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MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME! (Part 2)

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME!

I originally wrote the following blog post in 2012 about making good (or even really great) cookies every time you get the urge to make some homemade cookies.

My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time.  I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.

Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven). Another thing I treasure is about 6 restaurant-size Bake-lite trays that Kelly’s godfather bought for me many years ago at a restaurant supply house. I put the cooling racks on these trays and it eliminates mess from crumbs. When the kids are doing their cookie-and-craft projects, they each have one of these trays to work on – when sprinkles spill (and they usually do), it’s an easy clean up if you have all the mess contained on a plastic tray.  Roger bought these trays for me back in the day (1970s!) when we made shishkabobs almost every weekend—the prepared shishkabobs would be piled up on one of these restaurant size trays, ready to go to the grill. Probably one of my all-time-all-favorite kitchen utensils.

So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And when there were just two of us in the house, I often made up the dough and baked them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.

Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I could use one of those I could wear around my neck.

Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.

Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.

Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take some out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).

Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts. (You want to bake same-size cookies together, too. Don’t put small cutout cookies with large ones – the little ones will be burnt before the large ones are finished baking.

Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway. Since I first wrote this article, I have switched almost entirely to unsalted butter.

Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best buy, but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS. A few months ago, Baker’s Unsweetened chocolate was on sale at my 99c store—for 99 cents!  I bought several boxes every time I was  in the 99c store and  have it all packed in tight fitting plastic tubs.

Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.

You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.

Ok, those were my ten tips.  Happy Cooking!

Well, while sifting through my fat files of clippings, I found an article by cookie cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum and thought I could share some of her tips with you.   She writes, “One of the nicest things about cookies is that even if they aren’t perfect, they’re still appreciated. At a book signing a few weeks ago, a pastry chef prepared my spritz cookies to give out as sample. She called me the night before, puzzling and upset that they weren’t coming out like mine and the dough seemed very soft.

The next day,” Rose continues, “I realized what the problem had been. Instead of sliced almonds she had used whole almonds. When processed without grating them first, they become very oily, softening the dough. They were still delicious but not the same.”  Rose says if you want your cookies to look like the ones in her cookbook, you may need to pay closer attention to the instructions.

Rose then provided a list of tips, starting with:

  • Use the ingredients called for in the recipe.  Substitutions may present problems.    
  • Measure or weigh carefully. If you add too much flour the cookies will be dry and crumbly. Too little and they will spread and be thin.
  • Bleached all-purpose flour contains eight to 14 grams of protein per four ounces of flour. This is listed on the side of the bag. Lower protein flour will result in more fragile, paler, higher cookies. Unbleached or higher protein flour will result in tougher, browner, flatter cookies (I didn’t know this!)
  • For best flavor, use unsalted butter and unsalted nuts (I only buy unsalted butter to bake with nowadays. I keep Imperial margarine on hand for my youngest son who is unable to digest butter—but when it comes to baking, I stock up on unsalted butter whenever I find it on sale!)
  • Make cookies in the same batch, the same size, shape and thickness arranged in even intervals on the baking sheet for even baking. (I do this – most of the time I have only six cookies to a cookie sheet).
  • Preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes before baking the cookies.
  • Rotate the baking sheets in the oven for even baking (if you have two cookie sheets in the oven, switch the sheets and turn them front to back).
  • Use flat baking sheets with very low sheets so that the air can circulate over the cookies and make them crisp. If you only have a jellyroll pan, simply invert it and place the cookies on the back.
  • Only grease the pans if specified in the recipe. Many cookie doughs have enough butter to keep the cookies from sticking. If the pans are greased, it will cause the cookies to spread too much (*I take exception to this suggestion—I use only parchment paper on all my cookie sheets-sls).
  • Allow baking sheets to cool completely before placing the next batch of dough on them. The cookies will spread too much if placed on hot or warm sheets before being set by the oven’s heat.(*My suggestion to you is to have six or eight cookie sheets on hand. That way you will always have a couple of cool cookie sheets to work with—watch for sales  on household items after Christmas.
  • Don’t overbake cokies. Remove them from the baking sheets as soon as they are rigid enough to transfer and cool them on racks so they remain crisp and do not continue cooking from the heat of the sheets.
  • Cool cookies completely before storing them airtight to maintain the best possible  texture.
  • Store soft cookies together—not with crisp ones. To preserve each cookie’s special flavor, it is best to store each variety in its own container. ** I have bought, over time, about twenty or more Rubbermaid Take-Along containers (available at Walmart). These are the perfect size to layer the baked cookies with sheets of wax paper. When I am baking Christmas cookies, each type of cookie has its own container!
  • Separate layers of cookies with wax paper to keep cookies crisp and to separate those that are sticky.

(How to bake a better cookie from  a newspaper article by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

COOKIES FOR JANUARY, 2014–OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

We spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing cookies from October (Halloween cookies) through November (Thanksgiving themed cookies) to December (Christmas cookies). Then by January, most of the Christmas cookies have been eaten – or all that is left in the tin are broken cookies and some crumbs). The one exception to this was Bob’s hoarding his tin of Springerle that I’d break down and bake every few years—knowing full well he would let them get stale and rock-hard but he’d dunk them in coffee anyway.

Springerle, for the uninitiated are cookies with designs imprinted on the dough with a Springerle rolling pin or board, and then left to dry out overnight. When baked the next day, they will look frosted, like a two-tier cookie. This is a German cookie that goes back probably several hundred years. I used to have a penpal who collected the Springerle boards and rolling pins. I have one small rolling pin and a board with the designs which can be very simple or elaborate.

I thought I’d check with Google and see what else I can tell you about Springerle , from “What’s Cooking in America”

BRIEF HISTORY OF SPRINGERLE
“Springerle (SPRING-uhr-lee) – These have been and still are traditional Christmas cookies in Bavaria and Austria for centuries. Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies, made from a simple egg-flour-sugar dough. Usually rectangular or circular in shape, they have a picture or design stamped on the top. The images are imprinted with specially carved rolling pins or flat molds (Springerle presses, or boards). After the cookies are baked, the designs are sometimes enhanced with edible food colors–or with tempera or acrylic paints, if the cookies are to be used as decorations. Hartshorn is the traditional leavening (it is an ammonia compound).

History: The name Springerle comes from an old German dialect and means “little knight” or “jumping horse.” Historians trace these cookies back to the Julfest, a midwinter celebration of pagan Germanic tribes. Julfest ceremonies included the sacrificing of animals to the gods, in hope that such offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill any of their animals gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies. Vestiges of these pagan practices survive in the baking of shaped-and-stamped German Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen, Spekulatius, Frankfurter Brenten, and Springerle.”
This is a good example of how I can easily get off track or digressing—what I want to write about today are cookies you might want to make for January. The most favorite cookie of my youngest son and his family are chocolate chip cookies – a lot of chips can go into the batter but no nuts! (This cramps my style occasionally because I love nuts, especially pecans, in my chocolate chip dough—sometimes when there is just enough dough left for half a dozen cookies, I add walnuts or pecans and keep those aside for me to eat).

I began making Toll House chocolate chip cookies when I was a teenager. When I was 12 or 13, my brother Jim was working part-time with Durkee foods which had a warehouse in Camp Washington; Jim often brought home foodstuffs that were going to be thrown out—canned biscuits was a family favorite; they would often pop open as soon as you began to open the tin; we didn’t care. I often made doughnuts with the canned biscuits. The only other thing I have a vivid memory of making were some packaged chocolate chip cookie mixes; I think all you had to add was water—possibly an egg or two. I imagine these were also outdated products and the mix must have been taken off the market because I don’t remember our getting boxes of outdated mix very long. Or it may have happened that Jim stopped working at the Durkee warehouse where one of our uncles worked as a salesman—when Jim graduated from high school, he immediately enlisted in the Air Force. Then I had to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch—but I also remember making peanut butter cookies, old-fashioned raisin cookies or oatmeal raisin cookies—recipes that were in my mother’s Service Cook Book by Ida Bailey Allen. Inexplicably, that was my mother’s only cookbook, kept in a kitchen drawer—but it was published exclusively for Woolworth’s which may explain why it was there at all. I don’t remember ever being in a 5-and-10 cent store with my mother—if I was with her shopping downtown at all, we visited department stores, such as Lerner’s. When I was old enough to go downtown by myself, my mother would have me make the trips for her. I began going downtown to make payments at Lerner’s for a coat my mother had in layaway—and although I remember making those trips—I was perhaps ten at the time—I don’t remember making the final trip to pick up her coat. She must have done that without my assistance.

In order to make any cookies, I had to find a recipe for which we had all of the ingredients on hand. We almost always had oatmeal, raisins, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa and basic ingredients such as flour, baking powder or baking soda, eggs and sugar on hand in the pantry.
All of this may explain my love for making cookies—it brings back many memories of my childhood. My two younger brothers, Biff (aka George) and Bill sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door and waited for anything—over baked cookies, for instance.

So, maybe Oatmeal Raisin cookies should be MY choice for January, 2014. When all the special holiday cookies have been eaten or too stale to eat and therefore given to the birds, oatmeal raisin cookies are a good cookie to refill the cookie jar with.

