THE LEGEND OF RED VELVET CAKES

The very first time I heard about red velvet cake was from my friend, Pat Stuart, who became a penpal way back when the internet was just catching on and my sister Becky and I belonged to PRODIGY. I think this had to be in the 1980s because Pat Stuart and her husband Stan lived out by the Los Angeles Fair grounds in Pomona. After a year or two of exchanging correspondence via Prodigy, we agreed to meet when Bob and I were making our annual trips to the fairgrounds where I would enter jellies, jams, chutneys, preserves—anything I could make using a boiling water bath to seal the jars, being gun shy about using a pressure cooker.

The best way I can describe Prodigy as it was back then – it was like a bulletin board where everyone who subscribed to Prodigy could enter comments for other Prodigy subscribers based on your favorite topics. Ours was food, cooking and exchanging recipes. At some point in time, Pat asked if we knew about Red Velvet cake; she had a recipe from a cousin who lived in the South. The story they had heard about Red Velvet cake was that it originated at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1930s.

Back in the 1980s, I began entering the Los Angeles County Fair; first you submitted entry forms describing the items you planned to enter into the Home Arts Division, accompanied by the entry fees. Then Bob, my significant other, would make the trip to Pomona to submit my entries—two of each canned food item; one for tasting, one for displaying. Then he would make a second trip to pick up my tasting jars (which otherwise would have been discarded). THEN we planned a weekend at the fair in Pomona and once the new Sheraton Fairplex hotel opened right on the fair grounds, I made reservations for us to spend the weekend there. It was delightful – hotel guests had their own special entrance, bypassing all of the long lines.

We agreed to meet Pat and Stan at the hotel and have dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was friendship at first sight.

Bob would make a fourth trip to Pomona after the fair was over, to pick up my entries, ribbons, if I had won any, and prize money. I was still working at the time so he made the trips to and from Pomona on his own.

(*In 2008, we moved to the high desert, the Antelope Valley, and since it’s so much farther to go to the Los Angeles fairgrounds, that ended our experience entering the Home Arts Division—and, in 2011, Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus.

Getting back to Red Velvet cake – a few years ago two of the leading cake mix manufacturers came out with their own version of red velvet cake mix. And for the past few years, I have been making red velvet cookies out of red velvet cake mix.

Imagine my surprise, last year (2014) the Food Network Magazine featured a short article about red velvet cake. They noted that red velvet cake is one of America’s most searched for dessert.

According to the Food Network, the origin of red velvet cake remains a mystery and that even food historians can’t agree on the story. That said, the Food Network mentions that in the 1800s, light textured velvet cakes were popular (and I did find a reference to a chocolate velvet cake in one of my food reference books). I checked through half a dozen other food reference books in my collection without finding red velvet cake or any other velvet cake reference.

The Food Network states that the Waldorf Astoria hotel introduced red velvet cake in the 1930s—that would have been during the Depression. The Food Network repeated the oft-repeated claim of a customer requesting the recipe and being billed $100.00 for it.

(In more recent years, this food urban legend has been attributed to a Neiman Marcus restaurant and by now the recipe was for a chocolate chip cookie) Whatever! Neiman Marcus Department Stores denies it ever happened.

And when the red velvet cake recipe first came to my attention, it called for an entire bottle of red food coloring. Never mind that a bottle of food coloring is only about one ounce – in my lifetime there was a red dye #2 scare (the red dye being said to cause cancer). That was probably in the 1970s but I have been leery of red food coloring ever since—never mind pouring an entire one ounce bottle into a cake mix.

And, according to the Food Network magazine article, there is an extract/spice company which dates back to the 1880s and they claim that red velvet became a term when the company added red dye to their classic velvet cake during the depression.

Since General Mills and Duncan Hines food manufacturers came out with their own red velvet cake mix, I haven’t made a red velvet cake from scratch since. And I have been making cookies from cake mixes for about a decade.

In a blog post of mine from May, 2011, about Urban Legends, I wrote:
“…While clipping recipes from a stack of old newspapers (my project every two years while the Olympics were on TV), I happened to come across an article by food writer Jan Malone who wrote, “In what has to be a classic example of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ Neiman Marcus has put a chocolate chip cookie recipe on its website. “For years,” writes Malone, “Neiman Marcus has battled an urban legend that will not die. A ‘friend’ of the initial e-mail writer has lunch at the store’s Neiman Marcus in Dallas, eats a wonderful cookie, asks for the recipe, is told it will cost ‘two-fifty’; she thinks its two dollars and fifty cents but it’s really two hundred and fifty dollars She is so incensed when she gets her credit card bill and the store won’t refund her money, that she gets even by sending the recipe to every e-mail address she knows.

Sometimes this tale of the greedy corporation,” Malone continues, “victimizing the small consumer who gets revenge…has a different villain. In fact, the same story circulated in the 1930s about a red velvet cake from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York”. THAT recipe “cost” $100.00 but hey, times were tough, it was the depression and all.

Malone says she has written about the cookie myth several times and one time encountered a guy who was offering a reward if the ‘friend of the email sender’ could produce a credit card receipt for the $250 purchase but so far there have been no takers. Still, writes Malone, people refuse to believe that the story is a hoax even though Neiman Marcus says it never served cookies in its restaurants until recently and that it always shares its recipes free of charge”.

NOW—as an update—I wrote my original story about urban myths for the newsletter the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1998. While going through my notes, I wondered if the cookie story was still making the rounds –so I Googled it. AND the answer is – YES, the cookie myth is still in circulation – but NOW if you type in “chocolate chip cookie myth” on Google – one of the sites that pops up is from – none other than Neiman Marcus with the recipe AND their offer – copy it, print it, pass it along to your friends and relatives.

It’s a terrific recipe – and it’s FREE. So how did this story ever get started? According to Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Puzo, “…a Neiman Marcus spokesperson in Dallas, said that the tall tale has been circulating ever since she went to work for Neiman Marcus in 1986. The first newspaper story she saw on the bogus cookie recipe appeared in 1988…” and now you know the rest of the story.

TO MAKE THE WALDORF ASTORIA RED VELVET CAKE:

• 1/2 cup shortening
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 ounces red food coloring
• 2 tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 1/4 cups cake flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon vinegar

FROSTING
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup butter (must be butter)

Directions:

Prep Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 45 mins

1. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs.
2. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa.
3. Add to creamed mixture.
4. Add buttermilk alternating with flour and salt.
5. Add vanilla.
6. Add soda to vinegar, and blend into the batter.
7. Pour into 3 or 4 greased and floured 8″ cake pans.
8. Bake at 350°F for 24-30 minutes.
9. Split layers fill and frost with the following frosting.
10. Frosting: Add milk to flour slowly, avoiding lumps.
11. Cook flour and milk until very thick, stirring constantly.
12. Cool completely.
13. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.
14. Add to cooked mixture.
15. Beat, high speed, until very fluffy.
16 Looks and tastes like whipped cream.

ANOTHER RED VELVET CAKE (this one is made with canned red beets and only a teaspoonful of red food coloring:
Ingredients

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds canned beets, drained and pureed
1 teaspoon red food coloring

Cream Cheese/Mascarpone Frosting

2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

Butter three 9″ round cake pans and line them with parchment paper or waxed paper. (I’ve used square pans and Pam for Baking as well and they worked fine.) To prepare cake:

Melt Chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water or in the top of a double boiler (or melt in microwave for 20 – 25 seconds). Meanwhile. place the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for two minutes. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and continue to mix on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula so everything is well incorporated.

Add the melted chocolate to this mixture and continue to mix on low speed. Add the pureed beets and food coloring. Continue to mix on low speed until everything is thoroughly combined. Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until center of cake springs back when touched, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove the pans from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool for ten minutes in the pans, then turn the layers out onto the rack and let cool completely.

To prepare Cream Cheese/Mascarpone Icing:

Pour cream into a small bowl and whip to soft peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until it is soft and smooth. Add the mascarpone and continue to mix on low speed until the cheeses are well combined. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until everything is just combined. Turn off the mixer and fold in the whipped cream by hand with a spatula. Keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.

