I posted this originally in 2011–I think I have a lot of new subscribers who might not be familiar with the blog post.
When we discovered we would have to move, in 2008, I was able to spend most of three months “dismantling” the house in which my significant other, Robert, (no relation to Uncle Bob) & I had lived for 19 years. When we moved into that house on my birthday in 1989, we had a great deal less than what we managed to accumulate in the nineteen years that followed. We had far fewer books, for one thing, and many less cookie jars. A friend helped Robert & my son, Kelly, and I move from a little bungalow in Van Nuys to the sprawling house in Arleta. We had so much space in that big old house, we didn’t think we’d ever fill it up. But fill it up we did.
Anything anyone didn’t want any longer—we happily accepted. My dining room table & chairs – once belonged to the mother of my friend, John. My kitchen table sat in the backyard of my friend Luther until we coaxed his landlady to let me have it. I have bookcases that had belonged to my former coworker, Mary Jo, and an old coffee table that I love was once my friend, Mary Jaynne’s. Mary Jaynne & her husband Steve also once owned the bar that is now in my family room.
Friends & family members knew we’d take any and all cast-offs, and the house on Arleta Avenue was truly a house of castoffs. You could go from room to room pointing out which pieces of furniture had once belonged to someone else. We filled the walls in almost all of the rooms with bookcases and filled the bookcases with books—mostly cookbooks. The only rooms without bookcases were the kitchen, pantry, laundry room and bathrooms. Bookcases even filled the hallway.
Well, moving from 3000 square feet (roughly) to 1500 square feet is a challenge. We’ve been in our new digs for almost three years and are still getting settled. And many things had to be sold or given away. The Lancaster and Burbank Friends of the Library have received boxes and boxes of books and the Boy Scouts of Palmdale received truck loads of things for their rummage sale.
I am telling you all of this because I want it understood that I know a little about dismantling a house—but Uncle Bob’s house was unquestionably a far greater challenge for my girl friend, on whose shoulders responsibility for the house fell, along with her husband, Steve sister Diane, and brother Ron.
Uncle Bob, who was formally known as Robert G. Mooney, didn’t have any children of his own. He did have a loving wife with whom he shared his life for 52 years and I’m told theirs was a true lifelong love story. Their niece, Mary Jaynne, – my best friend – used to spend summers at their house when she was a child, and because she was the closest relative to Uncle Bob, finding a new home for Uncle Bob – who could no longer live alone – fell on Mary Jaynne’s broad shoulders. She, her husband Steve, and sister, Diane, found an assisted living facility that met with Uncle Bob’s approval and bit by bit they got him settled in his new home.
I first learned about Uncle Bob years ago when MJ asked us to save all the little pull tabs on cans of aluminum soft drinks or beer. Uncle Bob was a member of Foresters and as a project, the group collected the pop tops and donated the money to Ronald McDonald’s House. They collected over 4, 000,000 tops and Uncle Bob counted every one of them.
We began saving all the pop tops and would give them to MJ once or twice a year. Mary Jaynne discovered, when they began cleaning out his garage, four more boxes about 14”x14” and about 12” tall, full of the can tops. She took them to the Ronald McDonald house in Bakersfield.
Then it became Mary Jaynne’s next responsibility to dismantle Uncle Bob’s house.
How does anyone even begin to dismantle a house in which the occupants lived for over fifty years? It was surely the most daunting task MJ ever took on. They had yard sales and sold things for next to nothing. Mary Jaynne tried to find homes with people like me for the things that had been Uncle Bob & Aunt Joey’s treasures, people who were sure to love and appreciate them. After a lengthy search she found Aunt Joey’s recipe box. Aunt Joey was Uncle Bob’s wife who died from Alzheimer’s in a nursing home when her loving husband could no longer take care of her.
I inherited Aunt Joey’s recipe box – and a handwritten recipe journal – along with some cookbooks and stacks of recipe clippings – and (be still my heart!) close to a dozen old, 50s style aprons that I have washed & ironed and hope to have posted on my blog. I also inherited a wonderful old 1950s deviled egg dish and some 50s tins; I am still working my way through the treasures that found their way to my door.
