Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you and all your kin!

No, I don't use the word "kin" in casual conversation but the song "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" does...and it also mentions figgy recipe I don't have!

Today's recipe is a tried-and-true and it's one of the few I remember actually making along side Grandma, but for Halloween. I recall Grandma making her famous Popcorn Ball recipe twice a year -- Halloween and Christmas. When she lived in her mid century modern house, it was on a secluded street with very few trick-or-treaters so she would make the homemade popcorn balls, much to my dismay.

"But they are not store-bought!" I would exclaim -- at the dawn of the if-its-store-bought-it-must-be-safe era in the mid 1980s. But Grandma would just nod and smile and say that everyone on the block knew her and it was all right -- said in the same way she would bid at the local auction barn -- an all-knowing look and a nod.

The popcorn balls were placed precisely in a mahogany wood bowl by the front door each year for any neighborhood kids who would happen by. At Christmas that same bowl usually held Overnight Salad and I am pleased to have that bowl in my possession now. Though I did not get around to making them this year here is the newer, more modern version of Popcorn Balls courtesy of my Aunt Sue.

Grandma's Popcorn Balls -- Modern Version

3 bags of "natural" microwave popcorn (buttered versions won't work)
1 stick butter
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar

Pop corn and remove all virgins, up-popped kernels, divide between two 13x9 pans

Bring the other ingredients to a boil, once it begins to boil do not stir.  Let it boil at medium high heat for exactly 10 minutes.

Pour syrup over the two pans of popcorn and stir rapidly to coat the popcorn.  Form balls quickly.   This process is best done with two people, one stirring, while the other begins forming the balls.  Only a couple of minutes before the syrup sets up and the ball won't hold together.  Work very quickly.  Makes 12-14 large popcorn balls.


Merry Christmas all!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Cheer

'Tis the Season to Be Jolly....





Hello again Loyal Readers....It's been many weeks since my last blog post....not very Mid-Century Modern of me. By December 15 Grandma would have gifts for 20 purchased, wrapped and ready along with batches of cookies, divinity, and popcorn balls. She would have also been to cookie exchanges, holiday parties, church events, and then by Christmas Day she worked her magic celebrating with the family. Whew!

Today's 2000s woman (I need to coin a cool name....I am open to suggestions) has a bit of a different approach. Eliminate & Delegate. That's what my busy friends do and it works for them. Every year I say that I will Eliminate (never happens) and Delegate (I am warming to the idea) but it just doesn't seem like Christmas without certain tangibles. After all, in the 1950s it was up to the Woman of the House to create the Christmas magic and that, dear readers, is essentially still true today.

Like your family, Christmas with the Nebergalls always had certain Christmas culinary mainstays and I'd love to share ours with you today. I actually don't have the time to make the recipes today (Eliminate) but I'd love to encourage you all to try them (Delegate)....whew! That was easier to do than I thought! And I don't have a functioning candy thermometer right now and it's unseasonable warm and humid today (I have no moniker to insert here, just TWO excuses!)

Divinity Candy
This recipe is Nebergall lore. It's as special to our family as the secret recipe for KFC's secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. The only difference is that we are willing to share the secret with anyone. Just don't make this on a humid day. It may not set. 

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, beaten to a froth

Cook the sugar, syrup, and water till it hard-balls in cold water then pour over the beaten eggs

This is the recipe exactly as written. You may want to google it for more info and specifics. 
This page of the notebook is splattered, torn and well-used... the most-used page in the book! 

Divinity was one of Grandma's trademarks. In college I once remarked to a friend that my Grandmother's divinity was the best in the world he requested it specifically for a music-school reception. Even though it was October, Grandma happily obliged. Grandma also once told me that if the phone ever rang while she was making the recipe she would promptly say to the bewildered caller, "I am making divinity and I must hang up."

Cinnamon Apple Salad

Some version of these apples appeared each Christmas -- I remember the apples both whole and in slices, though Grandma made the filling with cream cheese instead of cottage cheese and omitted the celery. The cinnamon candies are Red Hots and each year there was a discussion as to what store was still carrying them that year. Both recipes appear. Since the recipe had three entries in the notebook, I included them all here. 

6 apples
1/2 c cinnamon candies
 2 c. water
Red vegetable coloring (if desired)
1/4 c nuts
1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c cottage cheese
Lettuce or endive

Peel and core apples leaving large opening. Combine candies and water. Bring to boiling point. Drop in apples and simmer just until tender. Remove and chill. Combine nuts, celery, and cottage cheese and moisten with mayonnaise. Fill center openings of apple and place on lettuce leaves or endive. Serves 6.

Cinnamon Apple Rings

1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup red candies
4 apples -- peeled and cut into rings
1 t red coloring

Cinnamon-Apple Salad -- Better Homes and Gardens, November 1951

6 apples
1/2 cup red cinnamon candies
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons broken nuts
10 dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup diced pineapple
1/4 cup salad dressing

Pare and core the apples. Cook candies and sugar in water until dissolved; add whole apples and cook slowly until just tender. Drain. Chill. Stuff centers with combined remaining ingredients. Serve on lettuce or garnish with watercress. Serves 6

Next week: More holiday favorites! Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's November. Where has the time gone? Since my last blog post (September!) there have been the usual day-to-day happenings of football games, school events, illness, social events, family gatherings....whew!

Today's recipe was perfect for our busy weekend...8 ingredients, done. Since the weather was spotty enough for an indoor kind of day cooking seemed like a good outlet. Chili was in the crock-pot and the extra hour from Daylight Savings Time left me an hour to squeeze in Apple Cake.

Jotted on the blank side of a bridge tally the recipe cautions the cook "No Liquid!". Yep -- a cake with no added liquid. This reminded me of the more modern-day Dump Cake but those usually call for a box mix and a can of pie filling. Not this Apple Cake....I was curious.

Apple Cake

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup oleo
1 cup flour
1/2 t soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
2 cups thinly sliced apple

No Liquid!

Cream butter and sugar. Sift together flour, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add to sugar mixture. Add nuts and apples last. Bake at 325-350 for 30 minutes or until done. Serves 6.

I grabbed the ingredients -- by the way, I used butter not oleo. Ick. I also added a pinch of salt for good measure. Everything else was straight forward. Two cups thinly sliced apples equaled roughly 2 and a half apples, I used Honeycrisp. I poured the crumbly batter into a greased, square stoneware pan, baked for 30 minutes until slightly browned. Out of the oven the cake looked more moist than when it went in but some of the crumbles remained, kind of like a cobbler. I put the pan at the back of the stove until after dinner.

Later in the evening, with some sweetened whipped cream, I served the "cake" it cobbler really. It had a nice, sweet flavor quite a crunch around the edges but soft and juicy closer to the center. Next time I will bake a little less and perhaps even add another apple for more moistness. For a quick week-night dessert, this is a go-to. You're bound to have everything on hand!

It's been a year since Grandma's passing and though she's not around, working on this blog makes me think sometimes she really is we are doing this together. In some ways, I suppose we are.

Soup can score -- Four and a half cans out of five

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Crunchy Apple Dessert

Happy Fall! Though the Fall season doesn't technically begin until next week, Fall was in the air this weekend. Football, a trip to the apple orchard, perfect weather and a bonfire -- a recipe for fun.

With my fridge fully stocked with apples (Michigan ones.....the local orchard lost 70% of their crop this year to inclement weather)  I began the first in a series of apple-related notebook recipes. Today's installment is a hand-written recipe at the bottom of a well-splattered page. Whether or not Grandma ever made this one I don't know but it was worth a try.

Crunchy Apple Dessert 

1 cup sugar
1 T flour
1 t baking powder
2 eggs, separated
1 cup diced apples
1 cup nut meats
1 t vanilla
1/4 t salt

Sift dry ingredients. Add well-beaten yolks, diced apple, nuts, salt, and vanilla. Mix well. Carefully fold in beaten egg whites. Bake slowly, 1 hr. 350.

Upon the first read I figured this dessert would come out cobbler-like. At the store I stocked up on vanilla frozen yogurt and cool whip as accompaniments, the rest I had on hand.

