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Vintage Cookbooks

vintage or dated cookbooks

12 Dozen Time-Saving Recipes: Pie, and Adjustments

plain pastry

SliceOfPieHello, strangers! I have been a dreadfully inconstant blogger. I could write it all off to an overcrowded schedule — and indeed, with two new volunteer commitments and the logistical adjustments that one has to make to daily life when the weather is bad, I have been really busy — but there’s been another factor at work too. I have been Apples3letting some of the remaining cookbooks get to me.

No doubt you remember the debacle of Miss Leslie’s Secrets, when the jelly puffs were rather short on puff. Two tomes from Victorian cookbook queen Isabella Beeton promised nothing but further defeat. I paged through the thick volumes, repeatedly, searching in vain for anything I SlicingApplesAction2might be able to do. Once I’d ruled out ingredients I didn’t think I could find (isinglass?), recipes that looked logistically impossible (fireplace-size roasts), and foods I was not going to abuse that badly even for the sake of morbid curiosity (good vegetables boiled to death), I was left with vague instructions and imprecise measurements. I fretted. I worried. And finally, I gave up. I SlicingApplesam removing the two Mrs. Beeton volumes from the project.

But as it happens, this does not make my project 105 Cookbooks now. I also found a folder in which I had saved several recipe booklets when I was working on a book proposal for Recipes of the Damned. The booklets, like the proposal, have languished on the sidelines, and they didn’t make it ApplesAndSpiceinto the census back in June 2009, but I am adding them to the project now. Macaroni, Minute Rice, baking soda, and Knox Unflavored Gelatine (assuming I can find it or an equivalent) all lie ahead. There’s also a glorious new cookbook I got for Christmas, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, and I am not going to be so unreasonable as to insist I must cook Jell-O and canned ScoopingCriscopineapple before I can start to play with it.

I have given up on the idea of a finishing date. I’m going to try to schedule these more often, but I’m also going to give myself a chance to try other recipes — for example, from my massive backlog of cooking magazines — and to work at my own pace. They’ll all get done, yes, but PieCrustLumpswithout the maddening effects of deadline pressure.

And look, here’s one now. Sunday was National Pie Day (not to be confused with Pi Day, which is of course on 3/14). A made-up holiday, yes, but one after my own heart, and why not make pie? I wanted to improvise the filling, but decided to try a Crisco-based crust from the RollingPiecrustpamphlet 12 Dozen Time-Saving Recipes. This slim 1927 booklet from Procter & Gamble has a lot of offerings that don’t seem all that speedy, but the pie crust turned out to be nearly as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. I combined 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (aka half a tablespoon), and 3/4 cup of Crisco, and stirred with a fork until the mixture was crumbly and PieCrustInPanmealy. Then I added just enough ice water to hold it together in a dough, divided it in two, and shaped each half into a ball to roll flat. The rolling went easily enough but I kept tearing the rolled crust, so finally I rolled the dough between two pieces of waxed paper so I could lay the crust in place and then peel off the paper.

CaramelInPieI filled the pie with apple slices — Granny Smiths that I had tossed with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a bit of flour. I then drizzled on some salted caramel bourbon sauce that I’d picked up at a craft show, and dotted on some butter. I was hoping for an effect similar to that of the salted caramel apple pie at Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn, which is a glorious thing. I laid on the top ToppingThePiecrust, pinched it closed as best I could, cut vents, and put it into the oven. The baked pie was a beauty; as it happened, we were too full from dinner to have dessert that night so the pie had plenty of time to cool, which meant that when I sliced into it the next night it didn’t collapse into a heap of apple slices.

The pie was tasty. The crust was PieBaked2flaky and light, and while it wasn’t at all buttery it provided a good neutral foundation for the more distinctively flavored elements. The salt and apple flavors balanced well. The apples were a bit more tart than I had expected, though I should have realized that in winter they might be; I could have added more sugar to the filling, but it would also work to add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to add the necessary complementary taste. Which I may do shortly. We have lots of pie left.

Verdict: Success. Good crust, good pie, and one more down.

The Cutco Cookbook, Meat and Poultry Cookery: Comfort Food

beef stew

StewInBowl2I made this recipe a few weeks ago, but have been too distracted by other things to get the post written and published. Nothing big, you understand, nothing dramatic. Just the effluvia of holidays and working and trying (and failing) to catch up with the million other things I have going on.

I had a day free enough that I StewBeefMoreChoppedwas able to go to Whole Foods to look for meat. (Whole Foods is a bit of a trek for me to get to, and it’s usually full of crazed people so I really have to psych myself up for the trip.) I was originally hoping for something to roast, but I saw that stew meat was on sale and I thought I’d make beef stew. So after I got home I paged through the remaining cookbooks for promising recipes. There were BrowningBeef2a few for beef carbonnade that looked good, but I opted for a more basic hearty beef stew with potatoes and carrots, and found a good recipe for that in the Cutco Cookbook.

