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August, 2009:

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.

Pasta Recipes & Techniques: Gnocchi is Nummy

gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi), sugo di pomodoro fresco (fresh tomato sauce)

Pasta Recipes & Techniques is a gorgeously illustrated cookbook from the Cooking Club of America, which is a membership organization that seems to be a very efficient way to sell you things. As with so many items in my collection, I got this through a book-of-the-month style setup where I was sent the book and had a certain period of time to return it. I did manage to send some back before quitting this particular group, but I kept Pasta because everything in it looked great and I really wanted to use it some day.

That day came yesterday, when I set about making gnocchi. Gnocchi are not exactly pasta, but are a dumpling that functions very like pasta in a sauce or soup. They don’t include egg, and you don’t roll them in the same way you do pasta. I decided to make gnocchi for two reasons: I had eaten them before in Cleveland’s Little Italy and thought they were grand, and I don’t own a pasta roller and wanted to get one before trying the pasta in this book.

I made potato gnocchi, which is the kind I had in Cleveland (you can also make them with ricotta or semolina as the defining ingredients). I started by baking some potatoes, then peeling and mashing them while still warm. (I should have let them cool a bit longer, my smarting fingertips informed me.) I worked the potatoes with some flour, salt and pepper to make a tender dough, which I divided into quarters and rolled into ropes about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. I then cut about inch-long chunks and rolled them into balls, which I then indented with my thumb as I ran the ball along a ridged surface, to create a concave dumpling with a textured underside. I don’t have pictures of this because my camera battery died at this point and I was too flour-coated to go see if I could borrow my husband’s. (He volunteered his near the end of the cooking, so I could get plate shots, and then his battery promptly died as well.)

At this point one can set the gnocchi aside in the fridge for up to three hours, but I let them rest briefly at room temperature while I got the sauce simmering. The recipe for gnocchi says they go well with just about any sauce, so I decided to take advantage of the fresh tomatoes at the Greenmarket and make a simple tomato sauce. While the potatoes were baking, I peeled, seeded and diced some tomatoes; as with the peaches, the easy way to peel a tomato is to score an x on the bottom, dunk the tomato briefly in boiling water, and then peel the now-loosened skin away. I let the tomato chunks sit in a strainer for a while so that any excess water could drain off, and in the meantime I diced a small onion and bruised some cloves of garlic by pressing them hard with the flat of a chef’s knife. When I was ready to start the sauce I poured some olive oil into a pan (more than I think was necessary — so many of the recipes I have been trying are wild with the oil) and sauteed the onion and garlic until the onions were soft and the garlic a bit darkened. Then I discarded the garlic and added the tomatoes and some salt, brought it all to a simmer, and let it cook and thicken a while. The recipe recommends 20 minutes; I let it go 30 as I got the gnocchi ready, and I think one could go a bit longer. When I decided it was done, I took it off the heat, added a bit of freshly ground pepper, and stirred in some coarsely shredded fresh basil.

Once I had the sauce under way I put a big pot of water to boil for the gnocchi. When it was nearly boiling I added salt, and when it was fully boiling I dropped in about a third of the gnocchi dumplings. They sank to the bottom and burbled along for several minutes; then they started popping up to the top, which was the sign that they were done. (I don’t have pictures of this part either, which is a shame — it’s really cool to watch.) I scooped them out with a slotted spoon as they surfaced, and dropped them into a colander for several minutes before putting them in serving dishes. I cooked the gnocchi in three batches; I could possibly have done more in each batch but you don’t want to crowd the dumplings.¬† Once they were done, I put some into bowls and added sauce. e, mangia.

The gnocchi were delicious: they had a smooth texture and a rich, subtle flavor, and the went very well with the sauce. The sauce was also delicious, bright and tomatoey and savory.

Verdict: Success. I will definitely be making these again, and soon; the cookbook advises that one can make them ahead, cook them and freeze them, so that on a busy weeknight they can go straight from the freezer into boiling water. And the sauce will be a starring player on pizza tonight.

Mediterranean Fresh: Bowls Full of Goodness

Greek country salad, peach and tomato salad, oregano garlic vinaigrette, citrus and black pepper dressing

Mediterranean Fresh is a collection of one-plate salad meals, plus a variety of dressings. The book is full of lovely, fresh offerings: green salads with sauteed mushrooms or poached eggs, parsley salad with tahini, roasted red pepper salads, figs with almonds and greens, you name it. Chef and author Joyce Goldstein draws on the flavors of southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and the results are gorgeous.

This book seemed like an excellent choice for August. Not only is salad a great choice for a warm night (well, today was a bit cooler than we’ve been, but still warm), but the Greenmarket is teeming with choices. I settled on two salads to try — Greek country salad and peach and tomato salad — and hit the Wednesday market near work during my lunch break to find tomatoes, green peppers, peaches, red onions, lettuce and cucumber.