Favorite oatmeal raisin cookies

2 cups sifted flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 2/3 cup packed brown sugar or half brown & half white granulated
4 eggs
1 ½ c. Crisco shortening (original recipe) or 1 ½ c. butter spread
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
2 c raisins or a combination of raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Sift flour with soda and spices. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat till smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oatmeal, nuts and raisins. Bake by heaping tsp onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 12-15m minutes makes about 7 dozen cookies depending on the size. ***
I had been baking batch after batch of oatmeal cookies trying to find the recipe in which the cookies spread very thin and turn out crispy and crunchy—voila! I found it one night in one of my notebooks. I was pretty sure this was the recipe and immediately started putting the ingredients out on the counter. I was so pleased when they came out of the oven – crispy and crunchy and very thin. I think I made these cookies last Christmas, dipping half of each cookie into melted chocolate to make Florentines. I was eating them all by myself .

Towards the end of my baking, I wondered if I chopped walnuts and dried cranberries into very small pieces, would the cookies still spread thin? They DID!

So if a crispy crunchy thin oatmeal cookie is something you would like to try, here it is:

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
8 TBSP (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
6 TBSP apple butter*
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. Add the oat mixture and mix until blended. Drop batter, about 2 tbsp at a time (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

*I didn’t have any apple butter. But I do have jars of homemade apple sauce on hand (any kind of apple sauce should do) – I dumped a quart of apple sauce into a crockpot and added some brown sugar and molasses. I let it cook down on medium, with the lid off, until it was thick.
To make a fancier holiday cookie, melt chocolate and dip the baked and cooled cookies halfway in. I have a Wilton Melting Chocolate pot and it’s wonderful for keeping melted chocolate at the right temperature. (Pick one up when you have a 40 or 50 percent off coupon—it’s the best time to get yourself one. My daughter in law loved mine so much that she bought chocolate pots for herself and her sisters last year, after using mine.

*One more note: this recipe says bake 18 minutes. Well, by trial and error, I have learned that what may be 18 minutes at sea-level will burn to a crisp in the high desert. These cookies baked completely in 12-13 minutes where we are (3000 ft altitude) – I can’t tell you how many sheets of cookies or batches of candy I burned the first couple of years living in the Antelope Valley. When I was making pralines, 234 degrees on a candy thermometer is too much at this altitude—I had to get the candy off the stove a lot sooner. I couldn’t believe that our mere “3000 ft elevation” could make that much difference—but it does. Just sharing that with you.

There are many recipes for oatmeal raisin cookies but the two above shared with you are my absolute favorites. Chocolate Chip cookies are next, for February!

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE SOUP BIBLE

“Beautiful soup so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for dainties would not stoop
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
–the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland

THE SOUP BIBLE FROM PUBLICATIONS INTERNATIONAL, published in 2010, appears to be a group effort with no one person receiving top accolades; the CEO of the company, Louis Weber, is listed on the copyright.

This was a Christmas present from Auntie Sara and Nana, my daughter in law’s sister and mother—it always amazes me when someone gifts me with a cookbook I don’t have! I love soup cookbooks—but then, I really love making different kinds of soup. I tend to go overboard and end up with too much soup but freeze the excess in one of those two-quart Glad plastic containers that are perfect size when frozen. If you pop the frozen sop out of the container and re-store it in a plastic freezer bag, then you can write on the bag with a Sharpee pen as to the contents. I give “bricks” like these to my girlfriend Mary Jaynne, who lives in Pine Mountain (about an hour and a half north of me) – MJ no longer cares if she cooks or not so they welcome the soups. And in return, she does all my mending. It’s a great barter system.

Over the New Year’s Eve and Day, I made two pots of soup – partly to use up some leftovers from company dinners and partly because it feels like soup weather. One pot contains Beef Taco Tortilla Soup and the other is Vegetable Beef & Barley.

Yesterday, though, I put all the leftover meat and the bones from a prime rib roast into my pressure cooker and let the contents cook for about an hour. When I was finished, and had removed the bones—I had over a quart, maybe two, of well cooked beef as well as about 3 quarts of beef stock. Once it was chilled, I could easily remove the fat.

I love homemade soup stocks – it has so much potential. And what can be more satisfying than a bowl of hot soup on a cold winter day or night? With a few Saltine crackers and a couple slices of some Tillamook cheese, I’m ready to settle down for dinner while watching Jeopardy! Or Wheel of Fortune. I also make my own dried tortilla strips from flour tortillas, a few stacked together and cut into strips, they dry out in no time on a cookie sheet in my oven, which has a pilot light always lit. There are some advantages to having an old stove.

One thing I really like about the new Soup Bible is that the recipes are generally not too long or convoluted and each is accompanied by a photograph of the connecting recipe.

(I have another Soup Bible by Debra Mayhew—it may interest you to know that a book title cannot be copyrighted so oftentimes you will find several, albeit different, cookbooks with the same title). My other Soup Bible is a large book and not always the handiest to work with in the kitchen. The new Soup Bible cookbook was a compilation by the editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes).

Since I did make a pot of beef taco tortilla soup the other day, I turned to recipes for Turkey Taco Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Tortilla Soup with Grouper. (Grouper is a nice white fish available in Florida but not California, so I would suggest using any kind of mild white fish with this recipe).

There are many quick and easy recipes in The Soup Bible—catching my attention is CHEESY MEXICAN SOUP, SWEET POTATO BISQUE WITH GINGER. And BLACK & WHITE MEXICAN BEAN SOUP and ALBONDIGAS SOUP! Oh, and POTATO SPINACH SOUP WITH GOUDA! What fun it will be to try all these new and different recipes.

Years ago, my girlfriend, Mandy, and I frequently made up a pot of soup over the weekend and then would bring jars of it to work to reheat (to the chagrin of other employees in the kitchen at the same time). We often experimented with new or different recipes. Oftentimes, when I brought a jar of soup to work with us, she’d show up with something different but invariably something that complimented the soup. We frequently speculated that we could have gone into business at the office (or some of the other offices nearby) selling soup and a sandwich to other employees.

The Soup Bible by the Editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes is available on Amazon.com. The Soup Bible by Editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes (Sep 8, 2010) can be yours for $7.35 new, or starting at 6.43 pre-owned.

My thanks to Auntie Sara and Nana for the inspiration to write this review on the 2nd day of January, 2014.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith

Counting down to New Year’s Eve 2013

In California at almost 9 a.m., it’s a sunny morning on December 31st. I think of my Australian friends and penpals who are twelve hours ahead of us (I hope I got that right) – and in Great Britain, I believe they are six hours ahead of California (or maybe it’s nine hours) where I have a penpal in England, —I tried googling this information but am getting different answers. Per Google, we can be 12 to 17 hours behind Australia.

Well, I am on the west coast in California, and my Aussie penpals are in western Australia, near Perth. (I will have to send out some emails to penpals before I post this!) – Time zones have always perplexed me—although I am well aware of the three hours ahead the east coast and my relatives and friends are in Florida. My son in South Dakota is 2 hours ahead of us – and here in California we are 3 hours behind New York—where I have another penpal in Ithaca, New York.

Speaking of penpals, my penpal Bev and her husband Leroy are on their way here from mid-Oregon. Bev and I became penpals in 1974; together we’ve watched our children grow up, marry, and become parents, making us grandparents. We will have a prime rib roast for dinner and then play some Scrabble.

Two other long-time penpals have been with me through thick and thin—and me with them; along with Bev, my penpal, Betsy, lives in Michigan and the other, Eileen, is in Western Australia in a retirement community. Those two penpals became my correspondence friends in 1965.

That isn’t really what I intended to write about when I sat down to wish my Sandychatter friends a Happy New Year where ever you are. Last year my Oregon friends and I celebrated with a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner of sauerkraut and sausages.

Let me share some thoughts about traditional New Year’s eve/day foods for good luck and prosperity:

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY MEALS FOR GOOD LUCK
Throughout most of written history, we know that people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, hoping for riches, love, or other good fortune. For people of some nationalities, ham or pork has long been considered the luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day. You might wonder how the pig became associated with the concept of good luck but in Europe during medieval times, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Since pigs are associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat, it might be one explanation for having pork on New Year’s Day.

Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently chose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal and brought this tradition with them when they came to America. Germans and Swedes often picked cabbage as a lucky side dish and in my parents’ home, pork and sauerkraut was served at midnight on New Years Eve, along with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (It might not have been so lucky, going to bed after eating such a hearty meal as after midnight!)

Turkey is considered lucky in some countries; Bolivians and residents in New Orleans follow this custom. Fish is considered lucky food by people in the northwestern part of the United States who may eat salmon. Some Germans and Poles eat herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. Other Germans eat carp.

Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats. Germans often ate doughnuts while the French have traditionally celebrated with pancakes. In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. (Curiously, my German grandmother fried doughnuts with a coin inside each – on the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, celebrated January 6th). Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky!

Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish.

In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is traditional for the first meal of the New Year.

Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year’s tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means “sending out the old year.”) This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. (Or maybe the luck might be not choking on the long noodle!)

