She Should Have Served A Can of Spork and a Fork

IMG Chef Boy-Ar-Dee 1940s

I think that this lady really means: I almost told my husband to get lost.

She is selling War Bonds, it’s not like she’s out buying hats all day, or playing the slot machines in Atlantic City.  So she forgot Bert and his “important customers” coming to dinner! Let Bert take them out, or maybe he could tie on a frilly apron and, how did the guy in yesterday’s ad put it? Rustle some refreshments. Yeah, let Bert rustle.

But no, naturally this poor woman has to go hunt down something to cook. She figures that her whole marriage will collapse if she serves peanut butter sandwiches. Well, I guess they said ‘for richer, for poorer’ but not ‘for gourmet dinner, for Spork Chops.’ (Bonus: if you guessed that I have a 1940s Spork cookbook awaiting future posts, you are right!)

Some couples live meals of quiet desperation, as Thoreau would have said (if he had been one of Bert’s customers, but he wouldn’t have been, these people would have scared him into staying at Walden Pond pretty well permanently). So thank heaven for that Chef Boy-Ar-Dee!

And would you believe these guys think that that stuff is the best spaghetti they ever had! They’re all grinning like idiots in the last picture. Ah, but they always are, aren’t they? And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adore these ads, they are so cheesy and bizarre.

Rather like Spaghetti à la Hector Boiardi.

Welcome To The Canape Ball

IMG watkins 1948

Here’s a peculiar little cannon ball of an appetizer from the 1946 oeuvre, Watkins Salad Book, to start the week off in a festive sort of way. I truly wish there was a picture of this in the book (which is full of dreadful recipes, by the way, I’ll be sharing more of it in the weeks to come). Instead, here are all the little Watkins products, pictured in the 1948 edition of the Watkins Cook Book. Yes, I actually own three Watkins books - I also have the 1938 Watkins Cook Book. They must have been in a group at the secondhand bookstore. I didn’t like to separate them. Watkins products like to stay together, as the photo shows. This recipe is a bit like that – an awkward grouping, standing around – or in this case, rolling around, held together only by a few toothpicks.

Canape Ball

Wash a large grapefruit, dry, then chill. Just before serving, place a row of stuffed olives (stuck on toothpicks) across the top and down the sides of the grapefruit. On each side of the olives place anchovies stuck on toothpicks. Continue the rows, parallel to the olives and anchovies, with cubes of American and Swiss cheese, the size of the anchovies. Add a row of pickled onions, if desired, or large ripe olives.

If people actually did this, they might want to cut a thin slice off the bottom of the grapefruit – or else that thing is going to roll around, like some sort of edible bowling ball from retro-kitchen hell, and no one is going to want that to happen. The anchovies are a particularly terrible idea, impaled on toothpicks – you don’t want the snacks staring at you, do you, accusing you silently of spearing them onto a large citrus fruit.

Best just to stop after the first sentence of the recipe – put the grapefruit away in the fridge – and then chill. Go read a magazine and relax. Yeah, chill. Just put cheese and crackers out, and a bunch of grapes maybe. Then we can all relax.

Desdemona Buns

IMG Ri-Temp

Here is a recipe for sweet rolls with a name I do not understand, from a 1930s Ri-Temp cookbook. Ri-Temp was a special kind of oven control made by the English Electric Company Ltd in Preston, Lancashire. They wanted nothing more than to make your life easier with the “English Electric” cooker, which the lady in the picture is gazing at. Doesn’t the door handle she is holding seem a little high? As does the window. Perhaps they have got the cooker in the basement. We had a basement apartment long ago that looked a bit like that room. Minus the cooker, of course (we had a gas stove from the 1970s, as I recall, that did nothing to alleviate my life).

The introduction to the book says that “in these days of rush and bustle and servant problems, it is essential that all household duties should be completed quickly and with the least possible expenditure of energy.” Ah yes, the days of rush and bustle and servant problems. My main servant problem of course is that I don’t want to do housework, I would rather be writing or going for a long walk or researching something. The servant is too busy rushing and bustling around in the library or at the computer, you see!

So what I really need is an “English Electric” cooker, so that I will have “every advantage required to produce well-cooked, well-balanced meals with very little effort on her part to obtain perfect results.” Oh, I like the sound of that! But…I still have to cook, right? I do have to make a “very little effort.” OK, I can do that. I guess.

You see, I adore old cookbooks but except for the odd mood (usually around Christmas, but not always even then) I do not really like spending hours in a kitchen doing things to and with food. I like quick, mostly vegetarian, very simple meals. And boy do I like the weekly takeout! I will gladly eat any tofu teriyaki that is sent in, but it never works out when I make it. I am not sure that the Ri-Temp cooker could really cope with tofu though.

