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.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oatmeal Cookies: Then and Now

Recipe #1: Date-Filled Oatmeal Cookie -- Submitted by Mrs. Henry Tunberg

Today was good!! I feel good about accepting Mrs. Tunberg's challenge and succeeding. I did indeed fill in the blanks of her cryptic cookie recipe and had a nice result. Here's what happened:

12:00 p.m. -- Make cookie dough. Following the ingredient list, no surprises here. Oatmeal cookies today are just about the same as back then, according to a quick Google search. Butter, leavening, a little dairy, egg, flour, oatmeal. Now the only slight change in Mrs. Tunberg's recipe by today's standard -- no white sugar. She calls for one cup of brown sugar only. No problem. Even though she lacked steps to mix the dough, I relied on my 30 years of home-cooking experience -- combine and sift dry ingredients, set aside, mix butter, sugar, egg, sour cream in mixer, slowly add dry ingredients and stir in instant oats = dough. Chill until ready to bake. Eat lunch.

1:00 p.m. -- Make date filling -- chopped dates, sugar, water, cook until thick. Easy. Result is kind of like a thick jam or what reminds me of a "confit". I let it cool on the back of the stove. It's yummy just like this.

3:30 p.m. -- I have things to do, cookies must bake. No time to chill overnight. My first crossroads -- to drop or roll? Another Google search tells me that oatmeal cookies are technically and historically drop cookies but alas, Mrs. Tunberg tells me to add more flour and roll them thin. I ignore her. I drop 12 on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet (sorry, I don't grease cookie sheets, no matter the era) and bake at 375. Well, I achieve oatmeal dumplings. Tasty, but not fillable with date filling. I grab the flour and start rolling. Not too much flour or rolling, mind you, I despise the thought of tough cookies and the tut-tut-ing of Mrs. Tunberg.

I cut the cookies with a 2.5 inch circle cutter, the smallest I have, but what I am noticing already is that the cookies are most likely larger than they would have been in the 1950s...not at all dainty but more buttermilk-biscuit-like. Oh well, I proceed. I get 2 1/2 more dozen out of the dough and scraps. Bake, cool and I spread with the thick date filling. Tasting time!!!

The cookies are very good -- and not all that sweet. It's noticeable that the usual cookie sweetness of my mind's eye is not there. But in a good way. With the date filling to compensate it was the right ratio of sugar to grain. It's interesting to note that according to the USDA the consumption of caloric sweeteners hit an all time high in 1999 for all types of sweeteners -- cane sugar included. The low? 1950. I don't have more data than that at the moment but it seems to suggest our sweet tooth has increased in the country since then (though my theory may be blown with the next blog post so please reserve judgement).

It also strikes me that this cookie sandwich tastes like what the Quaker Oats Company might call a breakfast bar...hmmm....but this one is much better, with no chemical taste. This cookie might go into the permanent file...with chocolate chips ;)

Soup Can Rating: Four out of Five cans

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hungry Tasters, Let's begin!

Good evening, hungry tasters!

It's the weekend and it's officially time to begin the cooking portion of the blog.

I've already had some dear readers ask about the Gum Drop Salad and Mincemeat....the Gum Drop is a go, the Mincemeat would require some fortitude....and some more research. Though, as reader Cathy mentioned to me, the old-time Mincemeat would most likely would have required COOKED meat, such as leftover meat from Sunday dinner....a ha! I've also seen Mincemeat in jars at grocery stores 'round holiday time....not sure what meat is in there either.

Ok then, let's go. Page 1. Recipe #1 Date-Filled Oatmeal Cookies. This sounds completely approachable and does not require excessive amounts of processed foods (the topic of a future blog). The writer of the recipe, Mrs. Henry Tunberg, assumes Grandma and other mid-century women had to have a certain base of unspoken kitchen knowledge when tackling this recipe. There is merely an ingredient list and a cooking oven temperature, no steps, no format other than assumptions. This is true of many of the recipes in the notebook, we'll see if it trips me up. Since my generation grew up making the Nestle Toll House Cookie (also in the notebook) I'll base my steps and oven temperature off of that.