Sift dry ingredients -- sift sugar? Ok, if the recipe says so. There was only 1 tablespoon of flour listed plus the salt and baking powder, in the sieve it went with the sugar. Done. One cup of apple? I put in a bit more, two apples total. One cup nut meats? I chose pecans and I coarsely chopped them. On to the eggs. I found the egg white thing to be strange but I dutifully hauled out the stand mixer and whipped the egg whites until soft peaks formed and yes, I carefully folded them into the rest of the ingredients listed. The batter came together nice -- oops -- almost forgot the vanilla. No pan size was listed so I pulled out a Pyrex pie plate, lightly coated it with cooking spray. Did they have that in the early 50s? No time to research that. Into the oven.

I napped on the porch. I awoke to the fragrant apple-pie-type-smell and took the dish out of the oven, nicely browned.

After dinner, moment of truth. I scooped the dessert into bowls and topped with vanilla frozen yogurt. Would it pass the test?

Crunchy Apple Dessert

Sadly, no. The taste was slightly confusing. Was it a cobbler or pecan pie? The nutty taste and the lack of apples really put it into the pecan-pie-with-no-crust category. If you are a fan, this might be a recipe for you but for me the texture was palatable, made light with the addition of the beaten egg whites, but nothing outstanding. The apples sort of disintegrated and it lacked the hearty apple substance I was looking for. No problem. There are plenty more apples in the drawer!

Soup Can Score -- One out of Five Soup Cans

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Graham Bread

Happy Sunday all!

Today's item is called Graham Bread submitted by the very ambitious home cook, Mrs. Jesse Anderson. This particular clipping is from the column titled "A Little Bit of Everything", a column Grandma seemed to enjoy for there are dozens pasted in the notebook. Mrs. Anderson evidently submitted everything within the entire column for the tag line reads "Our thanks to Mrs. Jesse Anderson for the entire column". With all of her likely chores, Mrs. Anderson still had time to sit down and prepare a submission? The first recipe listed is Graham Bread, then White Cake (Inexpensive), Caramels, and an epic tome titled "How to Preserve a Husband". More on that later.

Now that fall is in the air, I chose Graham Bread to accompany a hearty Sunday vegetable soup. I liked the recipe did not call for yeast (yes!) and I happened to have graham flour on hand. It was meant to be.

Graham Bread

(1 large loaf or two small)
1 pint sour milk ( or 1/2 cup sour cream and 1 1/2 cups sour milk)
1 teaspoon salt
2 level teaspoons soda
1 cup sugar (scant)
2 cups graham flour (level)
1 cup white flour (level)

Nuts and raisins can be added if desired but very good without. Bake in bread pan in slow oven until thoroughly done 30 to 40 minutes (350 oven)

Like many of the clipped recipes in Grandma's notebook it is understood the home cook has a working knowledge of the proper sequence for the ingredients listed plus the appropriate technique. I have a clue for the most part -- like dry ingredients in baked good are usually incorporated into the liquid ingredients -- so I hauled out the mixer and started gathering ingredients.

With everything lined up on the kitchen counter I noticed there was no egg in the recipe. Interesting. How would the bread rise with no egg or yeast? Then I remembered my mom's recipe for an Irish Soda Bread where the acidity of buttermilk (or clabbered milk) reacts with salt and baking soda to provide loft. I ran to my card file and pulled it out -- sure enough the recipes were practically identical. I now knew how to proceed. No mixer necessary!

First I adjusted my pan size. The Irish soda bread mom makes fills a two-quart casserole, certainly not a loaf pan. That's why Mrs. Anderson said her recipe makes two loaves -- two full-size bread pans that is! I combined first all of the dry ingredients and a cup of golden raisins (better for baking than traditional ones, in my opinion) but no nuts. I then dumped the entire pint of buttermilk over the whole thing and I folded the batter just enough to make a moist dough. Into a greased Pyrex casserole it went and into the oven for 30 minutes. After 30, the toothpick test failed. Still doughy. No prob. Back in for 7 more minutes and this time  = success. From the other room Max inquired about the smell and asked if he could have some. Yep -- as soon as it cooled! I turned the huge loaf onto a cooling rack and then we sliced off an end....warm, fragrant, and hearty.

Later, with the bread accompanying the veggie soup, we slathered it with butter and I personally polished off two more pieces. Mmmm....the three of us declared it a success!!

Soup Can Score -- Five out of Five Soup Cans

This recipe will be a permanent fixture in our repertoire. Homemade, fresh bread with no preservatives in under an hour? You bet!

In this salute to Mrs. Jesse Anderson I share with you her essay on how "preserve" a husband -- and a lucky guy he is indeed. Read on:

How to Preserve a Husband

Be careful in your selection, do not choose too young and take only such varieties as have been reared in a good moral atmosphere. When once decided upon and selected, let that part remain forever settled, and give your entire thought to preparation for domestic use. Some insist in keeping them in a pickle, while others are constantly getting them into hot water. Even poor varieties may be made sweet, tender and good by garnishing them with patience, well sweetened with smiles and flavored with kisses to taste; then wrap them well in a mantle of charity, keep warm in a steady file of devotion and serve with peaches and cream. When thus prepared, they will keep for years. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Three Labor Day Meals

Happy Labor Day!

A time to reflect on the labors of the America Worker and the inherent struggles -- past, present, and future. My "labor" today is a different kind of work -- within the job description and apron of the 1950s   housewife.

Grandma's notebook includes several of the Daily News' Cooking School columns penned by the 1950s cooking expert, Mary Starr (see blog about sandwich spreads). Within these columns are printed menu suggestions for the day, presumably to give the woman of the house some ideas for the week. Menu suggestions are always entertaining to read but I personally have never cooked ANY preprinted menus (not even a Martha Stewart menu!) for a myriad of reasons....mainly time.

So how much TIME did a typical 50s woman spend in the kitchen each day? Around 20 hours a week.  Today's woman spends an average of 35 hours at her JOB in the 2000s....married women who don't work spend an average of two hours in the kitchen each day. Women who do work and women who are in higher income brackets spend from 45 to 30 minutes cooking each day. Let's see where my Labor Day stacks up.

The Daily News
Cooking School 
by Mary Starr

Menus for Thursday

Orange Juice
Crisp Rice Cereal
Poached egg on Tost
Frizzled Ham
Coffee, milk

Frankfurters with Sauerkraut
Green Bean Salad
Hard Rolls
Lemon Tarts
Milk, tea

Rice meat balls
Tomato Sauce
Buttered Noodles
Broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce
Pumpernickle Bread
Date Whip

7:00 a.m. Rise and shine. Coffee. Paper. Porch.
7:40 a.m. Putting away all of yesterday's dishes still in the drainer. Begin breakfast menu.

The first thing I notice is the absence of fresh fruit. Well, orange juice, but no fruit. Not sure from what season this menu might be. I fill the saucepan with water, bring it up to a simmer for the eggs. I have whole wheat bread of the toast, ham slices for the frizzled ham which, by the way, is just ham fried up in a pan until it kind of curls up around the edges. According to the internet, frizzled ham is usually made with lunch meat. I have ham slices on hand so no fried bologna here. Crisp Rice cereal? Yup. Plus Max gets the cocoa kind -- lucky guy. Poached eggs -- I remember the vinegar trick and I dump some in just before the eggs. I crack the eggs into a cup and roll them into the simmering water just like you see on TV. But they don't coagulate right away and the water looks more like egg-drop soup. Ick. Then as I let the pan simmer for a few minutes they take shape. I drain them on paper towels and plop them onto the buttered toast. Perfect! Whew!

8:00 a.m. Eating the breakfast. Quite good. And in only 20 minutes! Just imagine if I'd had to actually fix my hair and put on clothes and makeup beforehand....Would have had to get up at 6:00 a.m. on a holiday. No good.
Labor Day Breakfast

9:40 a.m. Begin lemon tarts for lunch in between laundry, a jigsaw puzzle, and locating the play-doh bin. I remember seeing a post on the web from a lady saying she remembers her own mother cooking one meal and then immediately beginning the next one. I understand the feeling.