In Portugal and Spain people have an interesting custom. When the clock strikes midnight, people in these countries eat twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year.

The ancient Romans gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians began the new year eating lentils to symbolize coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signified wealth with its abundance of small grains. Another Italian custom is to eat sweets for a year of good luck. It can be as simple as a raisin or a more elaborate, almond-filled cake in the shape of a snake. As a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind, this cake symbolizes leaving the past behind as a new year begins.

In Spain, you are promised good luck in the New Year if, at midnight, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock.

Dumplings are a traditional New Year’s food in northern China. Because they look like nuggets of gold, they are thought to signal good fortune.

The Vietnamese celebrate their new year in late January and eat carp – a round-bodied fish thought to carry the god of good luck on its back.

Cambodians celebrate their new year in April by eating sticky rice cakes made with sweet beans.

In Iran, the New Year is celebrated in March, when grains of wheat and barley are sprouted in water to symbolize new life. Coins and colored eggs are placed on the table, which is set for a special meal of seven foods that begin with the letter “s”.

Last year, I posed this question – special foods to welcome in the New Year – to some friends. Lorraine wrote that at her mother’s they always had Menudo on New Years; she says her friend Geri always has Black Eyed Peas. My friend Patti who lives in Cincinnati wrote “Sauerkraut, Limburger cheese & Pickled Pigs Feet…I did not partake”.
Penpal Penny who lives in Oklahoma wrote “Here on New Year’s Day ……black-eyed peas and hog jowl……for good luck, greens…..for financial good luck then of course you have to have cornbread and fried potatoes. I always fix slaw though any kind of greens will do. You just want to make sure you eat PLENTY of both of the peas and greens!! Good ole poke salad ( or as the old timers would say…. poke salit ) would be wonderful with it….some years I’ve lucked out and found plenty in the spring and had a bag or two in the freezer.”

And girlfriend Sylvia wrote, “We eat black eyed peas!! I think that is a southern thing…”

From my penpal Bev, in Oregon, I received this email, “My family had no New Years Eve or day traditions…When I was 40 became acquainted with a shy, soft spoken…gal when I went to Chemeketa Community College. She was taking classes as background for writing. and had in her mind a book she wanted to write…To my surprise, she was a member of MENSA. That was probably the first time I had ever heard of that elite society. Anyway, she and her husband invited us to their home for New Years Day, and served some type of beans. Seems to me it was limas. Have you heard of that before? This couple had lived in Japan but I can’t imagine beans being a good luck dish from that part of the world…” (In a subsequent email Bev decided it might have been black-eyed peas they were served).

Email penpal, Marge, wrote “My grandmother was a first generation American born of German immigrants in Nebraska. While that was not our usual New Year’s fare, we ate sauerkraut often especially in the winter time, and she used pork tails in hers often and often pork ribs while she cooked the kraut. I rarely make sauerkraut though Dorman likes it. I know some people make (sauerkraut) with bratwurst sausage…”

Chris, a member of a support email group I belong to, wrote “As far as New Year’s Eve, I remember my grandpa always bringing home herring. It came in a squat jar in kind of a vinegar sauce. I don’t buy it anymore but it’s pretty popular in the grocery stores around here during the holidays.”

Rosie, a penpal who leads a prayer group, wrote “I never had anything special for New Year’s Eve or Day but Bernie always used to eat pickled herring on New Year’s Day before we were married. It meant a prosperous year or something. He’s German and Belgium so I’m assuming it’s one of those traditions”

And in my household, we returned to the custom of pork and sauerkraut, reflecting the German heritage of both Bob and myself. But this year, we are celebrating with a Prime Rib Roast dinner.

May 2014 bring us all good luck and happiness. Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog.
Sandy@sandychatter

CONFESSIONS OF A JUNK MAIL JUNKIE

When I was perhaps seven or eight years old—old enough to read my brother’s comic books—I discovered “ADS”. These ads were for free stamps – with approvals. Now, I certainly didn’t know what approvals were—nor did I know much about stamps (other than it took a 3 cent stamp to mail a letter or one cent to mail a postcard) – but I was captivated by the word “FREE”.  Now pre-paid postcards, from the post office, were one cent each and for ten cents (which was often the most I ever had) you could mail ten one cent postcards (hard to believe, isn’t it?)  I was constantly earning pennies running errands or selling greeting cards for my mother, which she bought and then sold from Cardinal Craftsman card company. I began using the penny postcards to send for the “FREE” stamps and when they came, on sheets of onionskin paper, with accompanying letters and literature, I blithely threw away anything that wasn’t a stamp, which I kept in a large dress box with my paper dolls. (In hindsight, I am baffled that my father never opened these packets of stamps—he opened all the other mail—the first time I submitted an article, printed in pencil, to My Weekly Reader—when I was in the second or third grade—my father opened that and read it before giving it to me—without any comment.  Why didn’t he open the envelopes containing the stamps?  I’ll never know.

At some point in time, when my cousin Margie and her siblings were visiting us, I showed the stamps to her. She expressed an interest in them, so I gave all of them to her and that was the end of my stamp collecting. By then, the stamp company began sending me threatening letters about my unpaid account. I confessed to my mother, who wrote to the stamp company explaining that their customer was eight years old and didn’t know any better and I learned what “with approvals” meant.

Now, you would think that this experience would have cured me but from early on, I was enchanted with the idea of receiving mail and even more thrilling was receiving things in the mail, free of change. In the 1940s, magazines such as Life and Look were filled with ads for things you could get FREE. One day I found a stack of old LIFE magazines in my grandmother’s basement. With never a thought that the magazines might someday become valuable, I began cutting out all the little coupons advertising FREE things. Along the way, I made another discovery. I wrote to the Cuticura people one day telling them how much I loved their soap and what do you know! They began sending me free gift packages with shampoo and big bars of cuticura soap. I also discovered that most food companies, at that time, offered free recipe booklets. These usually advertised not only in women’s magazines, but also on the backs of cans and boxes—such as baking powder, baking soda, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa. I began searching through all the containers in the pantry, reading the labels, searching for free booklet offers. The only limitation to this enterprise was acquiring enough pennies to buy more postcards. (one source was empty soda pop bottles, which were good for 2 cents each in the grocery stores. Everyone I knew—myself included—searched for pop bottles to redeem at the grocery store on the corner (Finke’s was on the corner of Pulte and Beekman while Mary’s was farther up on Pulte—there were numerous little mom-and-pop grocery stores and saloons all over Fairmount. Fred’s Cafe was on the other corner of Pulte and Beekman Streets.)

Before long, I had acquired a good size stack of free recipe booklets. With my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook and my stack of free recipe booklets, I began to learn how to cook. (My original collection of recipe booklets was lost, probably when my husband Jim and I made so many moves. When we first came to California—with what could be packed inside the car (or tied to the roof, like a baby bed) was mostly what we needed for our one year old child—many personal things were packed in my mother in law’s shed. The floor to that shed caved in one winter and my belongings were mostly trashed by the elements. My in-laws retrieved what they could but my scrapbooks, childhood dolls & other things were all lost. [and the concept of storage units was years away).

Throughout most of my adult life, I had been a “refunder”—saving proofs of purchases or box tops—to redeem for cash or premium offers…in 1970-1971, I saved all the money from refunding to pay for a trip to Ohio for entire family—by then my husband, myself, and four children. Back then, you could travel with a young child on your lap; I held one child and Jim held the other. We had two young children only 15 months apart.

One year I acquired half a dozen basketballs, free – for my sons and for my friends’ sons. Another time I acquired dolls for the girls. (I would use my own address as well as the addresses of close friends or neighbors.

One summer when I was in Ohio with three of the children –our oldest son stayed home with his father – the two of them opened all my refunding mail and kept the cash for themselves. That may have spelled the end of refunding for cash unless it was a check.  And I really don’t remember all the things I acquired free, so I asked my penpal, Penny, who became a penpal in the 1960s and with whom I frequently exchanged refund forms and occasionally the POPs (proof of purchases needed to fulfill a refund offer). She wrote this back to me:

There were, she writes, basket and baseballs, baseball bats, all sorts of T-shirts (I particularly remember the Smuckers and Reeses shirts) Fisher Price Snoopy Sniffer, stuffed toys, snuggle bear, mama, papa, and baby panda bears, Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, a few Tonka trucks, Hot Wheel cars, Del Monte veggie pillows, Libby’s red wagons, baby clothes from Dreft.

There were also band aid wall sconces, Tide set of Melmac dishes, Kellogg’s silverware (which she still has), the glasses and cup sets from laundry detergents, free socks and boys/men’s underwear from Hanes, Hanes sports shorts and sweats, Duncan Hines cake pans (which Penny still has).

She thinks the following are from the 1980s..Camel/Salem free basketballs, baseballs, VHS recorder/player, sony camcorder, 19” tvs, boom boxes—this was a military form that failed to say so..and there were NO limits on the items you could get. Penny says “we picked up packages [from cigarettes] from the side of the road, bought them for 5 cents each, had the guys in the Tulsa county jail saving them for us…I got MANY duplicate things, mainly the basketballs, boom boxes, TVs and VHS recorder/players. Most cigarette brands were offering premiums and I got sooooo many. Sold the Marlboro setuff on Ebay and made over $500.00..”  (Penny did a lot more refunding than I did!).