Cutco is a knife manufacturer based in Olean, NY; it’s been in business for about 50 years. The cookbook I have was published in 1956, and offers a lot of StartingToStewclassically middle-American meat dishes: roasts, chops, stews, braises, grilled cuts, and “variety meats.” There are also illustrated guides for using the full range of Cutco knives — clear, professional illustrations — and then odd little cartoons throughout the recipes. I got this book for Recipes of the Damned and wrote about brains, but many of the recipes outside the “variety meats” chapter seem RedPotatoesfairly reasonable.

The beef stew was a straightforward affair. I cut the stew beef into smaller chunks, tossed it with some seasoned flour to coat, and browned it in hot vegetable oil. I then added some diced onion and garlic, sauteed that for a few minutes, and then poured in some boiling water and a can of diced Carrotstomatoes, plus a bit of salt and about half a teaspoon of worcestershire sauce. I covered the pot, brought the contents to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let it cook for about an hour and a half. While it cooked I halved some small boiling potatoes, chopped some carrots into chunks, and peeled a dozen white pearl onions. When the timer went off I added those vegetables AddingVegsto the pot, covered it again, and let them cook 20 minutes; then I added 1 cup of frozen peas and let it cook another 15 minutes. And that was it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the stew tasted great: very hearty and simple, and the flavor of the beef was good. It was a nice meal for a chilly winter BeefStewevening, and the leftovers were terrific reheated.

Verdict: Success. So that’s one more cookbook off the list. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and make some scary recipes in the coming weeks, if only so I can start trying other new recipes without feeling guilt about the project. In the meantime, I may have to make some more of the beef stew.

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices: Nobody Knows How to Do Anything These Days

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

how to make Canadian type whiskey

I’m at a loss how to classify Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. Grizzled loner? Disgruntled former employee? The book, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, was published by the Herters in Waseca, Minnesota, in the 1960s and features recipes, photos and opinions galore. There are numerous recipes for game, seafood, soups, sandwiches and wines, as well as helpful Whiskies2hints ranging from “how to keep eggs from sticking in a stainless steel copper bottomed frying pan” (let the pan rest for a few minutes away from the heat) to “Indian method of quitting smoking” (basically, leave a small amount of leaf tobacco in your mouth until the desire to smoke leaves you) to “In case of a hydrogen bomb attack you must know the ways of the wilderness WhiskiesMaskedto survive.”

I thought that last one might be a bit too complex to try out for the blog, but I was drawn to the recipe “how to make Canadian type whiskey.” You would need to do this, explain the Herters, because Canadian whiskeys are superior to American but “are so high priced, however, that no one can afford them in this country

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

any more.” But fear not: you can duplicate the smooth, drinkable Canadian Club by simply adding some port wine to your cheapest American whiskey, shaking it up and letting it sit for three hours, and voila:

You then will have as smooth a drinking and tasting whiskey as any made in the world, regardless of price. In fact, it will taste so much like the famed Canadian-made Canadian Club Whiskey that is so smooth and free of irritants that it can be drank [sic] without any diluting at all. Your American whiskey with the port wine added, you will find, can also be drunk with no diluting at all and will have no bad alcohol taste or fumes.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

So of course I had to try it. I bought my supplies: a bottle of Canadian Club ($24 for a liter), a bottle of the cheapest American non-bourbon whiskey I could find on the shelf (Bellows, not a brand I am familiar with, $9 for a liter), a bottle of port ($12), and some little plastic shot glasses ($3 for a few dozen). Once I got home, I rechecked the recipe and found that the magic formula is to add 1 1/2 ounces of port to a fifth of whiskey. I double-checked that a fifth is 750 ml and poured off 250 ml to set aside; this was handy because it meant I could have another point of comparison. Then I poured in the ounce and a half of port (3 tablespoons), closed and shook up the bottle, and masked the three whiskey samples with white paper so that I could subject our party guests to a blind comparison test.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

When the guests were ready, I explained the rules: Each participant would taste whiskey from bottle A, bottle B, and bottle C (or, strictly speaking, mason jar C). They would then tell me which one was smoothest, which had the best flavor, and which they liked best overall. We began with A, which the other guests tasted before I had the chance to sample mine; they all found it harsh and hard to swallow, as did I. Whiskey B went down much easier; we debated a few minutes about whether that was because A had already killed what taste buds were susceptible, but decided that B was in fact objectively a smoother drink. C was not quite as smooth as B and had a distinct after-kick that gave the drinkers pause, but was still not as great a shock to the system as A. People liked B the best.

Now it was time to fill the subjects in on the experiment. I read aloud the passage from the book, and then surprised everyone by announcing that whiskey A was the Canadian Club. They quickly deduced that whiskey B was the doctored Bellows and whiskey C the set-aside, unadulterated American brew.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

I was as surprised as anyone. I really expected the Canadian Club to be the best, and the doctored whiskey to be harsh and weird-tasting. Granted, I am not a connoisseur, nor did any of the guests claim to have particularly educated palates. It’s possible that someone who really knew his stuff would have responded differently and been able to pick out the impostor. It’s also possible that the way the whiskeys were stored made a difference; there was more air inside the bottles of doctored and undoctored Bellows than in the full bottle of Canadian Club, and maybe the liquids reacted with the greater amount of oxygen during the three hours they sat “maturing.” (Though if that was a factor, the port still made a difference, because the air-to-liquid ratio in the mason jar of undoctored Bellows was much greater than in the doctored bottle.) It’s also possible that if we’d randomized the tasting so that someone started off with B or C instead of A, we’d see different responses. And of course we had only four drinkers, hardly a scientific sample.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. Still, now we have a very drinkable hybrid, and a whole lot of whiskey left in general. I think I’d better see if any of the cookbooks left for the project have recipes for cocktails.

