Monthly Archives: November 2011

NATIONAL HOMEMADE BREAD DAY IS NOVEMBER 17, 2011

NATIONAL HOMEMADE BREAD DAY IS NOVEMBER 17, 2011

A lot of people have never made a loaf of bread
(discounting something frozen that you just pop
into the oven).

My mother made two large loaves of bread twice a week,
in roasting pans, when we were all young children.
I don’t think we ever tasted store-bought bread
and sometimes I was envious of the children
who brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
made from Wonder Bread while we—poor things!
—ate sandwiches made from homemade bread.

I am reminded of the words to a song
…“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…”
– my mother has been gone eleven years
but her mind was gone long before that.
Her loaves of homemade bread –
when an end crust cut off while it was hot,
and slathered with butter, was a special treat
if you happened to be the child in the kitchen
at the time—
are simply a memory
in the minds of her children.

I make homemade bread, too—
and not just with a bread machine.
I love the smell of a homemade loaf of
bread baking in the oven.

–Sandra Lee Smith

CHRISTMAS LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN

Back in the days when I was raising four sons literally on a shoestring, there was generally not enough money for ANYthing, much less the toys and games the boys would ask Santa to bring. My husband (now ex) was self employed most of those years and his income was unstable and sporadic. I had to make do with what we had in the pantry for meals when sales became non-existent. We had spaghetti so often that my youngest son no longer will eat it at all. I kept large tins filled with dried spaghetti, rice or pinto beans. No one ever went hungry but they all undoubtedly got tired of meatballs and spaghetti and corn bread and beans, made with pinto beans in my mother in law’s West Virginia style.

That was during the years I was a stay at home mom – from 1965, when I quit my job at Weber Aircraft to stay at home, until 1977, when I was offered a dream job by a dear friend. I loved that job so much, I was employed by them until I retired the end of 2002. And the best part was, there was always money for groceries after that. The downside, of course, was not being at home all of the time—such as the time my youngest son ran his bicycle into a telephone pole and ended up in the emergency room. But could I have prevented that accident? Probably not. But it wouldn’t have taken as long to get to the hospital.

Well, aside from that – way back when I had only two young sons—and we had a lot of friends and families back in Ohio, I began baking cookies and making candies to give as gifts for Christmas. Gradually, I worked my way up into jellies and jams (at first putting them in baby food jars), then chutneys and preserves and all sorts of other good things to eat—baking pumpkin bread or making fruitcakes. This led to discovering all the great cookbooks devoted to the topic of gifts from your kitchen.

One of my favorites—it still is—was a book titled WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN BY Diana and Paul von Welanetz, published in 1976. Back when I didn’t have ten thousand cookbooks taking over the house, WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN was a frequently thumbed through cookbook and I think this is where I learned that you can make your own sauces, mustards and marinades, pickles, herb blends and some unusual jellies, such as one made from champagne.

Others that I sometimes rely on are “WHAT SHOULD I BRING?” by Alison Boteler, published in 1992—this is a nice spiral bound cookbook with ideas for just about any occasion, not just Christmas—there are ideas for bridal and baby showers, greetings, goodbye and get well gifts, annual events and holiday housewarmers…and a lot more—plus plenty of tips for wrapping things – the latter is my downfall…but my daughter in law, Keara, has me spoiled; she does most of my gift wrapping. Another favorite of mine is GIFTS OF FOOD by Susan Costner, published in 1984. You will go crazy over the recipes—160 delectable recipes and how to wrap them.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – I never noticed, before, how many of the titles in this category start out with “Gifts from –“ so let me give you a quick rundown on a few of them.

BH&Gs GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, 1976
GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, BY Carli Laklan and Frederick-Thomas, published 1955 by M Barrows & Co (a collection of 300 recipes)
GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Norma Myers and Joan Scobey, published in 1973 by Doubleday & Co. (over 200 coveted family recipes)
GIFTS FROM THE PANTRY BY Annette Grimsdale, copyright 1986, published by HP Books (this is one of those oversize as in long but narrow soft covered books. I have been making my pickled watermelon from this cookbook for many years—because it uses the GREEN part as well as white and pink) Lots of other good recipes as well.
GLORIOUS GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN by Lisa Yockelson, copyright 1984 – offers over 200 recipes.
GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Famous Brand Names, copyright 2003—lots of great illustrations—so you will know what it’s supposed to look like when you’re finished,
WOMAN’S DAY GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, copyright 1976—no photographs but a lot of favorite recipes.
GOURMET GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Darcy Williamson, published in 1982
SEASONAL GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Emily Crumpacker, William Morrow & Companym 1983 (and oh, my! I bought this at the Book Loft in Columbus Ohio at the German Village…and the reason I know this? The sticker is still inside.
Also – THE GIFT-GIVERS COOKBOOK by Jane Green and Judith Choate, copyright 1971 and published by Simon & Schuster

And one more –

THE JOY OF GIVING HOMEMADE FOOD by Ann Seranne, copyright 1978 and published by David McKay Company. (If the name Ann Seranne sounds familiar – it should; she’s written many cookbooks. I’ll write something about Ann Seranne another time).

Well, this is just a sample of the gift-giving genre of cookbooks I have collected. Now that I have all of these out, I will have to thumb through them again and see what treasures I have forgotten.

Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!

Sandy

SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS FOOL

(The following, with some changes, was originally published in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, in the Nov/Dec 1994 issue).

“When we were young, there were moments of such perfectly crystallized happiness that we stood stock still and silently promised ourselves that we would remember them always. And we did.” (From the “FOUR MIDWESTERN SISTERS’ CHRISTMAS BOOK”, published in 1991 by Holly Burkhalter, with Kathy Lockard, Karol Crospie and Ruth Bosley.)

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. (From “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

This is the wonder of Christmas,
Sleigh bells and holly and snow,
Church chimes and mittens and pine cones,
Warmth from a fireside’s glow.
This is the wonder of Christmas,
Trinkets bedecking a tree,
Tinsel and strings of cranberries,
Children, all shouting with glee.
This is the wonder of Christmas,
Merriment, loving and caring,
This is the wonder of Christmas,
The happiness that comes from sharing.
This is the wonder of Christmas,
See the manger, there, under the tree,
With small statues symbolic of all that
The Christ child would want it to be.

