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Vintage Cookbooks

vintage or dated cookbooks

Health-For-Victory Club Meal Planning Guide: Defeating the Nazis With Deviled Eggs

deviled eggs; bacon-cheese sandwich filling

Health-For-Victory Club Meal Planning Guide is a 1943 pamphlet from the Home Economics Institute of Westinghouse in Mansfield, Ohio. So it brings together wartime scarcity and rationing with the precepts of early-20th-century home economics, which means a lot of things with white sauce.

In all fairness, the majority of the recipes are reasonably wholesome, and cover a wide variety of dishes. The quick bread section includes blueberry nut bread, French toast, corn bread and griddle cakes. Cakes and cookies include gingerbread, oatmeal cookies and lemon molasses cupcakes. There are rarebits, chicken fricassee, cherry dumplings, peach shortcake, and chicken and noodles, as well as the intriguingly named “macaroni hoe.” (It appears to be a robust mac and cheese souffle with an egg base, flavored with green pepper and pimiento.) There’s also a section on dehydrating and brining food to preserve your garden’s output, and tips on making the most of your ration points. And there’s a lot of very sound nutritional advice (such as saving the cooking water from vegetables to use in soups, or relying on beans and nuts for your protein when meat is scarce).

I don’t know if I’m just unusually sensitive to summer heat (this is very possible) or if cultural standards have changed, but the June 1943 book seems to have a lot of heavy, hot and starchy foods for the season. Fruits are stewed; hot cereals are offered; macaroni stars in a lot of non-salad dishes. I didn’t realize this when I was scheduling the various cookbooks, so had to dig a bit to find something suitable for the August heat. But I came up with two recipes that worked well for a cold supper on a warm night: deviled eggs, and bacon-and-cream-cheese sandwich filling.

The sandwich filling was pretty easy. I cooked yet more bacon (at this rate I need to buy stock in Ajax Dishwashing Liquid) and chopped up enough for 1/4 cup; I mixed this with 3 ounces of cream cheese, plus a bit of horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and milk, then chilled it until it was time to spread it on toasted bread. It tasted good. (Is that surprising when the major flavor element is bacon?) The recipe produced enough for three moderate sandwiches or possibly two generous ones, but we went with moderate.

The deviled eggs were a bit more work. I followed the booklet’s instructions for hard-cooking the eggs: put the eggs in a pan and cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer 5-8 minutes, then drain off the hot water and rinse well with cold to stop the cooking. At this point the smart thing to do would have been to immediately peel the eggs under cold running water, but I was cooking them a day ahead and so put them into the fridge in the shells. This meant that despite the fairly generous air pocket at the end of some of them (a sign that the eggs were not perfectly fresh, though they were still quite good), the shells did not come off too easily when I did peel them. I didn’t utterly mutilate them, though.

Once the eggs are peeled, they should be cut in half lengthwise, and the yolks pressed through a sieve into a bowl. I used a finer sieve than I think was intended, so it took a bit of time and didn’t do much good for the sieve, but it did make for a nice fluffy filling and no big chunks of yolk. Mix the sieved yolks with some cream, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and beat the mixture until fluffy. Or, in my case, until you get impatient to get on with it. Scoop the yolk mixture back into the egg halves. You could use a pastry bag to make it pretty, but I didn’t bother. Garnish with paprika or chives.

The deviled eggs tasted good. I wouldn’t say great, but then I’m not really an aficionado, so it’s an uncommon deviled egg indeed that will have me singing its praises. I was perfectly happy with them. I served up the sandwiches and eggs with a sizable green salad, on principle.

Verdict: Success. The recipes were not complicated, and the instructions were clear and accurate. The results tasted good. The bacon-cream-cheese filling certainly does a good job of stretching the serving of bacon; even a generously spread sandwich uses less than half the bacon you’d put on a single BLT. And the hard-boiled egg instructions were right on target, producing nicely yellow yolks (two were slightly tinged with green — I think those eggs were older — but not enough to affect the color of the filling). I don’t feel especially called to make either again, but I don’t specifically object to doing so.