A Lion in the Kitchen, Meats Edition: Pork-A-Plenty

pork chop-noodle skillet

ChopPlated2A Lion in the Kitchen is a 1965 Lions club recipe compilation. I don’t know if there were other volumes, but this one focuses on meat, and boy, are there a lot of meat dishes included. Wild game, beef roasts, sandwiches, stews, grill preparations, and even a few silly recipes (such as “How to Cook a Husband”), all adding up to a lot of calories and cholesterol. “This is a man-sized PorkAPlenty3dish, the kind males go for,” say the notes to one recipe, one of the innumerable ground-meat casseroles included — though it could be said of nearly anything in the book.

The titles make for entertaining reading. Squirrel supreme, Hoosier beef casserole, tuna mound, green turtle steak saute, “my wife is visiting her mother PorkChopsInPancasserole.”¬† Goofy little cartoons dot the pages, and unappetizing black and white photos mark the chapter introductions. One of the best parts of this book is that a previous owner left little recipe clippings between many of the pages, and also wrote little comments. He or she seems to have been very interested in beef roasts and casseroles.

ChopsBrowningIt took me a while to settle on something to try. I didn’t want to make beef or chicken again, but I also didn’t want organ meats. Scott avoids shrimp to keep from exacerbating his gout. I didn’t want to make anything that called for canned soup or powdered soup mix, which constraint itself ruled out a pretty large proportion of the recipes. I also didn’t want to buy several pounds of roast, or Ingredients2try anything with unfindable or unexplained ingredients, such as “1 8-oz can of Arturo sauce.” But eventually I settled on a pork chop dish that featured Roquefort cheese in a cream sauce — not exactly lean, but at least straightforward to prepare.

I began by seasoning four pork chops with salt and pepper and browning them on both sides in AddedCreamNCheesesome canola oil, about 15 minutes per side; while they cooked, I chopped up collard greens and garlic for a side dish, started water boiling for noodles, and chopped up a wedge of Roquefort cheese. When the pork chops had browned well on both sides, I poured in a cup of heavy cream and added the cheese; I then covered the pan and let the cream and cheese cook with the CreamSauceCookingpork chops. In the meantime I cooked egg noodles and made the collard greens. The cheese and chops cooked together for about 15 minutes. I topped noodles with a pork chop and cheese sauce, with the collard greens on the side.

The pork chops tasted great. I thought they were just a slight bit overcooked; probably I should PigArthave cut a couple of minutes from each phase of cooking, since today’s pork cuts have less fat than those available in the 1960s. But they were tasty, and the sauce brought together the noodles and the pork very well.

Verdict: Success. I doubt I’ll be using this cookbook again very soon, but tonight’s dinner was great.

So Quick With New Bisquick: Some Effort, Minimal Reward

hamburger pancake roll-ups

PancakesNKalePlatedIt’s time for another Recipes of the Damned treat! Well, “treat” may not be the correct word. So Quick With New Bisquick is a 1967 compendium of recipes using the boxed buttermilk baking mix. Offerings range from the obvious basics (pancakes, waffles, biscuits) to the predictable variations (coffee cakes, batters for deep-frying) to the distinctly unappetizing (short GratedCheddartuna pasties, hurry-up ham casserole).

I don’t really understand the appeal of the boxed baking mix. I sort of understand why people turn to cake mix; the balance of flour and leavening in cakes is a little tricky to achieve, and the mixes have been engineered to perform well within a broad range of preparation errors. But biscuits BrowningBeef2and even pancakes are far more forgiving of variation, and biscuits made with real buttermilk taste a lot better than those from a box. And saving time doesn’t really seem to be the issue; the bulk of your prep time for pancakes is spent cooking them on the griddle, not mixing them, and a boxed mix doesn’t change that.

I thought hamburger pancake BeefSourCreamMixtureroll-ups encapsulated a lot of what’s wrong with the recipes in this book. The casual supper consists of a ground beef and sour cream mixture, rolled inside pancakes; the rolls are then topped with shredded cheddar and baked. I thought this sounded truly perverse. I wasn’t perfectly accurate about that, but I wasn’t far off.