To assemble:

Using a serrated knife, trim the top of each layer of each layer of cake so that it is flat. Place the first layer on a cake plate or serving platter and top with some of the icing. Repeat until all of the layers are covered with icing, then ice the top and sides of the cake. Store cake in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Chef’s note:
Sliced canned beets are easier to work with in this recipe than whole beets.

Note – This cake works well as a wedding cake but use a cream cheese/buttercream as the icing noted here will not harden.

(*after typing the above this morning, I went to the kitchen and made a batch of the lemon/rice krispie cookies with a box of lemon flavored reduced content cake mix using one egg instead of two and adding juice and zest from one lemon.(instead of any evaporated milk) The cookies turned out just fine!

First, let me share with you A BASIC CAKE MIX COOKIE RECIPE—
1 box, (18.25 oz) any flavor cake mix (I prefer the Betty Crocker cake mixes but any kind will work)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or solid stick margarine (such as Imperial), melted and cooled
2 TBSP milk (I like using evaporated milk for this but if you are making lemon cookies, I prefer using a little lemon juice and the zest from one lemon
2 eggs (or if the box of cake mix has been reduced to 15 or 16 ounces, use just one egg)

Mix together all ingredients. Divide the dough into several balls and pack it into zip lock bags. Chill overnight or as long as you need—the dough will keep for at least a month. Now you are ready to roll the dough out for cutout cookies, or shape into balls. You can roll the balls into finely chopped nuts or glaze them after they’ve baked.

Next, is Chocolate Fudge Cookies – you can use any kind of chocolate cake mix with this recipe and you can change it around a bit by using white chocolate chips instead of semi sweet chocolate chips.

To make Chocolate Fudge Cookies you will need:
1 PACKAGE (18.25 OZ) chocolate cake mix or devil’s food cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil or melted and cooled butter (1 stick = ½ cup)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips.
In a medium size bowl, stir together the cake mix, eggs, and oil until well blended. Then mix in the chocolate chips. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls; place the cookie dough 2” apart on the cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
To make the cookies look more Christmassy, make up a thin glaze out of powdered sugar and a little water – drizzle over the cookies on the wire racks.

KEARA’S FAVORITE CRISP LITTLE LEMON COOKIES
To make Keara’s Favorite Crisp Little Lemon cookies you will need:
1 package lemon cake mix (18.25 oz)
1 cup dry rice krispies cereal
½ cup margarine or butter, melted and cooled (1 stick)
1 egg slightly beaten
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl; mix well. Shape into 1” balls and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees 9-12 minutes. Cool 1 minute then transfer to wire racks to cool.

If you make up a lemon glaze with powdered sugar and lemon juice, and drizzle it over the cookies, you will have a more festive cookie. I like to add a little lemon zest to the cookie batter, too. Finally, here is my red velvet cookie recipe:

RED VELVET CHRISTMAS COOKIES
1 box (18.25) Red Velvet cake mix
½ cup cooking oil
2 TBSP evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 12-oz bag white chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Drop by tablespoonful on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. A white glaze is nice with these. or dust them with sifted powdered sugar.

It may take a while to figure out how to make these recipes work with most (not all!) of the cake manufacturers reducing the size of the box and the amount of cake mix inside. I was most curious about angel food cake mix—the box is smaller but you still add the same amount of water and bake the cake in a tube pan. Angel food cake is my youngest son’s favorite cake so he doesn’t mind being my guinea pig figuring out how to deal with the changes in cake mixes.

After posting the above last night, I found a lengthy article about red velvet cakes in the Daily News, titled The Color of Rubies–by Florence Fabricant–I will write more about it in another post. Meantime, I also found the recipe for red velvet cookies that I made last Christmas, which were a big hit.

RED VELVET COOKIES
2 RED VELVET CAKE MIXES, 3 EGGS, 1 stick Imperial margarine, softened, 1/4 cup drained well chopped maraschino cherries, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven 350 degrees.  mix all ingredients except powdered sugar. drop by teaspoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Allow room for spreading. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until done. cool on wire racks and then dust with powered sugar sifted gently over the cookies. let cool completely.
*CATCHING FAIR FEVER, 2011 BLOG POST

–Sandra Lee Smith

SEWING CLASS 101

In 1954, I graduated from the 8th grade at St. Leo’s School in North Fairmount in May or June, and then in September was one of more than one hundred and fifty Freshman classmates to start high school at Mother of Mercy, on Werk Road in Cincinnati.

At the time, my parents were still living in Fairmount and it only took two buses to get to school; after we moved to North College Hill when I was fifteen, it took three buses and a lot of walking. Meantime, it was 1954 and one of my majors was domestic science. My freshman class roster included sewing class.

The first thing freshman girls were required to make was an apron. When the teacher introduced us to the sewing machines, she asked if I could gather. “Sure I can gather” I said and proceeded to fold the fabric into the machine.

“That’s NOT how you gather,” said the teacher (annoyed, I think), instructing me to take out all my bad stitches.

“I learned from my grandmother,” I explained. “That was how SHE gathered.”

I had already made a bad impression on the teacher, one of the few women at Mercy who was not a nun.(I redeemed myself later on with all written tests and exercises—I could memorize anything).

Now, the next thing 99% of the students in sewing class made was a wool skirt. It required two pieces of fabric, a front and a back, with a belt-size piece of fabric, a waist band that went around the waist. The most difficult part of the skirt was putting in a zipper. I didn’t want to put in a zipper so I elected to make a pair of pajamas that went to the knees, like Capri pants, in a lavender print fabric that my mother must have had laying around (I don’t remember ever going to buy fabric) The thing about these pajamas is that they had French seams everywhere. If you don’t know what a French seam is, don’t waste your time learning how – it’s like the seam on the outside of a good pair of jeans. To this day, I remember those French seams.

Here’s what happened: I had sewing class two or three days a week. I would work on my French seams for an hour, then squash the pajamas into my sewing box and take them home to my mother, who would tear out my bad seams and re-do the whole thing.

Months later the pajamas were finished and they lasted for years. I once hyperventilated when I saw a piece of that fabric in a quilt that my mother made for my sister, Susanne.

The next thing I made was a dress. The fabric was a lovely pale dotted swiss. The dress went back and forth in the sewing box too—I think it was finally finished at the end of the school year—by then my breast size had increased and the dress was too tight for me to wear. I don’t know what my mother did with that dress, either.

Now here’s the thing—my two best friends from childhood (when we sat on our front porches making doll dresses for little dolls that predated Barbie) – both sew all kinds of things and both of them quilt as well. My friend Patti even has names for her sewing machines – she has two. They are Sweetie One and Sweetie Two.

ALL of my friends sew. My best friend here in California, Mary Jaynne, has been doing all of my mending and took up Bob’s new Dockers whenever he got a new pair of pants—she does all of my mending and alterations; I make soup for them. I freeze the soups, stews, and chowders in 2-quart Glad Lock plastic containers. When frozen solid, the soup or stew pops out and can be put into a zip lock freezer bag—and then labeled with a black Sharpee pen. (Mrs. Cunningham, my cooking teacher, would have been proud)

I think all of my girlfriends quilt as well. I don’t sew; I gave it up when my Freshman year came to an end.

I do have a button box; when I was married my Ex couldn’t understand how someone who didn’t sew could have a button box. “I like buttons”, I explained. He never got it. I played with my mother’s button box when I was a little girl. No sewing onto things was ever required.

Four Years at Mercy
Class of 1958

In 1954, we were the freshman class,
girls from many parishes,
wearing new blue uniforms
with crisp white blouses,
bobby socks and
penny loafers,
blue and white beanie caps;
assigned our lockers,
and a list
of the rooms
of all our classes.
In my dreams
I still lose the slip of paper
with my classes
and have to go to
Sister Emily’s office
to get another.
I may have lost
that list
once or twice
every year.
I may have been
slightly scatterbrained.
Religion, English, General Math,
Science, Domestic Science (Sewing)
I was not very good
at sewing
and spent a year
making a pair
of pajamas
with French seams.
Public Speaking.
I had a class in Public Speaking?
P.E.
I did not like P.E.
(and it did not like me. I think
the teacher took pity
on the girl
with two left feet–I became the coach).

