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Vintage Recipes and Recollections



A couple of notes about the recipe: 1) Mom would often substitute margarine or even vegetable oil for the traditional solid shortening with good result. 2) When adding the egg whites, beat them lightly with a fork before adding.

This cake holds a special place in my heart. It popped into my head when I was chatting with our neighbour recently.  She was at our door borrowing some cinnamon for cupcakes her daughter was taking to a school bake sale.  In my day this cake was a mainstay for school bake sales an it didn’t take me long to find the well-used recipe in the file.

This cake, credited to G. Blair with whom I’m unfamiliar, is incredibly moist,  with a really lovely chocolate flavour – probably due to the addition of the cold coffee. Mom always iced it with a simple vanilla frosting that may have had a hint of peppermint rather than vanilla.

I can’t honestly remember what our elementary school bake sales were raising money for, but we had them fairly regularly.  Each grade, from one to six, would have a table of baked goods for sale – and it seems to me that we mostly sold things to each other and maybe the volunteer Moms that were helping out.  But we all had to take turns behind the table selling our wares – and, as this all took place a million years ago, we had to be able to count change.  Math not being my strong suit, meant there were many an evening before the bake sale spent at the kitchen table practicing change making. Despite the practice, I’m fairly certain many “customers” left our table with a delicious piece of chocolate cake, and more money than they started with!


pistachio 2

A couple of notes about the recipe – after the “third layer” is complete, let it set in the refrigerator before adding the final layer. And unless you have a real love of artificial whipped cream, substitute with the real thing!

Full disclosure – I tend to pass right by any recipes in the file that have “Delight” in the name. More often than not the “delight” involves some odd combination of fruit, cottage cheese, jello and whipped cream. But this one has avoided all of that quite successfully. And it’s soft green colour is the epitome of Easter celebrations.  It’s also an easy dessert to put together well in advance and one that Mom often left me in charge of putting together.

Easter in our home was always a time for family, often highlighted with a lovely ham dinner.  But there’s one Easter that always stands out for me.  One year when I was about eight or so,  Mom and Dad, along with the grandparents took us to the mountains just west of Holmwood for the Easter weekend.  We had a great time enjoying the beautiful national park and got to stay in some terrific cabins.  My brother and I were somewhat concerned that the Easter Bunny might not know we were on holiday, but Mom assured us that the Bunny had everything under control and we’d be just fine.  Unfortunately, the Bunny clearly didn’t take into account how cold it got at night in the mountains, and that placing chocolate eggs on the heat registers probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do.  Needless to say there was more chocolate milk than Easter eggs in the morning – what a mess! – and some parental scrambling to find replacement eggs!

Enjoy the recipe and Happy Easter!


Some of my favourite recipes are those in the file marked “Lake”.  They’re usually like this one in that aside from being really tasty are fully transportable. A must for meals destined for consumption at the lake, or volunteer events at the Edmonton YWCA where the name of this recipe comes from.

As much as everyone loved to be at Holmwood for the weekend – or for the summer if you were really lucky! – there was a lot of planning and preparation involved getting the family from the city to the lake.  Although there were always a couple of stores in operation in the village at the lake, they were designed more for picking up extra milk and bread than groceries for the weekend. Advanced meal planning was an essential skill, even more so when Mom and Dad got their own cottage at the lake when Holmwood became too small for the expanding extended families.  Mom often prepared this hearty soup in advance and was able to heat it up and serve it with a salad and some garlic bread in pretty short order after arrival.

Tasty and transportable – doesn’t get much better than that!



It startles me how vividly some memories come back to life while perusing the recipe files.  Aside from being a terrific recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Cake, reading this one made me laugh out loud as I remembered that it was this cake that introduced me to my Mom’s more devious side.

To set the scene…

Mom never veered too far from her “tried and true” recipes when it came to baking – Boiled Raisin Cookies and Banana Loaf that previously featured in this blog were seen most often.  So it was somewhat unusual when a chocolate cake made an appearance, mid-week, without a birthday or celebration in sight. And I specifically remember Mom being quite eager for everyone to make sure they tried a piece.