Franks to the Aid of the Party: Private Hot Dog Party

Kitchen Party: Franks with assorted relishes

Franks to the Aid of the Party is a 1950s pamphlet from Swift Premium, intended for teenagers who are planning parties for their friends. Apparently the pamphlet’s writers wanted readers to believe that there could be no better way to make friends, build your popularity and establish your social status than to serve hot dogs to your peers at every opportunity.

I scheduled this booklet for August because that seemed seasonally appropriate for hot dogs. At the time I wasn’t thinking about the fact that these party recommendations are themselves seasonal, and most of those seasons are not high summer. The Valentine Dance features “Hearts-and-Arrows Sandwiches,” in which you cut hamburger buns into heart shapes and use paper and a toothpick to make the extended hot dog inside look like an arrow; side dishes include a heart-shaped red gelatin mold. The Shamrock Shindig serves up the dogs with hot potato salad. The Beach Bake looks suitable for warm temperatures, and if I lived closer to a beach where I could roast hot dogs and s’mores over an open fire I’d be raring to go. But I don’t.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this one. None of the parties seemed to work for August except for the simplest, “Kitchen Party,” in which hot dogs are served up buffet-style with a selection of toppings, which hardly seemed like enough effort to qualify for the project. I was on the verge of swapping the booklet for something from a different month when it occurred to me that I had a bigger problem: The conceit of the book was a party, and I had serious doubts about managing to throw a party focused around hot dogs. Have I mentioned that a lot of my friends are vegetarians? Even if I decided to offer veggie dogs as well, I didn’t think I could get turnout for a hot dog party; I do have a reputation to maintain as a cook and hostess. I decided I was as unlikely to get people to come to a Halloween “Punkin Parade” with hot dogs heated in barbecue sauce as I was to get them to come in August for buffet-style toppings, and decided to do the Kitchen Party for just the two of us.

This did still bring me to do things I don’t usually do; typically when we fix hot dogs we embellish with ketchup and mustard at most. Kitchen Party suggested a variety of toppings, including bacon, chili sauce, cheese, lettuce and salad dressing. I decided that for two people we could set out a range of only things we would eat on hot dogs if we found them on a buffet elsewhere, which ruled out salad dressing; I also left out tomatoes since I had none left from my last Greenmarket trip and I won’t buy them in conventional supermarkets. I narrowed the focus a bit more for the sake of not putting out a truly obscene amount of food for two, and thus was left with bacon, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.

So for the second time in only a few weeks I was cooking bacon, something I hadn’t previously done for years. I admit I do eat bacon pretty often when we go for diner breakfast. I like it, but I hate to cook it; it’s messy to do and laborious to clean up after, and the smell can be overpowering. I am not fond of coming home after running errands and finding that the place still reeks of bacon. But I was in luck: This apartment is our first in, well, possibly ever that has its own window, so it was far easier to vent out the smell than in previous years. As for the cleanup, one does what one must. I’d already noticed that with an increase in cooking new dishes for the project I had sped up my use of dishwashing liquid. Such is life.

It was kind of fun to put together the tricked-out hot dogs. Instead of playing parlor games, we ate while watching the end of a Godard film. So we missed our chance at such revelry as this:

Afterwards, cut some kitchen capers. Turn a chair upside down and play quoits. Lay a milk bottle on its side and invite the bravest to sit on the bottle with legs outstretched, cross legs, and eat a cookie without rolling off the bottle. Set a big, wide-mouthed jar on the floor and try dropping clothespins into it from eye level. And now’s the time to trot out all those match tricks!

I am as clueless as ever about what those match tricks might be. After the Godard DVD ended we put on an episode of “Mythbusters” in which they produced a tremendous fireball using non-dairy creamer. That’s probably not what the Swift-Premium crew had in mind.