PancakeIngredsWhile Scott grated a cup of cheddar, I started to prepare the ground beef mixture, browning ground beef with a bit of minced onion (I was supposed to use dried onion flakes, but I didn’t have any, so I substituted an equivalent amount of minced fresh onion). When that was cooked through I poured off some of the rendered fat — not technically in the instructions, but PouringPancakeBatterthere was no way I was going to keep it all in the pan — and then mixed in a couple of tablespoons of Bisquick, one-third of a cup of ketchup, a tablespoon of mustard, half a teaspoon of salt, a generous grinding of black pepper (it was supposed to be 1/4 teaspoon but I couldn’t be bothered to measure), and a cup of sour cream. Scott stirred this as it simmered for about 7 PancakeInPan2minutes, while I worked on the kale and onions that were part of the accompanying dish (to be covered in a forthcoming post). Then we set it aside while I made the pancakes.

“Well, it doesn’t smell as good as it did before we added the sour cream,” I said, “but it doesn’t smell bad.”

PancakeWFilling“I have to agree,” said Scott.

The pancakes were simple but time-consuming: two cups of Bisquick, one egg, and one and two-thirds cups of milk. This is a slightly thinner mixture than you would usually use. I cooked them in a light smattering of canola oil, one at a time. Once I’d accumulated a few, Scott began to fill and roll them, placing a RolledPancakesInPancouple of tablespoons of the ground beef mixture in the center of each and then rolling it into a tube. Once all the pancakes were filled, rolled and arranged in a baking pan, he sprinkled the grated cheddar on top of them and put the pan into a 350-degree oven.

The filled pancakes didn’t taste all that bad, really. The pancakes PancakesPlusCheesewere satisfactory; I’ve recently made better pancakes from a mix (from Salish Lodge; Bisquick just can’t compete), but these were good enough. The beef filling wasn’t bad either, though it was awfully rich. The cheese went well with both of these elements. It was filling and fairly savory, but it wasn’t particularly exciting, and it seemed like minimal reward for the work that went into it. For the PancakesBaked2same amount of labor (with a bit more waiting time in the middle) you could roast a chicken; for less prep and work you could make hamburgers, or spaghetti and homemade meatballs.

Verdict: OK, but not worth the trouble. We’ll finish off the leftovers, but this will not be going into the repertoire.

The New Hostess of To-Day: In Which I Rediscover the Joy of Custard Sauce

apple snow, with boiled custard (soft)

CakePlusSauceThe New Hostess of To-Day dates from 1916, so it’s not quite as impenetrable as Miss Leslie‘s work but is still chock full of vague directives and alarming ingredients. Pigeon Galantine, for example, though I may just be biased by living in New York and therefore seeing any pigeon recipe as no different from one calling for rat. (Possibly you’d find more meat on a rat here.)

YolksNSugarLinda Hull Larned offers introductory chapters on various kinds of entertaining: the formal luncheon, the informal dinner, the informal dinner with but one both to cook and serve (ah, for the days when you could take servants for granted), the wedding breakfast, the card party and more. She has an extensive section on chafing-dish cookery, leading me to suspect she’d YolksNSugar2received several for her own wedding.

So I was a little nervous as I flipped through the book looking for recipes, but I was determined not to set myself up for failure this time. Linda Hull Larned might not have had an electric mixer, but I do, and I was determined to use it if necessary. I was also determined to rule out any CookingCustardrecipes whose instructions truly mystified me. And as usual I opted against anything with scary or impossible-to-find ingredients, so it didn’t take me long to narrow my choices to a manageable number. The dessert chapter didn’t look too challenging, and soon I settled on a two-part dish: apple snow with custard sauce.

GratedAppleI spent a semester studying in London, and our host family often prepared desserts with custard sauce. Custard sauce on steamed pudding, custard sauce on fruit; hell, if they’d poured custard sauce on rusted nails I’d probably have lapped it up and asked for more. I knew that one could find mixes for the right version in shops that sell British foods, but it had not occurred to me to make it BeatenEggWhite2from scratch. I’d assumed it would be hard, and I was wrong.

I started by making the custard. I beat two egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar until the mixture was fluffy (and surprisingly light in color). I then scalded some milk, then added the egg yolk mixture and stirred the mixture while it cooked. Larned’s instructions say “Cook until spoon is coated,” and SnowMixturefor a while I was not sure just what that might mean, but as the sauce continued to cook and thicken, I could see the effect she meant: as I lifted the spoon from the pan, the custard clung to it, more and more thickly as I continued to cook. I kept cooking and stirring until the consistency seemed right, then added a teaspoon of butter, removed the pan from the heat, added a bit of CakeAndJam2vanilla, and was faced with the direction “Beat until cold.”

Now what kind of a cooking instruction is that? I considered two possibilities; if the idea was simply to incorporate cooler air into the mixture to chill it in a pre-refrigeration age, I could just put the sauce in the fridge to cool down. But if the stirring was necessary to maintain an CakeJamSnowemulsion — to keep the custard from separating — then I couldn’t skip that step. I decided to try stirring for a while and see how it went. It went slowly. I checked periodically, and while the custard wasn’t immediately separating if I stopped stirring, it was showing a certain paleness at the edges that prompted me to keep at it, but it was very slow to cool. After a while I got the bright idea to pour SnowOnCakeit into a cool bowl instead of the hot saucepan, and that helped considerably. By the time I quit and put it into the fridge it wasn’t exactly cold, but it was far cooler and not separating.