I was probably in my early teens when this cake made it’s first appearance in our home, I didn’t have much of a sweet tooth and certainly hadn’t discovered the tastiness of  “fringe vegetables” like zucchini.  Having no idea there might be unusual ingredients involved I gave this densely chocolate, extremely moist cake an enthusiastic thumbs up.  But I don’t think I immediately noticed the extra glee Mom took in my enjoyment. Even stranger was that at some point in the following weeks when I needed to take something for a class bake sale, it was this cake offered up in place of one of the expected standards mentioned above.  Something was definitely afoot!

Mom finally spilled the beans, or the squash, about the secret ingredient – zucchini! There was a twinkle in her eye and smile on her face that simply said “gotcha” as she detailed how the green vegetable was what made the cake so moist. The recipe had come from one of the neighbours and likely given with the added benefit, “they’ll never know they’re eating vegetables – wink wink”!

I doubt that I immediately jumped on the zucchini bandwagon, but I did learn a bit more about a vegetable that hadn’t previously had much impact on our grocery list and has since become one of my favourites. Interestingly, this cake was probably made at summer’s end when neighbours with gardens were looking to offload excess amounts of squash, but as zucchini is so readily available all year now there’s no excuse to not enjoy this great cake any time!


When I was growing up I was convinced there was another “special day” in January aside from New Year’s Day.  In our home the first Monday after the holidays was commonly known as New Diet Day. I was never sure if every household observed it or not but without fail on the morning of New Diet Day, Mom would be at the kitchen counter in deep concentration cutting out magazine or newspaper recipes extolling the virtues of healthy eating for the new year.  And like the recipe here they often came with helpful “at home” exercise tips that would be adhered to religiously – for at least a week or two.

New Diet Day wasn’t particularly the happiest day on the calendar for a young man who had yet to discover the delights of vegetables.  I knew with a resigned certainty that meals for the following weeks would highlight all manner of unfamiliar veggie matter in new versions of soups, stews and salads, before, in my opinion, we returned to a more balanced food routine.  I look back at some of those meals today with a new fondness and appreciation – they gave me a literal taste of how vegetables could be combined in new, interesting and really tasty ways.

Whether you use this recipe (that appears to have come from a grocery store handout and originally from one of the Best of Bridge books) to celebrate New Diet Day or not, it makes a terrific soup.  I’ve adjusted it’s proportions both increasing and decreasing ingredients without affecting it’s always tasty and satisfying result.

Enjoy – and Happy New Diet Day!

Oh!  All that steam!  The pudding had just been taken out of the cauldron.  Oh!  That smell!  The same as the one which prevailed on washing day!  It is that of the cloth which wraps the pudding.  Now, one would imagine oneself in a restaurant and in a confectioner’s at the same time, with a laundry nest door.  Thirty seconds later, Mrs.  Cratchit entered, her face crimson, but smiling proudly, with the pudding resembling a cannon ball, all speckled, very firm, sprinkled with brandy in flames, and decorated with a sprig of holly stuck in the centre.  Oh!  The marvelous pudding!”    

Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

I’m afraid that as a youth, less than flattering prose passages like this may have influenced my uncertainty about this historic Christmas dessert. Did I really want to eat something that resembles a cannon ball and may taste of the laundry?  Not likely!  Happily, once I grew up and actually gave it a chance, my mind was changed forever. I honestly can’t imagine a Cook family Christmas without this rich, dense and tasty dessert.

Christmas Pudding has a long history and is an important part of the festive meal for many families of British lineage. This recipe comes from my Grannie Cook’s family and emigrated with them when they left England and Scotland for life in Canada. I’m constantly astounded how recipes like this one resonate so strongly with my sense of family and history.  I’ve even noted lately that the recipe includes the traditional 13 ingredients which originally represented Christ and his disciples.  The pudding and it’s history are rife with lore and tradition.

