more straightforward than some of the recipe titles, though. What might you expect from a recipe titled "Individual Applesauce"? Picture it in your mind.... Now, find out what that means in Arkansas:


To be fair, applesauce is involved. It's just mixed into a meatloaf that is cooked in muffin cups, but apparently calling it "Individual Meatloaves" would have been a little too forthright.

What might you picture for "Crackling Cookies"? I thought that meant they would be cooked until crispy, but maybe you're thinking, "Hey, Poppy, this is from Arkansas. 'Crackling' has a second meaning in rural areas."


Well, you would be right. "Crackling Cookies" here means "pork rind cookies." (I always thought they were "cracklins," but the people of Subiaco must be more formal than I expected.)

Here's another recipe that would immediately make sense to people in the region, but I was initially confused:


Creamy Chili is kind of a cross between chili and that Ro-Tel/ Velveeta dip people serve (at least, so I've been told) while they're watching the big game. But what is a pound of "Famous chili"? I did a little research, and it's actually an Arkansas business called Famous Chili Company that STILL pumps out Famous Chili. Have to admit, I'm kind of intrigued by the thought of adding cream and cheese to chili, but I'd have to find a way around using a brick of Famous Chili.

I like that Arkansas cooks seem more interested in seasoning food than cooks in the midwest typically do in their church cookbooks. There's sage and Worcestershire in the meatloaf, all kinds of flavors in the cookies, spicy tomatoes in the chili. Sometimes the seasonings might go a little too far, though:


I'm sure that adding a half can each of cinnamon and nutmeg gives the bread a "spicy taste," but I suspect that taste is more than a little heavy-handed unless they are damn small spice cans. I also notice that this bread calls for more sugar than flour, which is pretty unusual for a bread. Even most of the cake recipes in this book call for roughly equal amounts of sugar and flour or slightly less sugar than flour, so Mrs. Bill Stovall must have liked her pumpkin bread extremely sweet and spicy.

Thank you for reading about old recipes from Arkansas! Now go make something spicy, but not half-a-can-of-cinnamon spicy.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Clown heads done "right"

A few weeks ago, Cake Wrecks ran a side-splitting post about those little plastic clown heads cake decorators sometimes throw onto cakes in an attempt to make them look... I don't know... hilariously creepy seems to be the only effect those heads are really capable of creating, and I'm pretty sure that's not what the decorators are going for. Anyway, I loved that post, but it kept nagging at me. Those clown heads seemed like I remembered them from childhood-- but where? My grandma decorated cakes, but she knew I didn't like clowns, so she never made me a clown cake for my birthday. I watched her decorate cakes for other people, but they were mostly wedding or graduation cakes. I was pretty sure nobody had ordered a clown-themed wedding cake. (That's fun to imagine, though! Pop a couple of clown heads in between the roses or next to the swan-shaped cake pillars and you've got a surreal wedding cake...) Then I remembered the trove of 1970s Wilton Yearbooks I loved so much that Grandma gave them to me when her arthritis got too bad and she gave up cake decorating. Maybe I remembered the clown heads from those?


Yup! This picture from the 1974 Wilton Yearbook is the closest you can come to using those clown heads the "right" way, and I am not entirely convinced by it. The big fat mounds of saggy frosting try to look like clown bodies, and the white accents suggest hands, feet, and buttons, but they are not enough to dispel the suggestion that these tipsy clowns are ready to fall (farther?) off the wagon at any moment, or at least collapse under their own weight.

And that marks the only instance where clown heads would logically make sense.

Most of them are simply sprouting out of the ground for no apparent reason, as these from the 1973 yearbook:

Why not have a row of clown heads just off to the side of the merry-go-round? It will give the horses a goal-- to break free and kick a clown head into the horrified bystanders... or at least, into the pink elephants. (As you will see, Wilton loved pink elephants and clowns together-- which seems to confirm my suspicion about the clowns falling off the wagon.)