Back when I was a young child, my mother saved the labels from Wilson’s Evaporated milk – which were redeemable at a small store in downtown Cincinnati – I know that I turned in batches of the labels, stapled together in groups of ten (for dish towels or other small kitchen items) and we all saved S&H green stamps to get free items.

I think it goes hand in hand with all the refunding Penny & I did when our sons were young boys—me with four sons, her with three.  Free was good – not so different from the free samples of Cuticura soap and recipe booklets that I acquired in the mail when I was a child!

And now you know the rest of the story!

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT

THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT PROVIDES ENCHANTING COOKBOOKS!

What is it about cookbooks from New Mexico?  There’s those delectable southwestern recipes, of course—but we have delectable southwestern recipes in California, too—and a few years ago when I was in Albuquerque for a few days with my brother Jim, (for a bowling tournament – I flew, he drove) we had the opportunity to drive up into the mountains and have a fantastic dinner with a group of other bowlers and their wives or adult children. The house they had rented for a week was fairly new and decidedly southwestern in décor. The cover on a cookbook titled A TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT and the living room featured on the cover reminded me quite a bit of that house we visited in the mountains. But what IS it about New Mexico’s club-and-church cookbooks that beckon me? 

The city of Albuquerque, though, reminded me of the Antelope Valley in California, where I now live. It has that same high desert look and feel about it, right down to the cacti and lavender bushes which we saw growing wild on some streets. Albuquerque’s Old Town reminds me somewhat of Los Angeles’ “old town” – Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles (across the street from our train station), is crowded on both sides and down the middle with every imaginable Mexican souvenir, shoes, purses, clothing, candy, snacks—it’s a tourist haven. I wish we could have spent more time in Albuquerque but we were there for the bowling tournament and everything else we did was extra. I vowed to return—meantime, I will visit Albuquerque vicariously through a cookbook or two!

Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County, and it is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 555,417 as of the July 1st, 2012 population estimate from the United States Census Bureau and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. It has a 2012 estimated metropolitan population of 901,700 according to the US Census.

Albuquerque is home to the University of New Mexico (UNM), Presbyterian Health ServicesKirtland Air Force BaseSandia National Laboratories, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and Petroglyph National Monument (I would like to visit the latter). The Sandia Mountains run along the eastern side of Albuquerque, and the Rio Grande flows through the city, north to south

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as the Spanish colonial outpost of Ranchos de Albuquerque. Present-day Albuquerque retains much of its historical Spanish cultural heritage.

Albuquerque was a farming community and strategically located military outpost along the Camino Real. The town was also the sheep-herding center of the West. Spain established a presidio (military garrison) in Albuquerque in 1706. After 1821, Mexico also had a military garrison there. The town of Albuquerque was built in the traditional Spanish village pattern: a central plaza surrounded by government buildings, homes, and a church. This central plaza area has been preserved and is open to the public as a museum, cultural area, and center of commerce. It is referred to as “Old Town Albuquerque” or simply “Old Town.” Historically it was sometimes referred to as “La Placita” (little plaza in Spanish). On the north side of Old Town Plaza is San Felipe de Neri Church. Built in 1793, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. (My brother and his bowling buddy, John, and I visited old town and had a wonderful dinner at one of the old southwestern restaurants in Old Town. A band was playing in the Gazebo when we were there. We were unable to visit the church as a wedding was underway inside.

If you have a sense of what Albuquerque looks like, then let me present you with A  TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT/Treasured Recipes from the Junior League of Albuquerque. Not surprisingly, it was published by Favorite Recipes Press, which I have mentioned to you several times in the past. One of the first things I do anymore is check to see who published a cookbook, especially if I find it extremely well done. The photographer was Peter Vitale. My copy is a 2001 first printing that is in like-new condition.

In the Introduction, the Junior League of Albuquerque tells us, “New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment. For centuries, New Mexico has captivated the hearts of residents and visitors alike. We have a society that is muy simpatico, a gentle blending of Native American, Hispano, Anglo and other cultures that provide a lifestyle unlike any other.

Experiencing New Mexico,” they continue, “is a feast for the senses. Landscapes of majestic mountains, expansive sand dunes, and open space as far as the eye can see produce a quality of light that results in turquoise skies by day and opalescent sunsets of vivid reds, pinks, purples, and orange.”

Their tastes and attitudes, they tell us, are varied and plentiful; they can be formal with a southwestern flair or casual, yet sophisticated. They are unique n the manner in which they entertain and in the way each cook infuses into her dishes her own personal taste of enchantment.

“Our cultures, topography, attitudes and cuisine,” write the Junior Leaguers, “are ingredients for a delicious recipe for living…As we gather at our tables, each of these influences is present; none overpowers the other…”

“Within these pages” they proudly offer, “you will find treasured recipes for both cooking and living. We offer our highly esteemed traditional fare alongside new and inventive dishes that reflect modern-day southwestern lifestyles. Our favorite restaurants have graciously provided their perennial pleasures to enhance your enchanted journey into New Mexico’s cuisine and culture.”   

Following the Introduction is a page titled “Is it Chile or Chili?”  Either one is actually correct (I’ve always been curious.)  Instructions follow for roasting the exterior of your chilies and then putting them into a plastic bag for about 15 minutes – the skins will peel right off after you do this—for, you will discover, chiles are an intricate part of all Mexican and southwestern cuisines.

Then there are the recipes—along with some of Peter Vitale’s exquisite photographs. (I confess, I didn’t know who Peter Vitale is so I began Googling his name and got a crash course in Peter Vitale’s photography—I only wished there had been more of his photographs in A Taste of Enchantment!, which he generously donated to the Junior Leaguers

Each chapter is prefaced with short essays about New Mexico. Under the chapter for Adobe Aperitivo, (Appetizers), you will find a short essay about the Art of Albuquerque and how it can be seen everywhere you turn throughout this enchanting city. Recipes under Appetizers range from Asparagus (which grows wild in some places in and around New Mexico) and Prosciutto Bundles and Aztec Artichoke Squares to Spiced Carrots With Dill (which I will have to make) to Southwestern Stuffed Mushrooms which includes a couple of tablespoons of BUENO frozen green chile….I simply had to Google BUENO and discovered BUENO Foods is a southwestern family enterprise that has been in business for over 60 years. Californians may be able to find their products at Albertson’s supermarkets but if you Google BUENO Foods, you will find them listed in over ten states. (I was pleased to find a BUENO FOODS mail order at the back of the book as well as a website address).  Sorry, I digressed. Also under appetizers find recipes for Mushroom-Stuffed French Bread and Tailgater Brie, Kalamata Tapenade, and Hot Rueben Spread—this and much more.

Very Verde, a chapter of Salads, also contains a short essay on the Mystery of the Anasazi.  Anasazi is Navajo for “The Ancient Ones”. The Anasazi formed communities in the southwest around 400 A.D. and despite their extensive thriving communities, around n 1300 A.D. the Anasazi sites were mysteriously abandoned, leaving few clues to their departure. In the Salad chapter, I was charmed to find Kumquat Winter Salad (we had a dwarf kumquat tree when I lived in Arleta), and Margarita Coleslaw that I look forward to trying! There is also a Roasted Pecan Slaw and a Napa Slaw with Snow Peas, Jicama Salad with Oranges and Marinated Asparagus, to name a few.  I look forward to trying many of these recipes; Southwestern Cobb Salad provides an interesting twist on traditional Cobb Salad and a  Cilantro Chicken Salad with Sesame Dressing that begs to be tried. Ditto Wild Rice Chicken Salad.

Other chapters are Fireside Fiestas (Soups and Stews), Sandia Sunrises (Breads and Brunch), Simpatico Sides (Vegetables and Side Dishes), Comidas by Candlelight (Entrees) and Enchanted Endings (Desserts). Not to be overlooked is MI CASA ES SU CASA (translates to my house/castle is your house/castle) which contains recipes sure to become favorites—Chili con Queso from Jane Butel (whom I have written about before), Gringo Red Chile Sauce, Red Chile Sauce (for the not-so-faint-hearted), Spicy Green Chile Sauce, Salsa Supreme, Stuffed Green Chiles, Tortilla Soup and many more.

A TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT stays true, throughout, to its southwestern roots—something I appreciate enormously. Not all regional cookbooks do.  

It is available at Amazon.com, new, for $25.00 or pre-owned starting at 48c. I found it also listed on Alibris.com also new for $25.00 or pre-owned starting at 99c. (Alibris has quite a few pre-owned copies).  **

Next, I’d like to introduce you to SIMPLY SIMPATICO, also from the Junior League of Albuquerque, but this one was compiled in 1981 and has gone through numerous printings—all the way up to ninth printing in July, 1999 and it was apparently shortly after the ninth printing that the Junior Leaguers decided to compile a new cookbook which resulted in THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT in 2001.

