You know how Michael Pollan says something akin to "eat what your grandmother would recognize as food?" Well, I think I might have to go back further, because my grandmother started cooking in the 1920s and 1930s and, after reading this book cover to cover in just two days, I can spot the trends. It's fascinating to know that her Tomato Aspic (yes, she made it and she I even tried it once as a tween; ick.), my dad's fondness for canned pear halves filled with cottage cheese (and sometimes wasn't there cheddar on there, too?) on a bed of lettuce as well as for canned asparagus, the family devotion to yams with marshmallows on top at Thanksgiving, and open-faced bacon, onion,cheddar, and pickle sandwiches browned in the oven come from this era? From Gommie's mom, in the 1940s, comes Eggs a la Goldenrod and chocolate chip cookies. Later, from the 1950s, there would be Spam cooked with brown sugar, canned baked beans mixed with bacon and bell pepper and brown sugar, shish kebabs, and Chex mix, called "trash" in my family. There were even examples of foreign food fads, with hamburger chow mein and spaghetti with sauce from a jar, way back when Chinese and Italian were foreign. As Gommie learned to cook as a newlywed and then a mom in the 1960s and 1970s, we get pot roast with the ubiquitous Lipton's onion soup mix (one of my all-time favorites), green bean casserole, chili con carne, Swiss steak, grasshopper pie, pumpkin bread, California dip (said onion soup mix in sour cream), rum or Tipsy balls, Tang tea, and lemon bars. I was floored that I knew so many of the dishes from home on a regular basis and could recognize the rest from friends or one-time experiences, like nut-covered cheese balls, Jell-o Poke cake, chiffon pies, chocolate truffles, those creamy marshmallow-fruit cocktail salads, three-bean salad, and several others.
The recipes for many of the above are a bonus to all of the history (and many of the recipes are included just for edification, sounding awful), from the effects of Prohibition on fine dining (ruined it and the American palate) to the struggles of cooking under the ration system during WWII, which was then followed by the excesses of meat and alcohol in the 1950s. A side narrative involves the influence of refrigeration and the obsession with chilled or frozen dishes. And throughout most of the decades there was, according to Lovegrean, a huge separation between food for women and food for men, most clearly delineated by ladies luncheons and the tearooms of the 20s and 30s and the barbecues of the 50s.
What's also fascinating about the book is the continuity of sweet, creamy/gooey, and processed food (oh, the love of mini-marshmallows, Miracle Whip, Cool Whip, creamed condensed canned soup, and canned fruits and vegetables) from the 20s all the way to the present--oftentimes all mixed together! What doesn't continue is the focus on homecooked food. Intriguingly, Lovegren focuses on the homecook until the 1980s when all the foods and fads she discusses are clearly restaurant-based, with Alice Waters and California Cuisine, Wolfgang Puck, Paul Prudhomme, etc etc etc. Even the recipes she includes in this part are beyond the pantry and skills of many regular homecooks.
I wonder, if she could add the last few decades, what she would write? What were the trends of the 00s and now the teens? She'd have to write about the rise in gluten-free and other allergen-free diets, the anti-carbs diets, the Paleo diet, and all the vegetarians and vegans. Also, there would need to be something about the influence of the Food Network, internet food sites, the demise of Gourmet, and even Pinterest.
And yet still I make for my kids some of those dishes my mom made for us from her mom and my dad's mom. Only, I don't use dried onion soup mix anymore. Just real onions.
Next up: The History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell, which is much less likely to be familiar, as it starts with ancient Egyptian bread, Viking dried fish, and Roman cheesecakes!
Note: These are all taken from my family recipe archives and are not from the book!
Milk Toast or Eggs a la Goldenrod
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
hard boiled egg
Brown flour in melted butter, until thick paste. Add milk slowly, forming white sauce. Pour over toast, grate egg, add salt and pepper to taste.
Mom's Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 ½ cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
¾ cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs (Eggbeaters also work)
1 teaspoon hot water
1 cup nuts
2 cups oatmeal (quick or regular; uncooked—old fashioned regular are best)
1 teaspoon vanilla
14 oz. chocolate chips
Cream shortening until soft. Add sugars gradually, cream until light and fluffy. Add eggs (1 at a time), beating after each. Add vanilla and hot water. Sift in dry ingredients. Add nuts, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. Bake at 375°F for 8 minutes.
Bammie (Gommie's mom)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
¼ teaspoon mustard
liquid from spam or 2 drops of water.