Lazier cake decorators (or ones lacking the merry-go-round topper) might opt for this nonsensical creation from 1970/'71:

(Sorry for the missing corner, but grandma used the hell out of these books. Some of them are falling apart, and they all still smell like powdered sugar!)

The clown heads sprouting out in front of the row of candles somehow makes this seem like a Monty Python animation of some sort. I half-expect a little girl to pick the clown heads like flowers and make a bouquet of them, sniff them, sneeze, and send the clown and pink elephant heads sailing into an entirely separate sketch.

For those who prefer the more elaborately weird setups, there is this 1974 creation. The little wooden-looking animals on top are quite charming, but then the bottom tier is once again surrounded by creepy clown heads. Even better, these appear ripe for the kicking-- The creepy clown pillars (Is the cake supposed to be their head? Are they bitter to be headless bodies surrounded by out-of-scale disembodied heads?) can kick them into the always-waiting pink elephants.

And last, coning to us straight from 1970/'71 to show that non-pink elephants had to do all the hard work:


Here is a dolled-up gray elephant jumping through a fiery hoop so she can maul all those clown heads growing in the brown sugar sawdust. Step on them, Jumbo! Why should the pink elephants get all the fun?

Since these ideas all came straight from Wilton, we know that these are apparently the approved uses of clown heads... and the success of these approaches are... uh... debatable at best. Is it any wonder the off-label uses are even funnier?

Happy Saturday! Your assignment this weekend is to drink just enough to see pink elephants, but not so much that you will have nightmares about clown heads. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bright-Red, Jiggly Magic

After another week of checking the electric bill a couple times and trying to stay strong before caving in and flipping down the a.c., I'm ready for some cool and/or creamy dessert action!


Amazing Magical Jell-O Desserts (1977) promises pages of dessert recipes for kids (as if kids really need prompting to eat dessert!).

A big draw for this book is its whimsical illustrations. This opening for the "Family Desserts" chapter is a lot of fun:


The house has various gelatin and pudding-based desserts growing in the yard, like absurdist shrubberies while the dog chases... something red and yellow with a black tail... on wheels. (Just stay away from the little brown pile he left in the yard because it ain't chocolate pudding!)

If you're wondering about the top hat and the dessert being menaced by the disembodied mouth in the bottom corners, this collection is also a 2-way flip book. It's crazy in all different directions.

Anyway, let's get back to whatever that dog is chasing. It's a dessert too:


It's a Banana Wobbler-- a half-banana suspended in Jell-O and inserted with a piece of licorice if you want that firecracker look. The dog may seem to be in danger of getting hit by a vehicle or blown up by a firecracker, but he's only in danger of eating a cool and jiggly snack. 

The "Family Desserts" chapter opening left out a dessert that might have fit the picture a bit more naturally:


Ship Ahoy could have sailed around in the background if the picture just had a lake. This cute little nautical dessert could also be either a disappointment or a pleasant surprise to the person who asks "What's for dessert?" and mishears the answer. Whether it's the former or the latter depends on one's feelings about fruit pieces on gelatin and packaged chocolate chip cookies.

The "Snacks" chapter opening is bare in comparison to "Family Desserts," but perhaps as bizarre:


I imagine it's hard to bat with an enormous popsicle, and it's got to be pretty messy sliding into any base that's composed of a bar cookie or ice cream sandwich....

It's not always easy to tell what sets a "snack" apart from a "dessert," but I'm not sure it matters.


You've got to appreciate the commitment to diversity in the Smilin' Snacks. We not only have chocolate and vanilla, but also pistachio to represent the ... witch ... or maybe alien ... community.

As you may have gathered, most of the recipes are not huge surprises, combining fruit, gelatin, pudding, and/or whipped topping in endless variations, but a few are unexpected:


Bright-red Magic Letter Balls look kind of like uncooked meatballs if I'm trying not to be too disgusting and excised tumors if I'm being gross. The raisins making those dark spots do NOT help make these look less tumor-y. I'm sure they just taste like Alpha-Bits with a fruity sugar coating, but I'd rather use them as props in my new horror film, Night of the Living Tumors.