SIMPLY SIMPATICO is spiral bound with a gorgeous turquoise and red cover. It was also a Tabasco Hall of Fame award winner. This no-nonsense thick cookbook is packed with recipes that will delight everyone who loves southwestern cuisine and/or collects cookbooks. This is sure to become a favorite for everyone enamored of southwestern cuisine.

Simply Simpatico is dedicated to New Mexico’s heritage and to the congenial style of living that has emerged from its unique cultural matrix. It focuses on the cornucopia of foods which so vividly reflect the lifestyles and culinary traits of modern-day New Mexicans – foods that have roots in New Mexico’s past, but which are a contemporary expression of today’s gracious, casual simpatico living.

One of the features I most appreciate about SIMPLY SIMPATICO are the numerous Mexican/Southwestern recipes that are presented with straight forward directions—recipes for tacos, enchiladas, chile Rellenos, tamales, burritos and arroz con pollo—just to name a few—are presented under Comida Simpatica—Native dishes—right in the front of the cookbook, where they will be easily found whenever the mood hits you. In my household –as well as that of my youngest son—a southwestern dinner is generally presented at least once a week. We both keep flour tortillas on hand in the frig for the grandkids who live closest to me to make their own cheese quesadillas when they get home from school and both households are fairly well stocked with other ingredients to make a good tasting snack. My daughter in law and I don’t follow the same recipe for making taco meat but either recipe works well for taco salads. Simply Simpatico translates, in case you are curious, to “simply handsome”, a term, that embraces, say the Junior Leagues of Albuquerque, their cultures and their lifestyles.

I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes featured in SIMPLY SIMPATICO.

All the recipes sound delish; you may want to try all of them—for openers, do a southwestern dinner for your next dinner party. I also like the Glossary of food terms which will please a southwestern cuisine novice. It is followed by  a couple pages on chiles and burritos, offered as part of the introduction, before you dive into Comida Simpatica—a generous presentation of everyday southwestern favorites which even includes Mexican Chocolate Sauce and Mexican Wedding Cookies. There isn’t much that I’m not familiar with, which makes me smile, thinking how—back in 1965—when a coworker became a friend, I didn’t even know what a TACO tasted like. My coworker set out to change all that.

Recipes found under Appetizers include Guacamole Dip, Harlequin Dip (which I’ve never heard of before), Frijole Dip (j is silent), Green Chile Dip—and many others. There are many different recipes for spreads, such as Almond Cheese Spread or Beef-and-Cheese Spread, Cheese in a Bread Bowl, Tuna And Pistachio Pate or Salmon Party Ball, Taquitas (rolled taco appetizers)—and many others. The most difficult part of planning a southwestern party theme might be trying to limit yourself to just a few of the many appetizer recipes; you might want to consider making one of these appetizers each week for your family so you can plan ahead for a future party.

Some years ago, Bob & I held at least a few large parties a year…after decades of indecision regarding party food, I began serving just appetizers. You can’t go wrong –guests can help themselves and are able to walk around talking to other guests while nibbling on some appetizers—if they find something they don’t like, they can go back and get something else. (and if someone asks what can they bring, you can say “a favorite appetizer” or “a bottle of your favorite wine”.)  One of the best Christmas parties we ever hosted was with a southwestern theme; four of our guests were from Mexico City, here visiting friends—they took over making a huge amount of guacamole—and then taught some of our other guests how to dance the salsa, which was popular that year. I had hardwood floors and a big living room. It was one of our best and most popular holiday parties.    

There is a chapter in SIMPLY SIMPATICO called BEVERAGES which offers some sangria recipes, Champagne Sipper which makes 25 servings, Rum Punch, which serves 30, or Ripsnortin Punch which makes 40-50 servings. There IS a recipe for making margaritas but the recipe given only makes 4 servings – you might want to double or triple the ingredients if it’s for a party. Or—choose from one of the many other recipes.

Other chapters include Soups and Sandwiches. Breads, Vegetables, Salads, Meats, Poultry, Cakes, Pies & Cookies…one of my favorites is  “Accompaniments” with its assortment of sauce recipes (How about Mandarin Orange-Grape Sauce for poultry? Or perhaps a simple Orange Basting Sauce? There is a recipe for Mild Homemade Taco Sauce you will want to mix when you have some spare time & keep it on hand and one I can’t wait to make – New Mexican Seasoning Mix, or how about Sangria Jelly or Jalapeno Jelly? These are just a few of the recipes found in Accompaniments and just a sampling of the many different recipes to be found in SIMPLY SIMPATICO.

You’ll be pleased to know that Amazon.com has many copies of SIMPLY SIMPATICO available new it can be yours for $5.50 and pre-owned starting at 33c. Alibris.com cannot compete with the Amazon.com prices this cookbook; when I checked, there was only one copy available and it was priced at $9.99.    ***

The third cookbook in this grouping isn’t from Albuquerque – but it’s still New Mexico and this time the focus is on Santa Fe. The title is THE CUISINE OF SANTA FE, LA CASA SENA.  Published n 1994 by Ten Speed Press—La Casa Sena isn’t a junior league cookbook, either!  Co-authors Gordon Heiss and John Harrisson have compiled this unique cookbook. Heiss, who grew up in his father’s hotels in St. Louis Missouri and has a lifelong commitment to the restaurant and hotel business.  Harrisson grew u p in England, where he helped establish the Sigmund Freud Museum. After moving to the United States, Harrisson has worked with many chefs in the world of cooking.

I wondered what “Sena” meant, knowing that Casa means home, or castle. I was bemused with myself when I did some Googling, to learn that  “Sena” was the name of one of the oldest and most notable families in Santa Fe. Built in 1868, Sena Plaza is one of the oldest surviving houses in Santa Fe. It is located just one block from the city’s plaza and just across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis Assissi.  La Casa Sena, which means “The Sena House” occupies an old hacienda style adobe. The Sena family was one of the oldest and most notable in Santa Fe.

What makes La Casa Sena particularly unique is that a premier collection of Southwestern and Native American art adorns the walls, but not to be overlooked are the meals served for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.  La Casa Sena, the cookbook, offers over 150 recipes served at the restaurant. And, in addition to recipes, there is a list of the artwork adorning the restaurant’s walls, along with a chapter explaining the history of Santa Fe, but especially the history of La Casa Sena.

Unique recipes begin (Breakfast or Brunch) with Blue Corn Crepes, Blue Corn and Cheese Blintzes, Roast Beef Burritos—or if you prefer, a Vegetable Burrito, Catalina Enchiladas or Turkey Enchiladas. Bread recipes include Whole Wheat Tortillas (yes, from scratch!) to Blue Corn Muffins and Galletas (Galletas, we learn, is the name for a small Southwestern loaf of bread and at La Casa Sena, it is used as an edible bowl for Black Bean Soup. I, for one, want to try making the Pumpernickel Rye Bread – I come from a European background that had us all growing up with rye bread. But don’t overlook a recipe for making your own Sourdough Starter – and then you can use it making Sourdough Rye Bread (which I have never before seen on a  menu!)

Under Appetizers you will find a recipe for Red Onion Salsa, Cantina Nachos, Corn Tamales and Black Bean Tamales—and surely distinctive, Shrimp and Smoked Cheddar Flautas. But there are other appetizers to salivate over.

In SOUPS & STEWS, I found a recipe for Vegetarian Black Bean Soup (I immediately thought of a girlfriend of mine who was a vegetarian who loved black beans). Also for vegetarians is Black Bean Soup en galleta which simply means with tomato salsa. Santa Fe Vegetable Soup is also tempting for vegetarians although it contains chicken stock. If you prefer, you could use vegetarian bouillon instead but I think I would prefer this with homemade chicken stock. Yum!

Other soup recipes include Roasted Corn and Chipotle Soup, Tomato Garlic Soup, Yellow Split Pea Soup and—my favorite—Sopa de Albondigas (which means meatballs) but it can be made, say the authors, with chicken or beef, with meatballs or dumplings—a most versatile recipe.

Other chapters feature Salads & Dressings, Fish & Seafood, Poultry & Fowl, Meat & game—and my favorite! An entire chapter devoted to sauces, basics & marinades. Included are recipes for Red Chile Sauce, Green Chile Sauce—even Croutons—as well as marinades for salmon, other fish, shrimp, chicken breasts, pork and beef.

Desserts offered include Chocolate Truffles, Mexican Brownies, Lemon Custard Tart—and many other recipes.

What I have left for last is a special mention of all the art work adorning the walls at La Casa Sena – the cookbook is decorated throughout with some of the special American Native art work. Impressive? Very!