My partner David and I recently returned from a holiday through the UK – London and Edinburgh this time – and were lucky enough to be there while the sights of Christmas began to appear. The incredible lights of Oxford and Regent Streets; the magnificent window displays of Harrods and Selfridges; and of course the smells and tastes of the season. It’s no wonder this recipe came to mind – it’s simply another reminder of how closely linked both David and I feel to the heritage of that special place.

Strangely, I’ve never made this recipe, nor did my Mom as I recall.  It was always left in the capable hands of the Cooks.  But I’m feeling inspired to include it at our table this year.  Not only as a tasty end to the meal, but as a way to ensure another tradition lives on.



This is one of those classic “feel good” comfort food recipes that showed up on our table on a fairly regular basis. But it’s not the tasty, saucy meatballs that stand out most in my memory, it was the method Mom used to prepare them – the mystical and oft dreaded pressure cooker!

This recipe, and frankly most others that are similar, recommend using the oven to bake the meatballs.  But from the late 1930s onward pressure cooking was the “new way” for fast, efficient meal preparation and was particularly fashionable when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Both my grandmothers used them and I’m curious now if they didn’t place a good dose of fear into my Mom concerning their use.  I always remember that whenever the pressure cooker came out of the cupboard the mood of the kitchen changed. There was a clearly delineated area around the stove that we weren’t to enter “just in case”. And although there were never any pressure induced explosions (as I was always waiting for), I learned to have a healthy and admittedly fearful respect for the pressure cooker.  It’s likely why I’ve never used one even though they’ve become quite popular again with many new safety features.


I’ve only made this recipe once in recent years and sadly it was a disaster.  I think I either didn’t use enough liquid or didn’t allow it to cook long enough, but the result was a bit crunchier than it should have been and didn’t impress my partner in the least.  I think I may need to give it another go again soon, because it really is a terrifically tasty dish that is wonderful served on a cold winter night.

I admit freely that I passed by this recipe in the file quite a few times simply because of the name – it’s definitely not the most appealing sounding concoction.  But after coming across multiple versions I started to dig a little deeper and now have a new appreciation for its cleverness.

Essentially it’s a recipe for mayonnaise made without oil. And quite frankly it’s ingenious.  Dating as far back as the early 1800s Cooked Salad Dressing would have been popular in areas of Europe and the early Americas that didn’t have easy access to cooking oil normally associated with a mayonnaise type preparation.  Olive oil, typically from Spain wasn’t always readily available and when it was, it was far too expensive to use for day-to-day cooking. And vegetable oil wasn’t available until the mid 20th century. This dressing could easily been made and preserved for months at a time making it very convenient – the clear predecessor to the huge variety of bottled salad dressings available today.

This recipe comes from my Grandma Drake’s collection and likely from the days she and my Grandad managed a farm west of Edmonton in the 1930s.  In her cooking lexicon, salad would have referred to a “composed” or “bound” assortment of vegetables like potato salad rather than the loose collection of leaves and vegetables we’re more used to today.  She quite likely used this recipe when preparing some kind of vegetable salad to accompany lunches sent out to the farm hands working in the fields. I know they had a food chest similar to the one pictured here.  It could keep food cool or warm for extended periods and was easily transportable.  Mom and Dad found one at a country auction some years ago and used it as a coffee table at the lake.


The history lesson that comes with each of these recipes is the real treasure.  I’m endlessly astounded by the ingenuity of the cooks – literally and figuratively – that have come before.  It’s truly inspiring!

Cooked Salad Dressing

1 envelope unflavoured gelatine

1/2 cup cold water

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/3 cups boiling water

2 teaspoons butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup vinegar

In the top of a double boiler soften gelatine in cold water (according to package directions).  Add sugar, salt, mustard and paprika – mix well.  Add boiling water and butter.

Beat eggs well and slowly beat them into the hot mixture.  Return the mixture to the double boiler and cook over hot – not boiling – water stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken.  Remove from heat and slowly stir in vinegar.  Beat until smooth.