-Sandra Lee Smith

Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes. I have various friends and acquaintances who enjoy hiking, horse-back riding, camping, and/or bowling. Some people collect stamps and call it a hobby, although to my mind, collecting something takes it out of the realm of hobbying and into the jurisdiction of collecting. Or perhaps the two are synonymous. I consulted my trusty friend, Webster, and was advised that “A hobby is something that a person likes to do or study in his spare time or avocation”. Another rare definition of hobby offered by Webster is “A subject that a person constantly talks about or returns to”. I like the latter definition; it describes how I feel about Christmas. Christmas is my hobby.

Back in medieval times, preparation for Christmas feasting began months in advance even though the common folk might only a few hours away from their duties, working for the upper classes and royalty Christmas celebrations would last two weeks, until the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6th. It’s said that King Henry VIII of England raised revelry to a new high—few kinds could party as hearty as Henry.

Curiously, however, most historians agree that it’s very unlikely that Jesus Christ was actually born on December 25th. There is an interesting book titled “Christmas Feasts from History” by Lorna Sass, (published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Irena Chalmer’s Cookbooks, Inc. 1981), in which the first chapter is devoted entirely to the Roman Saturnalia Banquet. Ms. Sass quotes the poet, Virgil, (70-19 BC) who described the Saturnalia as a merry festival that was the traditional culmination of the ancient Roman year. “Named for Saturnus, the Roman god of seeds and sowing, the celebration probably began to commemorate the end of the autumn sowing season in southern Italy, a time of brief respite from the yearly round of farm chores, a time to pause and exchange good will with neighbors and friends..”

Saturnalia began around December 17 and all work was suspended for seven days…“Romans took to the streets with carnival-like abandon, shouting ‘To Saturnalia”. Slaves were free to do and say what they pleased and a mock king was chosen ruler. Characteristics of what was to become Christmas were already in evidence: halls festooned with laurel leaves, gifts exchanged—often little dolls made of clay or dough—and small wax tapers lit as protection against the hovering spirits of darkness…the week-long festival reached its peak on or about December 25, a day set aside for special reverence to the sun..”

Early church leaders often attempted to substitute a Christian holiday for a pagan one and it is thought that Christmas became the substitute for Saturnalia.

(Personally, I have often speculated that Jesus was born around in March—I think it’s plausible that He was a Pisces, the sign of the fish – for the fisher of men). In any event, the early church habit of substituting pagan holidays for Christian ones does not detract in the least from what it is that we are actually observing.

In medieval times, the court jester, or fool, was often called upon to entertain guests while they enjoyed their meal, along with tumblers and minstrels, and other paid entertainers. Maggie Black, in her book “THE MEDIEVAL COOKBOOK” tells is that “Entertainment was the main part of any feast, especially a great one, and at the end when the alms baskets were carried out to the poor, and the last Twelfth Night toast was drunk, it was to be hoped that one and all could say “that was a good feast. The year ahead will go well!”

Centuries later, I find that I am some other kind of Christmas fool. I’m not likely to wait until Thanksgiving or after to start thinking about Christmas. It’s on my mind all year long.

My childhood Christmases are cherished memories. It seems that our holiday season began with the Feast of St Nicholas, on December 6th. We hung stockings (usually long white stockings of my father’s) and the next day found them filled with walnuts and tangerines and hard candies…sometimes a little toy. I had my own tangerine tree in Arleta, where we lived for 19 years and tangerines always remind me of the Feast of St Nicholas (I don’t remember ever having tangerines at any other time of the year, when I was growing up).

Many years later I had all but forgotten our family observation of the Feast of St Nicholas, part of our Dutch heritage, until one year when my sons were something like 8,5, 2, and 1 years old and turning into unholy terrors as Christmas approached and television commercials assaulted their impressionable little minds with the wonders and glories of toys that every-kid-just-had-to-have. The momentum continued to grow until I was ready to disown all four of them, whose every sentence began with “I want—“. Then I remembered the Feast of St Nicholas. We reinstated the tradition of stockings being hung on December 5th and observed this tradition for many years after. It was something to tide the children over until Christmas finally arrived.

Snow flakes. Pine needles. My grandma’s diamond shaped walnut and sugar studded butter cookies*. Grandma’s homemade pumpkin strudel (with Filo dough made from scratch!); A Christmas tree glowing with bubble lights. Weeks of rehearsing Christmas carols at school, which took on new meaning when I joined the choir. As a small child, the shivering anticipation of being allowed, one a week, to put away pencils and books, while we made cards and calendars and “tie racks” out of construction paper, library paste and cardboard tubes. On Friday afternoons, song books were passed out to the students and we learned the words to “Jolly Old St Nicholas” and “Up on the House Top”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”. At home, we bought sheet music and learned the words and music to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my Grandma Beckman’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet, and practiced our favorite Christmas songs until everyone in hearing range was tired of hearing them. When we tired of listening to each other, my mother would sit down at our old upright piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think the only Christmas song she knew how to play. (My mother never learned to read music; she played entirely “by ear” and was really quite good).

I will always remember the Christmas that my older brother gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books—the first books of my very own. Such bounty! The first book that my mother ever bought for me was, incidentally, “Little Women”, which I practically memorized from reading it so often.

One year my mother was terribly sick in the hospital—but came home long enough to spend Christmas with us.

We children ironed the wrinkles out of the previous year’s gift wrap; we ironed out old ribbons too. We made our own gift tags out of index cards and those little glue on stickers—the kind that never stuck to anything else. (I wouldn’t say that we were poor, exactly, but we certainly were frugal.)

We did all our own Christmas shopping—my two younger brothers and I, making a once-a-year shopping excursion to downtown Cincinnati where we prudently shopped for cards of bobby pins or lilac splash cologne—or handkerchiefs with our daddy’s initial on them, or one of our favorites, “Midnight in Paris” which came in a distinctive blue bottle that we loved. We managed to see all of the Department store Santas (as much motivated by free candy canes as the desire to cover all our bases since you never could e sure which one might be the REAL Santa.) We carefully guarded our meager pennies against potential shoplifters we had been warned about, and somehow bought presents for our parents, grandparents, siblings and dearest friends. Most incredibly, we usually managed to have some lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter—a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle slices, and a coca cola, split three ways—was, I think, about twenty-five cents. I should add, we did ALL of our shopping in Woolworth’s, Newberry’s and Kresge’s five and ten cent stores. They had the best “stuff”.

