Monthly Archives: August 2017

CHRISTMAS LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN

Originally posted in 2011

Back in the days when I was raising four sons literally on a shoestring, there was generally not enough money for ANY thing, much less the toys and games the boys would ask Santa to bring. My husband (now ex) was self employed most of those years and his income was unstable and sporadic.

I had to make do with what we had in the pantry for meals when sales became non-existent. We had spaghetti so often that my youngest son no longer will eat it at all. I kept large tins filled with dried spaghetti, rice or pinto beans. No one ever went hungry but they all undoubtedly got tired of meatballs and spaghetti and corn bread and beans, made with pinto beans in my mother in law’s West Virginia style.

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

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

This led to discovering all the great cookbooks devoted to the topic of gifts from your kitchen. One of my favorites—it still is—was a book titled WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN BY Diana and Paul von Welanetz, published in 1976.

Back when I didn’t have ten thousand cookbooks taking over the house, WITH LOVE FROM YOUR KITCHEN was a frequently thumbed through cookbook and I think this is where I learned that you can make your own sauces, mustards and marinades, pickles, herb blends and some unusual jellies, such as one made
from champagne.

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

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

BH&Gs GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, 1976

GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, BY Carli Laklan and Frederick-Thomas, published 1955 by M Barrows & Co (a collection of 300 recipes)

GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Norma Myers and Joan Scobey, published in 1973 by Doubleday & Co. (over 200 coveted family recipes)

GIFTS FROM THE PANTRY BY Annette Grimsdale, copyright 1986, published by HP Books (this is one of those oversize as in long but narrow soft covered books. I have been making my pickled watermelon from this cookbook for many years—because it uses the GREEN part as well as white and pink) Lots of other good recipes as well.

GLORIOUS GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN by Lisa Yockelson, copyright 1984 – offers over 200 recipes.

GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN by Famous Brand Names, copyright 2003—lots of great illustrations—so you will know what it’s supposed to look like when you’re finished,

WOMAN’S DAY GIFTS FROM YOUR KITCHEN, copyright 1976—no photographs but a lot of favorite recipes.

GOURMET GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Darcy Williamson, published in 1982

SEASONAL GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN, BY Emily Crumpacker, William Morrow & Company, 1983 (and oh, my! I bought this at the Book Loft in Columbus Ohio at the German Village…and the reason I know this? The sticker is still inside).

Also – THE GIFT-GIVERS COOKBOOK by Jane Green and Judith Choate, copyright 1971 and published by Simon & Schuster

And one more –

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

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

Happy Cooking & Happy Cookbook Collecting!

Sandra Lee Smith

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CHRISTMAS MANIA

Originally posted November, 2012.

For Biff and Bill, two of my younger brothers

Christmas has always been, throughout my life, the most special holiday of all. I was one of seven children and we were encouraged at a very young age to give presents to one another, our parents and our grandparents. Consequently, as Christmas approached, there would be much giggling and whispering, along with outraged threats when one became annoyed with a sibling. “Just for THAT, you aren’t going to get a Christmas present from ME!”

Of course, those threats were never carried out and as Christmas approached, we all fell pell-mell into a frenzy of shopping, making and wrapping up presents. I remember Santa ornaments made out of walnut shells, a lot of Woolworth’s hair nets and cards of bobby pins, and a bottle of nail polish that had a cap resembling a fingernail. There were dozens of bottles of Midnight in Paris cologne on my mother’s vanity and odd little gifts like miniature German-American dictionaries.

For we didn’t, of course, have much money–this was in the early 1940s after the end of World War II. The gifts we children made or bought were devised out of our own ingenuity or resources. We didn’t have any such thing as an allowance, and it was difficult to earn money. We did, though. We mowed lawns and shoveled snow; I sold greeting cards from Cardinal Craftsman for my mother, to the neighbors; we picked apples from my grandmother’s back yard trees and cherries from our own back yard. We ran errands for all the neighbor ladies (usually good for a nickel—but sometimes all you got was a cookie…it was considered bad etiquette to ask in advance how much you might get for running an errand. You ran the errand, and then crossed your fingers.
We collected soda pop bottles which were worth two cents each, and cashed them in. When we got a little older, there were babysitting jobs and paper routes and for my older brother, Jim, setting bowling pins at St Bonnie’s bowling alley (before automatic pinsetters were invented). He also had a parttime job working for Durkee Foods, where our Uncle George worked and occasionally brought home items that had expired dates on them. sometimes the expired cans of biscuits would explode when you began to open them.

We saved old gift wrap and ribbons from one year to the next and ironed out the paper and ribbons. We made tags out of old Christmas cards, construction paper and those little stickers that didn’t stick to anything else.

Throughout all of this, as Christmas approached, we memorized Christmas songs—hymns and tunes like “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. I happen to belong to the generation that remembers when Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman were first released. We had the sheet music for piano and learned all the words. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my grandmother’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet and we practiced these melodies ad nauseam, until everyone around us was thoroughly tired of hearing them. When we got tired of hearing each other, my mother would sit down at the piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think, the only Christmas song she knew how to play. She never had lessons and played entirely by ear. Incredible, when I think of it. She was actually pretty good. And because she never could read music, it was probably also why she pushed so hard for us to have music lessons. **

My younger brothers and I went downtown, in Cincinnati, once a year – sometime just before Christmas and a few times right on Christmas Eve day. We’d have our hard-earned pennies and nickels and dimes tightly guarded against potential pickpockets—sometimes as much as a dollar—to shop for Christmas presents. We took the bus from Fairmount to the downtown area, do our shopping, visit all the department store Santas (we knew they weren’t the real Santa but each one was good for a peppermint stick) and have lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter as well. You could get a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle, and a coke, for fifteen cents. We three shared one sandwich, one coke. Bus fare each way was a nickel, leaving us at least seventy five cents to shop with.

Not too many years ago, my childhood girlfriend Carol confessed that she was always jealous of me on those shopping trips.

“ME!” I exclaimed, “Whatever FOR?”
“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than
anybody else.”

My brothers and I have fond memories of those shopping excursions.

Late in the afternoon, we’d board the bus, elated with our purchases and go home to wrap them up in ironed-out previously used gift wrap. I think we ironed out the ribbons too (this was long before pre-made bows became available).

