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Vintage Recipes and Recollections

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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

 

 

 

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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 in which she used to carry the sample products. I know she was very proud of the work she did for Welcome Wagon. And I was endlessly proud of her!

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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.

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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.

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Grannie Cook (centre) family meal

 

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Christmas at our house in the 1960s

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

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

 

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It would have to “taste better than it looks” based on the picture below!

My family’s recipes give me a great sense of connection. A connection to the past, to fond memories of celebrations and achievements, and most importantly to family members no longer with us. There’s immediate comfort in the familiar handwriting so distinctive to my Mom and grandmothers. And when I’m in the kitchen with these recipes it’s like everyone is there with me.

But enough melancholy! What connection could there possibly be to a Strawberry Angel Food Dessert?  My favourite kind –  an unexpected and happy coincidence.  When I recently came across this recipe, probably clipped from a magazine in the 1960s based on the horrifying and off-putting photograph, I had a flashback so strong it would need movie quality special effects to adequately describe it.

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In the early 1980s a series of books was published under the canopy title, Best of Bridge, literally from a group of Calgary, AB women who played bridge together.  Their terrific, accessible collection of recipes was a mainstay in our home.  Most of my volumes are falling apart from use.  In one of the first volumes – the “red book” as it was usually referred, was a recipe for Strawberry Angel Food Cake that has some striking similarities to this recipe. I’m sure that it was a family favourite for one of the women. And when I was in my middle teens and learning to cook on my own, it was the recipe I chose when Mom asked me to make dessert for one of the Cook family gatherings.  It was a hit and in the family repertoire for a number of years.

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Recognizing these connections reminds me that recipes are living entities. Families add and subtract ingredients to make them part of their own stories,  then pass them along through the generations creating new connections as they go.

The Best of Bridge version is made in an angel food tube pan rather than a square or rectangular pan suggested in this recipe.  The dessert will be tasty in either format, but I think the tube pan version makes a nicer presentation.

 

 

A friend noted the high oven temperature for the cookie recipes in previous posts. To be honest I’d never questioned it before. The recipes have always produced good results  even though 400F and 500F definitely seem out of the norm for cookie baking.  So I did a little investigating….

Many recipes from the early 1900s were developed in homes that relied on gas ovens. An electric oven patented by a Canadian no less was beginning to make it’s way into the marketplace at about the same time, but electricity was far too expensive for most households.  While gas and electric ovens produce the same temperature levels, gas ovens, particularly early models tended to heat faster with less temperature control – it seems reasonable that home cooks would be used to their ovens being “hot” when baking.  Gas ovens also produce more moisture – a byproduct of the gas.  The added moisture would not only moderate the heat but aid in the leavening action produced by eggs, baking powder, and/or baking soda found in the recipe. Gas ovens would tend to produce a moister cookie, typical of the Boiled Raisin Cookies in our recipe.

The bottom line? Test your oven temperature. Often oven thermometers are inaccurate. If your oven, either gas or electric, tends to run hotter than usual, reduce the heat by 25F. If using an electric oven and you’re looking for a moister cookie, it’s been suggested to include a tray of water under the cookie sheet to provide a bit more moisture. This should result in a higher, rounded,  moister cookie rather than ones that are flatter and crispier. And be mindful of the time noted on the recipe.  Cookies baked at higher temperatures need less time in the oven.

Hope this is helpful!

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Half the fun of reading through vintage recipes is coming across ingredients that are totally unfamiliar to me. This simple sugar cookie recipe is a great example.  What the heck is Nucoa? While the answer isn’t nearly as exotic as I’d imagined, it is part of a decidedly weird food story.

Nucoa is the brand name of an Oleomargarine, or margarine, first introduced in the early 1900s and popular in the United States through the 1950s and 1960s. A “healthier” version called Buttery Sticks was reintroduced a few years ago to mixed reviews.