(Once, my childhood friend Carol confessed that she had always been jealous of me on those shopping trips.
“Me?” I exclaimed. “Whatever FOR?”
“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than anyone else”)

Over the years I have thought long and hard about those shopping trips which, incidentally, also cost us five cents bus fare to and from downtown Cincinnati. How did we manage to do it? I often think of loaves and fishes in the bible. That was the three Schmidt children shopping for Christmas presents for at least ten people, not counting anything for friends. We always, somehow, managed to have just enough. And, let me add – we didn’t have allowances or anything that frivolous in our lives. Every penny was a penny earned or money from cashing in pop bottles for the two cent refund.

We loved downtown Cincinnati during the holidays, the lights of Fountain Square, the “living crèche” in Garfield Park, all of the sidewalk Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells, and the gorgeous window displays in all of the department stores.

When we got back home with our treasures, we smuggled everything upstairs to my bedroom where we engaged in a frenzy of wrapping. We often ended up at my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve day; eventually my father would arrive with his cousin – my godmother, Barbara, who I only saw during those holidays and always seemed to me to be something like a fairy godmother. We would pile into the car to go home; we would see the lit tree from the street—for we NEVER had a Christmas tree before Christmas—and seeing the brightly lit tree, framed by the living room window, we would just know that Christmas had arrived. We would rush through the front door only to be told by our mother that we had “just missed Santa—he just went out the back door” whereupon we rushed to the back door to try to catch a glimpse.

We’d open the presents handed out to us one at a time by my mother and later, if you could stay awake, you might be able to go to midnight mass with the adults.
What I remember most clearly about Christmas mass is the crèche—the statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, finally uncovered (for they had been draped with cloths throughout Advent.)

There was singing and incense and the smell of wet coats and gloves—for it seems that it almost always started to snow on Christmas Eve. The choir sang “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles” and “Away in the Manger” – and IF the Baby Jesus was not actually born on December 25, it matters not a whit for we believed in Him and we believed in His birth.

Christmas Day—when I was a young child—usually found us having dinner at my paternal grandmother’s—it’s a wonder to me that in later years when she lived in the two front rooms of the first floor of her apartment house, she somehow managed to fit all of us—my parents, siblings, two aunts, two uncles and various cousins ALL into those two rooms. As soon as we had eaten, my Uncle Al gave us each a quarter for the movies—fifteen cents for admission, ten cents to spend—and then would drive us all to the movie theatre. (We thought Uncle Al was rich—handing all those quarters out so freely!) and by the time we got back, everything would be brought back to the table for a late supper. (While we were gone, the adults all played cards. You knew you were “of age” when you were allowed to join the adults playing cards).

So, is it any wonder that the love of Christmas spilled over into my adult life? That we, in my household, think about Christmas all year long—beginning with the after Christmas sales but gaining momentum around in May when the first strawberries and blackberries ripened and could be made into jams and preserves, cordials and jellies. By August, the first Black Mission figs were ripening on our trees and the grapes in my arbor were slowly turning purple. Around in October, pomegranates turned ruby red and could be converted into pomegranate jelly or a luscious liqueur. Pumpkins began to be displayed at produce stands (and now my youngest son and his son—my nine year old grandson, Ethan—have taken to growing their own pumpkins). From the pumpkins we made pumpkin bread and pumpkin butter.

We searched for just the right presents for everyone on our gift list, all through the year, and I discovered that Christmas shopping while on vacation in July could be a lot of fun, especially if you were doing it with a sister. We were all catalogue buffs and carried bundles of Christmassy mail order books all over the house, dropping thinly veiled hints in our wake. By September, some of my packages had to be wrapped and mailed to meet overseas deadlines—so September was never too soon to drag everything out of the Christmas closet and do an inventory. I make up lists. Extra rolls of film (I DO still take photographs using actual FILM). Sugar and flour and jars of molasses go onto my list. Lots of scotch tape! (and WHAT do you suppose people did before Scotch tape was invented?)

I remember one year—in the 1970s, I think—when the price of sugar skyrocketed to something like $5.00 for a 5-lb bag of granulated sugar—even as I write this, the price sounds astronomical (even though a FOUR pound bag of sugar, on sale, now, is about $2.50). I hardly baked a thing that year and it was a terrible disappointment. For years after, I stockpiled sugar months in asdvance to safeguard against it ever happening again.

Sometime in August, maybe as early as July, I would be digging through cookbooks and recipe files, pulling out the favorite cookie and candy and confection recipes. October is not too soon to start mixing cookie dough, If you have a freezer to store it in and you have a lot of favorite cookie recipes. Some cookies can be baked well in advance—the ones that thrive on aging in a tightly fitted tin or Tupperware container—the Springerle and Pfeffernusse and cut out gingerbread cookies and those decadent rum balls. I try to get all of the cookies made a few weeks before Christmas, so that I can make up gift baskets and fill tins with cookies for neighbors and friends—and nowadays my favorite post office clerks and our mail lady, my manicurist and our family mechanic.
When Christmas is getting close, THEN it’s time to make the delicate Spritz cookies, lemon Madelines, and Russian Tea Cakes.

Back in the day – when my sons were growing up – we’d often make several dozen different kinds of cookies; they’d take them to school for their teachers, I’d take them to work for coworkers. We’d make fruitcake bars and peanut brittle, Mamie Eisenhower’s fudge, and English Toffee, and my favorite New Orleans pecan pralines, Sherried walnuts and my Aunt Annie’s Opera Creams, my sister’s Buckeye Balls, Truffles, Caramel Corn—and the family favorites; Kelly’s M&M party cookies, Chris’ oatmeal raisin, Michael’s Butter Cut Out Cookies

(*When Michael was five years old, I stayed up one night until about 4 am decorating each and every Butter Cut out cookie with frosting. I had them spread out to dry on every counter and table top. When I got up the next morning, Michael had eaten the frosting off every single cookie. I’m not sure what happened after that—but Michael told me years later that the sight of frosting on butter cookies made him feel slightly queasy.)

I believe it was that same year that Michael, then in kindergarten, questioned me persistently about reindeer.

“Mom,” he said “Can reindeer fly?”