The lemon tarts are a short-cut recipe I found online....pie crust rounds into mini-muffin pans, top with a lemon pudding mix with garnish on top. They had boxed lemon pudding back then so I figured why not? Max and I cut the pie crust dough into rounds, tamp the rounds into the greased muffin cups and bake at 450 for 7 min. We mix the 4-serving size box instant lemon pudding with one cup milk. Next, the zest on one lemon for good measure (thanks to Max for zesting). After the shells cool I fill them up with the lemon mixture and top each with a blueberry. Done! Max gets the leftover dough scraps to play with. It's a win-win. Into the fridge the tarts go until lunch.
Lemon Tarts

10:10 a.m. Wash kitchen floor with ammonia water. Long overdue -- had to be done.
10:30 a.m. Kitchen closed

12:00 p.m. Begin to prepare lunch. Yikes! John reminds me he has football today so lunch has to be served STAT, he wants to leave by 1:00. I whirl around the kitchen and start the green bean salad first. I have a pound of fresh garden green beans from our yard so this is an easy one. Steam them for 6 min, shock in cold water, add a pint of cherry tomatoes (also homegrown), a cucumber and slices of red onion. A few glugs of olive oil and juice of a lemon (Max juices it for me), salt and pepper. Done. Frankfurters and kraut? I throw them in all in a pan with a bit of water and let it simmer. The hard rolls are courtesy of the Target bakery and though the menu called for milk and tea I skip both. Water is nature's best hydrator.
12:35 p.m. EAT. John is lucky I can cook as quickly as I do. I feel like Rachael Ray with a 30-min meal! The recipes were all quite good though it feels funny to have a "hot" lunch, like I was at a cafeteria or something. The green bean salad is quite good and the lemon tarts are good but I would have preferred a lemon curd rather than a lemon pudding.

Labor Day Lunch

1:10 p.m. Finished cleaning up kitchen. Whew. Siesta? Not yet. I look at the dinner menu and remember to make the Date Whip. This recipe was a mystery to me but not the lady who collects the recipes from the backs of old, vintage packages -- including the back of a box of dates! Visit her at:

Max strolls in as I am whipping egg whites and adding the allspice and vanilla. He crushes a cup of graham crackers for me and we combine all of it with a cup of freshly-whipped cream. We take a taste -- decidedly different but very good! Tastes like a spice cookie or gingerbread. VERY sweet. Yum! Into the fridge 'til later. 

1:36 p.m. Run the dishwasher with all the day's dishes in it. Sit to write this blog. 
2:45 p.m. Siesta
3:15 p.m. Outside to play
4:30 p.m. Lego. I build a campground for Harry Potter and a few of his friends.
5:00 p.m. Cook dinner. I start with the meatballs. I actually have a recipe in my personal box for a ground beef and rice meatball with a tomato sauce so why not? They are called Porcupine Meatballs and they have a sauce made with tomato soup that I remember as a child. Pretty good stuff! I grab an extra lean beef, mix it with garlic, onion, parboiled rice, 1/4 cup tomato soup and an egg. It made 16 meatballs that I browned in EVOO on the stove. They stick to the pan but eventually release as they cook longer. I add water, the rest of the soup and yellow mustard to make a simmering sauce. The meatballs simmered for 20 minutes. Next -- tackle the hollandaise sauce. 

On the web there are loads of hollandaise recipes. Most are loaded with egg yolks and butter. I only needed to make a small quantity so I decided to make modifications. One yolk, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a squirt of Dijon mustard. I ignore Tyler Florence and his double boiler, I also ignore other suggestions to haul out food processors, blenders, and immersion blenders. Nope. Going commando here. I simply whip the yolk and lemon juice to emulsify and then I slowly add the butter and lastly the mustard. It doesn't break at the low temperature. Hot water thins it as it thickens too much. Authentic? Maybe not but it works. 

Buttered noodles? Easy. Pumpernickle bread? Pepperidge Farm, thank you. I even butcher a watermelon and Max and I call it dinner. John is not home from football so I make him a bento box of  homemade goodness for tomorrow. The menu calls for coffee. Nope, not me. When I've cooked like it's Thanksgiving I go for the Malbec. Yum. 

Max and I dine on the porch with the fading evening light glowing on our family table. Max says it's the best meal ever. I agree. I think Grandma would too. 

7:00 p.m. DONE

How much time did I spend in the kitchen today? Just a hair under 5 hours. Yikes. And our Grandmothers used to do this EVERY DAY? A sobering thought. However, the nice thing about today is I feel full all day long. No snacking for me, not even a thought of snacking. The meals are balanced (except fruit??), a bit carb-heavy with the starches and desserts but calorie wise, not too bad. John and I run the stats and breakfast clocks in around 550 calories, lunch also around 550. Dinner? Not quite sure but around 850 -- 900 calories. That puts me around 2000 for the day. Not exactly weight loss territory but not overreaching, either. I enjoy the challenge....and another bonus presents itself -- all the yummy comfort food with my family? Priceless.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blueberry Butter Cake

Hello all!

Using up the bounty of the season? If you have blueberries -- fresh or frozen -- you will want to make this recipe for Blueberry Butter Cake. Fabulous!

I was flipping through the notebook the other day, paying particular attention to any seasonal recipes that might catch my fancy. After all, Grandma grew up on a very prosperous farm in north-central Illinois and when describing it to me she often said "we didn't want for anything". However, Grandma would also speak of her lack of kitchen experience in her youth -- Aunt Evelyn (age 101 this August 18) is several years older and was usually the one to help out in the kitchen. I don't think Grandma was ever one to grown her own garden or can food for the winter, at least that I know of, but she always had a deep appreciation for anything homegrown or locally produced. It was from her I learned what a "Farmer's Market" was. Her favorite purchases included fresh flowers, tomatoes and blueberries. I don't know if Grandma ever baked this recipe for Blueberry Butter Cake but I would have recommended it to her. This one's for you Grandma!

Blueberry Butter Cake -- submitted by Mrs. Earl Metz

2 cups blueberries
Juice 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3 T butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sifted flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

1 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Line a well-greased 8x8x2 pan with berries and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cream sugar and butter together; add milk alternately with flour, baking powder, and salt which have been sifted together. Pour this batter evenly over blueberries. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Sprinkle over top of cake. Pour boiling water over all and bake at 375 degrees for one hour. 6 servings.

Sugar Sugar

Darn! I'd made the shopping trip of the week and discovered I only had 3/4 sup sugar in the house -- including the opening and dumping of any sugar packets I had on hand. Ok, enough for the cake but not for the topping. I ran to the neighbors' house and she generously gave me what she had -- a cup and a half. I once heard that it is possible to cut up to one-half of the sugar listed in just about any recipe (baked goods included) and the recipe would maintain it's crumb, texture and browning capabilities. I put that theory to the test. I used the entire 3/4 cup for the cake portion as written and then only 1/2 cup for the topping -- exactly half. But would it work?

Boiling Water

Pour boiling water over all? Strange to me because the berries and the batter really resembled a shortcake-style cobbler in the pan. The sugar/cornstarch mixture, also a little different to me, resembled the makings of a crunchy topping. But it was all good as it was. Why ruin it by pouring a cup of boiling water all over?? But this being a true-to-the-recipe kind of blog, I poured on. With the addition of the water the cake looked like it was a loose, runny mess. I popped it into the 375 oven anyway. After 20 minutes the cake firmed up nicely. After 45 minutes the cake was a nice deep brown in places and the blueberries had erupted to the surface and resulted in a very cobbler-like dish.

However, the boiling water concept had me feeling curious -- a quick Google search revealed that these "self-saucing puddings" have a genre all their own, perhaps being better known as "pudding cakes". There were recipes out there for chocolate ones, date ones, and lo and behold -- the exact same recipe as I've written it above!! Some nice lady named Gertrude posted it to under the name "Gertrude's Blueberry Batter Cake". Not so strange after all I suppose!

The Verdict

Even after running out of sugar and reducing it to 1/2 cup the crust had a nice snap when I spooned out a serving. The blueberries had completely melted into a jelly-like goodness that held it's shape and texture. Didn't miss the extra 1/2 cup sugar. And the taste? Perfect. Like a blueberry pie only better, cake-like and homemade.

Soup Can Score -- Five cans out of Five
Get yourself some blueberries and make this! Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream....yum!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chocolate Drop Cookies

I was tired of Jell-O for now so here's an interesting cookie. Interesting because of the sugar content and the type of batter. Remember the Filled Oatmeal Cookies? Just brown sugar, no white sugar. Well, in this cookie we repeat history.

There is no credit for this recipe, it's just written in pencil in Grandma's neat, thin hand.