Regardless, Nucoa had some terrific commercials:

What I wasn’t aware of was the battle between the dairy lobby and margarine producers that lasted for years.  In the last part of the 19th century U.S. dairy farmers were successful in legislating a healthy tax on margarine products in the hopes of encouraging more butter sales. What they didn’t count on was that homemakers enjoyed the spreadability of the considerably cheaper butter alternative. The dairy lobby upped the ante by encouraging Congress to enact production restrictions that prohibited margarine manufacturers to add yellow dye or colorant to the naturally white product. It didn’t take long for margarine producers to create a work-around by supplying homemakers with “dye kits” so they could add colour to their margarine blocks if they so desired. It wasn’t until after World War II, when margarine became much more popular due to the lack of butter, that the U.S government repealed most of the heavy taxes.

Restrictions on margarine sales in Canada were far more drastic. In fact, margarine wasn’t even allowed for sale in Canada until 1948, expect for a really brief window during World War I.  And even when sales were permitted, “butter coloured” margarine wasn’t – unless it was dyed a very bright yellow or even orange.  Many Provinces upheld that law until well into the 1990s, with Quebec finally repealing their margarine dye law in 2008.

This recipe would have been clipped from a magazine by my grandma probably in the 1960s.  If she had made the cookies she likely would have used either Parkay or Imperial margarines which were popular in our households. But today I’d think I’d happily substitute butter!

 

 

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I have an oddly complicated relationship with this recipe – starting with the fact that I have a relationship with a cookie! But oh what a cookie.

Right off the bat, I’m not a baker. Recipes for baked goods always look like Grade Four math problems to me – you know the ones – “Two trains leave the station travelling in opposite directions ten minutes apart on a rainy Friday afternoon. How old is the engineer?”  Way too much measuring and precision for me! But I can make these cookies –  even though they’re never as good as Mom’s were – and every tasty bite is full of happy memories of home.

This is a legacy recipe, passed through Mom’s grandmother’s family. I suspect that most families have a similar version in their own files.  The combination of such simple ingredients produces a cookie that could elevate my spirits like nothing else when I was a kid. Coming through the back door after school to be greeted with the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla wafting through the house was simply the best thing ever.  Even after I moved away from home, Mom would often send “care packages” that included a box of these little gems.

If you don’t have a recipe like this one in your file – you do now!

As the card is a little hard to read, I’ve re-written the recipe below:

Boiled Raisin Cookies

To one cup of  water in a saucepan add 1 1/2 cups golden raisins. Boil gently for 5 minutes and allow to cool, saving the liquid.

Beat together:

1 cup shortening

2 cups of sugar (added one at a time, mixing well between additions)

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a separate bowl, sift together:

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add the sifted ingredients, plus the raisins and their liquid to the creamed mixture and blend completely.

Drop by teaspoon onto a greased baking sheet.  Bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes.

Makes approximately 6 dozen cookies.

 

 

Here’s a question that’s puzzled me for years. Why are vegetables, on a daily basis fine on their own, but merely suggest guests for dinner, and they suddenly need to be enrobed in a cheese sauce?

Our family’s recipe file has an entire section of “Company Vegetables” and Broccoli Casserole is at the top of the heap.  In the run-up to Thanksgiving (here in Canada) I’ve been reminded that this group of special, company-only, cheesy recipes would always make an appearance.

I recall reading an article years ago about study results from a group of child psychologists suggesting that kids were more likely to enjoy vegetables (specifically the green ones like broccoli and Brussels sprouts) later in life if they were introduced to them with some kind of sauce.  My vegetable-phobic partner would have you believe that obviously suggests vegetables can only be enjoyed when their true identity is hidden behind a sauce.  He also believes that popcorn is a vegetable so we just agree to disagree on the topic.

I’d have to say that I’d’ve been on the outside of the norm in that study – I was never a fan of the processed “cheese sauce”.  It’s likely why in recent years I’ve remade this recipe but used fresh broccoli, a mushroom sauce that wasn’t previously condensed, wild rice not of the “minute” variety and a cheese sauce that used, well, real cheese!  A tasty, less processed version of a family classic.

But I present to you here, the original (with it’s endearingly misspelled title) in all it’s cheezie goodness. Enjoy – with or without company!

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Also in the “Company Vegetable” section is this one for Turnips au Gratin.  I don’t recall it ever making it to the table, but it piqued Mom’s interest enough for her to clip it out. A gold star to anyone who can explain to me why in the picture it’s garnished with orange slices. The 1970s was a decade of wondrous culinary delights wasn’t it?