Date-Filled Oatmeal Cookies -- submitted by Mrs. Henry Tunberg
(as appears in notebook)

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 t salt
1 t soda
1 level teaspoon baking powder
2 c oatmeal
2c flour

More flour may be needed to handle to roll thin. Mix at night and bake the next day.


1 cup dates, cut
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water

Cook until thick, cool, spread between cookies after they are baked.

Ok Mrs. Tunberg....This is tomorrow's project and I'll add my own directions for today's reader. Look for the revised version this weekend.

FYI  -- I've been trying to date the column and figure out in what newspaper it would have appeared. Here are my clues so far:

Grandma grew up near the Quad Cities Cambridge, IL the seat of Henry County. They did not have a local newspaper but the surrounding counties did during the 30s and 40s.

Some of the backs of the clippings reveal ads for Carson's (a Chicago-based department store), Arrid cost 39 cents, the Nestle Toll House recipe appears, and a partial ad from a store in Oak Park and Evanston is also a big clue. I assume it's Chicago paper but Cambridge was hours away. Would they have subscribed?

If Grandma was in college when she clipped the column each week, Western Illinois is still within the Quad Cities area and perhaps they had a Moline or Macomb edition.

My Grandma's sister-in-law also submitted recipes for the column, Mrs. Kenneth Johnson. This makes me think it was a favorite read among the Cambridge locals and important enough to clip each week.

I have some research to do!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cooking Through Cookbooks

So, like I said yesterday, cooking through a famous culinary tome is not a new idea. Julie Powell and her year of Mastering the Art of French Cooking set the standard (in my mind anyway) for this kind of hands-on, self-made technical school in 2001 -- and her Long Island kitchen was the size of my powder room. I personally hung on every word. Since her wacky idea ten years ago there have been a basketful who have followed.

According to Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal, "generic food blogs are the scrambled eggs of culinary blogging. They require little in the way of skill and next to nothing in terms of equipment -- just a digital camera and a broadband connection." I'd say that's pretty much me.

Gomes also notes:
"the necessary ingredient: you need to be a little crazy." That's me too.

Carole Blymire cooked her way through the French Laundry cookbook -- a 130-recipe technical beast by Thomas Keller, the same guy who once whipped up tobacco ice cream for Anthony Bourdain. I know smoking was hugely popular mid-century but I've yet to see tobacco in Grandma's notebook (it's a filthy habit, she once declared).

A guy named Ryan S. Adams says he was inspired by Blymire's work to start on "The Whole Beast," Gomes explains, the offal-and-all meat British cookbook that has a cult following in the foodie world. With dishes like "Cold Lamb's Brains on Toast,"shopping has got to be a problem. "I don't know where I am going to get a woodcock," Adams said. "I may have to go out and hunt one myself." Woodcock is indeed in Grandma's book, clipped from the newspaper column "A Little Bit of Everything: Favorite Recipes" and submitted by a Miss Ellen Anderson of Lincoln, Nebraska. This woodcock is nothing short of a modern marvel calling for mushrooms, pimiento, hard-cooked eggs, cream cheese and a white sauce. Score a point for Grandma on that one -- I can get that locally. In the spirit of meat however, the ever-popular yet dated mincemeat shows up in half a dozen forms including my favorite interpretation that had Mom and I howling with laughter:

Mince Meat submitted by Mrs. Geo L. Anderson

3 bowls meat
5 bowls apples
1 bowl molasses
1 bowl vinegar
1 bowl cider
2 bowls raisins
3 bowls sugar
1 bowl suet
2 T cinnamon
2 T cloves
1 T salt
1 T black pepper
grated rind of three lemons and juice

Boil all, but meat and spices, until raisins are tender, then add meat and spices.

Note: I do not plan to ever make this version...I am scared by the ramifications of undercooked meat. Sorry to disappoint, foodies. Mrs. Anderson knew in her own mind what she was doing.