Chocolate Drop Cookies

1 beaten egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup shortening
2 squares chocolate melted
1 2/3 cup cake flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t soda
1/2 cup sweet or sour milk
1/2 cup nuts

Beat egg until light, add sugar and mix well. Add vanilla then shortening which has been mixed with melted chocolate; blend well. Sift flour with salt and soda and add alternately with milk; add nuts. Drop small portions of greased baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake 350 10-12 minutes. While still warm, frost with butter cocoa frosting.

All purpose flour vs cake flour -- head to head

This recipe was a great choice for a busy day -- I had everything on hand including the leftover cake flour from the orange cake. However, I have been leery of that bag of cake flour every since the Orange Cake turned out funny in texture. Still, this was a chance to use some of it up.

According to the web, more protein exists in all purpose flour therefore giving more structure and density to the everyday baked goods -- think loaves of quick bread, etc. I wanted to be true to the recipe and have a structured cookie so I chose a moderate solution -- 1 cup all-purpose and 2/3 cup cake flour, sifted according to direction.

Baker's Chocolate?

2 squares chocolate, melted....Back in the day, Baker's chocolate (brand) would have been one of two options for a chocolate-based cookie. The other 1950s option was to use 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to equal each one-ounce square of chocolate. I had squares so the recipe received squares -- but not Baker's brand. I keep either Ghirardelli or Lindt on hand, for cocoa powder it's Scharffenberger. Just my opinion but these brands are superior -- and all three brands of chocolate set off my spell-check and auto-correct. Sheesh! (Oh -- I cheated and microwaved the chocolate on half power for a riggin and dirtying a double-boiler here!)

Sweet and Sour

1/2 cup sweet or sour milk...I chose the "sweet" because it's all I had, though it was skim milk, though I bet buttermilk would be good in a chocolate cookie recipe. Sweet vs sour is funny because today we certainly don't call milk sweet or sour -- sour milk has a nose-wrinkling connotation that doesn't work with the senses. Call it buttermilk and we think mmmmm....scones, cakes, biscuits!


Not's hard to get Max to eat a cookie with nuts...I opted for an equivalent measure of chocolate chips. Nestle manufactured the chips as early as 1939 so it's historically correct in my opinion. Plus -- this would make the cookie a double chocolate cookie....even better!


The dough came together easily. The only oddity was the step combining the shortening and melted chocolate, though, it worked brilliantly as the warm liquid chocolate melted and softened the shortening somewhat allowing the mixture to be incorporated into the wet and dry ingredients without unsightly lumps. The dough also turned out to be as soft and silky as cake batter...interesting!

Super-Size Me

Ok, I know cookie sizes have changed dramatically in the past 60 years. There was no specific measurement in this one but MY cookie scoop is a 2-Tablespoon size. Gulp! This is probably double the size of a prim and proper 1950s cookie drop. I DID skip the buttercream frosting however, because there was no recipe for it that I could find in the notebook. Skipping the frosting alone saved calories, right??

The Ruling

After baking for exactly 10 minutes in a 350 oven the cookies came out soft, pillowy, and very light in texture -- almost like an angel-food brownie. They tasted very brownie-like but not at all fudgy. QUite good! The chocolate chips turned out to be a good addition -- they beefed up the texture a bit. Frosting? Yeah, would have been really good. If I fine the recipe. I'll let you know. Happy baking!

 Soup Can Score -- Four out of Five soup cans

Monday, July 23, 2012

Frozen Fruit Salad

More hot weather....inventing new and creative ways to stay cool in a town that has no public swimming pools...why not frozen treats? Move over's time for frozen fruit salad!

Frozen Fruit Salad is one of over a dozen Jell-O-based recipes in the notebook. It's a recipe I actually remember Grandma making for a special lunch in honor of our French foreign-exchange student Marion who visited for two consecutive summers while we were both in high school. Grandma had always served wonderful family dinners but this may have been one of the few "luncheons" I had the pleasure of enjoying. Now the word luncheon sounds a bit formal in this case (its connotation is usually bridge club, church circle, etc.) because on this occasion it was merely Marion, Grandma and me at the dining room table on a hot summer afternoon. Grandma made a corned-beef and noodle casserole, sliced some thick fresh tomatoes and presented this creamy lime frozen Jell-O salad on a lettuce leaf. Tres chic, non?

The salad appears three times in the notebook -- once as a recipe, again in a list of what I presume are favorites listed on the last page, and in a margin of a specific luncheon menu dated April 13. The April luncheon has a guest list of sixteen -- whittled down from 20, four ladies were "out of town" or  had "other plans" according to the notes. The menu of the day:

Salad Sandwich Loaf
Frozen Salad
Potato Chips
Broccoli with Creamed Celery
Relish Tray
Strawberry Angel Food Refrigerator Dessert

The recipe for the salad itself comes from a friend of Grandma's known simply as Peake. Not Mrs., just Peake. The recipe is actually written on the page with ink, not clipped from the paper. It's also above the recipe for the Salad Sandwich Loaf Anyway (blogging it another day), here it is:

Frozen Fruit Salad -- Peake

1.      1 pkg. lime Jell-O
         2 scant cups water      -- chill

2.      Add small can crushed pineapple
         1 pkg. cream cheese mixed with
         1 T salad dressing                          -- white cherries?

3.      Fold in 1 cup whipped cream
         Maraschino cherries
         1/2 cup pecans or almonds

Ok -- not a lot to go on here but it's Jell-O. What could go wrong? After all, Grandma put everything in steps. I checked out similar recipes online for guidance and they weren't that different so I forged ahead.

1. One MUST dissolve Jell-O in boiling water and then add the cold water. I could do that, so i did.  I used the small 3-oz size lime Jell-O and I cut back on the water a bit, like notated, presumably to concentrate the lime flavor. I chilled.

2. Well, I chilled too long. It was pretty set up and wiggly when I came back to the fridge but I forged ahead. I plopped in the pineapple first and then in a different bowl I whipped up a small brick of cream cheese (that's the size they had then, right? The square?) with a tablespoon of mayo. I was out of Miracle Whip. No white cherries, it looked like an afterthought in the margin anyway. I dumped the dairy mixture in. Oh no. Curds. Yep -- the cold Jell-O hitting the dairy of the cream cheese made curds and that's a different Jell-O recipe altogether. So I hauled out a whisk and beat the &@#$ out of it. That helped.

3. Cool Whip went in, cherries, NO NUTS. I didn't care for the almonds in the Cherry Jell-O recipe from May (see archive) and then I poured it into a square Pyrex pan and froze it solid -- full of promise.

Today was in the high 90s -- nothing more refreshing than some frozen lime Jell-O right? 
Unfortunately the salad tasted nothing like I remember. The lime flavor was barely noticeable, it was slushy (good) but the slush tasted like water (bad). I have no idea how I messed this one looks good right?
 Possible answers -- larger Jell-O, larger cream cheese, more whipped cream. I plan on asking the family if they remember the dish and I will hopefully be able to reattempt. With a summer as hot as this we may still require creative refreshment.

Frozen Fruit Salad -- One out of Five Soup Cans

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Uh-Oh Orange Cake

Happy Summer!

Summer celebrations call for summer treats especially light, citrus-y flavors to be enjoyed out-of-doors. The idea for this sweet post came from two neighborhood girls Jenna and Stephanie who are currently interested in the art of cake decorating. During a recent evening with our Bocce league we were planning the next week's treats and cake was the unanimous choice for celebrating the league's summer birthdays. Immediately the girls made a barter -- if I made the cake they would decorate it. Deal.

The first question was what kind of cakes could the notebook offer? Banana-walnut, date, vanilla ice-box, the list was endless. After all, Grandma always had a sweet tooth. I settled on two finalists -- classic chocolate (in Grandma's own handwriting with added notes in margin) or Mrs. Kenneth R. Johnson's Orange Cake. Stephanie said orange was refreshing and I agreed. Plus, Mrs. Kenneth R. Johnson was my Grandma's sister-in-law. Orange you glad?

"Our thanks to Mrs. K. R. Johnson for some of her Favorite Recipes" is how the column begins. I am assuming my great-aunt neatly jotted this recipe (along with another for Cranberry Ice), sealed them in an envelope and mailed it off to the newspaper for inclusion in the column. What a thrill it must have been at the time to see her name and recipes in the paper!