La Casa Sena, which explores the cuisine AND the art of New Mexico, is available on Amazon.com for $20.00. I found a number of copies starting at one cent. Of course, shipping when you make purchases from private vendors, is $3.99 – still, not a bad price for a hardbound cookbook with a dust jacket – that is literally packed with historical information about this southwestern region.  **

New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment—with a cuisine that is sumptuous, sights to see and things to do—from taking in the balloon festival to doing walking tours in the Petroglyph National Monument. I wish I knew more about it and will rectify this by visiting Triple A to see what they can share with me. Meantime, I can read these cookbooks and try some of the recipes. You will want all three of these southwestern cookbooks to add to your collection.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

SEARCHING FOR COOKBOOK AUTHOR META GIVEN…AND NOW WE KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY

Originally on February 14, 2011, I wrote the following blog post:  “Abe of Abebooks.com asked 500 customers who owned a cookbook that had been given to them by a family member to tell the story about their handed down culinary companions.  He wrote, “Those old, splattered, battered cookbooks found on kitchen shelves are also treasured family heirlooms in many cases. According to research by AbeBooks.com, Irma  Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking is the cookbook most frequently handed down through the generations.  The books often spanned several generations of cooks and had huge sentimental value. In 96 per cent of the cases, a grandmother, mother and mother-in-law had handed over the book to the next generation. The books tended to have a long history within each family – 58 per cent of the cookbooks were more than 50 years old. Thirty eight per cent of the current owners said they had owned the book for more than 30 years…”

Well, recently I had the opportunity to hold in my own two hands a copy of JOY that had belonged, for decades, to my sister-in-law, Bunny Schmidt, who passed away from cancer of the esophagus in 2012, about eleven months after my partner Bob passed away from the same disease. It’s a battered and stained Joy, exactly what Abe Books was talking about. I am delivering it to my niece Leslie in a couple weeks. She is the oldest child of my brother and sister in law, Bunny.

The cookbook I grew up on, and learned to cook from, was – as I have written before in Sandychatter—an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook that I believe my mother bought for a dollar at Woolworth’s. (I now have that very cookbook, which is certainly battered, tattered and stained. Years later I searched for, and found, more pristine copies).  When I was a teenager, a copy of Meta Given’s “The Modern Family Cookbook” appeared in our family bookcase (a little cherry wood bookcase with glass doors, that my younger sister now has). I think it was a book club offering but that baffles me as neither of my parents ever joined a book club. I have a vague memory of my mother refusing to pay for it and so it languished on the family bookshelves until I began to read it and eventually claimed for my own. And, to add to the mystery, there is no indication on the inside pages of the cookbook that it was ever a book club selection.  The original copyright was 1942. This edition was copyrighted by Meta Given in 1953, which sounds about right to me.

Not surprisingly, the pages most stained are those with cookie recipes on them- rocks and hermits, gum drop cookies, something called cocoa Indians, lemon drop  cookies and molasses drop. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old and most of the time, I baked cookies. I really wasn’t. interested in cooking anything else at the time.

I now own a copy of the original 1942 “Modern Family Cookbook” which is somewhat thicker and heavier than the 1953 edition. In 1947, Meta compiled “Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking which is in two volumes. I had to laugh at myself; I thought I only had a copy of Volume I but when I began going through some of my old cookbooks in our new built garage library, I found a copy of Volume II.

None of my copies of Meta Given books have dust jackets and therein is the crux of the matter – so often, biographical information can be found on the dust jackets of cookbooks.  I began a Google search:

 Margi Shrum of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote the following in April, 2009I spoke last week to a group of parents of special-needs children, and the conversation turned to old cookbooks. Egads, I love them. My favorite is one my late mother used, “Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Cooking,” which seems to have been first published in 1947. I have the 1955 edition. It’s chock-a-block with antiquated stuff. I never, and you shouldn’t, use the techniques for canning or preserving foods in these old books, and I am never going to make Muskrat Fricassee (calls for one dressed muskrat. If I could picture what a muskrat looked like I’d picture it dressed in top hat and tails. Carrying a cane). But there’s also a lot of useful stuff in this book, which is in two volumes and has 1,500 pages. I’ve tried loosely over the years to find information about the author but to little avail. She was of some note in the 1940s through the early ’60s, if the popularity of her cookbooks is any indication. Her first was the “The Modern Family Cookbook,” published in 1942.”

Margie adds, “The encyclopedia’s foreword says Ms. Given grew up on a ‘Missouri hill farm’ learning to cook with the limited foodstuffs available to her. She then studied home economics and became involved in developing and testing recipes, and in writing about nutrition, shopping and kitchen equipment. Her foreword to my edition — purchased on eBay and immediately chewed on by my golden retriever puppy, who smelled food — was written from Orlando in 1955….”

May I add that the foreword also states that Meta Given..” had good food (growing up) but little variety. The women were forced to be resourceful in presenting the same simple foods in a variety of interesting ways. She watched food grow on her family’s farm and worked to help it develop into a sound and abundant harvest. She learned to store and preserve a summer’s plenty to last through the winter months. And she acquired from her parents a deep appreciation for the goodness of earth’s bounty…”

Sure enough, Volume II of Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking” offers a recipe for Muskrat Fricasse—as well as antelope, deer and beaver. It also has a recipe for Hasenpfeffer which I won’t ever be trying. Hasenpfeffer was the bane of my childhood. If you came home from school and smelled it cooking, you knew we were having it for dinner and there was no escape.

Also offered in Volume II are recipes for raccoon, squirrel, woodchuck and turtle. Meta lost me at “evisceration and removal of feathers, removal of fur….” But you know what? Of all the comprehensive cookbooks in my collection, these are surely the most detailed (everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask?  I wasn’t afraid to ask—I just never wanted to KNOW).

Elsewhere on Google, someone wrote, “My mother was only 17 years old when she got married.    Somewhere in that time, she was given a special two volume cookbook set called Meta Given’s Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking.  It was a true cookbook of the 50′s, offering advice so basic, the author must have assumed many of her readers couldn’t boil water.  Until Julia Child altered my mother’s views on food, Meta Given’s was the only cookbook in our home.  The recipes were so simple and straightforward, I learned to cook from them at a very young age.  By the time I was nine years old I could make real fudge, basic one-bowl cakes, quick breads, and peanut butter cookies all by myself.  I also learned to make a pumpkin yeast bread when I was slightly older.  Over the years my mother’s Meta Given’s cookbook disintegrated into a pile of loose pages. However, I was able to track down a used set several years ago. Although most of the recipes seem outdated, it was quite an experience just holding the cookbook while childhood memories rushed back…”

The following single line clue was also found on Google: “When not penning cookbooks, Ms. Given—I don’t think she’d approve the title, but an extensive Google search fails to reveal her marital status— taught Home Ec at the University of Chicago in the post-World War II years…”

Maybe Meta Given tired of teaching in Chicago and returned to her home in Missouri.  We may never know- but if you are interested in finding her books, there are umpteen sites to choose from as you browse through Google.

I have the following:

  • The Modern Family Cook Book published in 1942
  • Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking Volumes 1 and II published in 1947
  • The Modern Family Cook Book, published in 1953

As well as the following, which I do not have:

On August 10, 2011 someone named Don posted the following comment:

Hi Sandy, Please let me know if you ever find out what happened to Meta Given. I have been going through some old family letters and it turns out that my great aunt, Helen Swadey, was her assistant in the 40′s and 50′s. She would help with the writing and arranging the final meals for the photo shoot. Thanks!  Don

I sent Don the following message: “Hi, Don – how interesting that your great aunt worked for Meta Given! I HAVEN’T learned anything more than what I wrote but maybe someone will read this and write, if they know anything else about her. Oddly enough I have had emails from a number of people, in response to other cookbook authors I have written about – so there’s always a possibility that someone will see the inquiry and shed some light on this prolific and excellent cookbook author. Now, that would have been a job I’d have loved – assistant to Meta Given! Let me know if you learn anything else.

 On February 2, someone named Brenda sent the following message to my blog:

 I am preparing a Birthday Party for my mother who turns 80 this July. We are having a picnic theme, and we are replacing my mother’s Meta Given Cookbooks with a better set. The sisters of the family are HUGE fans of Meta Given, and I am trying to find anything out about her to have it framed for my mother to put in her kitchen. She raised all of us girls using this cookbook and we all have copies!! I know I am a little late adding this comment, but can you or anyone help me out? Sincerely, Brenda

 On February 22, 20122, Karen wrote the following message: I had to comment because one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is my mother and grandmother quoting Meta Given about making turkey gravy: “You can only make so much fine favored gravy.” I haven’t even looked at the recipe in years, but must admit that I do know how to make fine flavored gravy and I don’t even eat gravy! Thanks Meta. I have my grandmother’s copy. My mother still has and uses her own copy. My oldest daughter has her other grandmother’s 2 book set. Over the years, I have managed to collect one of the single book editions for my sister and two copies of the 2 book sets for my sisters-in-law. Just recently, I finally got the single book edition for my youngest daughter. We are a family devoted to Meta Given, which is why I found your blog. I was looking for some information about her and started to do some research. So, if you find out anything else about her, I’d be delighted to hear it and then I will in turn share it with the rest of the family. Thanks!

