I love reading about the history of cooking in America. It’s fascinating to me how the art and science of preparing food for our families has evolved from colonial times to the Industrial Age up until today. I especially appreciate learning about the time periods in which my grandmothers created meals in their kitchens…roughly the 1930’s through the 1960’s. My Mom, being the thoughtful gift giver that she is, recently surprised me with the most wonderful birthday gift…4 small recipe booklets that had belonged to my Grandma Gert. Three of them were booklets that came with larger purchases…her Westinghouse refrigerator, Atlas canning jars, and her Osterizer blender. The fourth, a charming compilation of recipes from the Hopewell, NY Home Bureau, of which my Grandmother was a member. Her recipes for Tapioca Pudding and Bavarian Date Slice (?…not quite sure what that is!) are in there, along with all of the recipes of her friends and neighbors. From my reading on the subject, I know that women used to rely on these type of booklets quite a bit as many didn’t have the resources to purchase actual cookbooks. And buying a book wasn’t just a matter of logging onto Amazon and right clicking, as we do today! My Mom also gave me the picture of the little girl cracking eggs into a bowl…it’s a cover from an old McCall’s magazine. Magazines were another important source of recipes and cooking advice, as they still are today. Those pictures in the magazines and the recipe booklets were actually Madison Avenue’s version of life in the 1950’s. Few of our grandmothers probably actually looked like or lived like those images would have you believe. Much as we do today, they probably sighed a bit as they thumbed through the pages…just a little bit envious of the sparkling clean, well dressed children carefully spreading red raspberry and currant jam onto their toast while a calm, smiling mother looked on. They knew that their lives didn’t exactly match up to those images. It’s a good reminder for us today, as we watch TV, scroll through blogs, and follow others through social media. The ideal version of life in 2013, that everyone else seems to be living, might just be a figment of someone’s imagination. The picture on the McCall’s cover…of the little girl, carefully cracking those eggs into the bowl? Most likely, thirty seconds later…she probably accidentally knocked the bowl onto the floor! So as I explore the yellowed pages of the 1955 Hopewell Home Bureau Cook Book, I am comforted by thoughts of my grandmothers and all of the other women who, for so many generations, have done their best to feed their families and to be content with their lives…even when that life didn’t look much like the one in the pages of The Ladies’ Home Journal.
Here are two recipes from these booklets…I’ve copied them exactly as they were first printed, 60 years ago.
TAPIOCA PUDDING (from the Hopewell Home Bureau Cook Book, submitted by Mrs. Edward Kennedy)
~Grated rind and juice of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon
~1 cup sugar
~6 tablespoons Minute tapioca
~4 cups water
~1 cup dates, cut up
Mix all together and cook in double boiler until thick. Stir in 1/2 cup nut meats and serve when cool with whipped cream topping.
RED RASPBERRY AND CURRANT JAM (from the Atlas Book of Recipes)
~1 pint red raspberries
~1 pint currants
~6 cups of sugar
Mash the fruit and heat to the boiling point, stirring well from the bottom. To each pint of each fruit add 3 cups of sugar. Heat slowly until the sugar is dissolved and cook until the jelly stage is reached. Pour into hot, sterilized, glass jars and seal tightly, at once.