Verdict: Satisfactory, but silly. I think ultimately I can’t get past the fact that I’m no longer 16, and it’s not 1957.

Apologies for the silence; planning August’s cooking

My apologies for the lag between postings. I’ve had to turn my attention to a few other things in the past week, and am now in the process of figuring out what to cook from the August slate of cookbooks. Some books offer many good options (Smoothies has a lot of encouraging candidates, as does Mediterranean Fresh), while others offer just a few, making the choice even easier. (500 Delicious Salads produced a whopping two non-discouraging possibilities.) Some will make good weeknight options once I’m over this cold I’ve started, and some will be longer projects during my vacation the week of the 17th.

And then there’s Miss Leslie’s Secrets, a facsimile reprint of an 1854 classic. Eliza Leslie was one of mid-19th-century America’s leading cookbook and etiquette authors, and this book offers a wide range of recipes. Miss Leslie’s method of organization is, shall we say, idiosyncratic. Oh, the book starts off promisingly with groupings such as “Soups, &c,” “Meats, &c,” and “Cakes, &c.,” but eventually even the “&c” isn’t sufficient to envelop the breadth of recipes and instructions Miss Leslie has to offer. Later chapters find instructions on writing letters jumbled closely with those for upholstering a stool and organizing a sea-crossing.

I expected certain recipes to rule themselves out at once; I do not have a hearth at which to roast a whole kid, nor can I bring myself to do anything that begins “take four calves’ feet,” nor do I think it counts to make any of the non-food items such as a potato-water solution for use in cleaning silks. But I had not considered the other challenges these recipes pose. Most do not have separate ingredient lists, which means I need to read or at least skim through the whole thing before I can tell if there are ingredients I’ll have trouble finding. Some things require a bit of translation; is “a half-pint cup of powdered loaf-sugar” actually granulated sugar or powdered sugar? And forget about temperature recommendations for baking; Victorian kitchens did not have the precise temperature gauges that we now enjoy, but Miss Leslie doesn’t usually even bother to note if a given item should be baked in a fast or slow oven.

So it’s going to take me a while to figure out if I’ll actually be able to make flummery (maybe) or blanc-mange (probably not), or Boston cake (of which Miss Leslie says, after vague directions such as “bake it thoroughly…at the end of the first hour, increase the heat of the oven, and also at the second,” that it will be good “if properly made, and well-baked, (following exactly the above directions).” Right). But the final decision will have to wait until I am well.

What Mrs. Dewey Did With the New Jell-O: I Quiver in Fear

cool melon salad

What Mrs. Dewey Did With the New Jell-O is a pamphlet from 1933. It’s quite the marvel. It starts with a hilarious little story about Mrs. Dewey discovering the new Jell-O packages in her grocery delivery, and becoming positively giddy about the possibilities of desserts, salads and loaves. Apparently the big new change was that instead of mixing the powdered Jell-O with boiling water, you could mix it with warm water and thus require less time to chill. The new formula must not have worked out, because the box I bought last week instructed me to dissolve the powder in boiling water, then add cold water.

Of course I ate Jell-O when I was growing up. It was Indiana in the 1970s. I think Jell-O may have been required by state law, along with Libbyland frozen dinners, Hi-C grape drink, and Space Food Sticks. My mother was a really good cook, but you still must work with the products that dominate your culture. So yes, I ate Jell-O, though at least Mom never mixed in vegetables or anything scary like that. I’m not sure she bothered with fruit, or with molding it into fancy shapes. I left the stuff behind pretty quickly once I got to college and began to learn to really cook for myself. And during college I got my hands on a 1960s Jell-O cookbook that started me on the long and winding road to making fun of bad recipes. I think I actually ate Jell-O twice in the years since my adolescence, once after an operation and once in the form of Jell-O shots (which were rather horrible).