 On February 25 2012, Neil sent the following message: I’m a 44-year old single guy who grew up with a mother who occasionally whipped out this tattered, index-missing BIBLE. I have no other name for it… other then the BIBLE that was in our kitchen. Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking. The version I’m most familiar with is the single volume gem published in 1955 on its EIGHTEENTH printing (35,000 copies). My mom was inspired by the “White Sauce” in that book – creamed onions were a Thanksgiving tradition. Like most people who are reading this, when I finally understood the power of Google I FINALLY had a chance to have my own copy of this piece of history – it’s WAY more than a cookbook and we all know it. I paid almost $200 because I just had to have it. Since then I purchased a “backup” copy – you know… just in case. That one is in a safe room where the temperature and humidity is just right.   A few years ago I stumbled upon a dessert recipe that blew me away – Lemon Chiffon Custard on page 746 in my book. “A puffy cake-like topping and a creamy custard bottom layer.” OMG”

 On May 2, 2013, Janice King Smith sent the following message: “According to census reports she (Meta Given) returned to her hometown of Bourbios, MO, and later relocated to Florida. Being from the general area, I was happy to have The Modern Family in my collection and enjoy seeing the differences between how she prepared the meal versus what we were taught by my grandma who lived during the same time frame literally 3-4 hours away from each other.”

 On May 24, 2012 Anna wrote the following message: I am doing a little research on Meta Given… My Mother’s maiden name was Given. I was told Meta Given was a Great Aunt of mine from Missouri that wrote cookbooks, and I have all copies of her cookbooks, and learned to cook from them. The books I have were been passed down through the years from my grandmother..Ruby Given, to my mother Anna Jane Given, and now to me. I will be passing them on someday to my children and grandchildren!

On June 22, 2012 Gil wrote the following: I have the 1953 version of Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook. I turn to this book when I need to know how I should cook a vegetable that won’t be listed in most cookbooks and I have more than 100. I am going to cook turnips today and I want to know a cooking time. I recently checked in this book for a cooking time for beets. I have two of these books but one is so battered that I am afraid to open it.
Gil Wilbur Claymont,DE.

Now, many months later, after years of searching and speculating about  the unknown later life of Meta Given, my new-found friend, Bonnie Slotnick, who owns a cookbook store in New York** (see address at end of article) managed to unearth information about Meta that no one has been able to discover.

It turns out that food writer Jane Nickerson***, writing for the Lakeland Ledger in 1981, interviewed Meta and in an article that appeared in the December 10,m 1981 Lakeland Ledger food column, discovered “the rest of the story” –the details no one knew about Meta Given once she disappeared from the cookbook publishing limelight.

 By Jane Nickerson, writing for the Lakeland Ledger on December 10, 1081 wrote the following: “A few lines the other day in this paper reporting the death of Lakelander Meta Given in no way hinted the professionalism of that nonogenarian, [sic] author of the monumental, two-volume cookbook ‘Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.’

That brilliant work, published in 1947 by J.G. Ferguson and later distributed by Doubleday, contained in its 1969 edition 1,665 pages, 71 tables and charts, 230 photographs in black-and-white and color, 2,906 tested recipes and more than 200 drawings. Considerably in excess of a million copies are now in use.

Born and reared on a farm in the Ozarks, where, as she once put it, ‘my parents had no money,’ Miss Given remained throughout a vigorous life essentially modest and straightforward.

At 15, she had finished her own education, or so she thought, and was teaching in a rural grade school. Later she instructed high-school students in physics, chemistry and agriculture.

But she began to feel she needed more training. In 1916, she enrolled in the University of Chicago to study a subject still in its infancy at that time—home economics. She went on to work for the Evaporated milk Association, developing recipes for that trade group. Then came a stint as food editor of the Chicago Tribune”.

“But the Depression came along,” Meta told Jane in a 1975 interview, “and in 1931, the Tribune fired me. By that time I had my own test kitchen and staff and was also doing freelance work in recipe development and food photography for Kraft and other companies.

I couldn’t fire my staff. But the jobs that came along were spasmodic, and so to keep my people busy, I started them working on a household cookbook.” In 1942, J. G. Ferguson, a Chicago printer whom Miss Given had consulted, published the “Modern Family Cookbook.” From it, the encyclopedia developed.

A heart attack in the late 1940s persuaded Miss Given she should pursue a quieter life. The tall, spare, broad-shouldered woman, with a coronet of white hair, wound up her hectic career in Chicago, and retired to Florida, where, among other things, she grew oak leaf lettuce and developed recipes for pies using loquats and other local fruits.

Her inborn modesty made her hard to interview. Among the first “career women” in this century, she wore her accomplishments lightly, and could not understand why anyone should be especially interested in recording them.

This article was unearthed for us by Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks 163 West Tenth Street New York, New York 10014-3116 USA –so if you are searching for your mother or grandmother’s tried-and true-cookbook you might want to contact Bonnie.

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!

 UPDATE! JUNE 22 2013

 If you have ever read the above, which was posted on my blog February 11, 2011, under the title “Searching for Meta Given”, you will no doubt notice the many readers who have written about Meta Given – - mostly people who had her cookbooks or were looking for them.

 

*why the red italics? Because, I thought—it was because Meta couldn’t bring herself to fire her staff during a particular stringent period, she put them to work on a cookbook – a cookbook which turned out to be the nucleus of the two volume  cookbooks  published in 1947, that people are searching for still, today. Some of whom are paying big bucks for! But I get it. As all of you know, you who have some of Meta Given’s cookbooks—they are timeless, recipes you can follow from start to stop without wondering if it will turn out right. And there is hardly a topic that Meta doesn’t write about!

 

**Looking for a particular old cookbook? Contact Bonnie Slotnick at bonnieslotnickbooks@earthlink.net or at 163 W. 10th Street, NY NY 10014-3116

 ***Jane Nickerson, food writer for the Lakeland Ledger also wrote a cookbook about Florida food and recipes. Jane passed away March 2, 2000. She was employed as a food writer from 1973 to 1988 for the Lakeland Ledger.

 

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith with a special thank you to everyone who ever wrote to request or provide information. A special thanks to Bonnie Slotnick whose culinary sleuthing provided “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say.

 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COOKBOOK?

Some years ago, I was surfing the Internet looking for information about a cookbook author from the 1940s, when I happened to come across an article published some years ago by a newsletter called Simple Cooking.  The title of the article was “THE COOKBOOK CLOSEST TO MY HEART” and the editor of Simple Cooking posed this question to its subscribers: what cookbook would you rescue from a fire, if you could rescue only one? Out of all your favorite cookbooks, which one is closest to your heart?  The responses were varied and interesting, and included replies from a number of cookbook authors (Jean Anderson, Irena Chalmers, Julia Child, Laurie Colwin, Marion Cunningham, Karen Hess, and others) as well as comments from cookbook dealers Marian Gore and Jan Longone.  What surprised me most, though, was the number of cookbooks that I had never heard of!

The topic itself piqued my curiosity.  Back in the 1990s, a food writer for the Los Angeles Times called me on the phone one day and asked if we could do a telephone interview. I said sure, and she proceeded to ask me a few questions about my collection. One of those questions was “What is your favorite cookbook? If you had to choose just one or two, which would it be?”

I was caught off-guard by the question (and whatever my response was, it didn’t appear in the newspaper article which appeared in the December 15, 1994, issue of the Los Angeles Times). Actually, the article was really about a cookbook dealer who, at that time, had a used cookbook store in Burbank. I’ve never been quite sure how I got into the act.  And, I couldn’t tell you what my response was in 1994—my “favorite” cookbook changes frequently. (I have a theory that the only people who could limit their selection to only one or two books are people who don’t actually collect cookbooks).  At that moment, one of my favorites was  Jean Anderson’s “AMERICAN CENTURY COOKBOOK” which was published in 1997, so it wasn’t even a consideration in 1994. Anderson’s “American Century cookbook” is such a wonderful potpourri of recipes covering a hundred years—and I’ve discovered that I am greatly partial to any cookbook that manages to combine recipes with history and food lore. This thought occurred to me some time ago while I was writing a review of Mary Gunderson’s “FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK, RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION”. The history fascinates me as much as the recipes do.

I might have said, in 1994, my choice was “AMERICA COOKS” by the Browns, – Cora, Rose, and Bob, – who compiled a book of favorite recipes when there were only 48 States, so you won’t find Alaska or Hawaii included in the roster. “AMERICA COOKS” is still one of my favorites, though. Actually, all of the cookbooks written by the Browns are really worth having in your collection.

I am very partial to another cookbook that skillfully combines recipes with history, called “CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY” by Mary Anna DuSablon (originally published by the Donning Company in 1983, reprinted by the Ohio University Press in 1992 with a number of reprint editions following).   I found a soft-cover edition of this cookbook back in the 90s when I was in northern California with my brother, Jim—and bought copies for all of my sisters and brothers. For transplanted Cincinnatians, this really is a treasury of recipes for dishes not found anywhere else in the United States (such as Cincinnati chili!)  I got a big kick out of the fact that my brother (a great cook, certainly, but not a cookbook collector) read the entire cookbook as we flew from Oakland to Portland.

On a similar note, I was delighted and charmed to discover Jeanne Voltz’s “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK” some time ago – and this cookbook was published thirty-something years ago!  However, it’s a bonanza of California recipes and I have to admit, after living fifty years of living in California, I am more Californian, now, than Buckeye.