“Hmm,” I hedged, “Well, I’ve always heard…certainly Santa’s reindeer—you know, Dasher and Dancer and then there’s Rudolph—why do you want to know, son?” to which he replied, matter-of-factly, leaving no room for doubt, “my TEACHER says they CAN’T!” and as anyone who has ever had a kindergartener knows, if teacher says they can’t, that’s the end of it.

When I was an 18 year old bride, in 1958, I clipped some cookie recipes out of a woman’s magazine and then into a 3-ring binder, and a tradition was born. Now, fifty-something years later, I have seven or eight 3-ring binders filled with JUST the cookie recipes, most clipped out of magazines. (I also began using those 3 ring binders for many other recipes as well—there are four or five just for my canning recipes—jellies, jams, chutneys, pickles, preserves, two for cakes, and so on. Now there are over 50 of those 3 ring binders stuffed with recipes.

We built our own memories, my children and I. We laughingly recall the year my husband & I stayed up until 4 am putting together a hot-wheels-type of racetrack that Michael, then about four years old, had dismantled by 5 am. There was the year that my girlfriend and I and our children made bread dough ornaments that didn’t quite turn out. We had bits of dough in our hair, clothing and all over the floor. (You may have discovered, as did we, that not everything turns out quite like the magazine illustrations, does it?)

One of my favorite stories involves my dear friend, Neva. She wanted to make a candyland house with me one year, such as I would make using a cardboard frame taped together to look like a cottage. Then I would liberally spread the exterior of the house with royal frosting and decorate it with small candies before the frosting dried. (Writing about how I made the candyland houses was one of the first articles I sold to Tower Press magazines). It would be some years before I worked up enough nerve to actually make a real gingerbread house. Anyway, Neva wanted to make a candyland house too – except for one thing – she wanted to make hers a castle. (it actually went with her house that looked somewhat like a miniature castle). No problem, I assured her. We could make a castle. I whipped up batch after batch of royal frosting, running around the house digging up cardboard tubes and digging through kitchen drawers for suitable accessories – while Neva, her daughter and my sons constructed and decorated a castle. It was truly an impressive work of art but I confess to being nonplussed when, some weeks later, the local Valley News ran a story (with photographs!) about Neva and her candyland castle, which – according to the newspaper story—was her “family tradition”.

One year when we lived in Florida, I was tearfully distraught trying to make one of our favorite Christmas cookies – like lace cookies, which wouldn’t harden, or stained glass cookies – that dripped away the stained glass part as they hung on a tree. I also set the oven on fire trying to make graham cracker houses (which we had made successfully in California) because the melted sugar wasn’t hardening. I had a vague notion that putting them into the oven would help them dry out. Instead, the melted sugar dropped all over the coils of the electric oven and caught fire.

Somewhere along the way I began collecting Christmas ornaments. Like Topsy, it just grew and grew, until the time came when we needed a second tree for all the ornaments. I began searching for ornaments where ever I went on vacation and more than once found a Christmas store. My favorite one is in Carmel California. The store is filled with year-round trees decorated with ornaments made by local artisans. Some of these are my absolute favorites.

One year my sister and I were there oohing and ahhing over the ornaments.

“Will you take a check?” I asked the owner.
“Of course,” she replied.

“Do you need to see some identification?” I asked.
“No,” she said, complacently, “Christmas people don’t cheat.”

These are some of my stories; if I thought long and hard I could come up with many more—but I want to tell you about some of my favorite Christmas cookbooks. As you know, I collect cookbooks – and possibly my favorite topic in my cookbook collection are the Christmas cookbooks – along with cookies. A few years ago, a friend set up a database for me and I managed to get all of the Christmas cookbooks logged on before we had to move. There are over 500 of them. But some are really FAVORITES—the cookbooks I turn to, year in and year out. If you need to get into the holiday mood, I guarantee that reading Christmas cookbooks will get you there. Maybe you can write to me and tell me about your favorite holiday recipes or your favorite Christmas cookbook!

I like THE FRUGAL GOURMET CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS and MYSTIC SEAPORT’S CHRISTMAS MEMORIES COOKBOOK; There’s MARTHA STEWART’S CHRISTMAS, (with directions for creating a gingerbread mansion) and 365 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR CHRISTMAS. I like John Clancy’s CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK and A YANKEE CHRISTMAS by Sally Ryder Brady; ROSE’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES by Rose Levy Barenbaum, and my beloved LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK OF CHRISTMAS ENTERTAINING by Dawn Navarro and Betsy Balsley. I love re-reading Mimi Sheraton’s VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS and Virginia Pasley’s THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE BOOK (1949).

I need to mention the Farm Journal’s HOMEMADE COOKIES compiled by the Food Journal’s food editors and published in 1971—back when I didn’t have hundreds of cookbooks, this was my favorite go-to cookbook for baking Christmas cookies. (In fact, we collected all of the Farm Journal cookbooks back then. I think it was my penpal Penny who got me started on those).

Years ago, the Junior League of the City of Washington published a book titled THINK CHRISTMAS (originally published in 1970 but often reprinted); the Junior League must have done well with their first effort since in 1983, they published JOY OF CHRISTMAS, both filled with great holiday entertainment ideas. One of my well thumbed and spattered Christmas cookbooks is titled TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, compiled in 1974 by the Junior Women’s Group Pioneer Museum up in Stockton, California. I no longer remember where or how I found my copy which was already well worn and spattered when I acquired it – I DO know I have been making their recipe for Spinach Delight for over thirty years. Another favorite is THE GREATER CINCINNATI CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK compiled by the Greater Cincinnati Citizens Council in 1984; my sister Becky learned about it and we both invited to submit recipes—we both sent in many of our favorite Christmas recipes, congratulating ourselves for finding a way to get them all in one book. Of course, one downside to all of this is that some of your favorite recipes have a tendency to change from year to year. In 1984 I was making Texas fruitcake and “five pounds of fudge” while in more recent years I find myself reaching for the recipes of my youth—the Lebkuchen and Springerle my grandmother would make, or those wafer-thin Moravian Ginger cookies and Pfeffernusse.

More up to date Christmas cookbooks that you may want to search for might include CHRISTMAS WITH PAULA DEEN, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster, or The Goodhousekeeping little book THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK, published in 2008 (and offering 60 large batch recipes to cook and share) or you might want to look for a Favorite Brand Name 100 BEST HOLIDAY COOKIES published in 2007 by Publications International—both of these cookbooks are well illustrated with hidden spiral binding so they will lay flat on your kitchen counter.

