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!