“The funny thing is,” I told my friend, Carol – “I was no more than ten years old when I began taking my brothers downtown. Can you imagine letting one of your own children do that at the age of ten?”
Times have changed, we agreed. **

We listened, from Thanksgiving on, to Santa Claus reading children’s letters on the radio –all the way from the North Pole! That, we knew, was the real honest to goodness Santa. The Santas in Department stores were just helpers.

And throughout all of this planning and preparing, none of us lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. It was there for us to see in the crèche made up of almost-life-size statues in our church. There was a living nativity downtown at Garfield Park that we visited every year too. Real animals. Real Mary and Joseph. Not a real Baby Jesus though. We had advent calendars and we sang Christmas hymns in church and school. We went shopping with our mother and got new shoes at Schiff’s, and a new hat and outfit to wear to church on Christmas morning. I think some of the new clothing was ordered by mail.

Christmas was celebrated, officially, at our house on Christmas Eve. We children were usually sent to my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue, for the afternoon. If my brothers and I had gone shopping that day, we went to grandma’s house afterwards. There wasn’t a hint of Christmas in our own home prior to Christmas Eve. Then my father would come with the car to pick us up. His cousin, Barb, who was my godmother, was often with him. Everyone piled into the car to go home. As we pulled up in front of the house, we would see the lights on the Christmas tree through the living room window. Sometimes snowflakes would begin to fall.

“He’s been here! He’s been here!” all of us children would shriek, tumbling out of the car and up the steps to the house. My mother would meet us at the door. “He’s just leaving!” she’d cry. “If you hurry you might catch a glimpse of him from the back door—“

The pageant never changed. We all shouted the same words every year. My mother’s responses were always the same. We’d fall all over one another trying to catch a glimpse – too late! He was gone – but oh, boy, see what he’s left behind!

The tree would be in a corner of the living room—surrounded, it seemed to our childish eyes, with a tremendous wealth of toys and presents. My mother would call out the names on the packages, one by one. One year she was in the hospital right up until Christmas. She came home to be with the family and had to return to the hospital shortly thereafter. (In retrospect, I think this was a year when she had a miscarriage, followed by a blood transfusion, which led to a bout with Hepatitis—she was in the hospital for most of one winter).

I realize now that there weren’t so many presents under our tree—and much of it consisted of what we gave to one another and the bulk of gifts from our parents were practical –generally socks and underwear –but the delight was always there. My two younger brothers always asked for (and seems like they always received) gun-and-holster sets, like Roy Rogers wore, and wind-up trains that never seemed to last from one year to the next, although my older brother Jim had a Lionel train set that survived a lot of childish abuse.

At a very young age, I developed a great love for books—one of my favorite Christmas memories is the one when my brother Jim gave me five – FIVE! brand new Nancy Drew books. It was heaven.

Is it any wonder that the joy of Christmas spilled over into my adult life? At our house, we began “thinking Christmas” as early as May, when the first raspberries ripened to make raspberry jam. Later, we made pomegranate jelly and pomegranate cordial, and I would begin stocking up on nuts, chocolate chips, sugar and flour, to make fruitcake and cookies. I collected a huge assortment of Christmas books and magazines and the pages often became dog-eared from so much handling as Christmas approached. Every member of the family had their particular favorite cookie and no matter how often I resolved “not to let everything get out of hand this year” by the time I’ve baked everyone’s favorite, every container in the house is filled to the brim with cookies.

When my sons were really little, I’d buy gifts all year long and wrap them as soon as possible, to hide in a closet far out of the reach of inquiring eyes and poking fingers—but no matter how secretive I thought I was, my son Chris’ packages always had a finger hole punched through each one of the packages that had his name on it. (One year, I overlooked an entire box of wrapped gifts and didn’t find it until after Christmas – but we were celebrating Hanukkah with my girlfriend Rosalia and her family, so I took the gifts to her house to give to my sons as Hanukkah presents. They thought celebrating Hanukkah was just fine).

Christmas catalogs started arriving in the mail around in September—happily, I was not alone in my mania and a number of friends shared my enthusiasm; we’d swap catalogs and go through them until they were almost in shreds from handling. The children would go through the catalogs too.

“I want this,” they’d say. “and this…and this…and this…”

We saved fruitcake tins and collected baskets of all sizes. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if each of our friends didn’t receive a goody basket when they came to visit. One year, the boys decorated “gingerbread houses” made out of graham crackers. Another time we made gingerbread boys and girls for all of the children. We have, on different Christmases, baked dozens of different kinds of cookies and confections…not so difficult to do, really. I would make up batches of cookie dough to freeze or refrigerate—this could be done months in advance—then spent a week (evenings only since I worked full time) baking up one batch after another.

When I was a newlywed, our first Christmas tree ornaments were some old glass blown ornaments from Germany that had belonged to my husband’s mother. The original hooks had been lost and my husband, when he was a teenager, had twisted bits of flexible black wire on them instead. We still have those glass ornaments with the black bits of twisted wire. Way back when, I started collecting ornaments – originally with the thought in mind that as each of my sons got married, they would have a collection of their own ornaments. My collection grew so much that it became impossible to get them all on one tree. So we added a second tree. Then a third. Our last Christmas in Arleta in 2007, we had eight Christmas trees throughout the house.
Whenever I went on vacation somewhere, I’d look for a Christmas store—amazing how many cities have one! (Favorite Christmas stores? One near Carmel, California that my sister Becky and I discovered one year, and one in Atlanta, Georgia where we had flown for a niece’s wedding).

Ornaments make great gifts too and over the years my many nieces and nephews have received an assortment of homemade ornaments from Aunt Sandy. One year they received clothespin soldiers, another year a friend’s mother made up crocheted snowflakes for me. Still another Christmas the children received ceramic gingerbread boys and girls that a penpal of mine in Maryland made up for me. And another Christmas, a penpal in New Jersey made up tiny clothespin gnomes for me. Christmas ornaments, I always felt, were the ideal gift – they’re put up on a tree for a short time during the holidays, no one ever tires of seeing hem and remembering where they came from—and every Christmas, and those ornaments bring back memories to the recipients.
The plaster of Paris crèche in our home was purchased piece by piece in dime stores back in the late 1950s; many of the pieces are chipped from being handled repeatedly by my sons when they were little. They liked to re-arrange the figures. One year we somehow misplaced St Joseph and had to have one of the Wisemen stand in for him.