After that I made the apple snow. This was a fairly simple mixture: a grated Granny Smith apple — which I peeled, on the assumption that the “snow” was CakePlusSauce2not intended to have a green tinge — plus 3/4 cup of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and three egg whites beaten stiff. The recipe said to beat them together until fluffy, which threw me at first because adding the apple and sugar to the puffy egg whites deflated them quite a bit; however, I kept beating the mixture and it reached a point that I could consider fluffy, just not as fluffy as the egg whites alone.

The apple snow was to be served over sponge cake spread with a layer of jam, and topped with custard sauce. You probably know sponge cake as angel food cake; I used a store-bought cake because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of making my own, but I probably should have, as the cake was just OK. I opened up a jar of the peach jam I made last summer, which was rather better. I spread jam on cake and scooped on some of the apple snow, then poured on some custard. The combination was delicious: tart apple, light creamy foam, rich custard, fruity jam. It felt elegant and rich, belying how easy it was to make.

Verdict: Success. And I have lots of custard sauce left over. Now if I can just find some nails…

New Delineator Recipes: In Which I Mock the Mock Sausage

mock sausage

PlatedOnPasta2New Delineator Recipes is a slim volume published in 1930. I got it for the Recipes of the Damned; the volume is rife with under-seasoned recipes. I decided against a pot roast in which the only additional seasoning is the inherent flavor in the pork fat you use to brown the meat; I decided against the peanut-butter cutlets from the chapter of vegetarian dishes. (It’s sort of like French MashingBeanstoast only with a peanut butter mixture instead of an egg batter.)

But the vegetarian dishes intrigued me. We’re accustomed to seeing Boca Burgers and Gardenburgers in the freezers of even small grocery stores now, but it’s been within my adult life that vegetarian meat substitutes really made an incursion onto the market, spurred by the national StirringMixturespread of Gardenburgers from Portland, Oregon. (I remember the first year’s worth of Morningstar Farms offerings — frankly, inedible, but they quickly reworked their recipes and now produce some palatable products.) Would a 1930 recipe, I wonder, really be worth eating? Depression-era cookery would of course benefit from lower-cost substitutions for meat, but that ShapingLinksdidn’t necessarily mean they’d be any good.

New Delineator author Ann Batchelder seems to have studied at the Miss Leslie school of vague instruction. Mock sausage is based on cooked beans, which the recipe says to force through a strainer. I used canned Great Northern beans, and quickly found that pushing them through FryingLinksa strainer was not going to be easy. A fine sieve was too much for the beans, which didn’t get through at all; a fine-holed metal colander was a bit easier, but still promised to keep me working for half an hour or so. I decided to mash the beans with a potato masher, though in retrospect I should probably have pulsed them in the food processor. It also occurred to me later that the FryingLinks21930 definition of “cooked until tender” was probably a bit softer than the canned beans, and I might have had an easier time if I’d cooked the beans longer.

The other listed ingredients are these (spelling original):

  • 2/3 cup bread-crums
  • 3 eggs
  • FryingLinks3

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • salt and pepper

After the beans are strained, the recipe says, “Add remaining ingredients, shape into form of sausages, roll in crums, egg, and crums again.” Go back and read that again. We have a metaphysical issue here. One is PlatedOnPastasupposed to add the remaining ingredients, yet somehow magically know which ones to save out to coat the shaped links. I proceeded on the assumption that one was supposed to add everything and then use extra bread crumbs, but this turned out to be incorrect. The mixture was wet and sticky, and did not hang together. Possibly the idea was to mix the beans with the butter, sage, and salt and pepper, and the roll it in the eggs and crumbs. Possibly I should have mixed in two of the eggs and used the third for rolling. The privilege of a cookbook author is that if she has a specific result in mind, she can specify what should be done.

I mixed in some more bread crumbs until the mixture held together fairly well, then shaped six links (the number recommended in the recipe) and rolled them in some more crumbs. This also was a misjudgment, because the links were too large to turn in the pan without breaking. If I were to do this again (the odds are dwindling at this point), I would make more and smaller links, possibly about the size of a Brown ‘n Serve breakfast link, or I’d make meatballs. Still, I pushed onward, and browned the mock sausages in some oil. The cooked links had a good texture; it was impossible to move the long links around without breaking them, but the shorter segments held together well.

The recipe recommends serving them “with tomato sauce,” so I cooked rotini and some Newman’s Own sauce and topped them with pieces of the mock sausage. They tasted all right; in my exasperation with the texture I had forgotten to add salt and pepper and they needed it badly, and they would have benefited from more sage, but the basic flavor was agreeable.

Verdict: Passable. This wasn’t as disastrous as Miss Leslie’s jelly puffs, but I have better fake-burger and fake-sausage recipes on hand.