In 1955, we were the Sophomores
No longer the new kids on the block.
We were worldly, experienced,
and knew our way
around the halls
and up and down the stairwells.
I still lost my list of classes
once or twice
until I had them memorized.
Religion, English, Biology
(Sister Joseph, I remember you well–oh
that all the world could have been
as enthusiastic
as you!)
World History, Public Speaking (again?)
Domestic Science (Cooking Class. I love you
Mrs. Cunningham, Where ever you are).
P.E.
How did I ever get a 97.5 average in P.E.?
(Is this really my report card?)

In 1956, we became Juniors.
No longer babies.
“Young Women,”
Sister said.
Religion, English,
U.S. History,
Homemaking II,
Typing!
(I graduate from 2-finger
Typing to using both hands)
Office Practice.
(Sister Joseph again. We practiced
writing checks
for weeks. Sister was a stickler
for getting it right.
To this day,
I write a pretty good check.)
P.E.
(How did I ever get a 92.5 average?)
A in Conduct.
Ok, I could live with that.

In 1957, we became the Senior Class.
Religion, English,
Business Math,
Problems of Democracy,
(Democracy is still having problems
Fifty years later)
Typing, (loved typing class)
P.E.
The Senior Prom.
Getting our class pictures taken.
Final exams.
Graduation Day
in front of the school.

Of all the things–
the documents,
driver’s license,
birth certificates for
four sons,
and bits of paper
that have trailed me through life
(not to mention many moves)
much has been lost
along the way.
But somehow
I have managed
to keep
Four important report cards.
Proof that I was there,
for four years
and graduated
from Mother of Mercy
High School
June 4, 1958.

–Sandra Lee Smith (Schmidt)
Class of ’58

GROWING UP PRACTICALLY GREENLESS

In the midst of a recent exchange with one of my email pals, it crossed my mind that we grew up, in the 30s, 40s. and 50s with a dearth of fresh vegetables. I never tasted fresh spinach before moving to California. Ditto fresh asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts or bell peppers. In the Cincinnati of my childhood, bell peppers were called “mangoes” (it’s a long story; I’ll spare you for now). Other fresh vegetables we never had: artichokes, eggplant, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, mushrooms, okra, parsnips, rutabagas, any kind of squash, turnips or zucchini.

As a child of the 40s and 50s in a family of five children, we had carrots and potatoes with stewed chicken on Sunday, served with my mother’s library paste rice that I loathed but not very long ago discovered my brother Bill actually liked it. I didn’t like rice until I was married and began discovering rice pilaf, brown rice and a wealth of other rice dishes. Then I realized that it wasn’t the rice that I loathed; it was the way my mother cooked it. It was the same thing with cabbage. My mother began cooking cabbage around 9 am in the morning, for supper at 6 pm. It was cabbage slime.

The wonder of it all is that I learned how to make corned beef and cabbage on my own—and liked it. (Cut into wedges, cooked gently until just done in a crockpot with the pre-cooked corned beef). Sometimes, such as on a Sunday dinner, we had a simple green lettuce salad with a vinaigrette mixed in, otherwise we didn’t have salads. Cottage cheese was often on the table and considered a salad.

We sometimes had canned asparagus, canned peas, canned beets, canned corn, canned tomatoes and canned string beans—all of which I liked but it took fresh asparagus, peas, beets and corn and beans to awaken my taste buds and make me love those vegetables. I think we might have had corn on the cob once a year but I wouldn’t swear to it.

After being gifted with my maternal grandmother’s cookbook from my cousin Renee on one of my visits to Cincinnati, I had an inkling that my mother’s cooking was largely her mother’s cooking some of which is reflected in Grandma Beckman’s late 1800s cookbook.

The one thing my mother made “from scratch” regularly was bread – two large loaves of it baked in a large black speckled roasting pan twice a week. Oh, how I envied kids with sandwiches made from Wonder Bread! Our sliced bread sandwiches were at least six inches thick. However, that being said – if you happened to be in the kitchen when my mother took a loaf of bread out of the oven and she sliced off an end for you to try with a little margarine—now that was heaven!

One dish I loved was canned peas made with a white cream sauce (like a Bechamel sauce). My mother used evaporated milk in the sauce (mixed in with the liquid from the canned peas) and I loved it. Years later discovered my sister Becky loved peas made this way too. When we had salmon patties (made from canned salmon) on a Friday, it was usually with creamed peas. Growing up, I didn’t know there was any such thing as fresh salmon—not in the Midwest it wasn’t. And I don’t remember ever having any kind of other fish, fresh or otherwise.

And speaking of peas, one of the ladies in my support group says she had peas, usually with pearl onions, almost every Sunday while visiting her grandfather and she became sick of them.

For the life of me I can’t remember my mother ever making fried chicken—the only kind of chicken I remember having was stewed—and once in a blue moon, my mother made French fries, draining them on brown paper bags that were torn open to lay flat. I really learned how to make fried chicken from my mother in law, Bertha Smith, who was from Bluefield West Virginia. I also learned how to make white gravy from her (wonderful with fried chicken when you have all those drippings and bits and pieces from the chicken).

Throughout the years when my sons were growing up, I made fried chicken at least once a week but I cut up two chickens to fry—to have with biscuits and gravy. (There was a good reason for frying at least two chickens at a time; my then-husband and sons often brought strays home for dinner (friends who didn’t have anywhere to go for dinner).

Everyone knew what time we had dinner and many of them just happened to show up at that time—no one was ever turned away. And it was a simple matter to make a double or triple batch of buttermilk biscuits and a vat of white gravy.  We always had a salad and some kind of vegetable—thinking back, I know they all liked corn so that was probably on the table the most often—but not canned! I became an advocate for fresh and frozen veggies.

I just thought of something else I want to add to this – my son Kelly has been on a fairly strict food plan for several years now. He sees a doctor in the San Fernando Valley (that his father recommended to him) because Kelly had so many digestive problems. He went on this “diet” which allows potatoes – he can have them baked or mashed – but no milk in the mashing and only margarine to go on it. He went down 3 pants sizes and the puffiness went out of his face. he can have almost any kind of meat except pork & he can eat a lot of salads, which he does. If they are coming over here to eat I generally make baked potatoes. When Keara makes mashed potatoes for them, she just uses the potato water mashing them.

And I haven’t made chocolate chip cookies since Christmas because he will EAT them even when he SHOULDN’T.

Occasionally my mother made a kidney stew that was served with wide cooked noodles; I liked it well enough until I learned where the kidneys came from and what their purpose was. We also had liver & onions every so often—something I liked and when I was first married, it was a meal you could make for next to nothing. Calves liver was cheap (not so much anymore) and a few brown onions were cheap as well.

However, I just don’t remember many side dishes of vegetables. My mother would ‘pickle’ a can of red beets—which my father liked. I didn’t like beets until I began cooking fresh ones myself, cooking the green tops as well as the beets. Now shoestring red beets are one of my favorite “sides” on a salad. And while checking through some old cookbooks, I have discovered that my mother was making Harvard Beets with those canned red beets
.
Now might be a good time to tell my “mango” story; backing up first – in Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s, bell peppers were called “mangoes” – the how and why of it is something I have written about on my blog before. We had “filled mangoes” probably several times a month when bell peppers were in season. It was something my mother could make using a small amount of ground beef; you hollowed out the bell peppers (mangoes) and filled them with ground beef mixed with uncooked rice and maybe an egg mixed into it. Tomato sauce was poured over it all and cooked in the oven. Voila – stuffed mangoes.

Well, shortly after we moved to California in 1961, my then-husband Jim and I became acquainted with a couple named Jim & Teresa, we often had meals at their apartment. Teresa was from Louisiana and an excellent cook. So – one night when we were there for dinner and I was chatting with Teresa in the kitchen, she asked me what kind of dishes I liked to make. “Well, for one, stuffed mangoes” I replied. (I had never even heard of any other kind of “mango”) – it took a lot of explaining before I understood that what WE called stuffed mangoes—wasn’t made with mangoes at all—they were made with bell peppers. I never referred to stuffed bell peppers as “mangoes” again.

