Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ground meat and doilies!

Since I ended last month with a pie, I felt like ending this one with pie too. This time (as usual!), I will NOT be making the recipes. As far as I'm concerned, black bottom pie is probably way yummier than either of these recipes from The Ground Meat Cookbook (1955). I know Leatherface wasn't impressed by black bottom pie, so I'm not sure he would agree with my assessment, but that's part of the reason I don't cook for him.

First up: Get out Grannie's doilies! It's time to use them as a backdrop to this ... thing. It kind of looks like a can of corn dumped into some kind of granola-and-melted-marshmallow-based crust. Top it with a couple of pepper rings and tell Zedekiah to get the pie server!

Okay, the crust isn't really based on marshmallows and granola. This is from a ground meat cookbook, so I'll bet you can figure it out!

Yes, it's meat-crusted corn pie! The crust is ground beef and pork with milk, egg, seasonings, and "uncooked brown granular wheat cereal"-- whatever that might be. I was thinking cream of wheat, but that's not very brown. Wheat germ? I'm really not sure. Fill it with canned corn corn (or if you're feeling exotic, canned lima beans), onion, and tomato soup. It doesn't sound promising, but Mid-Century Menu proclaims that this one is surprisingly edible.

What if your tastes run toward chili topped with a nice cornbread? Another recipe on the same page will give you a "Corn Bread-Crowned Meat and Bean Pie" ...

...but the meat and beans are not exactly of the chili variety. Instead, lurking under the glorious cornbread crown is a mixture of ground "luncheon meat" with extra-sloppy baked beans. I guess some people would find that arrangement acceptable (just like some people think it's okay to eat a solid block of condiment or make barbecue Jell-O), but the unpleasant surprise of getting Spam-n-baked beans instead of delicious chili would kill me. I mean, I would take one scoop, see what was under the deliciously-browned cornbread, and slump over dead onto the floor, hopefully pulling this monstrosity down too. If I had to go, I'd want to at least take it down with me. I have a code of honor.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A bittersweet handwritten page

Last month, I mentioned that really old recipe books often had recipes for home remedies. As I was browsing my collection, I discovered that one of my book's previous owners was keeping this tradition alive.

Where I found this hardly matters, since it is clearly a one-of-a-kind find, but I want to give the full information so we can get an approximate sense of the note's age. These "Additional Recipes" are from the back pages of The Household Searchlight Recipe Book compiled and edited by Ida Migliario, Harriet W. Allard, Zorada Z. Titus, and Irene Westbrook (1936). Of course, I don't know who actually wrote them. I'm going to say it was Gloria Holden from Universal's Dracula's Daughter because this is the internet and I can make things up if I want to.

I love the combination on this page: the top has two recipes for cough syrup and the bottom has a recipe for strawberry or raspberry jam. The pains of fall and winter are crammed in next to the joys of spring and summer.

The recipes themselves are fun, too. The first recipe calls for four ounces of glycerin mixed with ten 15 or 20 cents' worth of rock candy. I love the crossed out "ten" and wonder whether the change represents an increased price for rock candy or an initial mistake. How much rock candy would 15-20 cents buy? In any case, those two ingredients went into a pint bottle that was filled the rest of the way with whiskey or honey (depending on whether one preferred sweets or alcohol, I suppose)!

The second recipe is for people who are a bit lazier: 1/3 honey, 1/3 lemon juice, and 1/3 whiskey. There is no explanation for 1/3 of what, but it doesn't matter, as long as the three parts are equal. There are no instructions either; just mix the three together and take some as needed (or according to one's tolerance for whiskey).

The jam is pretty straightforward: combine a box of Sure-Jell with a cup of cold water, boil, add 2 cups of crushed berries and 4 cups of sugar, and let come to a rolling boil, then boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. That's the end of the directions; apparently readers are supposed to know how to store and preserve the jammy goodness.