Personally, I don’t like having cookbooks in the kitchen so I usually copy the recipe on my printer and stick it on the refrigerator door when I am baking.
Another 2007 cookbook is SANTA’S NORTH POLE COOKBOOK by Jeff Guinn who also wrote THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, HOW MRS CLAUS SAVED CHRISTMAS and THE GREAT SANTA SEARCH.

These are a few of my favorite Christmas cookbooks—there are so many more! And amongst my treasures are pamphlets and leaflets published by the various gas companies in many different states—some of these were very well done and are so collectible!

And then there are all the gift-giving cookbooks and candy-making cookbooks!
But I see this post has grown very lengthy! However, before I close I wanted to let you know about previous “Christmassy” posts on my blog.

Look for –

Christmas is Right Around the Corner 9/13/09
Homemade Christmas Candies 9/20/09
Oh, Fudge! Making Christmas Candy 9/16/09
Make Mine Light – Fruitcake 10/1/09
It’s Christmas Cookie Time, posted 11/22/09
Christmas 2009 Cookies 12/31/09 (PHOTOS)
MEMORIES OF CHRISTMASES IN CINCINNATI (ARTICLE) 12/9/09
A Few of my Favorite Things, Part 2 Cookies 12/16/09
Christmas Memories 2010

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting—
Sandy

THE ORIGINS OF WEIRD RECIPES

You have to stop and wonder, sometimes, about the origins of some recipes. I can imagine how some of them might have come about—I can picture myself making a chocolate cake and suddenly realizing I don’t have enough eggs or oil. I might think hmmmm, mayonnaise is made up from oil and eggs—I wonder if I can just substitute half a cup of mayo for the missing oil and eggs—and voila! I’ve just created chocolate mayonnaise cake. This makes perfect sense to me. And in case you are wondering, the recipe is very good. Equally delicious are chocolate mayonnaise cookies—I took them to work a few times and was almost embarrassed to divulge the recipe. What could be easier? Chocolate cake mix, some mayonnaise and one or two other ingredients.

But sauerkraut cake? Somehow I just can’t picture the lady of the kitchen thinking, gee, I don’t have any coconut for my coconut cake—maybe I’ll just open up a can of sauerkraut and rinse it off and no one will ever know it isn’t coconut…I certainly wouldn’t risk ruining a recipe I had already started, with an ingredient that is so totally off the wall. And what about avocado cake or pinto bean cake? What were those culinary artists THINKING?

You have to wonder about tomato soup cake too (granted, it’s delicious) – but whose idea was it to throw in a can of tomato soup to make a spice cake? Was it someone experimenting in the Campbell Soup Kitchen, or a housewife with a little too much time on her hands? (No one seems to know the origin of tomato soup cake although it does appear in some of the older Campbell Soup cookbooks. Note: the oldest reference I have found for tomato soup cake is in a 1940 cookbook.

There are a lot of off the wall (i.e. weird) recipes. Enough that in 1977 a local (Southern California) radio show host, Geoff Edwards of KMPC in Los Angeles, put together a cookbook of wacky recipes and titled it “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING COOKBOOK”. Listeners sent in the recipes. All of the above were included—although I have seen them all elsewhere—and then some. There is even an authentic recipe for stuffed Roast Camel. Geoff said it was served sometimes at Bedouin weddings. Ew, Ew. That ranks right up there with Spam mousse, as far as I am concerned. I’ll take your word for it that it’s delicious. (Per Google, Tang is a sweet and tangy, orange-flavored, non-carbonated soft drink can be found at Tops, Wegmans, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aide, Walmart, and Target—so it’s STILL available.)

As for tomato soup cake AKA Mystery Cake this appears to have originated in the 1920s when cake was usually topped off with Philadelphia Cream Cheese frosting and we all have to admit, that’s pretty good frosting. I especially like the cream cheese frosting with carrot cake—and although most of us have become accustomed to carrot cake and zucchini bread—don’t you have to wonder whose idea it was to toss these things into cake batter in the first place? That was before we took up gardening and discovered how zucchini can take over a back yard garden patch and your life. You have to DO something with all those squashes—friends and neighbors will only take so many zucchinis even if you resort to leaving them wrapped in a baby blanket on their front porch. (I once delivered a large zucchini wrapped in a baby blanket to a co-worker). And whether you make zucchini bread or cake – either, I guarantee, is delicious. One of my favs is a chocolate zucchini cake and as a result of the zucchinis taking over our back yard, I began collecting zucchini recipes until I had filled a recipe box with them.

Do you suppose that the lady (or man) of the kitchen was thinking – well, carrot or zucchini worked pretty good in a cake – I wonder what will happen if I try adding red beets – and invented Harvard Beet Spice Cake? Or was it just some exhausted mother tired of trying to talk her kids into eating their veggies? I know how that can go. I raised four picky eaters. They got it from their father, King of the Picky Eaters. I often resorted to subterfuge. I dearly loved a fish almondine recipe that my penpal Betsy, in Michigan, once sent to me. The fish was topped off with slivered or shaved almonds. No one in my household would eat almonds in a “food dish” though. So I blended the almonds with bread crumbs and used it as a topping over the fish. They never knew.

So, do you suppose that the original creator of pink beet cake was some harried housewife, exhausted from trying to get her kids to eat their veggies, so she dumped a can of red beets into the cake batter and thought to herself hmmm, there’s more than one way to…. Et al.

And every time I think I have said all I need to say on a subject, I happen to come across something else. While sorting through an overflow of cookbooks (I am always sorting through an overflow of cookbooks), I found one that looked interesting and hadn’t read…a book titled CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE by Al Sicherman. CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE was published in 1988 by Harper & Row.

The author joined the Minneapolis Star & Tribune in 1968. A copy editor since 1981, Siherman has been writing articles for the food section of the Star & Tribune. Mr. Sicherman is a kindred spirit, the kind of person who ALSO wondered about pinto beans and avocadoes turning up in your cake batter. He wrote a piece called “Things that go bump in the Oven” and speculated how Catherine Hanley ever came up with the Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe—he even called her up to ask—and he wonders about things like Impossible Pies (which we all know and love). Well, all of us who are well versed in, and collect the Pillsbury Bake-Off books, know the Tunnel of Fudge story and it appears that Impossible Pies were an accident, created by some unknown person.