One detail that has not escaped me is finding willing recipients for the dishes that will be churning from my kitchen. Meat-guy Adams says finding willing diners can sometimes be as challenging as the cooking. I suppose some recipes (Orange Layer Cake) will be easier than others (Steaming Salmon Pie). I am especially interested in finding someone under the weather as "Invalid Soup" is an early entry on page one. Originally I thought the title to be invalid as in not valid but after reading the recipe I realized the mid-century logic in creating fortifying fare for those who needed enriching. I have no way of knowing if Grandma every made this stick-to-both -your-ribs-and-major-arteries fare but it's odd to say the least. If you are slightly sick or in need of calories, drop me a line.

Invalid Pudding submitted by Carrie B. Funk

Cook in double boiler.

1 pint milk
Yolk of 2 eggs
4 T sugar
1 T flour
little salt

Cook until thickens. Remove from fire and add the beaten whites of 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

I took a moment to Google this recipe and I came up with a few modern twists including a vegetarian version and ones that call for bread rather than the flour. Not sure I'd have any takers for any of the above.

Next: What era are these recipes from???

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Mid-Century Modern Woman

It all started Saturday at dinner when my Aunt Sue mentioned to me that she'd found a well-worn, yellowing and randomly spattered notebook that once belonged to my late Grandmother, Florence. She had been going through Grandma's things and noticed the notebook, front cover bearing the name of her alma mater Western Illinois State Teachers College, among her collection of cookbooks. Born in 1916 Grandma would have attended the college during the mid to late 1930s where where studied education and later became a first-grade teacher.

My interest and my ears immediately perked up -- known as the historian and foodie of the clan Aunt Sue thought it befitting to bestow upon me this volume containing an early collection of newspaper clippings, handwritten menus and, later on, typewritten recipes from, I assume, early in her single and married years. Now, dear reader, this is not her 3x5 recipe box, favorite church cookbook or even a popular mass-market tome of the day but merely an idea book, a scrapbook with pasted clipping on almost every page. I thanked Aunt Sue and told her I would read it like a novel -- page by page -- and that I undoubtedly be thoroughly entertained. It would be a hoot (I think that's Aunt Sue's word, not mine) as I imagined page after page of recipes for random fruits, vegetables and meats suspended in aspic or other gelatinous form.

After dinner we walked to Aunt Sue's car and she produced the volume. Through a tear in the front cover I immediately noticed the words "Prune Pie" peeking through. Jackpot. If the rest of the recipes were like this I was holding a piece of culinary history in my hands. Albeit a dated, stylized one reflecting the trends and fads of the time. I had to dig deeper.

Page 1 -- Date-Filled Oatmeal Cookies. Over Night Ginger Cookies. Sounds good to me, could pass for current cookery. Next recipe -- Invalid Pudding. Steamed Pudding. Sandwich Spread. Prune Pie. Ok -- more of what I expected. I was intrigued. Epicurious. I had to try these recipes.

Cooking through someone's cookbook -- certainly not a new idea (Julie/Julia Project anyone?) but one that promises a journey of some sort. A total immersion in another style, culture, time period. Usually when writers cook through a cookbook it's to be a student of culinary standard, something elemental, classical. But cooking through the 40s and into the 50s? I am not sure many cooks (or eaters) want to go there. Remember the aspics? They are in Grandma's notebook. Ham Loaf is one of my personal least-favorites and it's in there - multiple times in multiple forms. Gum Drop Salad? Yikes. But these are the things that Grandma dutifully cut out of the local paper and carefully glued, a page at a time, into this college-ruled notebook. She evidently thought the recipes to be interesting, practical, or necessary to begin her cooking years.

Grandma passed away on October 10, 2011. On the eve of what would have been her 96th birthday I begin a journey. A journey to cook through her cook book. To learn and understand the trends of the time so that I might learn where American home-cooking has come from and what it is today. There is nothing pretentious about the recipes in Grandma's notebook but something that reminds me of home and (electric) hearth. American women did a huge amount of cooking for their families and like today they looked for ways to make meal time interesting, adventurous, and nourishing. I want to know how Grandma and women like her did it. I want to follow the recipes and take steps in her apron for a little while.

This is my blog.