I love the way this page is almost a metaphor for life, with pain and pleasure butting up against each other and readers left to figure some things out for themselves.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vanilla Foolishness

Sometimes I like to imagine the people who originally owned my cookbooks. They were usually super-busy. One day my imaginary cookbook owner is driving a tractor through the bean field and cutting up firewood with a chainsaw. Another, maybe she's smacking her repellent boss's hand away from her butt as she tries to balance her drawer at the bank so she can leave her job as a teller at a decent hour. Maybe she's dejectedly cleaning spoiled food out of her refrigerator that just died, but secretly excited to get a shiny new one. In any case, the previous owner is always too busy for too much "foolishness," as my grandma used to call overly-fancy recipes.

Then I will see a recipe, like today's from Betty Crocker's Hostess Cookbook (1967), that says at least some of those cooks had plenty of time for foolishness. Today's example looks quite complicated:

It almost makes me think of a skirt on a long dress, with petticoats poofing it out and little ruffles tucked here and there. I'm tempted to think that people stuck hunks of grape bubblegum (chewed, of course!) on the skirt at intervals, but I think those are supposed to be flowers.

It looks like this takes a lot of work, so what goes into this ethereal dessert?

It's basically vanilla ice cream. Sure, the outer shell has a little hard-to-find rose water and a smidge of nutmeg.

Yes, the center has a tiny core with some maraschino cherries and walnuts in it.

Still, it's basically vanilla ice cream.

I'm sure I have more than a little of my grandma's attitude. If you want to scoop out some vanilla ice cream and dump cherries and walnuts on it, by all means be my guest, but I can't imagine spending hours softening, molding, freezing, resoftening, remolding, refreezing, etc. for fancy-looking vanilla ice cream, especially after a long day with the chainsaw.

After a long day on the farm/ at the bank/ in the broken-down fridge, I'd be off in the corner mixing a spoonful of peanut butter into a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Prehistoric Pudding Pops!

If you are an American of a certain age, summer is known to bring on wistful cravings for that cool and creamy '80s treat, Jell-O Pudding Pops! (Summer may also bring about the desire to wear neon jams with jelly shoes that will turn your feet into a mass of blisters within the hour, but now I'm getting off topic....) Despite occasional comebacks, the treats are mostly a do-it-yourself affair today. Since most people think the pops are an invention of the '80s or maybe late '70s at best, they don't realize that we are actually in the same do-it-yourself territory as people in the '60s.

Yes, the 1968 "Jell-O Pudding Ideabook" has this:

A prehistoric pudding pop! Note the primitive triangular shape that would subtly taper to a trapezoid in the '80s before rapidly evolving to a more traditional tube-like ice pop shape in the 21st century. This specimen is officially called a "Frozen Fudge Pop," but I know it's a direct ancestor of a pudding pop!

So how did '60s families get their frozen pudding fix?

In those ancient times, there were apparently no options for vanilla (who cares?) or the swirl (now that's the tragedy) unless the cook was willing to go off-recipe. BUT there was the "Frozen Fudge Sandwiches" option-- housing pudding filling within graham cracker walls-- that more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Plus, if pudding pops weren't quite enough for ice cream lovers, there was always this option:

I would have been so crazy for Butterscotch Nut Pudding Ice Cream and Chocolate Almond Pudding Ice Cream that I'm not sure I would even have noticed the Frozen Fudge Pops if I had been around to judge them in a head-to-head matchup.... Somehow, that feels a bit like treason, but I know it to be true. Please judge me mercifully.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bisquick goes Chinese!

You know I LOVE old recipes that consider themselves exotic because they contain a tablespoon or two of soy sauce or taco sauce.

Not one to miss out on a trend, Bisquick created some questionably authentic "oriental" dishes for So Quick with New Bisquick (1967).

What's the main dish? Will the Bisquick chefs try for something that at least kind of makes sense, like dumplings with suspiciously biscuit-like wrappers? Will they write a wan stir-fry recipe and suggest serving it over crumbled biscuits instead of rice? Or will they go in some entirely weird direction? (Okay, you know I picked this, so I'll bet you can guess the right answer.)