(I thought the first Impossible Pie was an impossible coconut pie—the recipe appeared in a 1974 Cheviot (Ohio) PTA cookbook that my sister Becky was involved in creating. Here’s what I uncovered sleuthing on Google:

The origins of Impossible Pie (aka mystery pie, coconut amazing pie) are sketchy at best. A survey of newspaper/magazine articles suggests this recipe originated in the south (where coconut custard pies are popular). It was “discovered” by General Mills (Bisquick) and General Foods, who capitalized on the opportunity to promote their products. Corporate recipes surfaced in the mid-1970s. There are conflicting reports about the dates of introduction. The earliest recipe we have on file was published in 1968. None of the ingredients are name-brand.
This article sums up the situation best:

“Amazing. Mysterious. It could be none other than Impossible Pie, one of the most successful corporate recipe projects in the U.S. food-marketing history. Versions of Impossible Pie were also named Mystery Pie or Amazing Coconut Pie. By any name, though, Americans took to the easy recipe that is adaptable for making both sweet dessert pies and savory meat, vegetable and cheese pies. Back when quiche was trendy, the Impossible Pie formula called for ingredients similar to those for quiche yet eliminated the need to make a separate pastry crust…Not one but two huge food corporations benefited by popularizing the simple recipe formula for the Impossible Pie mixtures: the two big “Generals.” One was the Minneapolis-based General Mills, home of mythical Betty Crocker and maker of Bisquick all-purpose baking mix. The other was General Foods of White Plains, N.Y., marketer of Angel Flake processed coconut…The real mystery: Where did this recipe originate? We know the two “Generals” took a basic formula and then developed variations to showcase their respective products. Lisa Van Riper, spokeswoman for Kraft General Foods, said the company’s well-advertised recipe for Amazing Coconut Pie, “was developed as a result of a creative adaptation of the Bisquick Impossible Pies. We took a Bisquick Impossible Pie and did a creative twist by adding coconut, raisins and some other things. That was developed in June 1976 by our test-kitchen’s task force from a recipe submitted by various sources. Essentially that source was the Bisquick Impossible Pie. The Amazing Coconut Pie recipe also forms its own crust–with the baking mix sinking to the bottom of a custard mixture–and has been used ever since 1976, according to Van Riper. General Mills’ Marcia Copeland, director of Betty Crocker foods and publications, recalls that “we first saw the recipe for (crustless) coconut custard pies in Southern community cookbooks.” So it was a grass-roots recipe first, origin unknown. Some very old community cookbooks contain pie recipes that make their own crusts just from flour; others call for homemade biscuit mix. Copeland said that the Impossible Pie phenomenon lasted from the late 1970s through the 80s…

And now you know the rest of the story. But let me add that I have friends who are still making impossible pies. Last year, I copied a bunch of the recipes and sent them to a girlfriend.

Back to CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE: Sicherman asked “Did you ever wonder, when you were eating a piece of bread, how in the world anybody figured out what yeast would do what it does in there? Or have you ever wondered what caveman reasoned that smashing a chicken egg into some other stuff would be anything but peculiar? (or how many times he did it before it occurred to him to remove the shell?)…”

Now this opens an entirely new vista: I haven’t been worrying about eggs and yeast, having been focused on strange things in my cake batter, but you get the picture.

And then there are all sorts of other peculiar things like mock apple pie, being made from Ritz crackers –another topic for another day. (See my article title “Mock Apple Pie and other Foodie Wannabees” posted on 2/6/11)

If you want to try some of these recipes, here goes:

To make IMPOSSIBLE COCONUT PIE
2 CUPS milk
¼ cup butter or margarine
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup flaked or shredded coconut
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Bisquick baking mix

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pie plate, 9×1¼ x 1½ inches. Place all ingredients in blender container. Cover and blend on high 15 seconds. Pour into pie plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool.

One of my favorite Impossible pies is the pumpkin one – and since it’s just a few weeks until Thanksgiving, let me share this one with you too:

TO MAKE IMPOSSIBLE PUMPKIN PIE

1 CAN (16 OZ) pumpkin
1 can (13 oz) evaporated milk
2 TSP butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Bisquick Baking mix
2½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pie plate, 9×1¼ x 1½ inches. Beat all ingredients 1 minute in blender on high, or 2 minutes with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1 tsp EACH baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon,
1l2 tsp each nutmeg and salt
1/4 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 tsp each vanilla extract and grated orange peel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (3 or 4)
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Use shredded raw or pureed cooked zucchini (gives a finer texture) Preheat oven 350.
Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and cocoa and set aside.
In large bowl beat eggs very light. Gradually add sugar and beat until fluffy and pale ivory in color. Slowly beat in oil.

Stir in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk and zucchini. Blend well. Add nuts (if using). Put into sheet cake pan or 2 9″ layer cake pans. Bake 350 40-45 minutes for layers, 1 hr for sheet. Layers: fill and frost with icing. Sheet cake: while warm drizzle with orange glaze.

GLAZE: Stir in bowl, 1 cup powdered sugar, 5 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp shredded orange peel and 1 TBSP hot melted butter.

AL SICHERMAN’S SAUERKRAUT FUDGE CAKE (requires 10” tube pan)

2/3 cup sauerkraut
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
9 oz dairy sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

PENUCHE GLAZE:
¼ CUP BUTTER
½ CUP BROWN SUGAR
2 TBSP HOT MILK
¾ CUP SIFTED POWDERED SUGAR

Thoroughly grease a10” tube pan. Cut a ring of brown paper to fit the bottom of the pan and grease that, too. (*if you don’t have any brown paper, I think parchment paper will work just as well)

Drain and rinse the sauerkraut and snip it into very small pieces.

Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda, salt and cocoa. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla.

Alternately add dry ingredients and water to the butter mixture, stirring after each addition and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients Fold in sauerkraut and chocolate chips.

Turn into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees 55 minutes to an hour, or until cake is springy. (Toothpick test won’t work). Remove from oven, cool 10 minutes; loosen cake from sides of pan with knife and invert on serving plate. Peel paper from the top.

Prepare glaze; melt butter and brown sugar together. Boil 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Cool 10 minutes, then beat in hot milk. Add sifted powdered (confectioners) sugar, stirring until glaze consistency. Drizzle over slightly warm cake.

