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Vintage Recipes and Recollections


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!




I’m endlessly intrigued by the number of casserole recipes that appear in our family file like this one courtesy of Jackie Eddy, who was the Food Editor of the Edmonton Sun through the 1980s.  It’s a great example of what inspired Mom, who was a master at combining disparate items into a  tasty meal that could, conceivably last for days.

Mom being of the post-Depression generation was always aware, either consciously or not, of the need to make food “go as far as possible”. She learned some valuable lessons from my grandma about extending the more expensive proteins in a meal with less expensive “filler”. And she was a homemaker during a time when the modern casserole was the mainstay of a busy household.  There weren’t many school events, team practices, committee meetings or family get-togethers that didn’t feature a variety of casseroles. And why not? They can be prepared well in advance and then be transported and re-heated with ease.  Interestingly,  many of the recipes have been updated in Mom’s handwriting with “healthier” substitutions for the canned soups that so often made an appearance.  Healthier is a somewhat loose term as the substitutions are more often than not canned veggies.  But she was trying!

I don’t remember Mom making a lot of the casserole recipes in the file but they were defiantly the inspiration for casseroles like the one below, a staple in our home for many years. It was a family favourite that was Mom’s version of a recipe from an old, long-gone magazine article. It was also re-done by the Best of Bridge ladies in one of their books as I recall.  It’s definitely a tasty one!

Sat Night




air buns

A bit of clarification to help you read through the “dried dough” on the paper – the recipe reads – 1 tsp sugar, 4 eggs well-beaten, 2 tsps salt  and 2 1/2 cups warm water.

For me, these wonderful, yeasty buns are the true definition of a Holmwood recipe. It’s relatively foolproof and one that I could experiment with at a fairly young age – and did on a few occasions while at the lake during the summer months.

The recipe came through my Aunt Liz’s family, usually credited to her Aunt Jenny. This version of the recipe is written in my hand copied from the original. The recipe is designed to have the dough rise over a long period of time, usually overnight as it’s name suggests. I remember looking forward all day to the dough making process and then the anticipation for what we’d find in the morning – which was always beautifully risen balls of dough ready to be glazed with melted butter and baked. I have very fond memories of making this recipe with my Uncle Bill. As he was a teacher at the time I expect there may have been a bit of a science lesson included! Regardless, it was a lot of fun.

Aside from the tasty buns resulting from this recipe, the stationery it’s written on has a story all of it’s own. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about the family recipe files.

The recipe was written on the flip side of City of Edmonton letterhead from the mid 1970s (based on the signature of Mayor William Hawrelak) on behalf of the Welcome Wagon. My Grandma  Drake was a “hostess” with this organization which started in Canada in the 1930s.  Welcome Wagon hostesses “make visits” into the community to provide newcomers, young families, and young women entering the workforce or changing careers with products and services from local businesses that might assist them and make them feel “welcome”. I don’t think I realized until I was an adult that grandma was responsible for encouraging local businesses to be a part of the program and to contribute a product sample or service gift certificate. Very entrepreneurial! I have fond memories of the big wicker basket she used to carry the sample products in. I know she was very proud of the work she did for Welcome Wagon. And I was endlessly proud of her!


This post is a bit of a cheat.  I wrote it some time ago for a different project but, as we head into our Thanksgiving weekend in Canada,  it feels right.

I wrote this not long after Mom started receiving more daily care as her dementia started  taking a firmer grasp on her memories.  I loved getting a smile or laugh from her when I reminded her of all the fun we had at family gatherings. So many of the recipes I’m rediscovering now and sharing in this blog, were the stars of those gatherings.

Even though this year’s Thanksgiving celebration is the first without Mom and Dad, I’m thankful for my partner, our family and friends, near and far, and for the bounty of memories that remain.

I hope you enjoy this re-post and Happy Thanksgiving!


Apparently, English and Scottish surnames were often derived from the person’s occupation.  Cook, then, is a terrifically apt name for our family and perhaps why many of the conversations I have with Mom end up about food or eating.


Learning the importance of gathering for food at an early age!

I don’t think Mom ever really loved to cook, but she always had hearty meals on the table for us every day. She stuck to the tried and true favourites most days, but based on the number of cookbooks and recipe files she collected I think she enjoyed the challenge of finding new things for her family to eat.  I’m pretty sure my love of cooking was borne out of watching her in the kitchen.  And even though Mom no longer prepares food for herself, the routine of meal time is a key social component of her day. Three times a day Mom joins her regular table mates for really well prepared food and camaraderie.  On her bad days  she is often heard complaining that “they only serve fish!” but the variety of food choices is quite spectacular. I know she finds comfort in joining others at meal time, just as our family of four did as regularly as we could.  And our extended family has some rich traditions when it comes to family meals.


Grannie Cook (centre) family meal



Christmas at our house in the 1960s


Family gathering with the Drakes in the 1970s. The unruly one on the right is me.


Family meals continue with new generations


For as long as I can remember, the Cook/Ewart/Drake families have come together at times of celebration for some pretty fantastic meals. For a long time Mom hung on to the memory of she and Dad hosting Christmas dinner for the entire clan while she was quite pregnant with me.  While I wasn’t there “in entirety” for that dinner, I can guarantee from the countless family dinners I attended afterwards,  that it would have been a true collaborative effort. The hosts prepared the main part of the meal and other family members contributed vegetables, salads or desserts. The hosting family would shift with each occasion and over the years the number of people in attendance just grew and grew.  It wasn’t uncommon for tables to spread throughout the dining and living rooms and sometimes the kitchen (a likely location for the “kid’s table”). On at least one occasion we used the basement of the church to accommodate everyone.  There was always lots of laughter and many, many stories shared. In fact, so many of the dishes served became family classics, that a cookbook was prepared to commemorate a reunion in the 1990s.  It’s still a go-to recipe file for me today.


I appreciate now more than ever how those meals provided nourishment for mind, body and spirit. It was a great time to see cousins, and other distant family members and we always looked forward after dinner to a series of “Cook family games” that brought out some surprising competitiveness. One particular game was kind of like musical chairs, only substitute crazy hats for chairs. Said hats then needed to be plucked off your neighbour’s head and placed onto yours before the music stopped.  My Grannie and great aunt were ferocious and I think were responsible for some of my early hair loss!


The infamous hat game – Grannie Cook (right) teaching me bad habits.


Marshmallow on a string – Mom (left) seems to be beating my Aunt Liz!

The families may have all grown too large and too far flung for those dinners to happen easily now, but the traditions have been successfully passed through the generations.  I enjoy sharing those memories with Mom and I think she enjoys reliving them. Happy times and meals shared with family and friends – a true testament to the traditions of our parents and theirs.