One year, I fulfilled a lifelong desire to make an entire gingerbread house (it was a lot of WORK and I don’t think I will ever attempt it again–Bob did a great deal of the work putting all the parts of the house together) – and another year when we were in northern California for Thanksgiving weekend, we found a Lionel train, fulfilling another lifelong dream. (Then I didn’t want the younger children handling the Lionel train, so we began buying battery-operated oversized train sets).

When I was living in Florida, I acquired two penpals who loved Christmas as much as I, and we forged a special friendship, sharing memories and exchanging (what else?) homemade ornaments.

Christmas is too commercialized, you say? I don’t think so. There are still many of us around who love Christmas, who have never lost sight of the fact that Christmas is our celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus.

Christmases, from the time you begin to create a family until your children are grown and bringing their children to Grammy and Grandpa for Christmas—are a collection of memories and maybe that’s what much of Christmas is all about – all those memories, spanning decades, going back to your own earliest childhood.
**
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Sandra Lee Smith

REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS COOKIES 2017

When did this all begin? Good question! I don’t remember my mother baking Christmas cookies and my grandmother’s cookies, I recall, were always diamond shaped butter cutout cookies, onto which she brushed egg white and then dusted with a blend of granulated sugar and finely chopped walnuts.

My sister Becky corrected me and insisted that Grandma made many different kinds of cookies such as Lebkuchen and Spritz, Holiday Fruit cookies, Pfefferneusse (pepper nuts) or Springerle (which requires a special rolling pin or a board with designs imprinted on it). Becky said each family received a dress box full of Grandma’s cookies. Why don’t I remember this?

Grandma Schmidt was from Germany, Grandpa Schmidt from Hungary, so her baking was generally European—we grew up on a lot of strudel, often made with apples from her back yard. She also made doughnuts (especially for the Feast of the Three Kings, when we would find a coin in our doughnut)—but for the life of me I can’t remember anything except those diamond shaped cookies. I have her cookie cutter today—that and a small heart shaped cutter.

I remember helping Grandma cut out the little diamond cookies which I have been able to duplicate.

I got married December 6th in 1958 and don’t have any memory of making cookies that first Christmas, although I did begin to search for recipes. I clipped some holiday baking ideas out of December women’s magazines and searched through a Betty Crocker Picture cookbook that was a wedding present. I think it highly unlikely that I would have attempted any cut-out cookies that first Christmas as a newlywed (did I even having a rolling pin?) but I might have made drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, cookies I was already familiar with. In addition to the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, I had a Meta Given cookbook that had been my mother’s but I don’t think she ever used it.

As I think back on that first Christmas, I don’t know if I even had baking equipment – cookie sheets or baking pans. It had been a very small wedding.
My first child was born in September, 1960 and I probably began baking cookies when he was a toddler. What stands out most in my memory is that we had a wonderful big yellow stove that was popular in the 1920s. What wouldn’t I give to have that old stove today!

What I do remember, quite well, is the Christmas of 1963. By this time my son Steve had been born and we drove across country to California a few weeks before Christmas, to avoid a heavy storm heading for the Midwest. We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and friends came over on Christmas Eve to celebrate with homemade cookies and coffee. We didn’t have any furniture yet so everyone sat on the floor. Guests went home with bags of cookies – so sometime between 1958 and 1963 I did learn something about baking. We bought a small tree and some small toys for our two little boys. You don’t need much to celebrate Christmas. Cookies help!

A few years later—notably Christmas of 1965—found us renting a little house in North Hollywood. And I was baking cookies like crazy. When I had baked all of the cookies, I began decorating them with butter cream frosting; I had cookies drying all over the kitchen and dining room area of that little house on Kittridge Street—but in the morning, discovered that Michael had eaten ALL of the frosting off ALL of the cookies. (I can’t remember what I did next—did I make up more frosting and re-decorate the cookies? I don’t remember! But on a similar note, Jim had over a dozen cantaloupe ripening in the far back of the yard one year; he would check on his cantaloupe after work every day. So, he burst into the kitchen one afternoon yelling that all his cantaloupe were GONE.
“Ask Michael what he did with them” I suggested.
“OH yeah!” Jim snarled at me. “Blame it on a five year old!”
So when Michael realized his daddy was home from work he came running inside.
“What did you do with Daddy’s cantaloupe?” I asked Michael.
“I gave them all away” my son replied.
When asked WHY, he said “I don’t like cantaloupe”
I don’t think Jim ever tried to grow cantaloupe after that.
**
I began collecting Christmas cookie recipes—I think the first recipes I found were in a Woman’s Day magazine—the magazine would publish a cut-out section of recipes to celebrate each Christmas holiday—but as time went by, I think all of the women’s magazines that I subscribed to featured either Christmas cookie recipes or how to create a gingerbread house—and other easy how-to do directions; I remember making an orange liqueur one year and for another holiday, I made a strawberry liqueur that I, for one, didn’t like – it tasted too much like cough medicine to me.

The 70s found us living in a little house in Arleta and I began attempting to make jams and putting them into baby food jars—prior to this, we lived in first one house on Terra Bella, then in another one. We were living on Terra Bella when first Christopher was born, and then fifteen months later, our son Kelly was born. I became involved with some volunteer work at Beachy School and when Chris & Kelly were in kindergarden, then first grade, I made large cookies for each of the students to decorate—large Easter egg cookies, one year, large heart-shaped cookies for another.

In September, 1974, we moved into the Arleta Avenue house…I think maybe my heart and soul were waiting for us to live in the Arleta house. We lived there until we moved to Florida in 1979—and were not able to return to my beloved Arleta house until 1989. (meantime—after three years in Florida, we returned to Southern California and bought a house in Granada Hills.

Fate intervened again and I rented a small house in Van Nuys when forced to sell the house in Granada Hills….that’s where I was living in 1989 when Kelly came home one day and announced that the “Arleta house is going to be for rent again soon” and, as soon as it was vacated, we were packing up to move once again.