So I was really kind of afraid when I had to make my first Jell-O recipe for this project. With three Jell-O cookbooks in the mix I felt I could ease myself into the horror of Jell-O; no suspended cauliflower or lunchmeat for my first effort. I opted for a simple Jell-O and fruit combination, honeydew melon balls in lime Jell-O.

This meant I had to scoop out melon balls, and found that my melon baller was larger than was probably ideal for this recipe. As kitchen disasters go, this is of course right up there with “They only had the second-best caviar” and “Oops, too much chocolate,” but it is one reason that the melon balls look a little weird in the final Jell-O mold. Another issue was that I don’t really have Jell-O molds to speak of, nothing that could give a particularly interesting shape to the dessert; I ended up using small metal bowls to produce freakish little green domes. Most of the melon balls were not perfectly spherical, so in the photo you can see that they kind of look like marshmallows, which is especially weird.

I was least prepared for the smell of the lime Jell-O powder. It was kind of acrid and overpowering and not quite right, and I began to have serious concerns about whether we could actually eat the finished product. But either the smell eased up or I became inured to it, and by the time the Jell-O was chilled and ready to eat it wasn’t making quite the same impression. The Jell-O unmolded easily; it wasn’t as easy to neatly slice the mold into two servings, since the texture of the Jell-O and the texture of the melon were very different. That difference plus the overly large melon balls made it tricky to eat both elements together as well; we would pretty much spoon up either Jell-O or melon.

And the taste? The melon tasted good. The Jell-O…was OK. It had a decent texture — not rubbery like bad, too-old Jell-O can get. The lime flavor was rather artificial, but not actually bad.

Verdict: Meh. It worked, it was edible, it was less scary than feared. I would say I don’t plan to make it again, but there are two more Jell-O cookbooks in the schedule, and I may well have to bring myself to pick a recipe with vegetables. Be very afraid.

500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes: Have Some Sandwich With Your Mayonnaise

chicken and bacon salad, salmon and cucumber, beef

500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes is one of a series of 1940s booklets offering hundreds of recipes for a particular item: salads, sandwiches, and dairy-based dishes have made it into my collection. While writing Recipes of the Damned entries I found hilarious possibilities: molded salads arranged to look like flowerpots, peanut-butter rarebit (yes, really), and perhaps best of all the “treasure sandwich chest,” which requires you to hollow out a loaf of bread and fill it with assembled sandwiches. With hundreds of recipes per booklet, I thought I’d never run out of possibilities.

So you can imagine my surprise when I did a recipe count during the cataloging of my collection, and found that none of these books actually has as many recipes as advertised. Sandwiches? Only 351, and that’s counting every possible filling variation plus all the recipes for breads. Salads? A mere 447, well under the booklet’s promise of 500. Dairy recipes? Just 259, not the 300 promised by that title, though the closest to its promise of the three.

Truth in advertising aside, I decided that sandwiches would be great for supper on a warm summer evening. I thought that variety might be pleasing, and also that while I might well pick one dud I could surely not pick three, and so I settled on chicken and bacon salad, salmon and cucumber, and beef.

Preparation of the chicken and bacon salad is fairly simple: one cup of chopped cooked chicken, half a cup of diced bacon, half a cup of diced tomatoes and half a cup of mayonnaise. And if you think that sounds like a lot of mayonnaise, well, you’re right. I had determined to follow the instructions for all these untried recipes, but I had misgivings when I measured out the mayonnaise. I went ahead, and found myself with a rather creamy mixture. It tasted good, which I think is partly because the bacon and the tomatoes were very high quality, but if I were to make this again I would use a lot less mayonnaise.

I mixed up the salmon and cucumber salad next, and was far more skeptical about the mayonnaise this time. Overdoing the mayo seems especially wrong when you’re dealing with salmon, whose flavor deserves to be accentuated, not smothered. I mixed up cooked salmon and chopped cucumber and far less mayonnaise than recommended, for a still very spreadable, even mayonnaise-rich, filling. I can’t imagine how goopy it would have been with the full amount.

