Here are my oldest and newest cookbooks. I don’t really have to tell you which is which, I’ll bet.
And in between the oldest and newest are dozens of other cookbooks collected over the years; some really good, others barely cracked:
My mother gave me that little red cookbook when I was newly married way back in the seventies. Mom was a German girl who married my GI dad in the fifties and moved with him to Marshall, Minnesota. This book and cooking with my Grandma were her introductions to American cooking. My mother remembers being amazed at how much food we had in the grocery stores compared to what was available in Germany at the time. But she missed all the good cheeses, sausages, and breads that were familiar to her.
The book looks pretty battered, doesn’t it? And it is, to be sure, after 60-plus years but some of the damage to the cover was courtesy of my brother Mike’s hungry guinea pig. That little varmint ate anything in its path, I remember.
Let’s take a peek inside, shall we? In 1953, the ladies still referred to themselves as Mrs. “Husband’s Name.” And there’s a lot of assumed knowledge, i.e., “bake in slow oven”, whatever that is; “until done”, whenever that is; “butter the dish” with no dimensions given. And I guess the First Lady was on call to contribute a recipe to the nation’s church cookbooks.
Here’s a surprise and a big change from today’s cookbooks: not even two full pages of “appetizers.” The age of jalapeno poppers and artichoke dip is not yet upon us. But, never fear, Shrimp Cocktail is alive and well.
We make up for our shortage of appetizers with ten pages of “Pickles.” In addition to cucumber, we have pickled watermelon rind, peaches, green beans, and even, surprisingly, a chutney. Mrs. M. J. Moore used cinnamon and cloves and recommended using with meat. No hot peppers and mango but, still, a little ahead of her time, she was.
We have lots and lots of recipes for cookies, pies, and cakes. Other than ingredients such as “Spry” and lard, those old diehard recipes stand the test of time. Where you can really tell how far we’ve come culinarily is when we get to the “Salads” and “Main Dishes.” Not sure whether to laugh or cry at some of these recipes. Our ladies from the fifties cooked with an abundance of canned vegetables and a dearth of fresh ones. If it isn’t canned or frozen, it’s not here. I’m picturing pretty lean pickin’s in the produce department compared to what we have today.
OK, salads. To be fair, a few call for lettuce. But most are concoctions of some sort using jello with various fruits or vegetables added. This one is so weird, I may just have to try it. Melted cinnamon hots with apples, celery, and jello? Awesome.
Inexplicably there are no fewer than ten recipes for “Chow Mein.” It must have been the hot new dish of the time. Common ingredient? MOLASSES. We know that interest in “foreign” dishes was growing in post-war America and this interpretation of a Chinese dish was probably among those early tries at livening up the daily humdrum menu.
Fresh seafood isn’t happening here either. Although there are lots of recipes for freshwater fish (this is the Land of 10,000 Lakes after all), seafood was either battered fried shrimp or canned salmon and tuna. How lucky are we that we can trot right into the grocery store and buy just about whatever our little hearts desire?
No, Mrs. Ed. Van Moer. Just no.
Hey, Mrs. Del Fox. I think we could have been friends. This sounds really good. As long as it’s not going on Jello:
Here and there are my mother’s notes. “Schnittlauch” is the German for chives:
And there’s a nod to the Norwegian immigrants who settled this part of Minnesota throughout the book. Fattigmand, anyone? (The “D” seems to have dropped off these cookies over the years according to my internet searches.)
And you are a far better cook than I am if you can figure out just what to do with this Viking delicacy:
Hey, even though I’m poking a bit of fun, I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of my little red vestige of the past. No, it’s going to stay right here in my kitchen bookshelf nestled up to its more contemporary counterparts. The recipes might be showing their sixty-some years and I have more than enough really excellent recipes to try without ever having to open this book again, but there’s one really good reason to keep it around. And that’s because here and there are a smattering of recipes from Grandma herself, Mrs. Henry Lennard. But you can call her Helen. She wouldn’t have minded a bit:
So I gathered up my beaters and whisks and did the best I could to make sense of this recipe. You know what? It’s really pretty darn good; the kind of dessert you might like to serve the girls at lunch on the porch on a hot summer day. Here’s a snap of it along with one of the dessert forks from the silverware she gave me years before she passed away. Thanks, Gram!