I didn’t plan to ever move again—I loved the Arleta house and so did Bob, my housemate by this time. Fate decreed otherwise and in 2008 I bought a house in Quartz Hill, California. (it took 3 months to pack up all the books, recipe boxes, cookie jars and everything else I wanted to keep)—my son Kelly made endless trips back and forth between the Arleta house and a storage unit that he rented for me. We moved the last of our belongings Thanksgiving weekend, 2008.

By this time, I had grandchildren and friends’ children or grandchildren coming to the house to do a “cookie and a craft” – for instance, they would decorate a small artificial tree and after that, would decorate large tree-shaped cookie. We did the cookie & craft project for at least a decade. In recent years, I’ve had just a few children coming over to work on an easy project, and decorating some large cookies to take home with them.

Sandra Lee Smith

500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES

(originally posted July, 2012)

Do you have any Storey Books? No, not story – STOREY! As in Storey Books, the publishers in Pownal, Vermont. My first introduction to Storey Books was when we decided to brew our own red wine with grapes grown in our minuscule arbor. At a wine and beer making supply store in the San Fernando Valley, we found everything we needed, but while Bob was inspecting fermentation locks and carboys, I was drawn to a little revolving rack of little booklets from Storey Books, devoted to a variety of subjects—but more importantly in a wine and beer making store, how to create your own brews of these particular beverages. I have a particular fascination with how to make almost anything we eat and drink, whether it is wine or cordials or liqueurs, bread or cheese—but sometimes finding instructions can be a real challenge.

The first time Bob & I decided to make our own sauerkraut, I spent hours wading through my vast collection of three-ring binders, amassed over a period of fifty years, until I found a newspaper article on how to make your own sauerkraut. (I know, I always say “never again” –we make it in vast batches, about 30-40 quarts at a time—and I always swear this time is the last. Well whenever cabbage was less than 10 cents a pound in March as St Patrick’s Day was drawing near, who could resist? And there we were, busy shredding head after head of cabbage.

Well, if you are interested in how to make a wide variety of things—whether it is sauerkraut (Martha Storey provides a recipe for making small batches) or butter, wine, chutneys, ice cream yogurt or cheese (including directions for building a cheese press!) –now it all can be found in one book! Check this out: “500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES FROM MARTHA STOREY & FRIENDS”.

this is such a comprehensive column that it could have been overwhelming but it isn’t. The format is easy to read and follow with directions anyone can understand. There are even directions for carving a pumpkin, making a gingerbread house (complete with templates), butterflying a leg of lamb, making jellies and jams, curing meats, bottling your own soft drinks – and cutting up a chicken.

And recipes? Oh, my yes! Loads of recipes! Whether it’s Mimi’s Sunday Pot Roast or Chocolate Zucchini Bread, Cock-a-Leekie Soup or Boeuf Bourguignon, there is something here to tantalize every palate. Try Baked Brief with fresh fruit or the Sweet Potato & Carrot Casserole (a lovely change of pace from ordinary sweet potato casserole), from Apricot Salsa to Granny Smith Apple Pie, there is a vast array of recipes from which to choose.

Another great feature of this oversized, comprehensive cookbook are all the “sidebars”—whether Martha Storey is writing about Pasta or Soups you will find margin sidebars explaining, for example, the definition of different kinds of soups to directions for making the perfect pasta. There are sidebars for brewing the perfect pot of tea to making perfect gravy, hints for steaming vegetables to the best way of making pumpkin puree.

For instance, in writing about olives, there is a margin sidebar on the subject: “Olives are a fixture in Greek salads, and they can be used in many other combinations as well. In addition to the familiar seedless black olives and pimiento-stuffed green olives, look for their stronger-flavored briny cousins from the deli. Huge, fleshy GREEN OLIVES, COAL-BLACK, OIL-CURED TANGY Kalamatas, and tiny Nicoise olives add interest to salads. To pit a ripe olive, press on it firmly with the flat side of a knife until it splits; the pit should come out cleanly.

But wait! There’s more! 500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES is packed with other helpful information, such as a chart listing spices and their uses, measurement charts, a comprehensive Equivalent & Substitutions chart, a dictionary of Techniques and terms (such as the differences between chopping, dicing, grating, poaching, or steeping). I couldn’t tell you how many times over the years, one of my sons, daughters in law, nieces or nephews have called to ask “What does sauté mean? What do they mean by fold? (well, all of this took place before Google came along).

But move over Betty Crock and Irma Rombauer – I believe 500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES would be an excellent first cookbook for a new bride, for anyone who wants to learn how to cook –or for anyone who just wants to know how to do anything in the kitchen—this is the book for you.

And for all of you who are artsy-crafty, (I somehow got bypassed from this gene—both of my sisters were the artsy-crafty members of the family) – there is a chapter called Arts of the Country Home which deals with making your own dishwashing liquid, milk bath, herbal bath salts, a bouquet garni wreath
(now this is something I would like to try to make) grapevine wreaths,
pinecone fire starters – and oh, lots more. There is even a chapter for home gardeners with directions for growing herbs in your kitchen!

500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES is the most comprehensive how-to book I have ever found in a single issue. Published in 2000 by Storey Communications, it was published in 2001 and originally sold for $18.95.

Amazon.com has copies as low as .30 cents and up for a pre-owned copy.

Sandra Lee smith

ACKNOWLEDGING MICHIGAN FRIENDS & KINFOLK – A FEW OF THEIR COOKBOOKS

Originally posted in 2011
When I started collecting cookbooks in 1965, I really didn’t know where to begin, aside from making frequent visits to used book stores. I didn’t know a thing about collecting cookbooks—but I had a 1961 Cincinnati Methodist church cookbook that my father bought from a coworker and I thought there must be more like this, “out there somewhere”.

I wrote a letter to Tower Press’ Women’s Circle magazine in 1965 (a magazine for penpals) and mentioned being interested in buying, or trading for church or club cookbooks. Over 200 women responded to my request and I was kept busy for several months, buying cookbooks sight unseen or trading things like S&H Green Stamps – or whatever else the writer wanted. Many of those first cookbooks were remarkably good finds.

The best thing about that letter in Women’s Circle in 1965 was a letter from a woman in Michigan. She was a cookbook collector and she helped me find cookbooks; we became – and remained – friends; our children grew up, married, had children of their own.

