Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Red Plaid Cookbook

I saw on Face Book a picture of a red plaid, 1953 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with a caption, “Who remembers this?” Many of the replies and comments stated what my own feelings are:  I not only remember it, I use it all the time and have since I was a bride in the 1960s.  I have versions of this cookbook in my collection, starting in the 1930’s and going up to the 2002 12th edition.  Although I enjoy the 1953 version that I own, I actually use the 1962 edition even more—because it was my young homemaking era.

With the huge number of standard cookbooks that are available, what makes this particular cookbook so great?  It begins with the homey, family-centered feel of the book, from the pictures and illustrations to the recipes themselves.  Many of us oldsters remember our own mothers and family mealtimes very much like the depictions in this cookbook.  My own mother used this cookbook religiously when it was the “new, modern” cookbook of her time. Reading through the “Meal Planning” section the menus could have been taken from our family dinners.  

The 1950s were a placid and tranquil time in our history when domesticity was queen.
The illustrations show housewives in the proverbial shirtdresses and high-heeled shoes.  Their cute pageboy haircuts and pin-curl dos harken back to that amazing era of homemakers and, for many, a nostalgic sense of old-fashioned homeliness.    

What are the recipes and tips that all of us who love this book turn to and use over and over?  Begin with the menu planning.  Like my mother taught me, all evening meals or dinners include 6 categories:  meat, starch, vegetable, salad, bread and dessert.  People do not eat like that very often anymore, except perhaps at a celebration meal.  But we weren’t fat!  When you have that much variety at one meal, you don’t over eat one thing—a mental deprivation situation that I think is prevalent today.  When you have two dishes for your whole meal—or even one—you mentally load up on that dish because that’s all you’re having and we don’t like to feel deprived.  The cookbook menu plans even include a category “nice to serve” with foods like relishes, jams and jellies, pickles and olives, fruit juices, appetizer soup cups for a few.  I remember my Grandma always put a dish of jelly or preserves (homemade, of course) on her Sunday table.  It was there for the homemade biscuits, naturally.

In the “Special Helps” chapter of the ’53 version the opening photograph brings waves of nostalgia over me.  The stove is identical to the one my Mom had—the color of the cabinets, the shiny Formica countertops, the electric percolator (makes the best coffee in the world), the canisters—even the dishes are exactly right for the era.  I can see my best friend’s mother frosting a chocolate cake in her red and white kitchen with an apron over her full skirt.  That was real—not just a commercial.  This book is a centerpiece for that era as far as cooking and homemaking go.  The chapter has help for ingredients, measurements, cooking shortcuts, spices, and storage of food.  That’s pretty standard for a utilitarian cookbook—even of today.

The bread chapter is really interesting because so much more bread was baked at home then; although it is true this was the era of Wonder bread—that cottony, fluffy slice of air that we all thought was great—especially for toast or bologna sandwiches.  But that was childhood (look what kids like to eat now!!!)  Does anybody remember coffee cake?  Sunday mornings were reserved for pancakes or waffles or French toast, but an everyday treat that often showed up on our breakfast table was coffee cake.  Not as rich as coffee cakes today, nevertheless, a really delicious treat.  Probably a muffin is the closest thing in today’s cuisine, at least as easy and quick to make—it almost always had a streusel topping where you could vary the ingredients to suit yourself.   Here is a typical and easy version from the 1953 version:

1 beaten egg
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
2 Tbsp. shortening
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Combine egg, sugar, milk and shortening.  Add flour sifted with baking powder and salt.  Mix well and pour into paper-lined (or sprayed) 8x8x2” baking pan. 
Sprinkle with mixture of ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 Tbsp flour, 1 Tbsp melted mutter, and ½ cup broken nuts.  Bake in moderate oven (375) 20 to 25 minutes.

The 1962 rendition of this recipe has a few very good revisions:

¼ cup salad oil or melted shortening
1 beaten egg
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking power
½ tsp. salt

1 Recipe topping

Combine salad oil, egg, and milk.  Sift together dry ingredients; add to milk mixture; mix well.  Pour into greased 9x9x2” pan.  

Topping:  Combine ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 Tbsp. melted butter, and ½ cup broken nuts; sprinkle over batter.  Bake in moderate oven (375) about 25 minutes or till done.  Serve warm.

An updated, healthier version—every bit as good!  Maybe Better!

1 beaten egg
¼ cup melted lard or coconut oil
½ cup milk
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 recipe topping

Mix egg, oil and milk; set aside.  Sift together flours, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Make well in dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; mix until just blended.  Pour into sprayed 8x8x2” square baking pan.  Mix topping and sprinkle over batter.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until testing done.


Combine ¼ cup (packed) brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 Tbsp. melted butter and ½ cup broken nuts (walnuts have the most omega-3); sprinkle over batter.