Yes, the Bisquick chefs went for "Oriental Meat Pie"! It's a ground beef casserole/ salt lick full of cream of mushroom soup and olives with a dash of soy sauce for that authentic "oriental" flavor. Top with biscuit strips for the requisite Bisquick-y goodness. (If you're wondering, a half recipe of biscuit dough is 1 c. of Bisquick mixed with 1/4 c. of water.)

I suspect everyone who has this for dinner will need something to get the taste out of their mouths. Luckily, Bisquick has just the dessert:

Okay, I'm sure these have no claims to authenticity, but at least they sound edible! With a few Chinese Almond Cookies (and a gallon of water to counteract the salt from dinner), diners might be able to forget about Oriental Meat Pie in no time.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Fine (cough!) French (cough! cough!) cuisine

Who were the most sophisticated people in 1976? I mean, who were the ones with refined palates and a taste for the finer things in life, and who could really appreciate fine French recipes from James Beard?

Who was the target audience for a book with the instructions to make proper escargots:

Or maybe a good ratatouille with Mornay sauce:

The sauce even uses the proper Gruyere and Parmesan, not something like American cheese with Parmesan!

This group could appreciate sauteed leeks as a side dish instead of creamed peas or corn.

Maybe they could even pronounce "Poireaux a la Provencale" correctly...

For dessert, they could have a lovely dacquoise...

...after a careful process of preparing and constructing meringue and a mocha butter cream:

Yes, this patient and cosmopolitan group must have been the tastemakers of the '70s. So who were they?

These recipes are from Benson & Hedges 100's Presents 100 of the World's Greatest Recipes. Yep. These are recipes for smokers from a tobacco company, and not just any tobacco company. Benson & Hedges was "dedicated to good taste in tobaccos," and in the kitchen too.

And suddenly I have the urge to call these recipes "classy" rather than "sophisticated."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pies that look like something I might accidentally step in...

I must have still had pie on my mind as I was browsing through McCall's Casserole Cookbook (1974), or maybe these just happened to catch my eyes because the pictures were so... interesting?

A brief glance at this picture made me think it might be a pecan pie topped with hard-cooked eggs and olives:

But a closer look made me quickly realize my error. Instead of luscious pecan halves floating above a rich sauce, this looks oddly congealed... almost webby. It's like something I'd find growing on a tree stump during an exceptionally wet spring. Topped with hard-cooked eggs and olives. Because why not?

It's probably not as bad as it looks:

I imagine it's a bit bland-- mostly bacon and ground pork with a bit of onion and some bread cubes-- kind of a meat loaf in a pie crust.

The mushroom sauce is a canned wonder. It will add a moist salinity to the whole thing.

At least it's not really pecan pie with eggs and olives!

Then this picture made me wonder if somebody managed to scrape up enough cat puke to fill a pie shell (and top with a lemon slice!):

Yeah-- That's kind of what my carpet looks like when Fancy Feast doesn't agree with my little friend.

Judging from the recipe, he'd be more than happy to eat enough of this pie to turn it into real cat puke:

This recipe doesn't sound terrible either-- mostly fish, white wine, and sour cream-- but I think I'll pass.

If it looks like something I've been unhappy to step in on a walk to the bathroom at 3 a.m., I am not interested.

Well, unless it's Indian food. At least that has some flavor!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why yes, the rolls are happy to see you!

When my sister was in elementary school, she had to write a report about snails. I will always remember that report because she illustrated it with a picture that just cracked me up: a snail wearing novelty googly-eye glasses (you know, the kind with fake eyes popping out on springs) over its eyestalks. Eyestalks look weird enough as it is-- with the added whimsy of novelty glasses, I thought that was the funniest picture I'd seen in my young life.

