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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old Cookbooks

        January afternoons, while my mother rested upstairs in her bedroom, I went through her cook book collection. Of course, she had some new, modern ones, favorites of todays cooks, some that I have myself. But I was attracted like a moth to a flame to the old ones on the shelf. Most I remembered from when I was home. A teenage girl on a fantastic foray into cooking and baking. I flip through the pages and I see my old tried and true recipes that are smudged and spotted with old messes. I see where my sisters and I have jotted down funny little bits of advice, our hand writing unpolished and our spelling atrocious. I see where mom, too, has noted her thoughts. "Not good." "Tough"." Needs more liquid." " Used prunes instead of apricots." "Only bake 30 mins." "Very good." Definitely trial and error cook books!
         I scan the front pages, seeing that these books were published in the early sixties. The pictures are garish. Brightly colored and gaudy. The cooks are wearing shirtwaist dresses, nylons and heels. They have pearls, and clean flirty aprons. Their hair is perfect and their fingers manicured. The pictured kitchens are shiny white with red counter tops and linoleum floors. I see myself, my worn out kitchen, my hardwood floor with the finish completely walked off. I have aprons, but they have wrinkles and splotches and I usually forget to wear them, any way. My hair gets scrunched up in a messy bun,so as to not get any hair in the cooking. My fingersnails have dough under them when I bake bread, and I always have flour drifted around the floor.
        I remember that my mother really looked like those pictures. Does she wonder where she went wrong, seeing me so casually going about the serious job of keeping a family happy? These books start with the nitty gritty.  They tell you how to boil eggs. How to peel a tomato. How to clean your sink and set a proper table. How to pluck a chicken. Where all the cuts of meat are on an animal carcass. All with pictures and drawings.
       They tell you how to select the right coffee pot. How to make every kind of coffee... who knew... boiled coffee, drip coffee, percolator coffee, vacumn coffee and even instant coffee. How they make coffee in different countries. In Belgium you will fill your cup with sweetened meringue and then pour hot black coffee over the meringue. In Hawaii you will soak cocoanut overnight in hot milk. In the morning you will strain it and add hot coffee to the cocoanut milk. In Turkey you will heat sugar and coffee to a boil three times, until it is frothy, and then you will drink small cups of froth. In the West Indies you will pour milk and brown sugar into your coffee and stir it with a cinnamon stick. Lets try these, and see if we can do better than Starbucks!
        They tell you how to make tea. Real tea. With a teapot, tea leaves and a strainer. How to combine different teas, for different flavours. How to pour boiling water into your teapot and swirl it around, then pour it out and then put in your tea water. It seems like a lot of monkey business, but it will make a "perfect cup of tea".
         It gives us the history of cocoa. Did you know? Hernando Cortez was the first Englishman to taste hot chocolate. It was served to him by the emperor of the Aztecs. He brought it back to London in 1657. There Chocolate Houses became the fashionable establishments of the day. To make hot chocolate French style, you would fill your cup half full of whipped cream them pour your hot chocolate over the cream.
         Waffles? The knight sat on the bread dough with his suit of mail. Of course they did not waste, so they cooked it up, and loved the way you could fill up the indentations! Believe it? Annadama bread? You might have had some of this. It is made with molasses and corn meal. Apparently the New England fisherman got tired of his Anna always making cornmeal molasses bread. He thought she was being lazy. So he said "Anna, damn her!" Are we swearing if we call it Annadama bread?
         All flour is sifted in these recipes. I remember doing that. It was fun, and the flour (on a piece of wax paper that you carefully lifted up and poured into your bowl) came out in a smooth white mountain. If you had the kitchen to yourself, you could get wild, and really turn that crank! Made the flour fly! If you had a Hoosier cabinet, it had a built in flour bin and sifter, and was very handy.
         No microwave directions in these books. But step by step guides for roasting meat, making pie crust, baking bread, canning vegetables and making jam. Lots of gelatin salads and aspics. Does any one make aspic any more? Lady Baltimore cake. Seven minute frosting. Green Goddess dressing. Doesn't that sound fabulous? Madrilone.. what is that, I wonder? "Heat equal amounts of bullion, chicken broth and tomato juice. Garnish with lemon." Then what? Eat it like soup? It sounds sort of good...  Veloute sauce. It means velvet. "Cook 2 Tblsp. butter and 2 Tblsp. flour until smooth. Add 1 cup chicken stock, salt and white pepper to taste and add 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Cook until smooth and bubbly." If you want Bechamel sauce you will add paprika and 1/2 cup cream. One day I shall have to try this!
        Need to beat eggs? Are you whipping cream, or making an angel cake? You have an egg beater. It has a hand crank, too, Its a step up from using a spoon, I suppose. It takes along time. You take turns beating with your siblings.

        Have you ever seen the Joy of Cooking cook book? Its thick, every page filled with tiny print. No pictures. Just recipes, recipes, for every thing you can imagine and then some. You would not have known there was that many things to cook in all this world. And we stick to our few favorites! Where is our imagination and daring? We need to curl up and read some old cook books.
         Yet, with all our modern conveniences, life in the kitchen being so much easier, how is it that we don't get near as much done? And why don't we look so polished and elegant? Have a beautiful day in the kitchen!
          From Reading Cookbooks at my Mothers on January Afternoons.


  1. I love cookbooks. Mostly for reading. My favorite is the Betty Crocker we got as a wedding gift. I cook from it. Manda wanted one just like it. I found one for her at Alibris. It is considered vintage now!!??

  2. This made me smile mom. I too love cookbooks, it's funny that even food is trendy. i wonder what my kids will say of our day now? So quaint?

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  7. I love cookbooks but just learned about béchamel sauce while googling "making sausage gravy for a crowd". Of course I've made it before but didn't know the fancy name for it. I use online recipes a lot but cookbooks are still my favorite.