The Buffet of Vintage Victuals
Nov 25, 2015 | by Ellen Dial
It’s that time of year again – dreams of turkey, stuffing, pie and other holiday treats fill our heads. Do you remember Grandma’s sugar cookies? Her homemade noodles? All those jello molds?
I surely do, or thought I did. I loved my Grandmother – she always had those Wind Mill cookies in the bread drawer, along with fluffy white bread from the Great Scot Supermarket, the kind you had to slice off and a rounded, lumbering retro refrigerator – until it went to fridge heaven and I think she got a harvest gold-thing or was it brown? Whatever, it went well with the white and gold bedroom set from the 50’s.
Retro madness and perhaps, some badness…
Back to food. My darling Aunt Susie recently gathered all of Grandma’s recipes together and lovingly transcribed them (in keeping with the vintage vibe!) on a retro CD for everyone to enjoy. Plus, painstakingly scanned each card, scrap of paper and article for a vast majority of these recipes – so great to see Grandma’s notes! It was a huge undertaking and the family was thrilled to receive such a thoughtful gift.
My wonderful Momma shared her copy with me, once I figured out how to get this onto my old (not quite vintage) travel drive and onto the (super modern) cloud. I was, as they say – cookin’ with gas.
What a walk down memory lane!
Here it was, a big portion of Grandma’s culinary delights – sugar cookies, pie crust, noodles, strawberry rhubarb deliciousness… Stuffed heart? Schmargel? Stupid cake? What IS this stuff? I don’t remember this craziness in her kitchen!
This got me thinking (as most of my topics do) about how cooking has evolved and how food has changed in general. We are terribly spoiled – what with year ‘round fresh produce, huge meat counters with an abundance of cuts, exotic grains and other delicacies right at our fingertips. Even just the sophistication of current recipes – think Food Network and the Cooking Channel.
Food is definitely a thing. Many of us consider ourselves foodies.
Throw on your apron, power up the convection oven and let’s take a tour through cooking of kitchens past and the buffet of vintage victuals.
Add Lard | Meat and other Meatiness
Now, what I remember of Grandma’s main courses? Meatloaf, fried chicken and maybe a really roasty roast. All pretty basic stuff, all told. Good, to be sure – always well done, without a doubt. Comforting to a little girl and her little cousins. You could always count on Grandma.
So, what’s with the Stuffed Heart? I mean, we would have bolted in terror had this (see picture) shown up at the kids table! Looking at this recipe, which is written on a sheet of “Bituminous Materials Company, Inc., Terre Haute, IND C-0421 “From Canada to the Gulf” stationary – It’s basically a heart. Seared in lard. With a tiny tick of salt and pepper. And water. Then you stuff it with pork sausage stuffing. Lots of bread crumbs, little/no seasoning and
water. Apparently you sew it up. Aunt Susie had to Google the rest – no instructions included on how long to bake this … um, filling and nutritious meal. Guess women back in the day just knew these things?
The visual is not good, as you can see.
There’s a nod to our German roots, she also at some point made Hausen Pfeffer (sic). The recipe is written on very old, browned paper in an elegant old fashion hand, great Grandma Ziegler perhaps? It’s basically a rabbit, flour, pickling spices and the rind of half a lemon. She used vinegar instead of the lemon, how much is a mystery. You cooked it at mealtime for several days and served it after about 3-4 days of this process? Gross? Hope they had a fridge! The only saving grace is 3 oz. of bacon… Again very little seasoning beyond the pickling spice and lemon/vinegar deal. The pics from the interwebs were too terrifying to post.
Now, to be fair, not all the stuff is horrifying. My mothers family was large, Grandma didn’t work and Grandpa worked at the Terre Haute Brewing Company and later, Bituminous Materials – so she had to make filling meals on a tight budget.
Food was just food and not a thing.
One thing I noticed while perusing these recipes – they were short on seasoning, not a lot of fresh veggies and no wine (save for a couple tablespoons of cooking sherry or maybe bourbon) or any other device to make a flavorful sauce. Even the “Italian Spaghetti” was bland- oh, and you cooked the Italian pasta noodles for 20 minutes, rinsed in cold water, then let them linger in said water. That sticky white paste from elementary school immediately comes to mind.
Did my mom and her siblings eat like this? Did they like it? No wonder they were so skinny!
Add Lard | Hello Jello
OK. I remember my Grandmothers “Sunshine Salad” – Loved. It. Orange jello resplendent with julienned carrots, celery bits and white grapes. In fact, I have her “Sunshine Salad” bowl! Used it for years, until one day, sadly, it cracked and had to be retired.
I loved it because she made it, not because it was, you know… good.
Jello was an integral part of several “salads” – Aunt Pauline Elkins Gooseberry Salad, “good with meat” is a prime example, you mash the gooseberries, throw in celery and pecans – then add lemon and lime jello. OK, why not just half the berries, use the celery and pecans (Grandma used walnuts – maybe a bit strong for this?) and toss in say, a balsamic vinegar and honey dressing? That might be a delicious addition to a pork roast – serve a lovely pinot or sauv blanc with it? No?
OK, back to jello. Raw Cranberry Salad. Jello.
Of course, Hellman’s Waldorf Salad was presented at every holiday celebration – always popular and delicious, though not technically a salad as we think of salad today. No jello, but a lot of mayonnaise.
As the recipes got “younger” and she cooked her way into the late 60’s and 70’s – she did branch out – adding Favorite Greens & Spinach Salad and a few other concoctions that incorporated fresh produce, sans jello, to her repertoire.
Add Lard | I Was Told There Would be Cake
Cake, lots of cake. Delicious cake. Carrot Cake. Numerous coffee cakes (inclusive of her world famous, secret family recipe Sour Cream Coffee Cake!). Hickory Nut Cake (white). Turtle Cake. Bacardi Rum Cake. Angel Food cake. Fruit Cake cake. Chocolate Cake (brown sugar). Applesauce Cake.
Oh and the pie. PIE. With lard laden, perfect crust. Grandma’s pie made the world a better place, without a doubt! And cookies. Many, many cookies. In her cookie jar. In the bread drawer. On a plate. In our happy tum-tums!
So my friends, we enter her forte. My Grandma was a baking machine! She was a wonderful baker. Everything lovingly and deliciously made. Quite obviously my darling Grandmother was a female Willy Wonka (her Divinity was devine!)! With an enormous sweet tooth. This is what sticks in my memory. The gorgeous smells of sugar and vanilla. Of some wondrous sweet deliciousness baking away in the kitchen – when will it be done, Grandma?
Patiently waiting, passing time playing a game of Mouse Trap, creating melodramas with the Cindy Doll or with the fantastical metal doll house.
Waiting for the treat to appear – served warm from the oven, with an ice cold glass of whole milk.
To our dear readers – do you use/have any vintage recipes you love? Have you tweaked them to appeal to our more sophisticated palates – or do you stick to the tried and true?
The author would like to thank: Wikipedia.com, badanduglyofvintagefood.com, Susan Zollinger, Alice Dial, Lucille Hayworth and her own, somewhat dodgy memory. As well as those who post their images freely on the internet.