Orange Layer Cake -- submitted by Mrs. Kenneth R. Johnson

2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
Grated rind 1 lemon
Grated rind 1 orange
2/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, unbeaten
2 T lemon juice
5 T orange juice
2 T water

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, sift together 3 times. Add lemon and orange rind to butter, cream thoroughly; add sugar gradually and cream together until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each. Add flour alternately with combined fruit juices and water, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Bake in two greased 9-inch layer pans in moderate oven (375) 20 minutes or until done.

Filling for Orange Cake

2 oranges, juice and rind
1 T lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg lightly beaten
2 T flour
1 t butter
1 T water

Mix and cook over low flame until thick enough to spread. Use 7-minute icing on top.

The cake came together very nicely with no trouble. When I grease layer pans i normally reach for PAM cooking spray but I decided to be traditional and grab the butter wrapper instead. I liberally buttered the pans and poured in the batter. The cake batter easily could have fit in one layer pan but I figured two pans saved the trouble of sawing the layer in half and I went with it. 20 minutes in the oven and all was well -- until I tried to get the cakes out of the pans. One cake plopped out just fine but the other stuck like it had been glued to the pan. I scraped the remnants and rearranged them the best I could and I sentenced the ruined layer to the bottom of the cake. The filling would be the spackle.

The filling recipe also came together fast -- a boon to a busy mid-century housewife. It resembled and tasted like a standard orange curd but sweeter, thankfully, than say a marmalade. Sure enough the filling help that crumbling cake together like mortar and I was saved. As a good measure I popped the whole thing in the fridge to insure that the girls would be able to get frosting on the thing in the morning. They will also be having to spackle and mortar around the middle to achieve a smooth coat.

 So very cute! Well done girls!
Stephanie and Jenna, Aces of Cake.

And spackle they did. The cake held with the addition of the girls' buttercream and then fondant letters were a very nice touch indeed. The cake itself was pleasantly orang-y but surprisingly dense with a large-textured crumb. The recipe called for cake flour and I have not had an occasion to work with cake flour until now. Not sure if I was missing something. Perhaps to improve the moistness a single layer rather than two would be in order. The girls' vanilla buttercream was just right with the orange essence and on a warm night cake was just the thing to celebrate with friends.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Mid-Century Picnic

Happy Independence Day!

Grab your Skotch cooler, hamper, or basket and head out to a grassy lawn somewhere and have yourself a 1950s style picnic! Straight from and other sources here's a quick rundown of the history of picnicking...

In medieval times picnics were for the wealthy feasting and fete-ing out on hunting trips (sounds like my dad's version of "shore lunch" while fishing in Canada) but picnicking today as we know it probably originates from the mid-1700s, minus the formal settings and servants. The menu, however, remains much the same -- hams, baked meats, pastries, etc. Fortunately for us middle class folk, "everything is relative: what was formal then made a trestle-table in the open countryside seem exhilaratingly abandoned. The general feeling of relief from normal constraints..."
---The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolutions, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners, Margaret Visser [Penguin:New York] 1991 (p. 150-1)

On to the 20th Century....What have folks served at picnics for the last one hundred years? Pre-refrigeration and mayo-scares?? (see the full text at

An early 1900s account: "For the feast, forget not the napkins, forks, spoons and the luncheon-cloth. Also carry tumblers, plates, salt, pepper, sugar and a bottle of cream or can of condensed milk. Cups with handles, but no saucers, are desirable for tea and coffee...The following bill of are may be selected from, with such changes as suit the locality or general surroundings. Bill of fare for a spring picnic: Cold Roast Chicken. Sandwiches of Potted Rabbit. Bewitched Veal (potted veal). Small Rolls with Salad Filling. Cold Baked Ham. Egg Salad. Buttered Rolls. Hard Boiled Eggs. Crackers. Chow Chow. Bombay Toast (think savory French Toast). Pickles. Orange Marmalade. Quince Jelly. Sugared Strawberries. White Cake. Almond Cake. Cocoanut Jumbles. Lemonade. Tea Cakes. Raspberry Vinegar. Bill of fare for a summer picnic: Cold Boiled Chicken. Tongue Sandwiches. Spiced Beef. Sardines. Jellied Chicken. Pickled Salmon. Spanish Pickles. Sweet Peach Pickles. Boston Brown Bread. Beans. Fresh Fruits. Imperial Cake. Neapolitan Cake. Small Fancy Cakes."
---Queen of the Household, Mrs. M. W. Ellsworth [Ellsworth & Brey:Detroit MI] 1900 (p. 566-570)

1910s: A few cold fried chickens, some peanut sandwiches, a big paper sack full of Saratoga chips (a name-brand national potato chip), some potato salad in a fruit jar, two or three kinds of jelly and bread and butter, a couple of chocolate cakes and a cocoanut cake and a freeze of strawberry ice cream and a few accessories were practically all we expected at a picnic dinner in those days...
---"What Usually Happened on the Old-Fashioned Picnic," New York Times, May 26, 1912 (p. SM11)

Assorted picnic menus circa 1926: (not so unusual to us today)
Ham sandwiches with lettuce
Dill pickles, Stuffed eggs
Swiss cheese and buttered rye bread sandwiches
Lemonade in thermos, Sugar cookies
Fried chicken, Deviled eggs
Whole tomatoes, Potato salad
Dates stuffed with peanut butter
Caramel ice cream in vacuum container
Gold cake squares

Baked whole ham
Cabbage slaw, Olives
Asparagus (put in glass jar), Mayonnaise
Vanilla ice cream in vacuum container
Ice-box cookies

Hot dog sandwiches
Chicken salad sandwiches
Dill pickles, Stuffed olives
Potato chips
Iced tea or coffee in thermos, Buttermilk cookies

Hot beef steak sandwiches (prepared on charcoal furnace)
Whole tomatoes, Dill pickles
Stuffed eggs, Saratoga potatoes
Hot coffee (prepared on charcoal burner)
Small sponge cakes."

---Every Woman's Cook Book, Mrs. Chas. Moritz [Cupples & Leon:New York] 1926 (p. 691-2)

Fast-forward to the 1950s: [1953] "Picnic menus" from the Joy of Cooking
  1. Wieners or hamburgers rolled in pancakes, chilled tomatoes, rye crisp, cheddar cheese, gingerbread in cup cake pans, pears and grapes, coffee.
  2. Sauteed Canadian bacon on hard rolls, snap bean salad with lettuce, onions and French dressing or potato salad with lots of lettuce, deviled eggs with liver sausage, watermelon, poppy seed cake, coffee.
  3. Baked ham, Italian salad, bran muffins, Roquefort cheese balls rolled in chives, sour cream apple pie, berry pie, coffee.
  4. Broiled steak, canned French fried potatoes, picnic salad, soft buns spread with butter, pickles, white cake I or II with chocolate icing, salted nuts, coffee.
  5. Sauteed eggs with bacon or sausages, baked beans or jambolaya, olives, toasted buttered French bread loaf, apples, gold layer cake with caramel icing, coffee.
  6. Fried fish or chicken, baked potatoes, potato chips or green corn, cole slaw, dill pickles, beaten biscuits, banana chocolate cake, peaches, coffee."
---The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker [Bobbs-Merrill:Indianapolis] 1953 (p. 971-8)

In Grandma's notebook there is no mention of picnic cooking or any out-of-doors fare. Her clippings seem to gravitate toward family meals, desserts (lots!), potlucks, and ladies' luncheons. Similarly, recipes for the above picnic fare are also not pasted into the notebook. I assume two scenarios -- one being that the above recipes weren't necessarily recipes but cooking that was simply unwritten or memorized through repetition. The second scenario is if Grandma had written versions of popular picnic foods they were in another place -- the standard 3 by 5 recipe box. I

I know for a fact that Grandma could fry a chicken -- her future mother in law required it from her during a visit to the Nebergall farm along with a properly-baked apple pie. Great-Grandma Nebergall insisted that she be able to make the two dishes lest her son (my Grandpa) starve. Ha! 

Quiz time everyone! 
Check off the following modern American picnic scenarios that have applied to you:

   * "traditional American foods" prepared at home and served on a blanket in a local park
   * ethnic cuisine celebrated by an extended family in an urban riverfront location
   * an artfully presented basket of gourmet delights served on fine linen and china
   * box lunch obtained from a convenience store consumed at the beach
   * bread, cheese, and grapes shared by best friends in a canoe
   * a family passing peanut butter crackers and bottled water at a highway rest stop
   * a child serving imaginary cakes to stuffed animals beneath the protective branches of the family's    backyard tree.