My favorite kind of cooking is baking. I enjoy it when I do it, but it doesn’t always work into the old health regime. So I cope by reading recipes and making them in my head, except at Christmas or birthdays. Or I make low fat muffins, they’re pretty good. You just replace the butter with applesauce, and freeze them if you think you will eat them all at once (ahem).

Anyway – on with the Desdemona Buns, whoever they were named after – the lady in the picture? Othello’s wife? Did she even have time to make buns, though? Not to mention not having an English Electric cooker with Ri-Temp control.

Desdemona Buns4 oz. flour
3 oz. butter
3 oz. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Filling:1/2 lb. icing sugar
2 oz. melted butter
1 Tb milk
vanilla essence

Cream the butter and sugar together; add the ewggs and flour, and place in greased tins. Set the oven dial to 450 F (oven will be ready in 25 minutes), and bake at this temperature for 10 minutes. When cool, cut off the tops of the buns, scoop out a little of the sponge and fill with cream filling; replace tops, sprinkle with icing sugar and decorate with cherries.

Actually a sugar glaze would work better, if you want the cherries to stick. Otherwise this sounds very nice. Maybe I’ll make them next Christmas.

In the Sweet Pie and Pie

Ruth Berolzheimer was the head of the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago from the 1940s on, and her cookbooks were still being reprinted in the 1980s. There are loads of hard and softcover books from the Culinary Arts Institute around and they are just wonderful. I have a couple of three ring binders entitled “Cooking Magic” that were made to hold your collection of CAI booklets, and the American Woman’s Cookbook (which went through many editions – mine are from 1951 and 1961).

I was lucky enough to find, about a year ago, a 1941 booklet by Ms. Berolzheimer entitled 250 Delectable Desserts - though on the inside title page it has become 250 Tempting Desserts. The desserts are quite nice, pretty much traditional charlottes, cakes, steamed puddings as well as modern concoctions requiring a refrigerator. She uses the word “fluffy” a great deal, and there is a large section of the book devoted to sauces. But aside from the odd marriage of ingredients (such as in Banana Lime Dessert) it makes for pleasant reading. (I like to read my cookbooks more than I really use them – or rather, the ones I use tend to be modern and of the vegetarian persuasion).

What I wanted to share was the Introduction to all the tempting and delectable desserts. It reads, in part:

As a nation we Americans consume more sweets in every form than any other group in the world – and that is a tribute, not a criticism. We need more sugar, because individually and collectively we move faster and farther than any other national group. Sugar in every form is what feeds that dynamic energy.

Too much sugar may, of course, be dangerous but so also was the vogue a few years ago of cutting down the sugar consumption, especially of growing children.

That sounds like a lot of running around, doesn’t it? As if everyone was dashing here and there frantically like the Three Stooges. Who come to think of it acted like they had had too much sugar, most of the time.

Ruth B. goes on to say that moderation in everything is a good idea, but – didn’t she just say we all need lots and lots of sugar? I found this really strange and fascinating – we eat lots of sweet stuff because we are so energetic and dynamic. We were just about to enter the war in 1941 (in December of that year), and I guess were going to need more energy for that. But the wartime cookbooks tell us how to conserve sugar and fat and make eggless, butterless, milkless raisin cake (which is really good, by the way).

I once read something in a 1950s Life magazine, a candy bar ad I think, talking about how we all needed loads of sugar for energy. Funny how sugar was not seen as a culprit then but something you required. Of course Ms. Berolzheimer and the candy manufacturers did have an interest in people eating sweets, so there’s that as well.

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you who like it, and those of you who don’t care for it, have a nice Thursday. I recommend extra dark chocolate in either case – not as much, er, sugar as there is in the milky chocolate – and all the health benefits as well. If Ruth Berolzheimer was writing now, she’d be all over the extra dark chocolate, I’m sure.

Appropriately Valentine-like dessert image from the Introduction page. Title from 1941 Three Stooges short.

Let Them Eat Plain Cake!

Here is Martha’s favorite cake. Not Martha Stewart, but Martha Logan – sort of a 1940s version of Ms. Stewart, minus the TV show and the big house in Westport, Connecticut. Ms. Logan was the Home Economist for the Swift Canadian Company Limited, makers of shortening. A very special kind of shortening, so special that they named it Swift’ning, get it?

With Martha Logan’s help you can make these recipes which are “Queens of Cuisine…Aristocrats of the Kitchen.” You, on the other hand, are not a queen or an aristocrat. You are a minion, baby. A Lady in Waiting to the Queens of Cuisine – and doesn’t that sound like a challenging career. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the soup.

Well, there are a lot of recipes queening it in Martha’s kitchen (yours too, if you cook with all that Swift’ning) – heaven knows what that crowd’s going to do to your dinner. Smother it in lard, most likely.