I went through a divorce and my Michigan friend lost her husband. A few months ago, she began downsizing to move into a smaller place, and has sent me boxes of books – not just cookbooks but other books as well, books about lighthouses (another pet interest of mine) and books about survivors of WW2. My cup runneth over.

After giving this a great deal of reflection, I thought that the best way I can show my appreciation for all that she has given to me – is by writing about some of these books.

I’m not sure whether I have more California church and club cookbooks or more of those from Michigan. The problem with counting the Michigan cookbooks is that they aren’t all in the same place – two of my largest bookcases are divided up as “east of the Mississippi” and “west of the Mississippi”. I know, probably sounds dumb but it SEEMED like a fairly good idea when I first came up with it.

I have kept all of my California cookbooks together – currently they fill two bookcases in my bedroom and are double-rowed. Sometimes I have to take everything off the shelves to find a particular book. Before we moved to this house in 2008, I was in a much larger house and had the California cookbooks divided into two parts – Northern California and Southern California. Now they are all mixed up. (One of these days I’ll get them sorted again).

In a bookcase in my spare bedroom, I have all the southern cookbooks filling up two bookcases on one wall and on the other wall, I have all of my Ohio cookbooks (separate from East of the Mississippi) because I am from Cincinnati, Ohio, and have a separate collection of cookbooks from Cincinnati. Then I began putting the Michigan cookbooks on a shelf underneath the Ohio ones (although technically speaking, Michigan is ABOVE Ohio, not below it) – sometimes the sizes of books has a lot to do with how you file them on your shelves.

Well, as you can imagine, sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight. Since I first posted “Battered, Tattered, Stained church and club cookbooks”, I have been going through a lot of my books trying to determine which ones would generate the most interest. Then I thought it would be nice to have a discussion on California cookbooks since they are one of my favorites. (The other favorite are my Cincinnati club and church cookbooks.)

But before I do that, I think I owe it to my friend Betsy to tell you about some of the Michigan cookbooks. In addition to having had a Michigan penpal for over 45 years, I also have a brother who lived in Michigan for several decades, and two of his offspring have chosen to remain in the Wolverine State.

I visited Betsy twice in the 1970s – thanks to her kindhearted husband who drove several hundred miles to Cincinnati to take me and my children to Michigan to spend a week with them-one of the most delightful experiences, back then, was going to the flea markets where you would find all sorts of old cookbooks, often priced for as little as ten cents each.

But, my brother and his wife hosted a family reunion there one year, and I have made perhaps half a dozen trips to Michigan over the years; twice to visit my mother who was in a nursing home in Grand Rapids, once for my goddaughter’s high school graduation, once for my sister Becky and I to drive around Lake Michigan, searching for Light Houses. Whenever I am in Michigan, I want to find the book stores. The year that my niece Julie was graduating from high school, her sister Leslie drove me to Ann Arbor – where she had gone to college – and we had a wonderful afternoon searching out used book stores as well as the ones selling new books – particularly cookbooks.

One of the cookbooks I bought that year, 1994, was “Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II” published by the Ronald McDonald House with proceeds going to the Ronald McDonald House. This is a thick spiral-bound cookbook with over 700 prized recipes. You may find yourself reading recipes for days but one I found outstanding is named “Sue’s Cheerios Snack”. Considered a great snack for tailgate parties, this is easy to make and would be a great snack for the kiddies too:

Pam cooking spray
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup margarine (or 1 stick solid type margarine or butter
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
6 cups cheerios* cereal
1 cup Spanish peanuts
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Spray a 9×13” pan with Pam. Combine Cheerios, peanuts and raisins in pan. In a saucepan, heat sugar, margarine, corn syrup and salt until bubbly around the edges. Cook 2 minutes more (do not stir). Remove from heat; stir in baking soda . Pour over cereal mixture. Mix well. Bake 20 minutes. Turn immediately onto wax paper. Let Cool.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: When “Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II” was published in 1994, we only had the one kind of Cheerios. I have been thinking this would be great to try with the chocolate Cheerios or the cinnamon flavored version. Bon Appétit!

I did some checking on Amazon.com—you can buy Ann Arbor’s Cookin’ II for as little as 59 cents (plus will be charged $3.99 shipping & handling from private vendors; they are also listing 2 new copies for $9.49. There are numerous other listings you can find on Google for this cookbook. I have been unable to verify whether or not you can still order copies from the Ronald McDonald House in Ann Arbor. Maybe someone will know and enlighten me. **

One of my favorite Michigan cookbooks was not published by a church, club or any other organization –but it’s such a keeper, it deserves a spot on this post. The title of the cookbook is “WALNUT PICKLES AND WATERMELON CAKE” by Larry B. Massie and Priscilla Massie.

From “Watermelon Pickles and Watermelon Cake we learn that “The Massies are a husband and wife team specializing in Michigan history. Larry co-authored with Peter Schmitt “KALAMAZOO: THE PLACE BEHIND THE PRODUCTS” and “BATTLE CREEK: THE PLACE BEHIND THE PRODUCTS.” His other publications include “FROM FRONTIER FOLK TO FACTORY SMOKE” “MICHIGAN’S FIRST CENTURY OF HISTORICAL FICTION”, “VOYAGES INTO MICHIGAN’S PAST” “COPPER TRAILS AND IRON RAILS”, “MORE VOYAGES INTO MICHIGAN’S PAST” and “WARM FRIENDS AND WOOD SHOES: A PICTORAL HISTORY OF THE HOLLAND AREA.”

Priscilla was born in Kalamazoo in 1955 and traces her Michigan ancestry to Michel Campau, one of the one hundred Frenchmen who founded Detroit with Cadillac in 1701. Priscilla’s research, photographic, word processing and culinary skills allow the Massies to participate in a wide range of Michigan history projects…” What wouldn’t I give to visit that century old schoolhouse and see the Massies collections!

I don‘t know HOW many times I’ve reached for this book to check some piece of information It’s been a favorite reference book for many years. Subtitled “A CENTURY OF MICHIGAN COOKING”, this hard-cover with a spill-resistant cover was published in 1990 by Wayne State University Press in Detroit. And what the two Massies have done is provided recipes from church and club cookbooks dating back in some instances prior to 1900. The book is generously laced with drawings or illustrations of old-timey kitchen utensils – but one of my favorite features, I admit it freely, was the number of rhymed recipes including one my oldest finds for The Kitchen Poets, “Eve’s Pudding” dating from Detroit in 1878. One I will spare directions for is Perfect Mock Turtle Soup that starts out “Get a calf’s head with the skin on (the fresher the better) and before you say ew, ew, I want to add that an authentic MOCK turtle soup was commonly made with a calf’s head when real turtle was unavailable.