The Joy of Cooking (2006 ed.): A Classic, Revised

chicken breasts baked on a bed of mushrooms

DinnerPlate3The Joy of Cooking was the first cookbook I remember working with. My mother owned a copy that dated from the early 1960s, I think, and it was loaded with fascinating information. I still laugh at the thought of a recipe my sister and I came across at random, “buttered crumbs”; it was clearly an ingredient in greater dishes, but we loved the idea of pitching it as an entree. SlicingMushrooms“What’s for dinner tonight, honey?” “Buttered crumbs!” “Oh, boy, my favorite!”

Yes, we were kind of weird as children.

But the Joy (as we called it) was a treasure trove, a reference. Any time we needed to know how to do something, we consulted the Joy. Roast a chicken? Slice a cut PanOShroomsof beef? Bake a cake? It was all in the Joy. My mother was a good cook, and like many good cooks she worked from innate skill rather than following recipes, but if she needed to know how to do something new she consulted the Joy, and if it wasn’t in the Joy it probably wasn’t meant to be tried.

Then I grew up and learned about PanOShroomsCloseupvegetarian cooking and ethnic foods and organics and whatnot, and found that the Joy was popularly seen as a throwback, a bastion of bad old midcentury American cookery. The recipes were unadventurous or constraining, the flavors limited. My foundational reference seemed less important, especially as I sought to learn more about vegetarian cooking, and as I ChickenToCookbought more cookbooks for my collection I didn’t try to get my own copy of the Joy (my mother’s remained safely at home, and I believe my sister still has it — stained and wrinkled pages and all). I did come across one volume of a two-volume paperback version, which I will be cooking from later in this project, but never found the second.

ChickenToCookCloseupAnd then a couple of years ago one of those cookbook clubs offered a revised and updated 75th anniversary version. New drawings, updated recipes, fewer potentially lethal techniques (or at least warnings about internal meat temperature and the use of raw eggs). So I got one, though I forget now whether I did so on purpose or if, on opening the accidentally purchased selection CookingThermometerof the month, my heart simply melted at the sight of a shiny new version of the old classic. The illustrations do seem a bit more modern, though the old ones were quite clear and easy to follow. The recipes still followed the format I remembered, tracing neatly through the steps and calling out each ingredient on a new line. I skimmed through the volume (no title CookedChickenInPan“buttered crumbs,” though its equivalent easy to find in a section on breading foods), tucked the iconic red ribbon between two pages at random, and set it on the shelf, where it sat until I started on the inventory for this project.

I wasn’t sure what to make from my new Joy. What would capture the classic feel and still be worth having for dinner? ChickenPlatterI settled on chicken breasts baked on a bed of mushrooms because that seemed to have a lot of the classic elements: roasting of poultry, a cream sauce, and a traditional-dinner feel.

The recipe offers options for the mushrooms. One can use large whole portobellos or shiitakes, or slice up smaller mushrooms to cover the bottom of a lightly oiled CookingCreamSaucebaking dish. I went with the smaller mushrooms as a more economical purchase, and sprinkled the slices with minced garlic (about a teaspoonful, or one modestly sized clove) and a bit of salt and pepper, then poured on about a cup of white wine. Atop this I placed some chicken breast halves, which I had seasoned with salt, pepper and some thyme. I brushed the DinnerPlate2chicken with olive oil and slid the pan into a preheated 400-degree oven. After about 25 minutes I turned the breasts skin-side down, basted them with pan juices, and let them bake until the internal temperature reached 165. (This business of using a thermometer is clearly part of the revision, not the classic approach.) This gave me a chance to use the new digital thermometer I bought with part of an Amazon gift card, and that kept me from overcooking the chicken; I would have left it in the oven for about five more minutes without the thermometer’s beep.

At this point I removed the chicken breasts to a platter, along with the mushrooms (spooned out with a slotted spoon). I poured the pan juices into a saucepan and skimmed off as much surface fat as I could, then put the liquid to boil and added some broth and some cream. I whisked them together and let it cook down and thicken a bit. After 10 minutes it was definitely thicker, but it could probably have gone five minutes more. Lacking patience, I drizzled some of the thick-enough-for-my-purposes sauce over the chicken breasts and mushrooms, added some steamed broccoli to the plates, and called it dinner.

And it was good. The chicken had a nice flavor, and the mushrooms were heavenly. I used a modest amount of sauce and it served as a good accent to the flavor without making the dish heavy. I think if I made this again, though, I’d keep the breasts skin-side-up the whole time to let them brown better, and would just baste the chicken a couple of times.

Verdict: Success. Yet another simple but elegant-seeming meal. And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go heat up the leftovers.

Miss Leslie’s Secrets: My First Real Failure

sunderlands or jelly puffs

I first learned of Miss Eliza Leslie when I was in graduate school, doing some research on American 19th century etiquette guides. Miss Leslie had written a popular one, full of advice on matters such as dining at table, writing letters, paying visits, and navigating crowded sidewalks. In one section about proper behavior at a party, Miss Leslie went on at great length about the fact that if you are meeting a cookbook author, you should refrain from saying things like “I tried that recipe and it did not work” unless you really did follow the instructions scrupulously. When I read this, I laughed, but after a morning spent wrestling with a Miss Leslie cookbook I am beginning to understand why she found herself in these conversations.