(*I wish I could find Teresa again. I happened to see her and her daughter Connie in the early 1980s at a park when I was working at SAG in the summer and was staying with girlfriend Mary Jaynne at the time. I think Theresa was divorced by then. Well, I digress—people come and go from your life in California, more so than people you know from your childhood elsewhere and who are still living in places like my hometown of Cincinnati). ***

I think, I will make and freeze stuffed peppers when Kelly”s veggie garden goes into overdrive this year. I diced a lot of the bell peppers and froze them like that –and I still have some in the freezer. He has become quite the gardener.

This reminds me of another one of my mother’s frequent vegetable dishes when we were growing up – it was a kind of stewed canned tomato that had bread mixed in with it. The closest thing I can find for that is a Better Homes & Gardens recipe for “scalloped tomatoes” that contained several slices of toasted bread cut into cubes. I think my mother’s version would have contained cut up homemade bread that wasn’t toasted.

I have written about my mother’s one and only cookbook, an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook but I think my mother only used it for baked things, like cookies; I took over that cookbook years ago—when I was about ten years old.

My mother had a few recipes in a recipe box that I now have. Despite being practically greenless as we grew up, somehow the whole bunch of us (six siblings) managed to grow up without breaking any arms or legs. I had a calcium deficiency that was diagnosed when my teeth kept crumbling until a doctor suggested I have them pulled and dentures made. So, at the age of 25, I acquired dentures. And oddly enough, despite taking four falls last year when I was recuperating from an illness—I didn’t break any bones. My doctors thought it remarkable that I didn’t break anything. (I think I was having problems with balance for about six months last year).

As for my mother, I want to add that when we were growing up in the 30s, 40s and into the 50s, my mother had a grocery allowance of $10.00 a week, which explains the homemade bread and meals made with organ meats such as kidneys and liver. Fresh vegetables had to cost more than canned at that time. She did the best she could with what she had.

I understand how it was—for many years of my marriage and before I went back to work in 1977, I had to make do with very little and do the best I could.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Surely Synchronicity!  Received this from girlfriend Doreen:

EATING IN THE FIFTIES

Pasta had not been invented.  It was macaroni or spaghetti.  Curry was a surname.  A take-away was a mathematical problem.  Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere.  Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.  All chips were plain.

Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.

A Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining. Brown bread was something only poor people ate.  Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.  Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.  Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.  Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.

None of us had ever heard of yogurt.  Healthy food consisted of anything edible.  Cooking outside was called camping.  Seaweed was not a recognized food.  ‘Kebab’ was not even a word, never mind a food. Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as being white gold.  Prunes were medicinal.

Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed.  Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.  Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than gasoline for it they would have become a laughing stock.  The one thing that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties…was elbows or hats!

OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS

BY Amy Jo Ehman

In the Foreword to OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS, written by Bill Waiser, (author of SASKATCHEWAN: A NEW HISTORY and numerous other books, is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan. Waiser starts out the Foreword with a quote from someone named Dan Thompson, who described the first year on the family homestead in Saskatchewan in 1911, “I used to get so hungry I would eat grass.”

Writes Professor Waiser, “Thompson’s lament was not uncommon. Homesteading for many settlers, especially for those living in isolated areas was an impoverishing experience. While the early 20th century marked the beginning of remarkable technological innovation and steady improvement in Canadian daily life, those in pioneer farm districts seemed to have stepped back in time…”

The Professor explains why: “Since it took several years before the crops provided decent income, homesteaders had to become virtually self-sufficient, learn to live a simpler life by making do with little. Hardship and privation were common.
Settlers faced the double challenge of brining the land under cultivation and trying to survive in the meantime. And survival took valuable time and energy away from other activities.
Before breaking a single acre, homesteaders had to find a reliable source of drinking water, build a shelter and put in a garden.

This last challenge—feeding themselves—has been largely ignored by prairie historians…”

“And yet,” writes Professor Waiser, “It was one of the most basic of human needs and took precedence over other homesteading tasks if settlers were to stave off possible hunger…many did not bring with them enough provisions and often had to make do with what they had.

Amy Jo Ehman tells this story and much more in this fascinating account of the role that food has played in the history of the region…”

“Some of the recipes,” says Professor Waiser, “including the preparation were based on age-old customs and traditions that people brought with them—it was part of their cultural DNA….other cooks took advantage of local resources—or because of the lack of ingredients, were flexible, if not inventive, in what they put on the dinner table…”

He says that what becomes readily apparent in reading these recipes is that there was no such thing as standard fare. People in Saskatchewan enjoyed an eclectic mix of tastes and flavors. At the same time there were certain comfort foods that enjoyed widespread popularity . The cookbook contains old and new recipes, something for everyone; recipes range from Baked Beans to Boiled Raisin Cake, Chicken Paprikash (one of my favorites) to Latkes and Lazy Cabbage Rolls, from making a Sourdough Starter to Watermelon pickles – and much more.

Professor Waiser writes, “Amy Jo Ehman is to be applauded not only for bringing these past recipes together in a single volume but also for putting the province’s food history into perspective in an engaging and entertaining style…”

There is something to be said about collecting cookbooks; to the uninitiated, a cookbook is simply a collection of recipes. Some cookbook authors wrote only one cookbook (i.e., Joy of Cooking) and created life-long checks in the mail (in much the same way that movie stars receive residual checks)—perhaps in the same way that Margaret Mitchell wrote GONE WITH THE WIND. Mitchell spent over a decade writing GWTW which turned out to be a best seller and then went on to become the movie of the century. Who doesn’t remember Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, delivering the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” – given another place and time, Margaret Mitchell might have gone on to write the Gone with the Wind Cookbook”

But I didn’t sit down to write about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind today – I began thinking about all the many unique cookbooks that someone somewhere was inspired to put together. I’ve written about some of these unique cookbooks before on this blog—and I could spend the rest of my life writing about a lot of other ones—but today I want to tell you about a wonderful historical cookbook with the title OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS by Amy Jo Ehman, published in 2014.

To be perfectly honest, I would never have learned about OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS if not for my penpal Doreen, who lives in Saskatchewan and has been one of my Canadian penpals since 2006. (My other Canadian penpal, Sharon, was living in Niagara Falls, Canada, when we first met in 2008 and was a perfect hostess when I went to visit her in 2009)

I met Doreen and her husband, Harv, also in 2008 and again when they were back in my neck of the woods in 2011. What might have been chance meetings has turned into a triangle of three deep friendships. I was charmed to receive OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS because I sort of doubt Doreen would have looked twice at a cookbook before meeting me.

When I was a teenager taking American History and World History classes, I loathed history—but as a young adult I became fascinated with American pioneer history – and one thing tends to lead to another – American pioneers led me to a fascination for the women who traveled across the Oregon trail and what they did to survive. What I have discovered in recent years is that American pioneer history is not unlike Canadian pioneer history. On both sides of the border, in the 1700s and 1800s, pioneering also meant often going hungry. Or—as I have heard—“making do or doing without”.

Artist Paul Kane, in his memoir “Wanderings of an Artist” writes about his adventures traveling from Toronto to Fort Edmonton and the west coast, and enjoying meals provided by native hunters- having antelope, deer, bison and grizzly bear. He mentions roasted bear paw and sampling moose nose which I was intrigued to learn because I read about roasted bear paw and jellied moose nose in some of my old Alaskan cookbooks which leads one to wonder which came first – Alaskan Eskimos or the Aboriginal people of the Cree, Blackfoot or Assiniboine.
“As long as bison were plentiful”, writes Ehman, “the aboriginal people and newcomers ate well. This meat-based diet was supplemented with fresh and dried fish, a variety of berries and prairie plants such as cattails, tender wild greens and the ‘prairie potato’, a root that was dried, pounded and used as flour before wheat flour arrived with the fur trade….” (a good example of ‘making do or doing without’).