QUICK CHOCOLATE COOKIES

1 PKG chocolate cake mix, 2 layer size
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
½ cup Miracle Whip dressing
½ cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets* Bake 10-23 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Makes 4 dozen.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: I’ve said this many times. I don’t grease cookie sheets anymore. I use parchment paper, cut to fit the cookie sheets and you can use it REPEATEDLY. It works much better than greasing the cookie sheets).

PINTO BEAN CAKE

• 1 cup white sugar
• 1/4 cup butter
• 1 egg
• 2 cups cooked pinto beans, mashed
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup golden raisins
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
• 2 cups diced apple without peel

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease one 9 or 10 inch tube pan.
2. Cream butter or margarine and sugar together. Add the beaten egg and mix well. Stir in the mashed cooked beans and the vanilla.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground allspice together. Add the chopped pecans, golden raisins, and the diced apples to the flour mixture. Stir to coat. Pour flour mixture into the creamed mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
4. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 45 minutes. Dribble with a simple confectioner’s sugar icing and garnish with candied cherries and pecan halves, if desired.

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

¾ cup sauerkraut drained and chopped
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup water
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Sift all dry ingredients together. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat eggs in one at a time.
2. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with water.
3. Add sauerkraut mix thoroughly.
4. Pour into greased pan or pans.
5. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until cake tests done.
6. Frost

CHOCOLATE MAYONNAISE CAKE

Ingredients:
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cocoa
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup sugar
• 3/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 cup water
• 1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Cream together the sugar, mayonnaise, water and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture; stir until well blended. Pour batter into greased and floured layer cake pans (or a 9- x 13-inch pan). Bake at 350°F. for about 25 minutes.

RED BEET CAKE
1 3/4 c. flour
1 c. oil
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. pureed cooked fresh beets (if using canned, drain and mash.)
6 tbsp. carob or chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix flour, soda, salt and set aside. Combine sugar, eggs, oil in mixing bowl. Beat in beets, chocolate and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating well. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
This is an excellent cake. Healthy too. Very moist.

Chocolate Avocado Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soft avocado, well mashed, about 1 medium avocado
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch tins. Set aside. Sift together all of the dry ingredients except the sugar. Set that aside too. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl, including the super mashed avocado. Add sugar into the wet mix and stir. Mix the wet with the dry all at once, and beat with a whisk (by hand) until smooth.

Pour batter into greased cake tins. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks to cool completely before icing.
**
I read about a tomato soup cake “from Michigan” which made me wonder –DID tomato soup cake originate in Michigan? I turned to two of my favorite resources, AMERICA COOKS by the Browns, published in 1940 – attributes Tomato Soup Cake to Michigan, as do Larry Massie & Priscilla Massie in their fantastic cookbook “WALNUT PICKLES AND WATERMELON CAKE” which does indeed offer a recipe for tomato soup cake. Their recipe comes from a 1945 Kalamazoo community cookbook. Here is that recipe for tomato soup cake:

1 cup sugar
2 TSP shortening
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 can tomato soup
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup raisins
½ cup chopped nut meats

Cream shortening, add sugar, then tomato soup, then flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and soda. Then add raisins and nuts and bake in a loaf pan for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

And here is the Tomato Soup cake recipe in the Browns cookbook, “AMERICA COOKS”:

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup tomato soup, undiluted
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Blend the shortening with sugar. Stir baking soda into tomato soup and add to shortening/sugar mixture. Sift dry ingredients and add the mixture. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Pour into greased and floured 13” by 9” cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Frost with a Cream Cheese Frosting.

To make the Browns’ Frosting for tomato soup cake:

1 pkg cream cheese
1 TBSP butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar to spreading consistency

The Browns note that the shortening they used was Crisco and one entire can of Campbell’s condensed and undiluted tomato soup equaled one cup. Now this may be a minor discrepancy in today’s can of Campbell’s tomato soup, inasmuch as all of the soups measure a net weight of 10 ¾ ounces…but when you pour the contents of a cream soup into a glass measuring cup—it’s just a shade over 8 ounces. What to do? Use a can of tomato soup and go ahead with the recipe. I don’t think it will make any difference. If you are a purist, scoop away anything over one cup.

Happy Cooking!

Sandy

“MOUNTAIN COUNTRY COOKING/A GATHERING OF THE BEST RECIPES FROM THE SMOKIES TO THE BLUE RIDGE”

“MOUNTAIN COUNTRY COOKING/A GATHERING OF THE BEST RECIPES FROM THE SMOKIES TO THE BLUE RIDGE” is my kind of cookbook—and I had the good fortune to review it for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange back in 1998. So why am I bringing it up now? Well, you may have discovered by now that I like to talk/write about favorite cookbooks in my collection, whether or not they are brand-new. I like to check the usual sources, such as Amazon.com or Alibris.com to see if the book is available, just in case you want to buy a copy for your own.

“Stack pies and stack cakes, shuck beans and soup beans, cushaw* pie and poke sallet: These are Appalachian foods” we read in the introduction to “MOUNTAIN COUNTRY COOKING”. “From Georgia to Maryland and including the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge, Great Smoky, Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains,” writes the author, “the Appalachian Mountain system is a chain with deep valleys, small farms, and rugged people…The food of Appalachia is based on staples—sorghum, dumplings, beans, pork, greens, corn and potatoes. With these staples we prepare specialties such as Corn Bread Salad, Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, Tomato Dumplings, Pinto Bean Pie, and Corn Relish…”

(*Sandy’s Cooknote – Cushaw is a kind of white squash; it is shaped like yellow crookneck summer squash, only larger. They ripen in the fall with pumpkins and can weigh from 10 to 25 lbs. I have never seen one but I sure would love to get my hands on one of these!)

(I’d like to interject that my mother in law came from Blue Ridge, West Virginia to join her husband in Cincinnati, and I, as a new bride in1958, learned how to make Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage gravy, Corn Bread and Beans—my four sons grew up on these foods.)

Mr. Sohn says that some regional dishes of Appalachia are virtually unknown elsewhere in the United states (unless, perhaps, you had a mother in law like mine who grew up in West Virginia?)