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for, isn’t it? My first major failure. I searched through Miss Leslie’s Secrets, a facsimile reprint of the 1854 New Receipts for Cooking by Miss Leslie, trying to find something I would be able to make in a 2009 kitchen, and I failed.

To be sure, Miss Leslie didn’t give me a lot to work with. Many of the recipes proved unsuitable because I was unable or unwilling to find the right ingredients; I was stopped cold by lines such as “Having roasted some reed-birds, larks, plovers or any other small birds, such as are usually eaten…” and “Have ready an ounce of the best Russia isinglass boiled to a thick jelly in half a pint of water.” (I will not relate the instructions for killing a turtle.) I had also decided I needed to make food, not home cleaning supplies or physick, so I could not avail myself of offerings such as “cure for prickly heat” (bathing with wheat bran), red lip salve (involving suet, lard and alkanet), or gum-arabic paste.

Techniques were another challenge. I knew that if I baked, determining oven temperature would be tricky since Miss Leslie is rather vague on this head; I knew that vegetables were an unlikely choice because of my principled refusal to boil the life out of them. I knew that measurements would vary among weights, size estimates (“take of the prepared rice a portion about the size of an egg”) and odd volumes (“a wine-glass of strong, fresh yeast”). I knew that all these things might work against me, and yet I pressed on.

After ruling out meat-pies, puddings and blancmange, I settled on “sunderlands, or jelly puffs.” The recipe looked simple: a pint of milk, half a pound of butter, half a pound of flour, and eight eggs. I halved the recipe, having only two mouths to feed rather than a houseful of children and servants, and even so it looked feasible. Until, that is, I attempted to follow Miss Leslie’s first set of instructions:

Cut up the butter in the milk, and if in cold weather, set it in a warm place, on the stove, or on the hearth near the fire, till the butter is quite soft; but do not allow it to melt or oil; it must be merely warmed so as to soften. Then take it off, and with a knife stir the butter well through the milk till thoroughly mixed.

Is this something you have ever tried to do? Let me tell you now, it’s not easy. Even when warmed, soft butter does not want to blend evenly with liquid milk. Soft butter wants to lump back together in a soft buttery mass. I don’t know if the butter would have blended in more readily if the milk had not been homogenized, but it sure didn’t want to blend here. Mixing with a knife in a cutting motion (trying to break up the butter) got me nowhere; trying to use a spoon was no help. Finally I tried to beat with the knife as if it were a beater blade, and this seemed at least to distribute little bits of butter more evenly through the milk. I would not call this thoroughly mixed, but at least we were somewhat advanced from the stage of large isolated lumps of butter in broad expanses of milk by the time my arm felt like it was going to fall off from all the beating.

Then there was the flour. I don’t have a kitchen scale and so had to estimate using our regular scale (step on with the bowl of flour, step on without it, calculate the difference, add or remove flour as appropriate). I probably didn’t have enough flour. Certainly the batter was thin, but I wasn’t sure if that was because of the flour or because of the failure of the butter to mix well with the milk. Miss Leslie doesn’t mention what the batter should look like.

The eggs were relatively easy: beat “with a whisk until they are very thick and light.” It’s possible I could have beaten the eggs longer — did I mention my arm was tired? — but I did get them thick and light. At this point I was to add the flour alternately with the eggs to the milk and butter mixture, then “stir the whole very hard” and put it into buttered muffin tins. OK, Miss Leslie said buttered tea-cups, but I have muffin tins and I know they’re oven-safe.

I was not too sanguine about the mixture, but put it in the oven. Miss Leslie instructs you to bake the puffs in a “brisk oven,” which I decided was probably somewhere around 375 degrees. “Bake them twenty minutes or more, till they are well browned, and puffed up very light,” she says. I began to recover some of my optimism as they baked; when I turned on the oven light about eight minutes along the batter was definitely rising, and by twelve minutes they were really puffing up. I might have puffs after all, I thought. And I did — until I took the puffs from the oven and they fell flat before I could even set the pans down.

Miss Leslie instructs you to cut a slit in the side of the hot puff and fill it with jelly, but there was no longer any space to fill. So I dabbed peach jam on the tops of the no-longer-puffs instead, then sprinkled them with powdered sugar as instructed. I served them freshly made, though Miss Leslie recommends they be eaten cold. “If properly made they will be found delicious,” she concludes. ([Expletive deleted] you too, Miss Leslie!) I can tell you that although not properly made they still tasted all right — rather eggy, but not bad, and well matched with jam and the sugar.

I think it’s possible that if I had added more flour I would have gotten a more robust puff that would not have fallen. I think it highly probable that if I had used an electric mixer I would have gotten well-mixed milk and butter. (Imagine if Miss Leslie had had a KitchenAid! There would have been no stopping her.) I am highly unlikely to try these again, but if I did want to give this another shot I’d get a scale so I could be more confident of the right amount of flour; I’d use a mixer to cream the butter and then gradually add the milk while beating so that it would be slowly worked in; and I’d dig through some of my other comprehensive cookbooks to see if I should change the temperature up or down from 375.