“The first recorded wheat field on the prairies,” writes Ehman, “was planted in 1754 at Fort a la Corne, on the Saskatchewan River east of present-day Prince Albert…” which begs the question—did Canada suffer from a dust bowl such as that in the USA, from over-farming the mid-western lands with wheat crops?

Amy Jo starts OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS with her own introduction, writing “When I think of my Grandma Ehman, I think of apples. Apple pie, applesauce cookies, apfelkuchen. Of picking apples and eating sour apples and climbing high in the branches of the old crabapple tree. Food and love and history intertwined…” (She had me in the first sentence, thinking of her Grandma Ehman, she thinks of apples just as when I think of my Grandma Schmidt, I think of apples! **)

Amy Jo describes the journeys of her ancestors, in particular her father’s family arriving in Regina in 1890 direct from their village near the Black Sea. Three generations earlier, they had left their villages in Germany to take up free farmland in Russia. Which might explain why, she writes, when Canada came calling for farmers, her family felt no hesitation in venturing out again

It has troubled Amy Jo that they learned so little in school about the culinary history of their land.

“In 1952,” she writes, “the Saskatchewan Archives Office at the University of Saskatchewan asked old-timers what the pioneers ate. “Their answers paint a picture of frugality and self-sufficiency. They grew, raised, foraged, bartered and often did without…they bought only what they could not produce themselves: white flour, oats, baking soda, molasses, sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit. Yet even with such basic ingredients they managed to preserve their familiar food traditions while sharing recipes with their new neighbors from around the world. Then as now, food is history, hope and love entwined…”

It’s a pioneer’s story on the entire North American continent.

Amy Jo starts OUT OF SASKATCHEWAN KITCHENS with some of the original inhabitants of Saskatchewan, the Metis, who had a wintering village on the bend of the South Saskatchewan River.
I confess I had to turn to Google to learn something about the Metis:

[The Métis, Canadian French are one of the recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. They trace their descent from mixed ancestry of First Nations and Europeans. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with formal recognition equal to that of the Inuit and First Nations. Mothers were usually Cree, Algonquin, Saulteaux, Menominee,Mi’kmaq or Maliseet, or of mixed descent from these people and Europeans. At one time there was an important distinction between French Métis and the Anglo-Métisor Countryborn descended from English or Scottish fathers. Today these two cultures have essentially coalesced into one Métis tradition. The Métis homeland includes regions scattered across Canada, as well as parts of the northern United States (specifically Montana, North Dakota, and northwest Minnesota). These were areas in which there was considerable intermarriage due to the fur trade.]

By 1872, writes Amy Jo, life was changing rapidly for the residents of Petite Ville… “Bison were fast disappearing, replaced on the horizon by the imminent arrival of European settlers and the advent of agriculture. The Metis of Petite Ville decided to give farming a try. To stake out their place, plant potatoes and barley, raise horses and live year-round on their land…excavations at Petite Ville and other historic sources tell us that in addition to bison meat and pemmican, they also ate wile game such as deer and snow shoe hare; birds such as ducks, geese and grouse; fresh water fish and native plants. Berries were pounded to a pulp and dried and later boiled to make pudding and cakes. Fish were broiled and smoked. Meat was kept in outdoor ice pits protected from animals and vegetables stored in root cellars beneath the floor or cut into the side of a hill. And while there may no evidence of gardening in the overgrown foundations of Petite Ville, writes Amy Jo, “it is well documented that the Metis were accomplished gardeners…[but] by 1875 Petite Ville was largely abandoned, its residents moving to more permanent communities…”

The ultimate fate of the Metis is not unlike that of many American Indian tribes; the government in Ottawa ignored their request for a title to their land and a decade later, in 1885, revolt against federal troops led to a tragic struggle to preserve their land, their independence and their distinct way of life. And treaties signed by the Canadian aboriginals suffered the same fate as the treaties signed by American native Indians.

September 4, 1905, was Inauguration Day; Saskatchewan had become a province. Amy Jo devotes the next few chapters on the development of Saskatchewan and the many settlers who came to farm the land and become a part of the development of the province. Included are reprints of old photographs, followed by recipes.

There are a wealth of recipes to accompany the many old photographs—it’s a really great read. Now I have to admit that my copy of OUT OF OLD SASKATCHEWAN was sent to me by my Saskatchewan girlfriend. I was unable to find it listed on Amazon.com . Published by MacIntyrePurcell Publishing, Inc., the ISBN number is 978-1-927097-61-8; this information may enable you to find a copy. And why would there be copies of OUT OF OLD NOVA SCOTIA KITCHENS and not one for old Saskatchewan Kitchens?

One final note— Amy jo Ehman is a local personality in the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting System) – Canada’s answer to the USA’s PBS (Public Broadcasting System).

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

** MY GRANDMOTHER’S APPLE TREE
In my grandmother’s back yard there was an apple tree—sour apples, or cooking apples—I don’t remember if there was more than the one tree. In my memory banks there is only the one apple tree.

When the tree was laden with apples ready for picking, grandma sent my brother Jim (the oldest grandson) up the tree to shake some of the limbs so the apples would fall and could be collected in grandma’s big apron or grandchildren or her daughters-in-law would gather up the apples and carry them to a big round tub.

Grandma put some of the best apples into a red wagon and had a grandchild (sometimes it was me) to the sisters, whose house was behind St Leo’s. The sister who worked in the kitchen would exclaim over the apples and offer me a piece of peppermint candy.

We would transfer the apples to containers that sister provided and I could then take the wagon back to grandma’s house which was right up the street from St Leo’s—the church, the school, the priests’ house and the sister’s house, all in a row.

Meantime the apples would be washed and then anyone able to handle a peeler or a paring knife would start peeling the apples, cutting away bad spots. I don’t remember that any of us children were allowed to handle a peeler, much less a paring knife. My mother and two aunts, Aunt Dolly and Aunt Annie, would spend the day peeling apples.

Some of the apples were turned into apple sauce. During the war (WW2) when sugar was rationed, the apple sauce was canned sans any sweetener. We had sour apple sauce in the basement pantry for YEARS—you put some apple sauce on your plate and then were allowed to add a little sugar and stir it up.

Grandma made a lot of apple strudel, her specialty and I imagine some of the best apples were stored down in grandma’s cellar, to be used in future batches of apple strudel.

I have a Granny Smith apple tree in my back yard, now, and I make apple sauce, all the while thinking of my Grandma Schmidt and her apple tree and wishing—oh, how I wish! – that I had the recipe for Grandma’s Apple Strudel.

–Sandra Lee Smith

DINNER IN THE DINER

This was first published in WordPress in 2010 and I acquired several new friends because of it. One is a fellow whose wife was the daughter of the original Twin Trolley Diner–and the other is a gentleman in New Jersey who lived on Queen City Avenue around the same time my cousins lived on that street.
So, bear with me for reprinting it–I have discovered that many of my subscribers are not familiar with my earlier posts.

My love affair with diners dates back to my early childhood, where, in South Fairmount in Cincinnati, Ohio, there was a place on the corners of Queen City Avenue and Beekman Streets, called the Twin Trolley Diner. I loved that restaurant. It was a favorite place to stop and have a bite to eat after going to the movies at the West Hills Theater in South Fairmount. We lived in North Fairmount and everyone either walked or took the streetcars, also known as trolley cars, to get where they were going.

Buses replaced streetcars while I was still very young. Even so, children walked everywhere. To have an adult drive you someplace was simply unheard of. We walked to and from school, the library, movie theaters, the Dairy Queen, bakery, drug store, or the corner mom & pop grocery stores – unless you were going Downtown; then you took a streetcar or the bus. The Twin Trolley Diner was also right on the street car/bus line. (It might surprise you to learn, too, that when women or girls went Downtown, they wore high heels, hats, gloves, and stockings—the works! People didn’t go Downtown in casual attire, even if it meant walking all around Downtown in uncomfortable high-heeled shoes! (I ruined a lot of high heeled shoes this way).

