Going to talk about old things, like myself.
Last week I baked cookies. I’m pretty good at cookies and scones, and can scramble a mean egg, and I have cooked in my varied past. However, I am lucky enough to be married to a cook, and one whose skills far exceed mine.
It all started with a bag of granola. When I first bought it I thought I liked it, but after a while I realized it was just too damn sweet. Thus the half-used bag languished in the refrigerator for several weeks until El Jefe de Cociná reminded me of its eternal presence. Therefore my mind instantly leapt to cookies.
I needed to find a recipe for granola cookies, which would be probably a recipe for oatmeal cookies. Old food requires old recipe books. And we have a handful of them. El Jefe doesn’t generally use cookbooks; he occasionally consults the Internet specifically for information about meat units. Of the few cookbooks we have, one is of the Rombauer dynasty, The Joy of Cooking—source of my favorite scone recipe—and the other is a very worn version of Farm Journal’s Country Cooking, circa 1972—source of oatmeal/coconut crisps. The spine is falling off; at one time I’m sure it had a cover, but that is long, long lost. This cookbook was a gift from my mother, and belonged to a long ago and unforgettable time of my life—unforgettable for mostly the bad shit. Anyway, rather than consult Rombauer, I opened the venerable pages of the old country journal.
The index brought me to a recipe that I, apparently, had used before. The original asked for proportions yielding 14 dozen cookies. In pencil I wrote in adjusted amounts. I have no memory of doing this, or of making the cookies. With a few substitutions and omissions, the cookies are wonderful.
The cookbook itself is a relic, revealing the history of a culture and food that is long gone. I’ve reproduced the color photography of recipe examples, foods that most people no longer eat and likely never heard of, I’ll wager.
The chow mein recipe asks for canned water chestnuts, canned bean sprouts, canned mushrooms (drained).Note the caption in the photograph mentions canned fried noodles with fruit (no doubt also canned) as a dessert. Chow mein is still offered in Chinese-American restaurants, and depending on the quality of the venue, canned items may still be used.
It’s not as if I really knew what beef Wellington is, but the Farm Journal’s cookbook certainly knew. It’s on page 3. I never realized that liverwurst is part of the recipe (liverwurst is also a by-gone sandwich item). The recipe pastry is, at least, made from scratch. If you must have beef Wellington, fresh, homemade pastry is essential.
Gelatins are widely used in this cookbook, and, it is to be assumed, widely used in American midwest farming country, especially during hot, humid summers. For the jellied beef mold, the chuck is ground at home using a food chopper. Aside from canned beef consommé, the ingredients are fresh and I have to admit the idea of a cold slice of this mold sounds rather mouth-watering. For omnivores, that is.
The quality of the photographs is also interesting. Lighting was provided at the scene, and any photo touch-ups occurred in the darkroom. Comparing these garish images—toned up into the red spectrum—with the food porn currently rampant on the Internet, I wonder how anyone had an appetite. Yet, aside from canned mushrooms, the recipes in this book are thoughtfully easy to follow, with simple execution. I got a lot of milage out of this book, and even though now my use of it is relegated to cookie baking, I’m going to keep it around.