Aunt Joey had recipes – but, surprise, surprise! So did Uncle Bob! They both enjoyed cooking and I’m told that Aunt Joey was a wonderful cook. Uncle Bob lent a hand mostly with barbecuing but also for get-togethers with their church.
Uncle Bob was in the army from 1942 to 1945 and he was an army cook. I have in front of me several army cook manuals – the Technical Manual for the Army cook, dated April 24, 1942, a smaller manual dated July 1, 1942, a Baking Manual for the Army Cook dated October 5, 1943 and a Technical Manual for cutting up beef, dated July 1, 1943 (that could start with “take one cow”). I like the recipes for cookies – for oatmeal cookies you will need 5 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of lard, 5 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of oatmeal—oh yeah, a pound of raisins and six eggs. (I hope the army had industrial electric mixers to put this cookie dough together! I certainly hope that the army cooks didn’t have to mix everything by hand!)
Another item from Uncle Bob’s pantry is a tea caddy that is the size of a small child’s ball—but absolutely perfect for someone like myself, who makes various pickled fruits from time to time—pickled watermelon and Hot Hawaiian pineapple pickles, pickled cherries and sometimes pickled cantaloupe.
Along with the army manuals is a “Service Writing Tablet” with Robert G. Mooney printed neatly at the top of the cover. This appears to be a school writing tablet for prospective army cooks (I had no idea that the army cooks had special training—but it makes perfect sense). The pages are full of handwritten recipes and directions, written in pencil, and on the last page, in large red handwriting are the words “Very Good!” written, presumably, by the army class teacher.
Aunt Joey’s family was Italian and so her small cookbook collection leans towards Italian recipes. Italian food was also Uncle Bob’s favorite. And, Aunt Joey’s Italian mother lived with them for about ten years, back in the day, and she made Italian “gravy” every Sunday morning so they could have spaghetti and Italian gravy (I would call it a sauce) with whatever was on the menu for Sunday night dinner.
Also, Aunt Joey & Uncle Bob got married in 1943, when World War II was in full swing. Wheatless Wednesdays and Meatless Mondays were encouraged by the government as a way of everybody being able to “do their part” in some small way. (And if you were Catholic, there were meatless Fridays, as well.) Aunt Joey’s collection of recipes contains a number of meatless recipes, such as cashew loaf and cashew patties.
Here, then, are a few recipes from Aunt Joey’s recipe box, written in her own beautiful handwriting:
For fun, here is Aunt Joey’s recipe for Cashew Loaf (presumably cashews were a lot cheaper in 1942 than they are today):
Mix all together baked in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes:
½ onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 #2 can Chinese noodles
1 cup whole raw cashews
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ soup can water
½ cup American cheese (grated)
Optional: ½ can diced fried chicken
MEAT BALLS* & SAUCE
Combine, form balls & brown in oven:
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 cup bread crumbs
1 onion, chopped
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ tsp sage
½ tsp poultry seasoning
1 TBSP soy sauce
¾ cup grated cheese
While the meat balls are browning in the oven make a sauce of
1 small can tomato juice
1 can stewed tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp salt
½ tsp parsley
½ cube butter (half of one stick. One stick of butter or margarine is 4 ounces. Half that would be 2 ounces)
Pour sauce over balls and heat in oven until hot & bubbly.
(*Sandy’s cooknote—if there is too much grease in the pan, I would drain off the excess before adding the sauce—also, there is no meat in these meatballs.)
From one of Aunt Joey’s cookbooks, titled “Favorite Italian Cookbook/from Northern to Southern Italy/500 Special Edition Recipe/sponsored by the Los Angeles District Council of the Italian Catholic Federation” (a title that is almost as long as those on very old cookbooks from the early 1900s) I came across a recipe titled “Spaghetti Gravy” and I really felt obligated to share it with everyone.
Here, then, is Spaghetti Gravy:
1 clove garlic
2 TBSP olive oil
¾ lb ground beef, veal or both
½ lb pork sausage
3 to 4 cans canned tomatoes
6 can tomato paste
¾ cup chicken broth
3 bay leaves
¼ c. dried basil
¼ c. dried thyme
1 TBSP salt (or salt to taste)
½ tsp pepper
2 chopped onions (optional)
Brown onion, garlic and meat in hot olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer at least 1 hour. Remove bay leaves and pour over spaghetti. (my mother never put onion in her spaghetti sauce—said it was too sweet.) If uou like a darker color add red wine to sauce (1/2 cup).