There was another place in Cincinnati that enjoyed enormous popularity, one I didn’t even think of as a diner until I read about it in a cookbook called “ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor. The diner is a place called Camp Washington Chili and the restaurant has been at the same location since 1940. It was just about a mile from our house, just across the Hopple Street Viaduct. Camp Washington Chili was always open 24 hours a day and very often, when I was a teenager, someone would get a yen for “Coney Islands” or “White Castles” and we’d make a late-night quick trip to both places. I think this happened mostly when I was babysitting for my older sister and she and her husband would come home from their evening out on the town.

“Coney Islands” are specially made small hot dogs on smaller-than-average buns, loaded down with hot dog, Cincinnati chili, chopped onions, shredded cheese and mustard. Cincinnati chili is a special blend of chili, originally created by a Greek chef and a “five way” is a plateful of spaghetti topped off with chili, kidney beans, chopped onions and finely shredded cheese—with oyster crackers. Nearby was a White Castle restaurant, also a chain of diner eateries popular in my hometown. Their hamburgers were smaller than regular-size hamburgers – a really hungry person could easily eat about three Coney Islands and three White Castles. (When I was a little girl, the Sunday paper often featured a White Castle coupon—you could get 5 hamburgers for twenty-five cents! I think we clipped a lot of those coupons). Another memory from my earliest childhood is coming home on the street car with my grandparents, after spending a Sunday at their “lodge” downtown near Findlay Market. When we transferred streetcars at Hopple and Colerain Streets, Grandpa would go into the White Castle and get a bag of hamburgers for us to take home and eat.

And, even though Camp Washington Chili has been at the same location since 1940, it’s no longer the same building. When the City wanted to widen Hopple Street, they wanted a slice of the land on which the original Camp Washington Chili building was located. The owners obliged and now Camp Washington Chili is in a new—albeit very art-deco-ish building. The owners and the food are the same, however, (although the menu has expanded). A few years ago, I visited my hometown and my nephew and his wife and I enjoyed lunch at Camp Washington Chili. All of the walls of the interior of the restaurant are decorated with tributes that have been appeared in numerous books, magazines, and newspapers about this most famous Cincinnati eatery.

There are, now, many chili “parlors” throughout the city of Cincinnati, most either Skyline or Empress. Camp Washington Chili was one of the earliest, however and is so famous that the mayor declared June 12 to be Camp Washington Chili Day. When I go to visit relatives and friends in Cincinnati, usually the first thing we do is head for one of the chili parlors. There is even one in the Greater Cincinnati airport (which, incidentally, is located in Kentucky—but that’s another story!)

“Diner history”, writes Sharon O’Connor in “ROCK & ROLL DINER” (published in 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc) “began in 1872 when Walter Scott drove a horse-drawn freight wagon filled with sandwiches, boiled eggs, buttered bread, pies, and coffee down Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island. Late-night factory workers couldn’t purchase anything to eat after 8 p.m. when all the restaurants in town closed for the evening, so the enterprising Scott brought the food to his hungry customers…”

A few years later, a man by the name of Samuel Jones noticed some of the lunch wagon customers standing outside in the rain eating and he had an inspiration – he would build a lunch cart big enough for people to come inside. In 1887 at the New England Fair in Worcester, Massachusetts, for the first time ever, customers entered a lunch cart on wheels. “Jones’ cart had a kitchen, fancy woodwork, stained glass windows, standing room for customers and a menu that included sandwiches, pie, cake, milk, and coffee,” writes O’Connor. “The idea of eating inside a lunch cart was an instant success.”

Before long, lunch wagons were being mass-produced by a man named Thomas H. Buckley, who became known as the “Lunch Wagon King.” Buckley added cooking stoves to his lunch wagons, which allowed expanded menus. These lunch wagons, O’Connor explains, underwent a number of changes and gradually evolved into the roadside diners of the 20th century. Curiously, early in the 1900s, when street railway companies were beginning to electrify, enterprising wagon owners converted many of the discarded trolley cars into permanent restaurants.

Soon after, several other entrepreneurs went into the diner manufacturing business and began shipping pre-fabricated miniature restaurants that were approximately thirty feet long and ten feet wide to various parts of the country. Sometime between 1923 and 1924, the name “lunch car” evolved into “diner”.

“In 1922,” writes O’Connor, “diner manufacturer Jerry O’Mahony’s catalog pictured ‘lunch cars’; two years later, it showed many models called ‘diners’…”
“This new name,” explains Sharon O’Connor, “linked them with the fine dining experience offered on Pullman trains, and it also better described the expanded fare of breakfast, lunch, and dinner available twenty-four hours a day…”

Richard Gutman, author of “AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” delves a great deal deeper into the origins of the diner, and the life of Walter Scott and others who came up with the original food carts. Gutman’s book also offers many illustrations and photographs of diners from their inception on.

It was during the mid-1920s that diner owners also began to make a bid for female customers to come into their restaurants. Initially, most women wouldn’t set foot into a diner. The Diners’ early days as late-night lunch carts gave them a reputation of being for men only. Now, ladies were invited to come in; flower boxes, shrubs, and frosted glass were added to the décor. In addition, the menus began to offer salads. The bid for female customers also led to another major innovation. Writes O’Connor, “Because most women didn’t feel comfortable perched on counter stools, manufacturers began to offer diners with table or booth service. By the end of the decade, diners were regarded as inexpensive, respectable places to eat and this reputation served them well during the 1930s…” (It was also during the 1930s that the term “Luncheonette” came along. This had, I suspect a more respectable ring to it for the ladies rather than something like “hash house” or “Lunch Counter”).

In 1928, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. However, diners made it through those difficult years—people still had to eat, and diners offered inexpensive meals.

The popularity of diners peaked in the 1950s, when an estimated 6,000 of these small, family-owned businesses were in operation. In 1962, along came McDonalds and the advent of the fast-food chains caused a major decline in the diner business. The 1982 movie “Diner” inspired a revival in diner mania – but then, in the 1990s, baby boomers became fascinated with the Retro look – and everything old was new again. New versions of the 1940s and 1950s style diners are being re-created and the older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, a lot of places, like the Twin Trolley Diner, are gone forever. And, one of life’s ironies about this entire story is that now, again, we have “food trucks” that go around to office buildings and factories during break and lunch hours, so that workers can go out and grab a bite to eat—what goes around certainly does come around!

Diners, I discovered, have their own “lunch counter lingo”. This is a sort of shorthand slang used between servers and the cooks in traditional diners and luncheonettes. John Mariani, author of “THE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN FOOD AND DRINK”, published by Hearst Books (originally in 1983, but updated and revised in 1994) provides a sampling of terms if you are interested in Diner Lingo. Says Mariana “lunch counters have provided etymologists and linguists with one of the richest stores of American slang, cant, and jargon, usually based on a form of verbal shorthand bandied back and forth between waiters and cooks….”

Some of these terms, such as a “BLT” for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, have become a familiar part of American language. H.L. Mencken, published in 1948, incidentally, culled Mariana’s list, from several other sources, notably “the American Language”. Mencken, in turn, found some of his sources dating back to a writer for the Detroit Press in 1852. Waiters, he says, developed most of it, in the 1870s and 1880s.

Here are a few Diner lingo terms:

ADAM AND EVE ON A RAFT: two poached eggs on toast.
BABY, MOO JUICE, SWEET ALICE OR COW JUICE: milk
AXLE GREASE Also ‘SKID GREASE”: butter
BIRD SEED: cereal
BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: A dish of meat, potato and vegetable served on a plate (usually blue) sectioned in three parts
BOWWOW: A hot dog
BOSSY IN A BOWL: Beef stew, so called because “Bossy” was a common name for a cow
CITY JUICE: Water
CROWD: Three of anything (possibly from the old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd)
DRAW ONE: Coffee
EIGHTY-SIX: Translates to “do not sell to that customer” or “the kitchen is out of the item ordered”. Might be traced to the practice at Chumley’s Restaurant in New York City of throwing rowdy customers out the back door, which is No. 86 Bedford Street
FIRST LADY: Spareribs, a pun on Eve’s being made from Adam’s spare rib
FRENCHMAN’S DELIGHT: pea soup
There are many other terms, most of them completely outdated in 2003, such as ZEPPELINS IN A FOG which were sausages in mashed potatoes. How many young people today even know what a Zeppelin was? (No, it wasn’t a rock group!)
**
“Now…” writes author Sharon O’Connor, “diners are flourishing across the United States, from nostalgic prefabricated booth-and-countertop models to custom-designed spots that seat hundreds and gross millions. Colonial- and Mediterranean-style places are being redone with less stone and brick and more polished granite, marble, glass, and stainless steel. New versions of classic 1940s- and 1950s-style diners are being re-created, and older diners are being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. Menus across the country are diverse `and include traditional diner fare as well as more eclectic and regional selections….”