The best waffles I have ever tasted come from this cookbook—and you won’t find a recipe with these ingredients in a modern cookbook because the amount of fat in this recipe is higher than we seem to use now.  Yes, that makes them more caloric but what is the use of eating inferior food and feeling deprived or still wanting something more?  My philosophy is to eat the food that tastes the best and if it’s fattening, eat less.  A case in point is milk.  I was raised on whole milk and, although I drank it for years in my dieting days, I never really learned to like skim or low fat milk.  Whole milk has twice the calories per ounce as skim milk.  So—I drink 4 ounces of whole milk instead of 8 ounces of skim and I really feel satisfied and happy.  This waffle recipe is an example of the same theory.  One or even one half of a waffle that is this delicious is superior to two of the low-fat kind.  Try it yourself.

“Oh Boy” Waffles

2 ½ cups sifted enriched flour
4 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ Tbsp sugar
2 beaten eggs
2 ¼ cups milk
¾ cup shortening (melted) or oil

Sift dry ingredients.  Combine eggs, milk and shortening.  Combine liquid and dry ingredients just before baking; beat till smooth.  This is a thin batter.  Bake in hot waffle iron.  Makes 8 waffles. 

In the “Raised Rolls” chapter, is my standard go-to recipe for caramel rolls, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and all the variations of these.  I do up-date this recipe by doing a few different things which I learned as I baked frequently for the Bed and Breakfast.  I have several bread machines in my house. Most of these I purchased at a thrift store for between $5.00 and $10.00.  They all work for what I use them—which is to mix the dough, knead it and let it rise at the right temperature so that I can shape it and let it rise again and bake it in the shape and pan that I choose.  I am writing the original recipe from the 1953 cookbook, and then my changes:

Plain Roll dough

1 pkg. active dry or 1 cake compressed yeast
¼ cup water
1 cup milk, scalded
2 Tbsp. shortening
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 well-beaten egg
3 ½ cups sifted enriched flour

Soften compressed yeast in lukewarm water (85 deg), active dry yeast in warm water (110deg).  Combine milk, shortening, sugar, salt; cool to lukewarm.  Add softened yeast, egg.  Gradually stir in flour to form soft dough.  Beat vigorously; cover and let rise in warm place (82 deg) till double in bulk, about 2 hours.  Turn out on lightly floured surface and proceed as desired under variations.  Either the shortening or sugar or both man be increased to ¼ cup to make richer rolls. 

My Cinnamon Rolls

1 ¼ cups water
1 tsp. lemon juice or white vinegar
1/3 cup powdered instant non-fat milk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, optional (I don’t use it)
3 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 heaping Tbsp vital gluten flour
1 scant Tbsp dry yeast

2 Tbsp. soft butter
¼ cup cinnamon sugar

1 ½ cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp hot water, or more to make spreading or glazing consistency

Fill sprayed container of bread maker with water, lemon juice, instant milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and egg, if using—in that order.  Put flour in next and top with vital gluten flour and yeast.  Put container in bread maker and set on “dough” setting.  Start machine.  When machine beeps, dump dough out on floured board and flatten to a rectangle 9x12"  Spread softened butter evenly over dough.  Sprinkle entire surface with cinnamon sugar.  Roll up tightly, jelly-roll style, from long edge.  Cut into twelve even slices and put into sprayed 9x13 pan.  Cover and let rise until double.  Bake at 375 degrees for 23 minutes or until golden brown on top.  Mix frosting or glaze and frost rolls or pour as glaze.  Delicious!

The Casseroles and One-Dish Chapter reads like the menu of a comfort food restaurant—but there’s a reason why most of these dishes are classics—they’re good!  There is a very noticeable omission: slow-cooker recipes, because, of course, slow cookers were unheard of in the 50’s. The closest thing to it was a delay oven mechanism which was brand new.  Many ranges still have this feature wherein you can set your oven to turn on at a certain time when you are not home.  Problem:  food has to be safe to sit in your oven until time to turn on or risk illness.

How many of these dishes do you make for your family?:  Chinese fried Rice, Shrimp Creole, Chow Mein, Spanish Rice, Macaroni and Cheese, Italian meatballs and spaghetti, Chicken Pot Pie, Hamburger Pie, Beef Stroganoff, Tamale Pie, Chili, Lasagna, Pizza (yes, pizza was in the 62 version), Chicken Divan, Chicken Strata, Tuna Noodle Casserole.  Tamale Pie was one of our favorites:

Tamale Pie

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
¾ pound ground beef
1 8-oz cans seasoned tomato sauce
1 12-oz can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 cup sliced ripe olives
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 to 3 tsp. chili powder
Dash pepper
1 ½ cups shredded sharp American cheese

Corn-meal topper:

¾ cup yellow corn meal
½ tsp. salt
2 cups cold water
1 Tbsp butter

Cook onion and green pepper in a little hot fat till just tender.  Add meat; brown lightly.  Add next 8 ingredients.  Simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until thick.  Add cheese; stir till melted. Pour into greased 10x6x1 ½-inch baking dish
Make Corn-meal topper:  Stir corn meal and salt into cold water.  Cook and stir till thick.  Add butter; mix well. Spoon over hot meat mixture in 3 lengthwise strips.  Bake casserole in moderate oven 375 about 40 minutes Makes 6 servings.  (I always put some extra shredded cheese on top of casserole before baking). 


No comments:

Post a Comment