Thanks for the above item...they also astutely mention,"It's the spirit, not the food, that makes this meal special". Yes, even the most devoted foodie shouldn't take themselves too seriously I think. Happy picnicking!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Southern Spoon Bread

Happy Summer! I was on hiatus to bridge that busy time between end-of-school and beginning-of summer with little time to cook! Now that summer is hot and happening, there will plenty of occasions to cook (and dine) like a Mid-Century Modern Woman.

Father's Day 2012. Time for man-food and that is what we did yesterday in honor of the man of the house and great fathers everywhere. Here was the menu:

Grilled Barbecue Ribs
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
Southern Spoon Bread
Grilled Vegetables
Brownie Sundaes

The blog opportunity was the Southern Spoon Bread -- a cornmeal-based savory side reminiscent (to me anyway) of a stuffing or dressing to go with grilled meat. According to Wikipedia,
"although (it's) named a "bread", spoon-bread is closer in consistency and taste to many savory puddings, such as Yorkshire pudding. As made by some recipes, spoon-bread is similar to a cornmeal soufflé, although typical Southern recipes do not involve whipping the eggs to incorporate air."

According to Grandma's notebook the Southern Spoon Bread clipping fit this profile exactly -- with whipped egg whites to boot. I can't give anyone credit for the recipe, it was presented in the newspaper clipping anonymously.

Southern Spoon Bread

Stir 2 cups corn meal into 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Cool. Combine 2 cups evaporated milk and 2 T Heinz Vinegar. Add 1 1/2 t salt, 2 egg yolks, 1 cup grated American cheese, 1 t soda, 1/2 t Heinz Worcestershire Sauce. Add corn meal mixture. Blend. Fold in two beaten egg whites. Pour into buttered casserole. Bake in hot oven (425 degrees F) 40 min. Serves 6.

I've had and enjoyed Spoon Bread before but today almost every version I've had has a hint of sugar, corn kernels, creamed corn, and a Jiffy boxed mix. Good stuff really but with the chance to go authentic I was game. My first view of the recipe turned up surprise ingredients -- evaporated milk? Worcestershire? Two plugs for the Heinz company? Gasp -- No BUTTER?? Sorry Paula Deen!

Early on Sunday the weather was in the 70s and I knew the house could withstand the oven heat for an hour or so. I could make this ahead and do the last-minute stove top items at dinner time. I started with the corn meal and boiling water. As soon as the corn meal hit the water I remembered that distinctively corny smell and the time I tried to make cornmeal mush like Ma Ingalls on the stove. It wasn't very good -- even with about a cup of pancake syrup on top. As a child Mom would very kindly indulge my curiosity to make strange, slightly inedible pioneer recipes -- thanks Mom!

After wrapping Father's Day gifts and aiding in preventing a Lego disaster I went back to complete the recipe. In went the evaporated milk ('cooking milk' as the can so gleefuly stated), the salt, egg yolks, et al. For the cheese I wanted something a tad more complex than American cheese so i grabbed a hunk of Colby-Jack -- easier to grate too. I whipped egg whites with a whisk until my arm hurt (Laura Ingalls did this too) and then I combined. The mixture was strangely soupy and I was nervous the resulting slurry wouldn't congeal so I poured it into a 9x13 Pyrex dish. Into the oven -- and it was deeply brown in under 30 minutes. A round casserole would have resulted in a more souffle-like dish but I was happy it was a solid mass at this point. And the house smelled wonderful -- not at all like mush!!

Dinner time! The spoon bread was indeed just like a savory pudding or stuffing. Nicely salty and rich with the ribs. I can't call it an everyday-side-dish but with the right meal it would fit nicely. I could imagine a chunk of ham on top or a square of spoon bread at the bottom of a ham and bean soup. This recipe might just stay in my personal collection.

Soup Can Rating: Four Cans out of Five

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Jell-O Kind of Weekend

It was a Jello kind of weekend ....warm weather, family gatherings, and plenty of reasons to feast. Whether you call it Jello or Jell-O, the history of gelatin is quite deep and, dear readers, we'll completely ignore the whole thing about what exactly goes into the stuff.

During the Victoria Era, according to Wikipedia, gelatin was reserved for the well-to-do -- sold in sheets and evidently time-consuming to work with -- and transformed into "Jelly Moulds". The concept of gelatin desserts eventually gained traction with the masses around 1902 when the product was advertised in the Ladies' Home Journal as "America's Most Famous Dessert". By 1930, there appeared a vogue in American cuisine for congealed salads, and the company (General Foods) introduced lime-flavored Jell-O to complement the various add-ins that cooks across the U.S. were combining in these aspics and salads. By the 1950s, these salads would become so popular that Jell-O responded with savory and vegetable flavors such as celery, Italian, mixed vegetable and seasoned tomato. These savory flavors have since been discontinued, thankfully, though I do promise you, loyal readers a savory Jell-O blog post in the future. Stay tuned.

This week's Jell-O salad is from Mrs. Roy Palmer who concocted the following recipe:

Black Bing Cherry Salad -- submitted by Mrs. Roy Palmer

2 pkgs Cherry Jell-O
1 can Richlieu Black Bing Cherries
1/4 lb. Salted Almonds

Dissolve Jell-O in 4 cups warm liquid, using the juice drained from the cherries and water. Cut cherries in half and split the almonds. Add the cherries and nuts as the Jell-O begins to thicken. Serve with lettuce and mayonnaise.

For many years, our family occasions called for Jell-O salads -- culled from a pretty decent repertoire of standard Jell-O recipes. Grandma would usually rotate two or three such recipes, usually containing some cottage cheese or crushed pineapple. At Christmas, Mom would make a red Jell-O with bananas and a marshmallow topping -- in a Christmas Tree shape. Though I've noticed Jell-O falling out of favor as an actual side dish or even as "food", it still retains a certain novelty especially among kids.

Since it's been awhile since Jell-O has made an appearance at a family gathering, a trip to Columbus, Indiana for two Nebergall celebrations made Jell-O seem very appropriate. We were eight for a simple lunch celebrating three birthdays and Mother's Day just before we were off for a baby shower (yea!) for a Nebergall-on-the-way.

For lunch we had a simple chicken salad croissants and I offered up the Jell-O as a side dish. I whipped it up the night before, as Jell-O takes some advance planning. I proceeded with the recipe as directed but I did not have Richelieu Cherries on hand but instead, Oregon cherries. After all, a true Mid-century Modern woman would have used what was available. I figured we'd get along fine.  I also did not have 1/4 pound of almonds in the pantry but enough to chop and make around 1/3 cup. I did question Mrs. Palmer on that one....that's a lot of crunch.

At lunch we dutifully scooped the quivering red salad onto the plates and tasted. "Cherrylicious" (thanks, Jim) was NOT how anyone described the taste. The nut crunch was odd, the cherries weren't sweet nor was the Jell-O itself. It was definitely lacking in the flavor department. A marshmallow topping might have saved it, but we didn't stick around to try. (Note: Richelieu still makes their black sweet cherries -- in a heavy syrup -- but I still don't know if that would have saved this one).

As for kids being fans of Jell-O...Max didn't like this one at all and Trey didn't taste it -- not that I blame him -- but overall Max is zero for two with the Jell-O salads. He wouldn't taste the Ginger Ale Salad (see previous post) and that was clearly better than this Cherry Salad. Jigglers or just plain Jell-O would have gone over better with the kids. On the same coin,  Jell-O shots would have been a nice distraction from this salad. With that being said:

This week's Soup Can ScoreOne can out of Five

Recipe needed a serious overhaul to be good. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Something fun this week....cookies! I promised my friend Bonny a blog recipe for her daughter Gretchen's birthday party/adult after-party -- but I also forewarned her that I couldn't promise it to taste good. With the trends of the 1950s at play, no presumptions of greatness could be allowed.

Grandma's notebook has multitudes of dessert options including dozens (pun intended) of cookie recipes. This week's selection is simple titled "Cookies". Really. It's Cookies. This is the first of many recipes found safely tucked away in the middle section of the notebook that are in Grandma's handwriting -- undoubtedly culled from friends and neighbors, neatly copied with a fountain pen. The tell-tale ink smudges tell it all. Cookies is a recipe from someone referred to as "Mary's Mother". Well, Mary -- your mom is a GREAT baker because this recipe was fantastic! The soup can rating system is flying!