Some diner historians dispute what really constitutes a diner, however, and point out that many of today’s so-called diners are really imitation diners, or wannabes.

As noted in a magazine called “Roadside”, “if your diner is a storefront, or built into a shopping mall, or into a strip plaza, it is not a diner. If it sits anywhere within the boundaries of an amusement park, it is not a diner. If it serves $8.95 cheeseburgers and requires reservations, it is not a diner….”

Since I embarked on a mission to find out more about the diners of my childhood, I have discovered there is a wealth of published material on the subject! Whether you want to know the history of diners or how to cook comfort foods such as the diners were famous for serving, someone has written about it.

Diner cookbooks are a lot of fun to read and they are usually packed with nostalgic comfort recipes.

Cookbooks such as “ROCK & ROLL DINER”, and “BLUE PLATE SPECIAL” offer photographs of diners throughout the country and provide recipes featured at these restaurants (although nothing quite compares with actually visiting a fifties-style diner, sitting in a red-vinyl booth and ordering your favorite comfort food while selecting songs from the wall juke box. Food and atmosphere have always been key elements to the success of these diners. And, isn’t it ironic that the fast-food chains which once threatened the existence of the diners—are now in competition with them?

Want to learn more about diners, their specialties and their history?
You may want to look for the following:

“ROCK & ROLL DINER” by Sharon O’Connor, published 1996 by Menus and Music Productions, Inc.
“BLUE PLATE SPECIAL/THE AMERICAN DINER COOKBOOK” by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett, published 1996 by Cumberland House Publishing Inc.,
“THE STREAMLINER DINER COOKBOOK” by Irene Clark, Liz Matteson, Alexandra Rust, Judith Weinstock, published by Ten Speed Press, 1990.
“DINER” by Diane Rossen Worthington, published 1995 by Sunset Publishing Corporation
“THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK” by Marian Clark, published 1993 by Council Oak Books
“AMERICAN DINER, THEN & NOW” by Richard J.S. Gutman, the John Hopkins University Press, paperback edition 2000 *
“RETRO DINER/COMFORT FOOD FROM THE AMERICAN ROADSIDE” by Linda Everett, published 2002 by Collectors Press, Inc.
“DINERS/AMERICAN RETRO” published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
“WHAT’S COOKING AT MOODY’S DINER/60 YEARS OF RECIPES & REMINISCENCES” by Nancy Moody Genthner, published August 2002 by Dancing Bear Books…and something for the kiddies, a children’s book on the subject, “MEL’S DINER” by Marissa Moss, 1994, by BridgeWater Books

–Sandra Lee Smith

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN KINGDOM

Some years ago, I read a new author’s book titled “White Oleander” – and so I was immediately captivated to find this author, Janet Fitch, the author of a Los Angeles Times Food section in their December 22, 2011 issue. The title of Janet’s article was My Mother’s Kitchen Kingdom and I was immediately hooked. So much so that I kept the article with my folder of clipping from magazines and newspapers, for future reference.

Janet’s description of her parents rambling old home in Wilshire Park filled me with longing. Her parents bought the house—already an old house—in 1961. She says it was an old fashioned house** with a dining room and a library, and closets you could walk into, “a million hiding places,” she writes, with even a tiny door for Janet’s imaginary friends. That summer, in 2011, her mother moved into a senior residence near the Beverly Center and it was Janet’s job to help her mother fold up her tent, packing and clearing and giving away the remains of her long residence.

“Nowhere in the house was my mother more in evidence than in the kitchen. Part of that bittersweet summer was clearing its Mondrian-inspired linoleum counters and cabinets, finding good homes for an astonishing collection of pots and pans, knives and woks, and gizmos for pitting cherries and serving escargot, zesting lemons and injecting strawberries with Cointreau…”

“My mother” writes Janet “never met a gadget she didn’t like. There were tube pans for baking the angel food cakes my father could have after his first heart attack and Bundt pans and loaf pans and baking pans and grilling pans. There were individual casseroles for baking macaroni and cheese and bread warmers and a real 60s Chemex coffee maker….”

She says she gave away most of the cookbooks from her mother’s vast library.

Janet goes on to write in greater detail about her mother’s kitchen—but what struck me, first and foremost—and everyone out there who knows me personally will testify to it—is that Janet’s mother’s kitchen could have been MY kitchen until Bob & I moved to the Antelope Valley and I was forced to do some major downsizing in my kitchen.

I gave away sets of bowls (out of the thirty something sets of bowls I had before I downsized); I gave my sister one of my sets of china leaving myself with only two sets of china plus my Fiesta Ware dishes for every day—I still have far more kitchen gadgets in the kitchen than anyone can imagine—and Bob and I bought these Rubbermaid cupboards that take up the entire right wall of the garage – a cupboard for Tupperware, a cupboard for Bundt pans and angel food cake pans and cupcake tins, two cupboards for the overflow of small kitchen accessories (steamer, crock pots in different sizes, a lot of baking sheets, several big baking pans for a large batch of Brownies, cooling racks—and half a dozen restaurant size trays that our friend Roger found for me—back in the 1960s, I think, when we were making shishkabobs for the grill at least once a week.

I have a collection of Wilton shaped cake pans that anyone can make as long as you have the color directions and some Wilton decorating tips in different sized flower shapes. I have a large collection of Wilton decorating tips—enough duplicates to be able to give some away to my sister. I gave away several Kitchen Aid mixers and still have two. My collection of cookie cutters, divided by holidays or events and kept in plastic baskets—fills an entire Rubbermaid cupboard.

Janet writes about brandied fruit that we were making in the 1970s – you used a cup and then replaced it with more fruit and sugar every time you used it; when we drove to Ohio one summer in the 1970s, I took a container of the brandied fruit to my mother who kept it going for a long time.

As for cookbooks—I began actively collecting cookbooks in 1965. Over the years I gave away hundreds of booklets and cookbooks, especially when we moved and I was downsizing – now the collection of cookbooks overflows the house and extends into the garage where Bob built me a library in 2010 before he became sick with esophageal cancer. (I no longer have any idea how many cookbooks there are but I have the Julia Childs Mastering the Art of French Cooking although I gave most of my French cookbooks to my niece who lives in Seattle and loves French cooking; My collection of foreign cookbooks overflows two bookcases.

I sighed heavily reading about Janet’s mother’s collection of leather-and-gilt bound issues of Gourmet—I had a large collection of early Gourmet magazines that I gave to a used book store before we moved to Florida—and had to start all over again. The “Love and Knishes” cookbook that Janet kept—is one I have with my Jewish cookbooks.

I could go on and on—I fear that my vast collections of kitchen culinary gadgets and other odds and ends – may end up in a yard sale when I am no longer around. MY kitchen kingdom was never the size of Janet’s mother—and my own mother’s collection of kitchen utensils was never extensive; she made bread twice a week when I was a child—and baked the loaves in large black speckled roasting pans. My sister has the small bowls my mother served vegetables in to a family of seven, back in the days before my youngest brother and sister were born. It’s unimaginable that there was ever enough in one of those bowls to serve seven people.

Along similar lines would be Chef Louis Szathmary’s gargantuan collection of over 200,000 items now in the culinary archives at Johnson & Wales University—and despite all the collectibles that Chef Szathmary donated to the university –he started NEW collections as soon as he finished donating many of his treasures.

How do I know this? Because a young woman who bid on boxes of Szathmary culinary treasures had no idea who he was—until she found my articles about the Chef on my blog. She sold several items to me, just to have them in MY collection—but I put her in touch with the University of Iowa which had its own collection of Chef Szathmary culinary treasures – and they bought the rest of it from her.