Verdict: Failure. It had to happen some time, I suppose. My husband just walked past and saw me at work. “Miss Leslie Regrets,” he said. “That’s what you’re having right now.” Too true.

1946 Modern Homemaker: Prosperity Through Home Canning

peach jam

Modern Homemaker appears to be a magazine* from Kerr Glass Manufacturing Corp. (now owned by Ball), so it’s not too surprising that it devotes most of its attention to home canning. On an introductory page, editor Zella Hale Weyant notes that while the war and its demands for food rationing and shared sacrifice have ended, the future of the nation’s food supply is far from certain. What Weyant did not know is that in the years to come, petrochemical companies would convert their wartime product lines to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, leading to the industrialization of American agriculture — greatly expanding the country’s food supply and choices, but at a cost to individual health and the environment that we have barely started to come to terms with.

In the meantime, Weyant recommends that homemakers continue to preserve the bounty of their home gardens through home canning. The magazine gives recipes for jams, jellies, preserves, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish, as well as dishes one can make with the canned goods. There are also instructions for using the hot-water-bath and pressure canning methods for various foods.

I have a pressure cooker, but am missing the pressure gauge, so I have not been in the habit of canning low-acid foods that require pressure. I opted to make peach jam, partly because I thought it would be fairly simple and partly because I love peaches.

My original plan was to go out Saturday morning to the neighborhood Greenmarket to get fresh peaches, make the jam, then go about my day. I got the peaches home and found that I did not have the right size canning lids, so I decided to make jam in the afternoon after I’d bought lids. This turned out to be just as well; the process took longer than I thought, and my husband would have been pretty impatient to start our usual weekend brunch trip by the time I was done.

The jam recipe is brief and charmingly vague:

Cut well ripened peaches into small pieces. Put into large kettle without the addition of water. Cook slowly about 20 minutes or until peaches are slighly softened. Measure peach pulp and for each cup of peaches add 1 cup of sugar. Return to fire and cook until of desired consistency. Pour into sterilized KERR Jars and seal while hot.

I opted to peel the peaches before chopping them, which took a fair bit of time I hadn’t accounted for. Peeling peaches is not particularly difficult: cut an X across the bottom of the peach, then dunk it in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, and the skin will be loosened and should be easy to pull off. A few of my peaches were underripe and hard; I re-dunked those, thinking perhaps I had just not given them enough exposure, and now they were still hard but also too hot to handle easily. I set them aside to cool while I cut up the rest of the already-peeled peaches, then used a knife to pare them before chopping and adding them to the pot.

“Cook slowly” is a nice, general instruction, isn’t it? Obviously not on high heat, but how low is slow? By the time the 20 minutes were up my peaches had broken down quite a bit and given up a significant amount of juice, but I’m not sure if that means my heat was too high or if I did it just right. To measure them I dumped the whole potful into a heatproof bowl, then poured cup after cup back into the pot, counting as I went. The 24 peaches I’d started with produced 10 1/4 cups of fruit and juice, so I added 10 1/4 cups of sugar, and then cast a worried eye at my seven pint jars and two cup-sized jars; would 20 1/2 cups cook down to 15 cups of jam? For that matter, was that too much sugar? It looked like an awful lot at first, and my initial tastes of the mixture once the sugar had dissolved were more suggestive of peach candy than peach jam, but as it cooked the flavor balance shifted again and the peaches were the dominant taste. And of course sugar has a preservative effect here. It’s possible that I could have reduced the amount of sugar, but I don’t know enough about the chemistry involved to be sure how much I could eliminate before the acidity would be insufficient for canning safety. I suppose I could have experimented to find out, but I wasn’t willing to do so at this point.

Another vague direction is “cook until of desired consistency.” It’s a bit tricky to know what the desired consistency of your hot and bubbling jam should be, because the final product will be thicker once it has cooled after canning. I kept cooking and cooking, probably about 25 minutes, stirring and simmering until the mixture felt noticeably thicker than it had before, and I tried the old-fashioned plate test: I dribbled some on a plate and held it at a slight angle, and when the dribbles were thicker and slower to run, I decided that would do for me. And I was delighted to find that my jam fit almost exactly into the jars I had available.

Now it was time to seal the jars. Jam takes hot-water-bath canning, but I thought I’d use my pressure cooker since it’s broad enough to hold all seven pint jars at once and I didn’t want to have to do two batches. This worked out well, except for the fact that even though I did not have the lid latched closed, it still sealed, and I had to vent out the steam to be able to open it when cooking was done. This was quick and easy — raise the valve — and safe enough with the aid of a potholder, but it made a dramatic hissing sound, and the cats were not impressed.

I was impressed by the jam, though. It shone golden and glorious, with lumps of peach giving it a rustic character. We had some with toast this morning and it tasted wonderful. The two cup-sized jars did not fit in the canner so I’m storing them in the fridge; I don’t think we need to worry about using them up before they go bad.

Verdict: Success. It took me a while to get there, but the results were well worth it.

* But it counts as a cookbook for my purposes because I don’t have any of the rest of the run.