In the introduction, the Massies explain how their interest in old books was cultivated and grew from very early ages. They married and moved into an old one-room schoolhouse located in the midst of the Allegani State Forest.

“Crowded within the main part of the structure is our collection of thirty thousand books, thirteen-foot high bookshelves surround all sides of a vast room. More shelves in the center of the room support a loft where Larry studies and writes about Michigan history…”

Priscilla has an attached room with a “Hoosier” cabinet (I had one when I was first married and didn’t have the sense to keep it before we moved to California); her kitchen cabinet was built in 1910 and is flanked on one side by a GE “monitor top” refrigerator made in 1932 and on the other, an electric range of similar vintage. They love history so much that they have surrounded themselves with period household furnishings. Priscilla has antique kitchen utensils, cast-iron Griswold pots and pans and other domestic artifacts hang everywhere. The Massies have fulfilled the dictate to write about what you know the most about. More than thirteen hundred recipes from Michigan’s past are in this volume, dating from 1820s through the end of WW2.

“Walnut Pickles & Watermelon Cake” (subtitled a century of Michigan cooking) contains SO many recipes – and I think I copied most of the rhymed recipes when I was compiling the Kitchen Poets.

I have gone through this cookbook over and over, trying to decide which recipe to feature. I chose “Pickled Grapes” because I have seen pickled grape recipes featured on websites and blogs recently – as though a brand-new recipe. I made up a batch and it WAS new to me – but “Walnut Pickles & Watermelon cake have it dated 1899 by a Mrs. McCall in Kalamazoo!

To make Pickled Grapes:

Take grapes fresh from the stems without breaking and put them in a jar. For 7 pounds of grapes, take one quart vinegar, 3 pounds of sugar*, 1 TBSP whole cloves and the same of cinnamon bark. Boil it all together a few minutes, then let it cool until you can bear your finger in it; pour over the grapes, turn a plate over them; set them in a cool cellar and they are done. Do not cook the grapes nor heat the pickle over. If properly prepared they will keep a year and be as plump and fresh as when picked from the vines.

Well, I don’t have a cellar, and here in the high desert it can be a problem finding a spot cool enough. When I made sauerkraut about a year ago, we kept the crock in the coolest section of our garage which is in Bob’s workshop (attached behind the garage) and that worked – but I was making the kraut in March when it’s still relatively cool in the Antelope Valley.

If you want to make the pickled grapes you can keep them very well if you have a cellar or basement. If not, make them while the weather is still fairly cool. I have a lot of grapes ripening on the vine–and I think I will make up a batch of pickled grapes again!

*Sandy’s cooknote: 2 cups of granulated sugar equal 1 pound, so you would need 6 cups of sugar to equal 3 pounds. 4 cups of vinegar equals one quart.)
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of “Walnut Pickles & Watermelon Cake”, the best prices I have found are on Amazon.com. They have a lot of copies to sell, many in the neighborhood of $7.00.

Another good Michigan cookbook is “OUR BEST TO YOU” compiled by the Junior League of Battle Creek in 1984. This cookbook is in a specially designed 3-ring binder that enables the reader to open the rings in case you want to put the page on the refrigerator door so you can make a recipe. The pages measure just under 6½” wide and just under 9 ½” in length. I haven’t been able to find any pre-owned copies in the most frequently websites that I visit. My guess is that it’s out of print and you may have to do some digging to find a copy. However, you don’t have to search very far for this easy Beef Brisket recipe:

1 4-5 pound beef brisket
Seasoned salt
Pepper
Dried minced garlic
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 cups of water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash brisket thoroughly and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with garlic. Brown in an open pan (I use a large cast iron skillet for this) for 30 minutes in the oven. Decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast 1 hour. Layer the sliced onion over the meat and continue roasting an additional hour. Add water and cover, roast 1 hour more. Check for tenderness. Cool slightly and slice.

Note: Brisket may be prepared in advance. Reheat in pan juices before serving ~~~

Also published in 1984 and using the same format – the 3-ring binder that measures just under 6½” wide and just under 9 ½” in length is from the Junior League of Lansing, Michigan and bears the title “Temptations.” In its Introduction we learn that the inspiration for the cookbook was based on the bounty of Michigan’s agriculture. The book contains over 500 recipes and here is a simple recipe from “Temptations” that is called Sesame Potato Spears. I love potato recipes that are not fried but are just as good if not better. This is the recipe for Sesame Potato Spears:

6 to 8 potatoes

¼ cup butter, melted (that would be half of one stick of butter)
1 tsp salt
3 tsp paprika
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup Dijon mustard (optional)

Peel the potatoes and cut into long strips. Melt butter in a loaf baking dish and stir in seasonings. Stir the potatoes to coat. Bake in 400 degree oven for one hour or until tender.

(Sandy’s cooknote: I am inclined to put the melted butter and seasonings into a plastic zip-lock bag and then put the potatoes on a Pam-sprayed baking sheet that you have covered with foil. That is how I make my baked fries.
Note: Dijon mustard will give it an extra tang.
~~
“Temptations” is still available on Amazon.com – They have 4 new copies available from $5.43 and 5 used copies starting at $2.87. ~
A third cookbook compiled in a 3 ring binder just under 6½”wide and just under 9½” in length that is one of my favorite go-to cookbooks is titled “THE HOUSE ON THE HILL” which is a bed and breakfast inn, published in 2002 by Cindy and Tom Tomalka. The Tomalkas tell us they have had over 3000 couples and singles visit the Inn since April 1997—who have consumed over 14,000 breakfasts.