I think the bushy bearded Szathmary was smiling over me when I began writing about him. I never MET Chef Szathmary—but people who did know him, or met him at one of his restaurants – continue to find my blog articles and have written to share their experiences meeting him.

So if you are ever in Providence Rhode Island you may want to visit the Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Archives and Museum – or if you are in Iowa, visit the University of Iowa to see their collection of Szathmary…

Or, if you collect cookbooks, or cookie cutters, or other kitchen culinary treasures – feel free to write and tell me about your collection.

*Janet Fitch’s article MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN KINGDOM was published in the L.A. Times December 22, 2011.

**The house that Janet describes sounds eerily familiar to me—in Northside, a suburb of Cincinnati, in the 1950s there were many large old three-story houses with gingerbread trim and both front and back stairs—one of the boys in my roller skating group—lived in such a house and a lot of us often spent weekends there, girls on the second floor and boys on the third floor. It was such a wonderful experience.

–Sandra Lee Smith

COLLECTING LITTLE COOKBOOKS

The following was written primarily as a cookbook review for Potatoes & Vegetables but I have been going through some of the many small cookbooks in my possession and wanted to write about them again. Actually—I have two shelves filled with little cookbooks, and packed double on the book shelves. These little treasures really don’t get enough attention!

If you are interested in specializing in a particular kind of cookbook but space is at a premium, small cookbooks might be the answer. Little cookbooks come in many sizes and shapes and cover a multitude of cooking topics!

Pint-size cookbooks (not including paperbacks) have actually been around for a very long time, so the concept isn’t new. One of the oldest “sets” of small cookbooks in my personal collection is a series of 365 recipes –“365 Tasty Dishes”, “365 Dinner Dishes”, and “365 Foreign Dishes” (there may have been more than three books to the series but three are all that I have ever found. These were published between 1903 and 1908 by George W. Jacobs & Company and do not credit a particular author. (Another interesting thing about them is that the idea of 365 recipes in one cookbook has come and gone a few times, too).

Another old set of small cookbooks that I have are a small boxed set by Helen Evans Brown, first published in 1950. There’s a Chafing Dish Book, Patio Cook Book and A Book of Appetizers. The three little books came in a green box.

I also came across, recently, “Chinese-Japanese Cook Book by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna, published by Rand McNally in 1914. This also qualifies as a little cook book.

Some cookbook researchers think these little cookbooks were a forerunner of the free pamphlets and booklets that we now pay several dollars for. When I was a child in the early 1950s, these booklets were generally advertised on the backs of boxes of cocoa or baking soda, corn starch or oatmeal. You could get one completely free of charge by sending in a post card with your name and address on it. Post cards were a penny—so, if I had ten cents I could get ten post cards and end up with ten recipe booklets. I guess you could tell which way the wind was blowing even when I was a little girl.

By the time I reached my ‘teens, I already had a cardboard box full of those booklets and pamphlets. One such booklet is an early Watkins Cook Book published in 1925 (presumably, you have to use all Watkins products for the recipes to come out exactly right) while another small book was one written by Ida Bailey Allen in 1927, which expounded the uses of Karo Syrup, Argo or Kingsford’s Cornstarch and Mazola corn oil. (I was surprised to discover that Mazola corn oil has been around so long!)

One of my favorites is a small book about baking—Excellent Recipes for Baking with Fleishmann’s Yeast, published in my hometown of Cincinnati in 1910. It was offered to customers free of charge; all you had to do was mail a request to their office on Plum Street in Cincinnati. I am fortunate that my copy of this little cookbook is in good condition.

I have several small spiral bound cookbooks by Ruth Chier Rosen and Ruth and Richard Rosen; there is one called “The Chefs’ Tour/a visit into foreign kitchens”, another called “Tooth Sweet”, one called “Cyrano de Casserole” and yet another called “A Tomato Well Dressed/the Art of Salad Making”. These were published by Handy Aid Books by Richards Rosen Associates so I assume this was a family enterprise. (I discovered, on the back covers, additional titles of “Epicurean Guide”, “Terrace Chef” “A Guide to Pink Elephants” and “The Big Spread”! These little books, published in the 1950s, measure a mere 3 1/2×5”- are cute as the dickens, nicely indexed, and filled with great recipes!)

Some of my other wee favorites include “Make Mine Vanilla” by Lee Edwards Benning and – my all-time favorite little cookbook, “Favorite Fruitcakes” by Moira Hodgson which I have written about previously in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange.

More recently, even Mary Engelbreit has published some of these pint-size cookbooks. Tiny cookbooks are usually reasonably priced and make nice little gifts (or even stocking stuffers), when you want to give someone something but not spend a whole lot of money. Often, you can find some of these little books near the cash register of your favorite bookstore or Hallmark card shop. They can also be found in some gourmet shops.

One of the oldest small cookbooks in my collection is titled “The Little Dinner”, by Christine Terhune Herrick – and published, much to my astonishment, in 1893 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Aside from a repaired and re-damaged spine, it’s not in bad condition for a cookbook that is well over a hundred years old. Well, perhaps the little cookbook needs a little TLC.

“POTATOES & VEGETABLES” might be small in size (actually measures only 4”x5”—but, it’s almost 2 inches thick and contains a whopping 240 recipes with beautiful full-color illustrations of each recipe (I love knowing what the dish ought to look like when it’s finished, don’t you?). Unquestionably, we are a society where visual impact is vitally important to us. If you look at a recipe and the illustration that goes with it looks like something the dog dragged around the back yard, how inclined would you be to give it a try?

Although this was originally a potato and vegetable cookbook review, you will find, within its pages, recipes for soups (Indian Potato & Pea Soup, Broccoli & Potato Soup, Potato& Dried Mushroom Soup—and, my favorite, Tomato & Red Bell Pepper Soup); recipes for salads (think: Mexican potato salad, Sweet Potato & Nut Salad, Red Cabbage & Pear Salad). There is a chapter dedicated to Snacks & Light Meals (Thai Potato Crab Cakes, Potato, Cheese & Onion Rosti, Hash Browns with Tomato Sauce, Vegetable Crepes) followed by a chapter devoted entirely to Side Dishes (Potatoes & Mushrooms in Red Wine, Spicy Potato Fries, Steamed Vegetables with Vermouth). Next is a chapter called “Main Meals” followed by one called “Pies & Bakes.”

Many of the recipes in both Main Meals and Pies and Bakes could be considered one-dish meals, such as Red Onion Tart Tatin and Lentil & Red Bell Pepper Flan. Sort of what I think of as a quiche. However, Main Meals offers Spaghetti with Pear & Walnut Sauce—which I think would make a wonderful company dish—and recipes such as Garbanzo Bean & Vegetable Casserole and Pan Potato Bake. “Pies & Bakes” offers recipes such as Potato & Meat Phyllo Parcels and Carrot-Topped Beef Pie but there are also recipes for Sweet Potato Bread, Cheese & Potato Plait (a bread), Potato & Nutmeg Scones and Potato Muffins. There are also recipes for Fruity Potato Cake, Pumpkin Loaf, Chili Corn Bread, and Cheese & Potato Bread. All of which just goes to prove – you can eat your veggies in many different ways, even for dessert!

This is a dandy little book with the most beautiful color photography illustrations. And it’s so nicely priced – you can buy two; one for yourself and one to give as a gift.

“POTATOES & VEGETABLES” is from Paragon Publishing in Great Britain but it has been designed with American readers in mind (i.e., cup measurements, for instance, are for the American measuring cup of 8 ounces equals one cup). . It was published in 2003 and was priced then at less than $5.00. That being said, I am unable to find this particular little cookbook on Amazon.com—however! There are a wealth of potato/vegetable cookbooks on Amazon.com and I nearly got sidetracked ordering some of them.

What you might want to consider, if space is an issue in your life, is collecting small cookbooks. Even Gooseberry Patch has begun to publish small spiral bound cookbooks; I have one titled “Pasta Recipes.” Do you have any small cookbooks you want to talk about?

–Sandra Lee Smith