Cookies - submitted by Mary's Mother. 

1 cup of butter or lard
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups cornflakes
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
1 t soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 cup coconut OR 1/2 c coconut and 1/2 c nuts

Mold into balls and place (on) pan and flatten with fork. Bake in moderate oven. Makes about 4 dozen.

Again, that tacit cooking knowledge came into play. I did the classic -- butter (I've not ventured into lard territory, but several friends/tasters have had encouraging things to say on the subject), then the sugars -- beat until pale. I added the eggs, and then the combined dry ingredients -- flour, salt, soda, baking powder, oatmeal (rolled oats, not instant). I held the cornflakes and coconut so that I could fold them in by hand. I also added a personal touch -- 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips. They did exist in the 50s so I was comfortable with the addition. I preheated the oven for 350 and I rolled up three cookies into walnut-sized balls but the dough was sticky so I grabbed the Pampered Chef cookie scoop. Nice. No stickies. I scooped out 12 and put in the oven for 8 min. Nope not long enough. Two minutes more. And two more. But 12 was too long -- the smallest cookies were definitely too brown. I then wondered if I should chill the dough before moving on. the chill ended up being 10 minutes but that was just enough to make a soft, golden brown cookie with the revised 10 minute baking time.

Tasting time! Warm was great -- soft, chewy and caramelized....the fully cool cookies had that distinct cornflake crunch. The cookies were also a hit at the party -- they vanished from the cookie tin quickly and tasters said the butterscotch-like flavor was a winner.

FYI -- a quick Google search reveals similar recipes all over -- some called Cowboy Cookies, others called Cornflake Cookies. These particular recipes called for slightly different ingredients such as vanilla or almond extract, raisins, butterscotch chips, etc. One website had an identical recipe for Cornflake Cookie and dated it as a 60s Baby Boomer Cookie. Regardless of the era, it's a keeper.

Soup Can Score: FIVE  cans out of Five!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday Spareribs

Dear Readers, I've had a 1950s existence this morning -- a nutritious breakfast of hard-cooked eggs (no green in the middle, thank you very much), fruit and whole-wheat mini-bagels (NYC had bagels in the 50s right?) and coffee. After clearing the breakfast dishes I made beds and a shopping list for the week. Then, I shall do the cooking!

On the menu for tonight? Baked barbecue-style spareribs, one of the few actual DINNERS (besides Ham Loaf, the subject of another day's post) in the notebook. I know Grandma had a sweet tooth and evidently, upon further review, this must be her dessert book?

Anyway, the ribs have real promise in a modern way. The seasonings are correct for the genre and the cooking technique (325 for 2 hours) sounds reasonable to get the ribs to a fall-apart stage. The recipe calls for 2.5 lbs of spareribs to serve 8 people (my, how portion sizes have grown). I'll serve the ribs with braised greens, cornbread, and mac and cheese (Kraft invented the icon in the 1930s). But what for the fruit course? Here it is...the first of the dozens for Jello recipes. Tonight -- Ginger Ale Salad....stay tuned.

Barbecue Spareribs -- submitted by HMC, Galva, Illinois

1 T celery seed
1 T chili powder
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t salt
1 t paprika
2 1/2 lbs spareribs
1 cup thick tomato puree
1/4 c vinegar

Combine celery seed, chili powder, sugar, salt, and paprika. Rub as much as possible into the ribs. To remaining mixture add tomato puree mixed with vinegar. Pour over ribs. Bake in an uncovered shallow pan in a moderate oven (325 degrees) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Baste occasionally. It serves eight.

The Ginger Ale Salad comes from a series of typewritten recipes in the back third of the notebook. Because of the addition of personal messages within the recipes like, "You cannot fail on this recipe, Florence. Knowing what delicious rolls you make, I'm sure you can make your own Rye Bread." I have reason to believe the recipes might be from Grandma's sister, Evelyn, who is an amazing baker. I'll have to check this out.

Ginger Ale Salad

1 pkg. lemon jello, dissolved
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cup Ginger Ale

Add pineapple, celery, and apples cut into small pieces -- not more than two cups in all, about a half a cup of each pineapple and celery and 1 cup of apple

Jello first...after all it has to have time to set. First  I dissolved the jello in the boiling water, added ginger ale and then, after some internal debate, the fruit and celery. The debate because it says on the Jello box if you are have additions then chill the Jello for a few hours first then add the fruit. I was afraid that I would forget to add the fruit at all and also the apples were rapidly browning. That would not do. In went the fruit and celery. Predictably it all floated to the top which of course meant that if I had actually placed it in a true Jello mold (I don't own any, I settled on French White Corning Ware) and flipped it the fruit would be at the bottom. Hmmm....might be pretty like a food kaleidoscope. Into the fridge!

Ribs! Yum! Knowing it would take several hours, I portioned the spareribs into six mini-racks, tossed the rub together, slathered it on, and mixed the remaining rub with the tomato sauce. I indeed insist on tender ribs so I borrowed a few tips from some online chefs such as baking uncovered for 45 then covering with foil for an hour, then uncovered for another 30 min. I noticed right away the brown sugar in the rub turning a very dark brown within the first 45 minutes...I held the tomato mixture until this moment, hoping the combo wouldn't char to a burnt taste. After all, most BBQ chefs hold the sauce until the end stages of cooking. Meanwhile, I sauteed some turnip greens, whipped up the cornbread, and unboxed the mac.

Time to eat! I snuck a taste from the cutting board -- the ribs, complete with the mahogany brown sauce, were tender in kind of an al dente way. They were loose around the bone but with a touch of firmness remained. The rub/sauce combo had a definite green essence from the celery seed but was tempered by the caramelized sugar. Overall, very good for an oven-baked rib! For $10.50 we had six servings of ribs -- much less than a restaurant price -- and though I got the KC Masterpiece out of the fridge I didn't need to put any on my plate. No grill? Bad weather? This is the recipe for you -- straight from Galva, IL. As for the rest of the meal, I am no expert on cooking greens. They were quite bitter and any suggestions from readers on the topic are welcome. But the Jello salad? I was very pleasantly surprised. Nice bright flavor with the essence of bubble from the soda, crisp fruit, I didn't even mind the celery. The lemon Jello worked perfectly with the Ginger Ale. John and I were reaching for seconds. Max wouldn't try the Jello because of the celery but he ate an entire portion of ribs which he declared, "yummmmy, Mom!" Not bad for a Saturday's work!

Until next week!

Soup Can Scores:

Barbecue Spareribs -- Four Soup Cans out of Five

Ginger Ale Salad -- Four Soup Cans out of Five

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Battle of the Sandwich Spreads

Lunch time! This weekend's project was a head-to-head between two notebook recipes for sandwich spreads -- French Sandwich Spread and Snappy Sandwich Filling

In the world of sandwich spreads the hands-down most popular (and still widely available) are the ubiquitous Ham Salad and it's close relative Sandwich Spread. While neither of this week's spreads contain ham or bologna (or even exist at any deil) I though it would be an interesting leap. First, the French Sandwich Spread:

French Sandwich Spread -- submitted by Mrs. Charles Pruiett

1/2-lb. dried beef, 1/2-lb. cheese, 2 cups tomatoes (cook and strain) then add beef, cheese, 1 egg slightly beaten, little cayenne pepper. Cook until thickens, Cool and spread, makes 24 sandwiches.

Decision time...what kind of cheese? After doing a bit of research on recipes with dried beef, almost all utilized cream cheese (though I halfway expected to find Velveeta or Swiss in the recipes but no!) so I went with the majority. Plus, if the spread resembled a cheese ball type spread, it would be at least edible for Sunday lunch.

Where do you get dried beef? Evidently, on the top shelf (oh la la) next to pickled pigs' feet at Wal-Mart. I have not bought a product from the Armour company in a decade but today they got my business. Though the jar was a mere 2.5 oz jar I simply could not bring myself to purchase THREE jars of the stuff. One would have to do.

Tomatoes. Not good this time of year. I did what any Mid-Century Modern woman would have done, I opened the pantry door and grabbed a can of diced tomatoes. I drained them well and that made just under two cups.