I should start casting that soon. If you're interested in letting me pretend to surgically remove wads of sentient cereal treats from your disease-riddled body, let me know. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Zucchini, zucchini everywhere...

When I was a kid, I hated zucchini season. My mom would slice the zucchini into thin rounds and saute it in a bit of oil, essentially turning it into slimy green nothing as far as I was concerned. It only had flavor if the oil was getting old, and that flavor certainly didn't help.

My appreciation for zucchini grew as I got older and learned to fix it myself. A friend recently gave me an enormous zucchini, which I promptly reduced to a couple pounds of "noodles" with my mandolin. I sauteed some with soy sauce, veggies, and cashew butter for a lo mein-ish dish, some with tomato sauce and herbs, then a topping of cheese for a spaghetti-ish meal. As I hit day four of zucchini noodles, I kind of wondered what people used to do with their over-abundances of zucchini.

I learned that the zucchini noodle craze isn't exactly as new as it may seem. Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Dieting to Stay Fit (1978) recommends this:

No, they're not the more fettuccine-style noodles I made on the mandolin, but the zucchini planks in Herbed Zucchini Lasagne are clearly meant to stand in for zucchini noodles.

This might actually be a good recipe if it were not so pathetic. Tomato sauce does have more calories than zucchini, but it's not Alfredo sauce. Maybe the recipe could call for more than half a cup? Or maybe a simple rename would make this sound better. If it were called "Zucchini with a Little Tomato Sauce and Cheese," my expectations would be way lower. Calling this meager offering a lasagna sets up expectations that this sad little concoction can't hope to live up to, even if it tastes all right.

I found that zucchini sometimes stood in not just for noodles, but also for other kinds of vegetables:


The New McCall's Cook Book (Mary Eckley, 1963 copyright, 1973 printing) suggests Our Best Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickles as a way to use up some of the zucchini without having to immediately consume it (surely a relief after having had zucchini casseroles and zucchini bread for days on end). (Side note: I'd recommend against eating zucchini bread-and-butter pickles on zucchini bread, as that would probably get pretty weird.)

Zucchini is so inoffensive that it was hard to find a truly awful recipe, although a few made me wonder about people's tastes. American Home All-Purpose Cookbook (ed. Virginia T. Habeeb, 1966) suggests a recipe unlikely to become a classic:


Zucchini a l'Orange is the fancy name for zucchini cooked in orange juice concentrate. Giving it a Frenchified name does not change the fact that it is, as you may have gathered by this point, zucchini cooked in orange juice concentrate.

If you are a real sucker for mushy foods, I suspect Rival's recommendation from Crock-Pot Cooking (1975) will sound yummy:


Spaghetti noodles and thinly sliced zucchini cooked with quartered frankfurters in bouillon for six to eight hours are sure to be a gloopy mess... if perhaps inoffensively tomato-y.

Home ec teachers were a great source for questionable recipes. Can you guess what "Creole" means to the teacher who sent the Zucchini Creole recipe to Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers: Vegetables (Including Fruits) (1966)?


It means "boiled to death in catsup" from the looks of it.

And some recipes are just kind of inexplicable, like this one (from the same book as Zucchini Creole):


I would not necessarily be excited about zucchini casserole loaded up with brown sugar, but zucchini bread is fine, so I could maybe see somebody enjoying a sweet zucchini casserole...?

Zucchini is delicious with cheese on it (especially if that cheese is paired with tomatoes)... but... Does anyone really want brown sugar AND Parmesan cheese on zucchini? Am I the weird one in thinking, "Not a match. The board goes back"?

 You can ponder that question while I mourn my inability to find a clip of David Letterman saying that last line.