So what does this have to do with vintage cookbooks? Well, I just picked up "Metropolitan Cook Book" (a pamphlet put out by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in June 1959) mostly because the whimsy of the pictures made me think of my sister.

We'll need some fanfare to start our tour:

How about an all-food band? I never knew pears could play trumpets or that a partially peeled potato could strike me as being scantily clad, but there we have it.

Some of the food seems eerily happy or excited about the prospect of being eaten:

 The cake is so delicious that it can't resist tasting itself, and the carrots, tomatoes, and other veggies are beaming as they line up for a dunk in the soup.

Other foods are less sold on the idea of being consumed, though:

The cookies are intent on making an escape from the cookie jar.

The eggs have mixed emotions:

One egg seems really pissed off at the big egg for hatching. Maybe he thinks hatching is a bit inappropriate in the view of women and children. (At least, I assume that is what the hat-wearing egg with her passel of tiny eggs is meant to represent.... I'm not quite sure how we have a mommy egg with baby eggs, but I guess I have to take this world on its own terms.) That egg between angry egg and hatching egg breaks the fourth wall by returning the viewer's gaze. He seems a bit worried about what we're thinking of all of this, perhaps concerned that we will guess his secret identity. I stared at him for a few minutes, and I think I figured it out. I'm pretty sure he's Jason from Home Movies. What do you think?

The egg family isn't the only unusual family. In its own way, this one makes more sense:

The parental cake is having trouble keeping those leap-frogging little cupcakes in line. Maybe the cake should have thought of the realities of parenthood before anybody pulled out the muffin tins....

I wanted to make sure you had at least a few recipes to go with the pictures. If you need some lunch ideas, how about a nice peanut butter and deviled ham sandwich? Cottage cheese with watercress and mayo?

The picture, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with any of the suggested sandwiches. It also doesn't have much of a sense of scale. It looks as if a grape tomato is exasperated to find itself in a sandwich consisting of half a fish that has not been cleaned (scales, bones, and all!), a teeny weeny strip of bacon, a miniature pickle, a fried hummingbird egg, and maybe a couple of saltine crackers, along with a small patch of aquarium gravel and a berry still on its stem. That will be one memorable sandwich!

This picture probably reminds me the most of my sister's sense of humor:

A pie getting a pie in the face! I just love it.

And to cap it all off, some rolls that have yeast in their pockets AND they're happy to see you:

Know what I mean? Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

It's greens month! Let's not put any in our salads...

A new month! That means a new entry from Betty Crocker's Cooking Calendar (1962). I'm afraid nothing will top fresh pea and strawberry month as far as I'm concerned, but July is pretty good too:

It's greens and berries month! I am in love with both (well, except for iceberg lettuce. It may be perfectly retro, but it is also perfectly bland-- as many retro recipes seem to be). And unlike, say, cabbage and bananas or asparagus and rhubarb, the fruit and vegetable of the month could easily go together in the same tasty dish.

How about the recipes for the month? July doesn't have any pretty full-color photos, so I will present these salads:

Even though it's greens and berries month, these salads don't really feature either. I guess Betty was not one for carrying a theme through. She would be terrible at planning spoiled children's birthday parties today.

These look pretty standard, but I do like a few details:
1. What makes the potato salad "gourmet"? It looks pretty standard to me. Maybe the word is just a psychology experiment to make home cooks perceive the salad as more exciting than it really is?
2. I love the recipe for a variation on the kidney bean salad. How could home cooks make it a chick-pea salad? By substituting chick-peas for kidney beans! I'm often amused by how few instructions older cookbooks really specify, but this one goes in the other direction by explaining something that seems pretty common sense to me.
3. Apparently Betty disagrees with me on the desirability of mixing cabbage and bananas. I'm not fully convinced by her "Ways with Cole Slaw."

Happy July! May yours be filled with gourmet salads, whatever that may mean to you. (Let me know if your favorite is rhubarb-asparagus cole slaw in a banana vinaigrette.)