So let’s talk about the Queen For A Day, if you will. Here is Martha’s Favourite Cake – that’s what she calls it, that’s what it is. The Empress of the recipes, I guess. Don’t forget the ‘u’ in ‘favourite,’ it’s Canadian! Here you go:

Martha’s Favourite Cake

Creaming Method [this is to remind you to cream the shortening, I don't know what else you are supposed to do, toss it in the bowl still in the cardboard?]

Yield: Two 8-inch layers

1/2 cup Swift’ning
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsps double-acting baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Cream Swift’ning. Add sugar, salt and vanilla. Cream until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add alternately with milk, adding flour first and last. Mix until thoroughly blended. Line bottoms of two 8-inch layer cake pans with two layers of waxed paper. Pour equal amounts of batter into each pan. Bake. Baking Temperature: 375. Baking time: about 30 minutes. Suggested Frosting: Select any frosting.

So essentially, it’s what used to be called “plain cake.” My grandmother had a recipe for this, and so do most cookbooks. It isn’t hard to make, and it’s a good basic cake that’s hard to mess up. I have seen this recipe with butter rather than shortening though. But the Swift people were hostile to butter, so Swift’ning it is.

I want to know why Martha the cooking expert considers “plain cake” the apex of baking royalty. And why doesn’t she care what frosting we use? Does she like them all equally? Is she giving up on her favourite cake? That’s what happens when you have too many “Queens of Cuisine,” Martha – doesn’t work for countries or cookbooks. Better get some fancy icing on pronto, there’s a Golden Glow Cake two pages on with an nearly identical list of ingredients – and a way flashier name – waiting to take over.

Homework On A Bun

Back when I was in the 7th grade (all right, in 1974) we were the last class to take Cooking instead of the trendier CT (Communications & Theater, my dear – in other words, as it turned out, Giving A Lot Of Tiresome Speeches). And so we gathered in a classroom with two hotplates per table, and groups of four of us clustered around each hotplate, earnestly making some frightful mess or other and trying not to fidget or look at the clock too often (which was hard, as the class was as boring as it was messy – always a bad combination!)

We each got a mimeographed cook booklet (remember mimeographs? that was before xeroxing even) and had homework if you please – had to go home and cook a certain number of things in the booklet. You weren’t supposed to cook outside the booklet, not that we were up for Julia Child or even the Galloping Gourmet with that glass of wine he had on hand (though that bit looked a little more promising, still does on a tough day).

The one thing I remember cooking for my homework, in our apartment’s galley kitchen, were hot dogs, split lengthwise, stuffed with processed American cheese, which were supposed to toast merrily in the oven. We had a tiny wall oven, very dark and scary, rather like a miniature subway tunnel. The hot dogs were pretty scary looking too, once I’d got done with them.

This recipe is like that mimeographed one – sort of. It comes to us courtesy of the Home Economics Department of the H.J. Heinz Company from their classic Heinz Book of Salads and Meat Recipes which they claim is “something new in recipe books for the woman who likes to make every meal a culinary triumph.” The menacing italics are theirs, not mine. Personally, I just want to make every meal edible – never mind the culinary triumph.

There are some great pictures in this book, and when we get into some of those salads (for I adore strange retro salad recipes) I will scan them in. But at the moment my scanning capabilities are limited as it requires linking this computer with that printer and other things I am still playing around with. When I am an expert in this I will edit these entries and fill them up with graphic retrograde-A imagery. And that will be a culinary triumph enough for me!

Luncheon Frankfurter Rolls

1 pound frankfurters
1/2 cup Heinz Sweet Mustard Pickle [you didn't think you were getting out of this without using Heinz stuff, now did you?]
2 Tb of mustard sauce from the above pickles
3 Tb Heinz mayonnaise [what did I tell you?]

Cook frankfurters in boiling water until tender. Cool, remove skin, and put through the food chopper, together with the Pickles [their capital P, not mine - is that their surname?] Add mustard sauce and Mayonnaise [same deal as the pickles] to form a moist sandwich filling. Cut tops from the rolls, scoop out part of the center, butter rolls and fill generously with the meat mixture. Replace tops and serve. For the packed lunch wrap each sandwich in waxed paper.

That’s as may be, but if I wrapped that up and sent it to school in the lunch bags, there would be a revolution in the streets. Or a revulsion in the streets.

But I love this kind of recipe just because I would never want to make it! It’s a look into pop history – same with old ads, old magazines, weird fads. It doesn’t make it into the standard history books – but maybe that’s just as well. More fun for me to tell you about it – more fun for me, anyway!

The photo is from the amazing NYPL Digital Gallery, and shows a hot dog stand in New York probably in the 1920s.