Pour mixture over spam. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.
4 slices bacon
½ cup chopped onion
2-1 lb. can Pork and Beans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon ketchup
chopped bell pepper
Cook bacon until crip, drain and crumble. In 2 tablespoons of drippings cook onion and bell pepper unil tender but not brown. Add with bacon to beans and other, mixing well. Put in 1 ½ quart casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 350°F for 20-45 minutes.
1 box Crispex (2+ quarts)
2 quarts stick pretzels
2 quarts Cheerios
4 tablespoons Worcestershire
1-2 teaspoons garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons onion powder
Spray with Pam. Microwave 8-10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.
3 lb. roast (chuck, pot, shoulder)
1 package dry onion soup mix
2 cups water
6 potatoes, peeled, cut in 1” cubes
1 onion, cut 1” squares
1 package carrots, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, cut 1” squares
Place roast in pan with soup mix and water. Cover with foil; bake 350°F for 2 hours. Add potatoes, onion, carrots, and pepper. Cover with foil and continue to bake until tender (45 minutes).
Hamburger Chow Mein
1 lb. ground beef
1 chopped onion
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cup diced celery
1 1/2 cup water
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
14 oz. bean sprouts, drained
4 1/2 oz. sliced mushrooms
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch in 3 tablespoons water
Brown beef with onion, add salt, pepper, celery and water. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, heat until hot. Combine cornstarch and water; add to mixture. Cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Serve over hot cooked rice or chow mein noodles.
Green Bean Casserole
2-16 oz. cans whole green beans, drained (can also use frozen)
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1-2.8 oz. can of French-Fried Onions
Combine soup, milk, soy sauce and pepper. Stir in green beans and ½ can of onions. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until hot; stir. Top with remaining onions. Bake 5 minutes.
1 pound beef round steak, cut ¾ inch thick
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1-16 oz. can tomatoes, cut up
1 small onion, sliced and separated into rings
½ cup sliced celery
½ cup sliced carrot
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
Cut meat into 4 serving-size pieces. Trim fat. Combine the flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Coat pieces with flour mixture. In a large skillet brown meat on both sides in hot oil. Drain fat.
Add undrained tomatoes, onion, celery, carrot, and thyme. Cover and cook over low heat about 11/4 hours or til meat is tender. Skim fat. Serve with hot rice or noodles.
Gommie Hungry via Better Homes and Gardens
Makes 2 loaves
3 cups sugar
3 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons each nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon
2 cups fresh or canned cooked pumpkin
1 cup oil
½ cup water plus ½ cup apricot or peach brandy (or another ½ cup water)
1 cup each chopped pecans and raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine sugar, flour, soda, salt, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in large electric mixer bowl. Mix eggs pumpkin, oil, water (or brandy) and combine with dry ingredients; beat until well mixed. Fold in pecans and raisins. Bake in large greased Bundt pan until cake tests done, about 1 hours and 30-45 minutes.
Makes 100 balls
small 12-oz. box vanilla wafers (3 cups)
4 jiggers whiskey
3 tablespoons karo syrup
1 cup powdered sugar, dissolved (?)
2 cups chopped nuts (fine)
Mix, roll in balls, coat in powdered sugar.
Crème de Menthe or Grasshopper Pie
Just a note—Crème de Menthe gets much stronger with age!
2 cups whipping cream
7 oz. marshmallow cream
¼ cup crème de menthe (or to taste)
Whip cream and then add crème de menthe. Then add marshmallow cream.
Pour into crust. Freeze. Remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving.
1 stick melted oleo
24 chocolate cookies (1 ½ cups crumbs)
Combine and form to pie plate, chilling for 1 hour before filling.
Tang Tea aka Russian Spice Tea
1 cup instant tea
1 cup lemonade
1 cup Tang
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
If pre-sweetened ingredients are used, no additional sweetener is needed. Otherwise, add 1 cup sugar.
Makes 25 bars
1 cup flour
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, optional
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, butter, and powdered sugar. Press in ungreased quare pan, building up ½ inch edges (8x8 or 9x9). Bake 20 minutes.
Beat remaining ingredients with electric mixer on high about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched in center. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into 1 ½-inch squares.
And as an added bonus,
Mrs. C's Cheese Ball
2 packages cream cheese
1 can deviled ham
Mix cream cheese and deviled ham. Chill. Serve with crackers.