You may recall that I made a tossed salad the other week. I do not usually toss salads together, because I hate it when the cucumbers go bad and spoil the rest of the bowl. That’s exactly what happened to the Supper Salad Bowl, so I determined not to let it happen again, and kept the ingredients separate to combine only at the plate level. I’m not sure I had to worry as much this time, though; we’re going to want to polish off the Greek country salad a lot faster.

The Greek country salad is fairly simple: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, red onion, kalamata olives, and feta. The oregano garlic vinaigrette is pretty easy as well: olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe recommends that if you have time you should warm the dressing slighly to intensify the flavors; this would probably make them very intense indeed, as the dressing at room temperature is really flavorful and a good complement to the salad. Even my husband liked it, and he’s not usually a fan of salad dressing, though this is clearly superior to any bottled, preservative- or sweetener-filled concoction.

The peach and tomato salad is also simple to make, but presents very complicated flavor combinations. The salad itself has only four ingredients — tomatoes, peaches, red onion and fresh basil — and is topped with a dressing of orange and lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and coarsely ground black pepper. The contrasting flavors play off each other. A mouthful of peach and onion together is exciting; a taste of peach and pepper is revelatory. It’s the kind of salad that deserves to be slowly nibbled and savored, but that you can barely stop yourself from gobbling down, it’s so good.

Verdict: Success. I’ve been doing a good job of bringing leftovers for lunch this week but tomorrow will definitely win the prize.

Three Bowl Cookbook: Enlightened Cooking From Zen Buddhists

quinoa tabbouleh, sweet sauteed cherry tomatoes, basil hummus

Three Bowl Cookbook is a collection of recipes from the Zen Mountain Center in the San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. The book places the recipes in the context of a Zen Buddhist lifestyle, which can be pursued through devotion to a monastic life or by simple focused awareness and intention throughout the daily course of an otherwise mainstream life. The three bowls of the title are the standard serving vessels of the monastery, one large and two smaller; the three recipes for each meal are chosen to complement one another and form a balanced, seasonally appropriate whole.

You certainly don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate the offerings in this cookbook. Roasted vegetables, grain salads, savory greens, refreshing beverages, fruit compotes, and soups are spotlighted in appealing photos. The recipes are interspersed with Zen proverbs and anecdotes from the center. I picked up the book several years ago and can hardly believe I’d never gotten around to using it.

Since it is most definitely summer here in New York, I turned to the summer section and opted for quinoa tabbouleh, sweet sauteed cherry tomatoes and basil hummus. The quinoa is for the big bowl. Quinoa is a South American grain that comes in tiny dried pellets, and cooks up to a fine-grained, high-protein base for salads and mixtures like this. I started by rinsing the quinoa well, to eliminate a residue that can give it a bitter taste, then browned it in a heavy pan before adding water and salt and cooking until the water was absorbed. Meanwhile, I diced a cucumber, a red onion, and some parsley; here we come to my first substitution for the dish, since I found I was out of fresh mint and had to use dried instead. When the quinoa was cooked I set it to cool, and whisked together a dressing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. I mixed the dressing with the cucumber mixture and the quinoa, and added some kalamata olives and crumbled feta. The resulting salad was delicious: hearty, savory and refreshing. I will definitely be making it again.

I had to do more adaptation with the hummus, first because I had neglected to notice that the recipe directed you to start with dried chickpeas instead of canned (too late to switch by the time I caught that), then because I found I had only one can of chickpeas. No problem, I thought; I’ll just halve the other ingredients, which were garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and basil leaves. I was still a little nervous, but as the food processor whirled everything but the basil leaves together I relaxed, as it became evident that the consistency would be right. And so was the taste.

The last thing to prepare was the tomatoes, partly because the recipe directs you to serve them immediately, partly because they took virtually no time. I heated some olive oil in a heavy pan (as it happened, the same one from which I had decanted the cooked quinoa), then threw in cherry tomatoes; after I’d tossed them briefly I added sugar, which made for a sort of piquant glaze. I realized as I tossed the tomatoes that while I’d gotten the proportion of oil to sugar correct I had half the tomatoes called for, so there was quite a bit of syrup left in the pan. The tomatoes were delightful; the sweet coating brought out the rich and pungent tomato flavor, though the dish may have been a bit sweeter than intended.

Verdict: Success. I’ll make this again, and perhaps I’ll learn to count in the interim. And I will definitely try menus from the other seasons at the appropriate time. I cannot say that I found enlightenment, but I found a measure of delight, and that is enough for me most days.