You won’t believe all the recipes just for making muffins – now muffins are a favorite recipe of mine – and it was a muffin recipe I was following the first time I made muffins using my mother’s big yellow bowl – which I dropped and broke when I was about ten years old. Muffins can be sweet or savory and a simple muffin is ideal for a young child to make when they are cooking for the first time. Here is a recipe for Michigan Maple Syrup Muffins:

2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 large egg, room temperature
½ cup buttermilk
½ cp maple syrup
½ cup butter, melted (*1/2 cup butter is one stick)

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, milk, syrup and butter. Gradually pour this egg mixture into a well I the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir quickly. Batter will be lumpy. Do not overbeat or muffins will be tough. Spoon into greased mini-muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees until brown, about 12 minutes. Makes 30 mini-muffins.
The House on the Hill Inn has its own website with information on ordering a copy of their oh-so-inviting cookbook. You can write to the Tomalkas at innkeeper@thehouseonthehill.com.

Another spiral bound cookbook published in 1983 is “CULINARY COUNTERPOINT” published by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Cookbook. This cookbook offers some recipes with unforgettable names, such as Hanky Pankys, Blinking Star, and Strip and go Naked! The recipe for a Ohio culinary treasure is BUCKEYE BALLS. (You will find Buckeye Balls at many sweet shops throughout Ohio – maybe Michigan too). To make Buckeye Balls you will need:

3 1-pound boxes powdered sugar
2 lbs smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1 pound butter, softened
1 12-oz package semi-sweet chocolate morsels
½ stick paraffin

Combine the sugar, peanut butter and butter and beat well. Roll into small balls and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

Melt the chocolate with the paraffin I the top section of a double boiler over hot water. Stick a toothpick in one of the peanut butter balls, then dip into the chocolate. Place on wax paper to harden. Repeat until all candies have been dipped in the chocolate. Makes about 60 candies.
Amazon.com has five copies for sale, starting at $5.98.

Another spiral-bound favorite is “Renaissance Cuisine” that went through three printings by the time I found it. This cookbook was the endeavor of The Fontbonne Auxiliary of St Joseph Hospital. The Fontbonne Auxiliary was founded by the Sisters of St Joseph of Nazareth in 1947.

I am often stymied when it comes to choosing just one recipe from a church or club cookbook-but the following might be good for company or something to getting cooking when you are home from the office and trying to get something cooking while you make up a salad to go with. Here is Chicken No Peek Casserole:

1 cup rice, uncooked
6 chicken breasts or pieces
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water
1 pkg onion soup mix
1 cup sherry
Slivered almonds

Grease a 9×13” pan. Place rice on bottom, place chicken on top of the rice. In a separate container, mix the mushroom soup and water and pour that over the chicken. Pour Sherry over chicken Sprinkle onion soup and slivered almonds over all. bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Do not peek. A fresh fruit or cranberry mold completes this meal.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: nowhere does the recipe advise you to cover the dish with foil before baking in the oven – but then it tells you not to peek. I would interpret that to mean it needs to be covered with foil. Someone else might interpret to mean not to look into the oven while it’s baking.)

Renaissance Cuisine is available on Amazon.com new or pre-owned starting at $2.99—and 4 new copies starting at $.43; you can’t beat that!
Although I have many more Michigan church and club cookbooks, most are probably not available on the internet. I tried to stick to cookbooks interested readers might have a chance to find.

Sandy’s cookbook note: I tried to find some of the above cookbooks on Amazon.com and the only one I found was Watermelon Cake and watermelon Pickles–some of the cookbooks listed above may not be readily available but I find that copies often turn up when someone realizes there is a value to a cookbook they have languishing on a bookshelf. So, don’t give up when you see a listing you are interested in.

Happy cooking and Happy Cookbook collecting!

Sandra Lee Smith

THEN ALONG CAME THE BETTY CROCKER PICTURE COOKBOOK

In 1950, perhaps noting the huge success of the Better Home & Garden Cookbook which was first published in 1930, General Mills introduced Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, also in a ring binder. However, unlike BH&G, the Betty Crocker cook book made no effort to encourage housewives to add their own recipes and didn’t include blank pages with which to add recipes. But, it WAS a picture cookbook, often providing step by step photographs or graphic art illustrations.

Before the first red-and-white cookbook was released to the public, however, employees of General Mills received a special limited edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, with a presentation line on which an employee’s name was written, and below it was printed “With the Warm Good Wishes of General Mills …. And signed underneath that was the handwritten name “Betty Crocker.”

Some years ago, my supervisor at the office where I worked – who had become a good friend as well – offered this special limited edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book to me; the person it had been presented to had been her MOTHER although it was her FATHER, who had worked at General Mills. I happily accepted the book which came in a cardboard case of the same dark blue as the book itself. Unlike the first edition released to the public, the limited edition had a red, yellow design on a blue denim-like background—kind of a Pennsylvania Dutch motif. The book has been kept in the case for over fifty years so, needless to say, it’s in very good condition.

The binder edition of the Betty Crocker picture cook book that was released also in 1950 has a red background and a white design (actually, the design is identical to the limited edition except the limited edition has a red and yellow Dutch design while the binder cookbooks has a white design on a red background (I think I have seen this design on quilts). I have four of these first edition cookbooks; none have held up very well; the covers have deteriorated over the years and I discovered that some of the first pages are missing in almost all of the books. I think only one of them is completely intact. Because of the way the books are put together—in a binder which can be opened and closed – it was easy for the holes to wear through the paper and perhaps pages were simply lost.

It’s easy to see why they are so desirable amongst collectors; the graphics are especially charming and Betty Crocker begins the cookbook with the assumption that her readers don’t know a thing about cooking. We learn how to measure, we learn the meaning of terms; there are explanations of herbs and a dictionary of special and foreign terms.

The original Big Red Cookbook was immediately popular with a postwar audience seeking basic cooking advice and simple recipes that took advantage of several then-new convenience products.

After selling more than 3,500,000 copies of the first Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (and many printings), a new and revised edition was published in 1956. I believe this is the book with a cover depicting a pie, roast turkey, corn on the cob and cookies. I am unable to find a copyright date in either of my copies of this edition, which was published by McGraw-Hill.

In 1961, Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book was published and this is the edition I first owned but now my memory has suffered a lapse. I have believed for years that this book was a wedding present – but I got married in December of 1958 – so how could this be? I can’t explain it. The 1956 edition doesn’t look as familiar to me as the 1961 one does.