ITALIAN SWISS STEAK (Bistecca Alla Italiano Svizzero)
(I often wondered where I found my recipe for the Swiss Steak, that I began making in the very early days of married life. I think now is was most likely something my sister Becky learned to cook and served to her family. Her first husband, Sam, was Italian and this recipe is similar to what I began cooking in the early 1960s. My sons all loved Swiss Steak and it was made with an inexpensive cut of beef):
1 ½ lbs round steak, 1” thick.
3 TBSP flour
1 package spaghetti sauce mix (such as French’s)
2 TBSP olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 tsp sugar
2 cups water
½ cup red wine
Cut the steak into serving pieces. Mix flour with a tablespoon of spaghetti sauce mix. Coat steak on both sides with this mixture. In a large skillet, brown meat on both sides in hot oil; remove from pan. Separate onions into rings; add to skillet & cook until lightly browned. Return steak to pan with remaining spaghetti sauce mix, sugar, water & wine. Cover pan and simmer 2 hours or until meat is tender. Serves 4.
Sandy’s cooknote: I used to add some chopped bell pepper to my Swiss steak recipe. My sons all loved Swiss steak with a big
bowl of mashed potatoes to go with.
THE MOONEY’S FAVORITE HOT CHICKEN SALAD
2 cups diced fried chicken (leftover fried chicken would be good for this or you could pick up a few pieces of fried chicken at the supermarket deli section).
2 cups diced celery
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup slivered toasted almonds
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ACCENT
2 TBSP lemon juice
3 or 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
Pour mixed ingredients in a greased casserole dish. Top with 1 cup crushed potato chips or chow mein noodles and ½ cup grated cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly.
AUNT JOEY’S RICE VERDE preheat oven 350 degrees
3 cups cooked rice (This would be a good recipe to use up leftover rice)
¾ lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 TBSP chopped pimiento
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
½ cup chopped mushrooms
2 cups sour cram
½ cup sliced olives
Bake in greased casserole at 350 degrees for ½ hour, uncovered.
AUNT OLIVE’S KENTUCKY CARROT CAKE* preheat oven 350 degrees
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated carrots
1 ½ cups oil**
½ cup walnut meats, chopped (You can substitute chopped pecans if you wish)
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs (let eggs come to room temperature)
1 8½ oz can crushed pineapple, drained—save the juice
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Bake in a greased & floured pan 8×13” at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.
Icing: Combine ¼ cup butter or oleo (margarine) ½ lb powdered sugar, small package of cream cheese, ½ tsp vanilla. Beat mixture until fluffy. Fold in 2 TBSP crushed pineapple. If desired sprinkle with finely chopped nuts to garnish.
(Sandy’s cooknote: Personally, I would double everything—it’s easier to measure, too. Use ½ cup or 1 stick of butter. Use a 1 lb box of powdered sugar and an 8 ounce package of cream cheese–and if you have the time, sift the powdered sugar – it will blend better. Leave out the crushed pineapple in the icing. Add a little of the pineapple juice to make the icing the proper consistency. Use the drained crushed pineapple in the cake recipe.)
*Aunt Olive was Uncle Bob’s Aunt.
**regarding the 1½ cups cooking oil that goes into most of the old carrot cake recipes, I discovered you can substitute ¾ cup applesauce for half of the oil.
Sometimes we wonder what became of things like a recipe box full of handwritten recipes and magazine clippings, or perhaps a particular cookbook that someone had kept for years, making notations from time to time on the margins of the pages. My friend Nancy tells me that sometimes these unsung treasures end up being swept up to give to a junkman so the house can be painted and vacuumed for the next occupants. Uncle Bob can rest assured; his and Aunt Joey’s recipe collection has fallen into the right hands and will be handled with care for many years to come.
Happy Cooking & Happy cookbook (or recipe box) collecting!