One other favorite Ohio cookbook is a little spiral bound book you’ve probably never heard of, titled “HAPPINESS IS…CHEVIOT PTA COOKBOOK”.  My sister Barbara was greatly involved with the compilation of this little cookbook, published in 1974 and she drew the graphic illustrations that appear throughout the book. It also contains many of our family favorite recipes.

I have to admit to also being very partial to all of my Quail Ridge “Best of….” cookbooks as well as a growing collection of cookbooks from Gooseberry Patch.  Both sets of books are filled with contemporary recipes that are generally quick-and-easy, important factors for today’s busy cook. (Thirty-something years ago, however, I would have said that the Farm Journal series of cookbooks were my favorites for everyday cooking. The Best of the Best as well as the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks remind me of the potato chip commercial that says “bet you can’t eat just one”. Bet you won’t be satisfied with just one of these cookbooks!

And, as I have spent more and more time over the years, researching and learning about books such as The Joy of Cooking, The Meta Given cookbooks, Myra Waldo’s collection of cookbooks and Jean Anderson’s  equally wonderful collection of cookbooks—I don’t think I could ever choose just one or two.  It’s sort of like that old saying, “When I’m not with the one I love, I love the one I’m with” – my favorite cookbook is probably the one I am reading right now. But if I absolutely had to choose just a few?  I think my first choice would have to be “Grandma’s Favorite”, a family collection of recipes that took us over 20 years to finally get published. My sister and I were finally able to get it to a publisher in 2004. Most of our family favorites are in this cookbook. I am also very partial to The Office Cookbook—another endeavor by coworkers and myself that also took over twenty years to get to a publisher. “The Office” referred to here is the one where I worked for 27 years before retiring in 2002.

But I have a confession to make: A few years ago a brush fire was burning dangerously close to homes in Quartz Hill, Palmdale and Lancaster. People were being evacuated close to my sister’s home, a few miles away.  At night, looking up the street, the line of fire coming over the mountain range was frighteningly close. For the first time I really DID think long and hard about what could be saved if evacuation became necessary. I then realized there would be no way to save my collections of cookbooks, cookie jars and other things. There would only be enough room for us and our pets and that would be assuming that I could get the cats into carriers. I did take out a valise and filled it with our most important documents. I could also save all the photographs that are on CDs but not the albums themselves. It was a moment of truth. Things can be replaced (maybe) but lives can’t.

But assuming we live in a perfect world in which our favorite things could be saved– what’s YOUR favorite cookbook? The one dearest to your heart?

Happy Cooking!

 

Sandy

 

 

BUNNY’S JOY

Bunny

My brother Jim and Bunny (Ursula) Walker married in 1963 and embarked on a marriage that lasted for 49 years, producing two daughters and one son—and in time, five grandsons. My BF Bob and Bunny were kindred spirits and would sit outside smoking together whenever they visited me, or when we all gathered in Florida. Is it any wonder that they were both felled by the same disease, cancer of the esophagus? And that they died within eleven months of each other?

The first time I saw my sister in law, Bunny’s, copy of JOY OF COOKING was during a visit to Michigan in 1994, along with my sister Becky, to witness the marriage of Bunny and Jim’s son Barry, to Kelli; and a few days later we participated in Jim and Bunny’s youngest daughter, Julie’s, high school graduation—and a memorable party for which my sister and I participated in making chocolate-covered large fresh strawberries.

One day during that visit, Bunny made cream of asparagus soup for us—asparagus was in season and we all liked this vegetable. Bunny consulted her “JOY OF COOKING” cookbook for the recipe and I was enthralled, seeing such an old copy of a famous cookbook. This edition was published in 1963, and in the Dedication page, Marion Rombauer Becker writes “In revisiting and reorganizing ‘The Joy of Cooking’ we have missed the help of my mother, Irma S. Rombauer. How grateful I am for her buoyant example, for the strong feeling of roots she gave me, for her conviction that, well-grounded, you can make the most of life, no matter what it brings! In an earlier away-from-home kitchen, I acted as tester and production manager for the privately printed first edition of ‘The Joy’. Working with Mother    on its development has been for my husband, John, and for me the culmination of a very happy personal relationship. John has always  contributed verve to this undertaking, but during the past ten years he has, through his constant support and crisp creative editing, become an integral part of the book. We look forward to a time when our two boys—and their wives—will continue to keep ‘The Joy’ a family affair, as well as an enterprise in which the authors owe no obligation to anyone but themselves—and you.” – Marion Rombauer  Becker

Could the Rombauer clan ever imagined – even after ten years of THE JOY OF COOKING being published, that it would continue, year after year, to exceed everyone’s greatest expectations?

I am a Johnny-come-lately to “The Joy of Cooking” – even though I began collecting cookbooks in 1965, my focus was then and still is today on community cookbooks although I have branched out a bit. Sitting down with Bunny’s worn, stained, cover-falling-off copy of THE JOY OF COOKING was a revelation to me. Part of the original dust jacket was folded up inside. Also folded up neatly inside are a package of typed recipes – chili parlor chili, Skyline Chili, Beef Bar-B-Q, Hungarian Goulash, as well as perhaps a dozen or more other family favorites that cry out “Cincinnati”. There is a copy of a recipe for Skyline Chili in a handwriting that I don’t recognize. For those not familiar with Cincinnati Chili, Camp Washington Chili Parlor, Skyline Chili, Empress Chili – they are all variations of a particular chili dinner that all Cincinnati children grow up  with—we were weaned on 4 way or 5 way chili or a couple of Coney Islands. A four way is spaghetti, topped with Cincinnati Chili, a mountain of grated cheese and oyster crackers. For a 5-way add a serving of kidney beans to the dish. Coney Islands are Cincinnati’s version of a chili dog – but the specially made small hot dog comes from Kahn’s – “the weiner the world awaited”- and is topped off with mustard, chili, some chopped onion and a huge mound of grated cheese—all piled onto a hotdog bun. I can eat three of these in one sitting but can’t budge for a few hours after.

Another clipping inside the book is a seasoning for fish, chicken or steak, in my brother Jim’s handwriting. Next I found an intriguing recipe for Blackberry Brioche that was clipped from a newspaper –and I can’t wait to share it with my penpal Bev, who keeps me supplied with Oregon blackberries. This is followed by a small little stack of newspaper clippings—the kind you only find in old recipe boxes or packed within the pages of a family cookbook. There is, I was happy to see, an article from my favorite food writer, Fern Storer, for a Lemon Pound Cake; next is a recipe for a ham loaf – an old clipping; the back of the recipe is an ad for 6 large 12-oz bottles of Pepsi Cola for 15 cents (plus deposit). I found a recipe for making a Swiss Steak Sauce that was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1960. Then I found a recipe for Chipped Beef Skillet Lunch that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer in October, 1958—(oh wait! I thought – Jim & Bunny didn’t get married until 1963. Were these recipes originally in her mother’s possession?  Was the cookbook originally her mother’s?  who can I ask? Who would know?)

From a Cincinnati Enquirer clipping dated January 21, 1960. O found a recipe for Casserole Lasagna, that I am interested in trying; then I uncovered a  recipe for Broken Glass Torte (made with three kinds of Jello)  followed by small clippings for  Banana Nut Bread, a Tangy Dressing for Tangy vegetable slaw, plus a few others that are too battered to decipher.

On a page  somewhat spattered, I found Bunny’s recipe for Cream of Asparagus Soup:

Wash and remove the tips from 1 lb fresh green asparagus, simmer the tips, covered until they are tender in a small amount of milk or water.

Cut the stalks into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add

6 cups of veal or chicken stock page 490

¼    cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped celery

Simmer these ingredients, covered,  for about ½ hour  rub them through a sieve.

Melt:

3 Tablespoons butter

Stir in until blended

3 Tablespoons flour

Stir in slowly:

½ cup cream

Add the asparagus stock. Heat the soup well in a double boiler. Add the asparagus tips. Season the soup immediately before serving with salt, paprika, and white pepper. Before serving, garnish with:

A diced hard-cooked egg    **

I imagine that a bookstore dealer would toss Bunny’s Joy of Cooking into the trash, considering it unworthy of resale. I think much the same often happens to an individual’s recipe box – the contents are thrown into the trash and the box is put up for sale.

I don’t pretend that I am the owner of Bunny’s Joy. I think of myself as a steward, waiting for a daughter or a grandchild to come along and ask “Do you know where my mother’s or grandmother’s Joy of Cooking is?” to which I can reply “I’ve been saving it for you”.–Sandra Lee Smith

Bunny & Sandy, July, 1984, Florida

Home again, Home again, jiggidy jig

To all my subscribers and family members & friends – I apologize for my absence and I will try to make up for it. I just returned from a trip to Florida, for a memorial service/family reunion at my brother’s home in Largo, Florida. His wife of 49 years passed away from the same cancer that took the life of my significant other, Bob, in 2011.   I’ll be posting some more cookbook reviews since they seem to go over well.

If you can think of something else you would like to read about on my blog, feel free to ask if I can write about it. If I CAN, I WILL. My cookbook collection is extensive–maybe 10,000 books, not counting 4 bookcases of food-reference books.  Please  feel free to ask!

Sandy@sandychatter