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That’s what J.R.R. Tolkien would call the recipe if he was writing this article – “The One Recipe to bind them all“! While it’s not the oldest recipe in the file, it’s certainly the most used – and for me the most revered. All hail the iconic banana loaf.

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I think you’d be hard pressed to find a household, anywhere, that doesn’t have a version of banana loaf or banana bread in it’s canon. It makes sense when you think about it. Bananas are one of the best selling and most available fruit in countries all over the world. They’re tasty, accessible year round, and full of potassium.  And famous, or infamous, for one other feature – they’ll go bad long before you get through the bunch! It’s a guarantee.

By all accounts, banana loaves, or breads, or cakes have been made in their present format since the late 1800s.  They became especially popular during the Depression years of the 1930s when “quick breads” (those that don’t require yeast) were in vogue.  The advent of baking powder and soda provided new leavening options, and homemakers not wanting to waste food were more than happy to incorporate too ripe bananas into a recipe.

Our recipe is well-loved and originally from my great grandmother Cooper’s collection.  Of all the cards in the file it’s had the most wear and tear – I’m fairly certain there’s even petrified banana adhered to the card.  Truth be told, Mom made this loaf so often I don’t remember her ever referring to the recipe.  Bananas past their prime were treasured commodities in our home and destined for a new life in a loaf.

An added bonus to this recipe card is it’s partner – the recipe adjusted to meet my Grandad’s diabetic needs, swapping out the sugar with an artificial sweetener.  At least a few times a month, Mom would make a “Grandad version” that we could wrap up in tinfoil and deliver to him as a special treat.

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As the card is in rough shape, I’ve re-wrtiten the recipe below.  It’s a time honoured recipe that produces terrific results.

Banana Loaf

Mix:

1/2 cup shortening *

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs – added one at a time

Add:

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Add:

3 large very ripe bananas – mashed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup nuts (optional) **

Mix thoroughly and bake in a greased loaf pan at 350F for one hour or until a tester comes out cleanly.

* I believe the original recipe refers to solid vegetable shortening, however, Mom always used a vegetable oil with great success.

** Walnuts were Mom’s choice for many years. One of my early kitchen jobs was to chop the nuts in a wonderful little contraption like the one pictured here:

nut grinder

 

What is it about old recipes that capture our interest and imagination?

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For some, they recall a space in time – like a song you haven’t heard forever but that instantly transports you back to sometime special and meaningful.

For others they’re like a warm blanket – familiar and comforting.

For me they’re also an integral part of my family history. After my Mom passed away this year I found a large manila envelope with my name on it. Inside were hundreds of recipes – some loose, some in old notebooks, some in plastic covers. They date from the early 1900s through the late 1990s. They passed from my grandma to Mom and I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be the new keeper of these treasured recipes that have been collected, transcribed, and clipped for so many years. They’re not only a trove of interesting and often odd ideas for dishes and menus, but a record of sorts of my family’s history. Many are scribbled on old letters or envelopes (many with partial letters, or addresses on the reverse), the backsides of shopping lists, or napkins from restaurants. The recipes that are clipped from newspapers and magazines are an amazing snapshot of their time. The flipside of the recipe is often a portion of a store advertisement or event notice, even the odd obituary! All of them spark a memory and tell a story.

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I used to assume that my love of cooking and food came from my Mom and Grandma – so many of my memories of them revolve around the kitchen.  Recently I’ve realized that may not be entirely accurate.  Both were good cooks – they had healthy and hearty meals on the table for their families every day – but unlike me, I think they enjoyed the “idea” of cooking rather than the actual process.  It was the recipes that fuelled their imaginations.

What intrigues me is so many of the recipes would never have been attempted by either Mom or Grandma. “Scaloppine Alla Parmigiana“, “Salmon Continental“, or “Carrot Timbales” never showed up on the table, but the recipes are lovingly filed away “just in case”.

This space in the “blogsphere” is dedicated to preserving not only these recipes but the memories that surround them. I’ll try to decode them somewhat along the way – What was the recipe’s origin? What was happening in the world when they were written? Are they still applicable today? What is a “timbale” anyway?

I look forward to sharing these treasures and maybe starting some conversations along the way.