Autumn always brings to mind the rows of canned fruit and vegetables that lined the storage pantry in my grandparent’s basement.  Rhubarb, beets and lots of pickles.

I admit I haven’t tackled many canning or pickling projects – despite my love for all things pickled!  As a matter of fact my one and only sojourn into the world of pickle preservation was an unmitigated disaster. This recipe is an off-shoot of another of grandma’s signature recipes – Mustard Pickles, a true family favourite. Not long after grandma passed away, Mom and I decided to have an afternoon together and make those wonderful, tangy pickles.  Things went pretty well until I misread the amount of salt required and added about four times as much as necessary.  Needless to say the the pickles were ruined but Mom and I had a great day reminiscing.

As you can see the original recipe for Good Pickles has become almost unreadable, but over the years there’s been a number of “re-writes” and I’ve included the readable ingredients and reworked instructions here. As with a lot of recipes handed down through the generations, some of the instructions are just “known” and not always written down so I’ve included those as well!

Hope you enjoy these terrific pickles as much as we have over the years.

Good Pickles

Into a large stock pot add:

2 quarts chopped cucumber (seeded)

1 quart chopped green tomatoes

1 quart chopped yellow onion

2 quarts chopped cabbage

1/2 cup salt (pickling salt is a good choice)

1 quart white vinegar (about 4 cups)

Bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes.

In a separate large bowl mix:

8 cups white sugar

2-3 teaspoons turmeric

1 cup flour

1/2 oz celery seed (approximately 3 teaspoons)

To the flour and sugar add enough of the boiled vinegar mixture to make a paste and then whisk the mixture back into the stock pot.


2 red and 2 green peppers seeded and chopped

Cook on a medium high heat until thickened – about 15 minutes.

Pour into hot sterilized jars filling to within 1/2 inch of the top. Seal with lids and rings. Process for 10 minutes in a simmering water bath. Refrigerate any jars that fail to seal properly.

game hens

When Mom was going to pull out all the stops, this recipe for Cornish Games Hens was always on the menu, often for a special dinner with Dad.  It’s simple with really delicious results, although I do remember the bread stuffing was replaced in later years with a long grain and wild rice version that was always a favourite.

It’s been fascinating for me to put myself in my Mom’s mindset as I sift through her recipe file, especially when it comes to the “fancy” recipes like this one. If you’ve had the opportunity to read any of my previous posts you’ve probably already determined that in my life, food and family gatherings go hand in hand. But having people for dinner was not a regular thing for Mom and Dad.  And frankly, when guests were coming (like on New Year’s Eve) it would be Dad who would take charge in the kitchen – often armed with some new kind of K-Tel kitchen gadget.

Based on many of the early volumes in Mom’s cookbook collection I can’t help wondering if, as a young homemaker she wasn’t a bit intimidated by the prospect of entertaining.  Of those books my favourite is Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book, one she regularly pulled basic recipes from. As it was published and revised in the 1940s I except she might have been introduced to it through a Home Economics class in school. And even though there are a plethora of really useful recipes, the chapter on Table Setting and Decoration is terrifying!

home comp

From the opening text, “….but remember that you are just as much a hostess in your own family as though you were entertaining guests, and you owe it to them to have  your daily meals nicely served and as attractive as you can make them.  If you follow this course day by day, giving a party presents few added difficulties….a charmingly set table, food well cooked and temptingly presented and above all a serene unworried hostess.”  This followed by pages of illustrations for proper table settings and two sections on serving “With and Without a Maid” – “If you are so fortunate as to have a well-trained maid your role is an easy one. But it is the hostess without skilled help, who still manages to entertain with grace and distinction, who is the everlasting envy of her friends”.


If this book was my guide I wouldn’t have entertained much either! But when Mom did entertain she was a most gracious and welcoming host.  It’s a trait I try to emulate at every opportunity – and without a maid!