Smoothies: Green Fruity Goodness

kiwi kiss

I used the follow-up volume, Super Smoothies, in July, and now am turning to Smoothies. I don’t know why I took them in reverse order — some last-minute juggling of cookbooks, no doubt. This slim volume offers 50 fresh and drinkable recipes, on pages that are mostly readable. A book designer got a little overenthusiastic with these two books; it is really not necessary for pages to feature bright background colors and for type to be pale and hard to discern.

Happily, the kiwi kiss fell within a series of pages that used black type. Kiwi kiss is simple: dice 1 3/4 cups of kiwi (about 3, peeled) and 1 cup of honeydew melon, and put it in a food processor with 1 1/2 cups of lime sherbet. Only I didn’t actually have lime sherbet, because I couldn’t find it at the neighborhood grocery store. I might have been able to find it if I’d trekked to the other stores in the area, but then again I might not have, and when it’s about 90 out I lack the patience for such investigative rambles. So I improvised: I used lemon Italian ice and added a squirt of lime juice.

The smoothie tasted great, and was pretty. The recipe advised using a food processor instead of a blender to minimize the chance of crushing the black seeds, which would impart a bitter taste to the drink. It must have worked: no bitterness here.

Verdict: Success. I’ll have to try some of the other recipes before the summer is out.

***

This time I only took one more picture than I ended up using in my blog post. But did you know I usually take a lot more photos when I prepare these recipes? You can see the whole set here on my Flickr page, and you can leave comments there as well if you like.

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.

500 Delicious Salads: Well, Two, at Any Rate

pear salad with ginger cheese; supper salad bowl

500 Delicious Salads is the second of three of these pamphlets I have that date from about 1940 and offer rather fewer recipes than advertised. Last month we tried out 500 Tasty Sandwich Recipes, and they were not bad. I thought the salad book would offer a lot of options, and it did, if I liked gelatin or tongue or shaping pear halves and cottage cheese into bunnies. (Which are kind of cute, in a creepy way.) But I found two recipes fully worthy to try: pear salad with ginger cheese, and supper salad bowl.

Supper salad bowl is effectively a hearty tossed salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs as the protein offering that makes it a complete meal. (More bacon, you say? Well, yes.) I did not have a wooden salad bowl, which is kind of a shame; the recipe directs you to rub a cut garlic clove all over the surface of your bowl, and I suspect it didn’t have the same effect on our plastic Tupperware bowl. But I did it anyway, and proceeded to layer in lettuce (no specifics given; I chose green leaf), chicory, cucumbers, scallions, radishes and celery. I was supposed to add tomatoes as well, but I didn’t have any and by the time I realized that I didn’t feel like running out for some, particularly since my only nearby options would be your standard mealy and flavorless grocery store tomatoes. If I do this again I’ll have to make sure I plan around a Greenmarket shopping trip, because the tomatoes would have been a nice complement to the chicory.

Chicory was a bit of a surprise to me, actually; I’ve never used it before, and if I’ve consumed it at all it can only have been in coffee that was thinned out with chicory. (Does anyone else remember that? It seems not to be a common thing any more to see chicory substituted for coffee, and I for one am glad.) It’s a thin leaf with a prominent center stem, with the leaf serrated along it. I wasn’t sure whether one is supposed to eat the stems as well, but for the sake of keeping my salad bowl from overflowing I discarded the thickest stems. Chicory has a somewhat bitter taste, so it gives some depth to a tossed salad such as this.

I was also supposed to sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the whole salad and ring the edge with the hard-boiled egg slices. But this week my husband has been waylaid by a gout attack, and he’s been trying to limit his protein intake, so I put the bacon and eggs on the side. I was also supposed to offer an herbed vinaigrette, but we seldom use salad dressing and I found this one quite flavorful enough without it.

I did make the orange vinaigrette for the pear salads, though. These were delightful. You serve pear halves on watercress; fill the cored middle with a dollop of ginger cream cheese, which is cream cheese mixed with crystallized ginger and a bit of cream for texture; and drizzle on a bit of orange vinaigrette. The ginger cream cheese was so delicious I could hardly see straight. It would be great in other recipes: as a filling for sandwich cookies (ginger or lemon), as a frosting for pound cake, as a ribbon in ice cream. (Seriously, now I really want to get an ice cream maker so I can play in this manner.) The combination of pear, cheese, ginger and orange was refreshing, almost dessert-like. I will definitely be making that one again.

Verdict: Success. I must say these booklets that I got for Recipes of the Damned really do offer some delicious dishes. I’ve done surprisingly well with them. Of course, I know my luck is sure to change by the time I get to The Twinkies Cookbook next June, if not before then. (There is still Jell-O ahead, after all.)

No recipe post today, but a response to Pollan

I’ve finally had time to organize my thoughts about Michael Pollan’s NYT essay “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.” Check it out at Recipes of the Damned.

Tomorrow: Salad.

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.