Finally I turned to the beef filling, which was blissfully free of mayonnaise. Cold roast beef is combined with salt, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and melted butter. I am not sure what the author meant by “chili sauce” in 1949; I seriously doubt she meant the kind that you get at Asian markets, in the plastic bottle with the strutting rooster, glittering with pepper seeds, but that’s what I had on hand and that’s what I used, and it turned out to be really tasty. Peppy, zingy, but not so strong as to overpower the beef or Worcestershire sauce.

I spread the sandwich fillings on toast and added lettuce to the chicken and salmon, and served them up with potato salad. I did not go the extra step of cutting off the crusts; I may be nuts but even I have my limits. The sandwiches were all delicious, even with an excess of mayonnaise.

Verdict: Success. I’d make them again, with adaptations, and they did make for a nice cool supper on a warm, humid night.

And that brings us nearly to the end of July’s book list; only Jell-O remains. (Cue dramatic music.) More details on that tomorrow.

Tempting Low-Cost Meals for 2 or 4 or 6: My First Real Challenge

glazed orange muffins

This is the first of the Recipes of the Damned cookbooks that I’ve used for this project. I have two more slated for the month, What Mrs. Dewey Did With the New Jell-O and Metropolitan Life Cook Book, and I expected the Jell-O book to be my first serious challenge. I am not a Jell-O person. But then I opened Tempting Low-Cost Meals for 2 or 4 or 6, a pamphlet of recipes from 1940 using Pet Milk, and yowza. Turns out that regardless of whether I’m a condensed milk fan, I am decidedly not a fan of creamed dried beef in a molded noodle ring, frankfurter vegetable salad, or “economy drumsticks” (molded ground meat filled with cheese, dredged in corn flake crumbs and fried). I had promised myself that as I got into the scary cookbooks I would rise to challenges, but this one smacked me down instantly. Part of it is seasonal: it’s too hot to do things with cream sauces, especially when the cream sauce is adorning cabbage, or is mixed with deviled ham and poured on toast with peanut butter on it. (Seriously! I kid you not!) So after much thought I settled on the fairly harmless glazed orange muffins.

These might be more accurately dubbed orange-glazed muffins, as the muffin itself is a very simple flour-butter-milk-egg combination. You beat an egg and add about a cup of the condensed milk and a cup of water. In another bowl you combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, then work in shortening or butter. Well, the recipe said shortening, but I don’t have shortening, so I used butter; I’m not sure if that made a difference to the texture but it has to have helped the flavor. When the dry mixture is the consistency of cornmeal, add the liquid and stir just until combined; if you overmix, as I did, you will get a bit of tunneling in the finished muffins and they may not rise quite as much as you wanted them to, but the flavor shouldn’t be affected. (I do know not to overmix, but¬† I was surprised by how quickly the dry ingredients took up the liquid — two stirs too late I realized I was no longer dredging up large amounts of unincorporated flour. Oops.) Pour the batter into muffin tins or papers and bake.

While the muffins bake, make the glaze: about a tablespoon of orange zest, one and a half tablespoons of orange juice, and 6 tablespoons of sugar. After the muffins have baked 15 minutes, pull them from the oven and spread a bit of the glaze on each, then pop them back in for another five minutes.

They tasted good, in a perfectly satisfactory but not dramatic way. They were rather cute, too, which made them a nice part of the presentation for breakfast — an anniversary celebration. (Quite the 107 Cookbooks festivity, this meal, featuring the blueberry jam and the minty fresh smoothie as well.)

Verdict: Success. The muffins were tasty, and I suppose that if you had a good reason to stockpile condensed milk you would be better advised to use it for these than for creamed vegetables or toasted ham fingers. Plus I’ve rediscovered a treasure trove for Recipes of the Damned.