Although I have been to the Great Smoky mountains only twice in my life, one of those a brief honeymoon, the region is one I have come to appreciate and love through the books of Janice Holt Giles (also a Kentuckian, like Mark,) whose books “The Enduring Hills”, “Tara’s Healing,” and “Miss Willie” touched my heart. The more contemporary Lee Smith, author of “Oral History”, “Fair and Tender Ladies” and “Black Mountain Breakdown” also brought this part of the country to life. Some, like Janice Holt Giles’ novels, were books I began reading and collecting when I was in my twenties. Later on, as I began collecting cookbooks (and specializing in anything I would consider Americana.) I found so much more depth to what we consider regional Americana in cookbooks, such as “Mountain Country Cooking”.
“The recipes and stories here,” writes Mr. Sohn, “are a synthesis of those living, creative and resourceful Appalachian cooks of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s who would not let you leave the kitchen until you had eaten…”

“Appalachia is enjoying a rebirth of its native food legacy,” says the author, “With “Mountain Country Cooking” you can be a part of a fast-moving renaissance of authentic food and honest home cooking…many Appalachian foods are strikingly different from foods of the South. Southern food includes Louisiana Bayou, Creole Plantation, Ozark, Florida-Spanish and low Charleston. Southern coastal regions are as diverse as the Maryland Shore and the Gulf coast. Southern Food also includes the foods of religious groups such as the Kentucky Shakers and North Carolina Moravians. (I wrote about southern cookbooks for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, in 1995, and also about the foods of religious groups, such as the Shakers, for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, in a series of articles titled “The Common Thread” in 1996-97.)
Of “Mountain Country Cooking,” famed cookbook writer John Egerton, author of “Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, In History” (who presents us with the Foreword to “Mountain Country Cooking”) points out that one of the great standard cookbooks of the South was “SOUTHERN COOKING” written in 1928 by Henrietta Stanley Dull, who for many years was a food editor for the Atlanta Journal. Mr. Egerton says that Mark Sohn’s “Mountain Country Cooking” reminds him strongly of Mr. Dull’s “Southern Cooking”. He explains that it’s more than a cookbook, it’s an encyclopedia, a wealth of information about food in the Appalachian mountain region. Egerton says it’s one thing to compile a book of recipes and something else to assemble and organize a comprehensive body of knowledge and put it together into a readable and usable form.
I think this is why cookbooks such as Mark Sohn’s “Mountain Country Cooking” are amongst my favorites—not only do you have a comprehensive collection of fine recipes, you also get some fascinating lessons in what makes American cuisine so diverse.

You will love the format of “Mountain Country Cooking” as well as Mr. Sohn’s relaxed style of writing; he introduces recipes in much the same way that I write down recipes for friends and penpals, informally, as you would for a friend of neighbor—but Mr. Sohn also provides healthy choice alternatives and even describes the degree of difficulty in preparing each dish. Ingredients are listed separately along the margin, a nice feature, I think, so you can see at a glance exactly what is needed to make the dish.

Who is Mark Sohn? He is a resident of Pikeville, Kentucky, who grew up in an Oregon family with four brothers, who all learned to cook. Unlike many 90s families, they not only sat down and ate together, but discussed food in detail at every meal. Some years ago, Mark’s family spent some time in France where an ad for a 5- week cooking class caught his eye. A psychology professor at Pikeville College, Sohn was actually looking for a way to serve others in some way, as his wife, son, and daughter acquainted themselves with French culture.

Later on, the editor of Pikeville’s Appalachian News Express asked him to write a food column. Initially, he wrote articles about his family’s German food heritage. His weekly column “Class Cooking” led to his first cookbook “Southern Cooking” and a TV show, “Classic Cooking”.

Mr. Sohn decided to write “Mountain Country Cooking” when he discovered there wasn’t anything else in print that combined recipes of the area with a travelogue of history and geography of the southern Appalachian region.
Perhaps some of the ground-breaking was done when he taught, in the mid 1970s, a Pikeville College course called Appalachian Education. Mr. Sohn says that in these classes, about 500 students joined him in the study of local education history and in the writing of an ethnographic research paper. This work culminated in a jointly written book “Education in Appalachia’s Central Highlands”. As part of the class, students and their families and friends celebrated Appalachian foods with a potluck heritage dinner. Mark Sohn says it was at these dinners that he learned to appreciate Soup Beans – which to Appalachians is pinto beans. While I grew up with German-Hungarian grandparents, thinking of “bean soup” as the one made with great northern white beans and a hambone, to the Smith family I married into, bean soup was pinto beans cooked all day with a hunk of salt pork and then served with cornbread and chopped raw onion. You can’t imagine how dumbfounded I was, the first time I watched my soon-to-become-husband crumble cornbread on a plate, then cover it with scoops of beans and stock—and THEN top it off with chopped onion!

As you can imagine from my frequent references to previous articles written for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange (no longer publishing), “Mountain Country Home” strikes close to home for this cookbook collector/writer. Within its pages are many of the recipe I dearly love, whether pan-fried chicken or cornbread, fried green tomatoes or—oh yes, boiled green beans! I suggest you try Pinto Bean cakes, which is sort of like a croquette, and utterly delectable, or barbequed baby back ribs, Appalachian style.

Another unique feature of “MOUNTAIN COUNTRY COOKING” is a glossary of food terms and expressions, followed by Mail Order sources and for readers who love a bibliography, there is a substantial listing of the books Mr. Sohn used for reference as he wrote Mountain Country Cooking.

“Mountain Country Cooking” was published in 1996 and can be found on Amazon.com (21 pre-owned copies at $10.95 & up, or a new copy is $39.49 and Amazon has four in stock. AbeBooks.com has one copy for $19.75 plus $3.99 shipping while Alibris.com has pre-owned copies starting at $10.95.

Mark F. Sohn, Ph.D., is a food historian, columnist, photographer, recipe developer, and Professor at Pikeville College. He also is the food editor for The Encyclopedia of Appalachia and has written 1,200 published recipes and produced and demonstrated cooking in more than 450 cable-access television shows. In addition to his personal life-long cooking experience, he studied culinary arts at L’École de Cuisine, a school in Paris, France, owned by Pierre Cardin and Maxim’s Restaurant.

Mark F. Sohn is also the author of:

SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING, 1992
APPALACHIAN HOME COOKING, HISTORY, CULTURE AND RECIPES published in 1995
HEARTY COUNTRY COOKING, 1998

Happy cooking & Happy cookbook collecting!

Sandy