According to the jar of beef I had to rinse the beef in warm water and then it would be ready to use. I rinsed and then chopped the now-slightly-spongy beef and combined it with the tomatoes, cream cheese on the stove. Next, the beaten egg and cayenne pepper. I set the heat to low -- didn't want a scrambled egg in the spread, and without much attention the spread cooked thick. I put it in a glass dish and let it cool until lunch.

Snappy Sandwich Filling -- by Mary Starr from "Cooking School"
This is a column that has a different format and feel than "Favorite Recipes". Mary includes a complete menu for the day as well as cooking tips and, of course, recipes like this one.

Mary says, "Any member of your family who carries lunch to work or school will appreciate a bit of  variety in his daily bread. Simple sandwich fillings can be made into snappy spreads. For instance, here is a zestful peanut butter and India relish filling:

To make four sandwiches mix together one-half cup peanut butter, two tablespoons of India relish, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped celery and two tablespoons of mayonnaise. When well-combined, spread filling between slices of buttered bread out to the edge. 

India relish? According to Wiki.Answers it's "India Relish has pickled cucumber, onion, cabbage and spices entrained in the regular sweet pickle relish consistency offering a broader taste, less sweetness and greater vinegar flavors. It is often used to reduce the sugar content of slaws and salads. Hinez makes a very fine India Relish. It seems a cross between chow-chow and sweet pickle relish.

No one around here carries it.

So, dill pickle relish it is...after all, it said "less sweetness" right? So, I whipped up the snappy filling and spread it, like directed on buttered (Pepperidge Farm) bread. I pulled the beef mixture out of the fridge and spread it (no butter) on a hearty dark bread. Time to taste!

The Snappy Sandwich Filling was ok but definitely confusing to the palate. Perhaps the taste buds expected the sweetness of jam but instead got a hearty taste of dill. Interesting. Perhaps the India relish would add a pleasing dimension but until I find the product this spread is definitely not for me. Sweet pickle relish would have been closer to jam and tastier.

The French Sandwich Spread? Better, though definitely tomato-ey. Kind of like a cheeseball on a bread. It was the more promising of the two and 6-year-old Max declared this sandwich the winner.

Battle of the Sandwich Spreads
French Sandwich Spread
Soup Can Score: One and Half Soup Cans out of Five

Snappy Sandwich Filling
Soup Can Score: One Soup Can out of Five

End note: I'm coming closer to dating these recipes. It seems Mary Starr was a popular cook with a televised segment on WATE in Knoxville in the mid-1950s. Starr also had a column, Cooking School, which was apparently syndicated and appeared on the "ladies pages" of the Chicago Daily News. I'm still looking for the exact years the column ran, but to my best guess I'm cooking straight out of the 50s here!!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Yep, It's Gum Drop Salad

Recipe #2 -- Gum Drop Salad -- submitted by Mrs. E. A King

1/2 lb. marshmallows, quartered
1/2 lb. gumdrops in assorted flavors
1 No. 2 1/2 can pineapple, diced
1 lb. white or Tokay grapes, halved and seeded
(note: Tokay grapes are Hungarian white grapes used in wine making. Huh?)
1/2 cup nut meats
1 small bottle maraschino cherries, halved

Combine the above ingredients and add the following dressing:

1/2 cup sugar
4 T flour
1 T vinegar
1/8 t salt
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 pint whipping cream
Juice of two lemons

Blend sugar and flour. Add vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pineapple juice. Cook in double boiler until smooth and thick, stirring constantly. Cool. Fold in whipped cream, then fruit combination. Let stand 12 to 24 hours.


I have to begin today's post with the shopping trip. This is not your usual salad and the ingredients were certainly not usual purchases for me. I knew this would be a challenge when I saw the No. 2 1/2 much?? On a website I found that the No. 2 1/2 can would equal 1 pound 13 ounces or 3-1/2 cups. It today's cans I bought two 20-ounce cans of pineapple rings, more than enough. Of course Aldi didn't have pineapple tidbits so I knew I'd have to cut the rings myself. No problem. Aldi also had the maraschino cherries and seedless grapes (red, not Tokay), neither of which I buy normally -- maraschino cherries are scary  -- and I have a grown-in-the USA rule for grapes, much to the chagrin of my 6-year-old son, Max, who often hears me shriek "put that back -- it's not in season -- it was grown in (insert South American country here)!!"

The pineapple juice? I could cheat and take it from the pineapple can (come on, it's the 50s) but the gum drops were nowhere to be found. Target also didn't have them and a Target team member didn't know what they were. When in doubt, go to a drug store. CVS Pharmacy had them, 99 cents a bag but they were called Spice Drops (more on that later). Marshmallows? I knew I didn't have to cut them -- they make a mini variety these days. Though I do remember Grandma dutifully snipping large marshmallows into quarters once with kitchen shears.

Assembling the salad

I located my largest stainless-steel bowl and began cutting grapes in half, silently praising genetic modification and advances in horticulture for the seedless grape. Max ate at least a pound of grapes during this part of the process. Then we dumped in the mini marshmallows, pineapple, nuts, and cherries. We saved the gumdrops for last and I went ahead and halved them knowing the gumdrops were wild card in the recipe. I figured they would be weird anyway, might as well try to minimize the weirdness.

Double double-boiler trouble

Once the fruit was assembled, I assembled a makeshift double-boiler. Grandma probably had a store-bought one, I can't say for sure, and my mom had two equally sized pans that would fit together as one. My version is usually hit or miss -- whatever fits together. Today, I placed a large Pyrex bowl over a stock pot filled with simmering water and began stirring. I was secretly hoping my Pyrex wouldn't burst so I kept the flame low. And I stirred. And stirred. Then I realized i forgot the lemon juice. My dutiful husband squeezed the two lemons for me and then again I stirred....sweating. I grabbed a date-filled oatmeal cookie and milk for sustanance. Then Max's plastic caterpillar had to come investigate.  I shooed away the caterpillar and continued....and it was a full 25 minutes before my "dressing" thickened even a little bit. At least my bowl didn't burst. 

The dressing really resembled a fruit curd and, as I discovered, i wasn't far off. Traditional Lemon Curd is similar in structure but has the addition of egg yolks but the idea of a spreadable tangy fruit substance was present here -- only mine would be called a pineapple curd. By then, an hour into the recipe, I was so wanting to be done. I plunged the dressing into an ice water bath and whipped the cream.

Whipping an entire pint of cream. I don't think I've even done it. That's why they make Cool Whip but it wasn't invented until 1967.

The Pineapple Curd, as I call it, took as much time as a risotto.

"My tongue likes to taste everything in it!" declared Max

I have a 30-minute meal rule in our house but here I was over an hour into this recipe.
I then assembled the salad and we all grabbed spoons and took a taste. Pretty good, except for the gumdrops. Yikes. But we hadn't let the salad chill for the requisite 12 to 24 hours yet. Into the fridge it went. I still had some unanswered questions...

1. Why would a 50s housewife make this dish? My guess is that is was a take-off on the popular Ambrosia Salad only with gumdroppedy goodness. Proper ladies had glass jars of gumdrops in the parlor, why not include them in the fruit course that evening? Ambrosia Salad was popular at the time and used coconut, oranges, and a cream-like mixture (but remember, no Cool Whip)
2. Who has this kind of time? I imagined an apron-clad Mom with three kids running around the kitchen dutifully tending her double-boiler. Doesn't fly. Maybe she made this while they were at school or watching TV.
3. Is it really food? Michael Pollan in "Food Rules" has a rule about not eating things your Grandmother wouldn't recognize. But apart from the marshmallows, maraschino cherries, and gumdrops everything else was actually homemade.
4. Dessert or salad? At a picnic or church supper it would have been a fruit course I think. Nowadays in the post-Atkins world it would be a dessert and one to eaten in a dark closet somewhere.

I had to get some real feedback however. Real people. From other generations. I took the salad to my school and had the staff taste it. Surprisingly, I had some positive feedback, despite the fact i told them they were allowed to hate it. Most agreed the gumdrops had an off-note (spice drops are generally clove, anise, cinnamon, and mint flavors) but shockingly the salad mellowed during its 12+ hour chill. Not too bad! Some took a second Dixie cup, but I still carted half a container home. I'll maybe test the shelf life. Nah.

Soup Can Rating: ONE can out of five. I'll never make this again unless someone kind of sadistic requests it. Even then, no spice drops, just fruit-flavored or I'll just make Ambrosia Salad.