In any case, the 1961 edition had undergone a complete facelift. Many of the cookie recipes in this cookbook are the very same ones I began experimenting with as a young bride. It was this 1961 edition with its paintbrush cookies that I began making for gift-giving. I remember making salted peanut crisps, Jumbles, Kaleidoscope Cookies and Brownies. From the chapter for Desserts I learned how to make tapioca cream and old fashioned rice pudding, old fashioned bread pudding and Lemon Cake Pudding. There was also a Hot Fudge Pudding and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake that I made frequently for my family – by then a husband and one son. And once, I tried my hand at the Baked Alaska. It didn’t turn out right and I wrote to Betty Crocker to complain. General Mills sent me a response that is buried in my cake file somewhere—I never tried to make Baked Alaska again, though.

Instruction was and still is the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book’s strongest feature, and any beginner cook can benefit from the many how-to features. These include step-by-step directions with photos, tips for kitchen timesaving, and troubleshooting advice. The book also includes several comprehensive glossaries (those on cooking terms and ingredients are particularly good).

So, what cookbook was a wedding present in 1958? I don’t know. My emotional attachment is to the 1961 edition. And, I hadn’t started buying cookbooks in 1958 – or 1961. That didn’t start to happen until 1965 when I began searching for club and church cookbooks.

I guess I’ll never know! Meantime I have 8 of the ring binder cookbooks, dating from 1950 to 1961! (*I was non-plussed, as I googled the cookbooks trying to pin down publishing dates, how MUCH some of those old cookbooks are selling for—five hundred dollars? You have to be kidding!)

Happy cooking – and happy cookbook collecting—and may all your cookbooks be worth a fortune!

Sandra Lee Smith

KEEPING A PACKED PANTRY

(Previously posted in 2015)

In my last home, the Arleta house, we had a walk-in pantry off the laundry room. Originally, it had ceiling to floor shelves on the left side with a few shelves on the right that were large enough for storing small appliances. When Bob and I moved into the Arleta house in 1989, I pointed out how much more efficient the pantry would be with shelves on the right from top to bottom – with maybe a few across the back for good measure. I wish I had photographed that pantry after Bob added all the shelves. It was a kitchen-lovers-ideal pantry.

There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of cupboard shelves in that kitchen – enough for dishes and pots and pans with a small cupboard dividing the kitchen from the eating area ideal for glassware. Another small cupboard above that cupboard with the glassware was ideal for medicines—out of the reach of children, especially. I loved that kitchen. When Jim and I first moved into the Arleta house in 1974, my girlfriend Rosalia made lovely gingham curtains for the kitchen. A camellia bush was right outside the front windows, enough to see out but no one could see in. (and the house sat a good ways back from the street). Out of all the places in which we lived throughout 26 years of marriage, my favorite was the Arleta house, owned by a girlfriend of mine.

I also loved that pantry – and I thoroughly enjoyed keeping it packed. It was during the 70s that we acquired some Latter Day Saint (Mormon) friends and I was intrigued by their belief of keeping a year’s worth of bottle water and staples on hand, in case of an emergency. Well, my then-husband, Jim, was self-employed with business precarious throughout most of our marriage. I was a stay at home mom for 12 years, returning to work full time in 1977—and when only one of you has a steady income, you have to be able to create meals out of almost anything – or almost nothing. We frequently had spaghetti—so often that one of my sons won’t eat it at all today. (and I couldn’t tell you the last time I cooked spaghetti for myself) – but back then, I kept as much dry spaghetti as would fit inside a large potato chip can. I also kept boxes of macaroni and cheese on hand (something growing boys would always eat).

When canned vegetables were on sale, I bought as many as I could fit on two of the pantry shelves. Sugar, flour, brown and granulated sugars, pancake mix and Bisquick are kept in Tupperware containers.

My daughter in law and I were talking recently about an obsession she and I share – keeping pantry shelves well-stocked; we think it may have something to do with our childhood experiences of never feeling like there was enough to eat. My mother fed six of us with one can of peas, spinach—whatever.

For years, I wondered why my mother cooked almost no fresh vegetables—even the spinach was from a can The only vegetables I can remember my mother cooking were potatoes, carrots, some onion, sometimes celery—even peas were from a can.

The only kind of salmon we ever had came out of a can (and we all loved salmon patties) and there was the nefarious cabbage that my mother put on to cook around 9 am for dinner at 6 pm. I grew up thinking I HATED cabbage, beets, and rice—only to discover years later in California that it wasn’t the cabbage, beets or rice that I loathed – it was the way my mother cooked these things, cooking them all day long (mind you, crockpots hadn’t come along yet). I was an adult living in California before I discovered I LIKE rice – we called my mother’s rice “library paste rice”—the only person I know who ikes the library paste rice is my brother Bill.

It was a March St Patrick’s Day years ago that I discovered how great Corned Beef and Cabbage is. And both my sister Becky and I loved canned peas cooked in a creamy white sauce ala Viola. It was one of the few things my mother cooked that we liked.

When my cousin, Renee, gave me the cookbook that had belonged to our maternal grandmother, I had an inkling of an understanding why my mother cooked everything to death—very old cookbooks advised cooking canned foods to beyond recognition—this reference to “canned” meant home-canned-foods.

If you can vegetables, a good long boil will prevent you from getting botulism, in case there is any botulism toxin lurking in the jar. The cookbook author wasn’t referring to manufactured canned goods—but just as my maternal grandmother would have boiled things to death, so did my mother. And although I do a considerable amount of home canning, I don’t can anything low acid – I only can foods that can be put into a boiling water bath, rather than a pressure cooker.

And I will be the first to admit that frozen vegetables are always a great addition to a meal—I keep several boxes of frozen spinach on hand in my freezer…it isn’t something actually coming from the pantry, but frozen vegetables, poultry and ground beef are a part of the packed pantry.
If you want to keep a packed pantry, I suggest stocking up on various vegetables or even fruits, different kinds of pasta, even some cans of chicken and salmon to have on hand in an emergency. Stock up on sales of tomato sauce or tomato paste, cans of diced chilies. I have lived for years in areas where dry beans of all kinds are easily available and (key word) inexpensive. Pack your pantry with the kinds of staples that you, your significant other, and any children still living at home – will readily eat. Don’t buy any canned foods that are dented – it’s too risky and not worth buying, even on sale.

I also stock up on boxed cake mixes when they are on sale—for which I am pleased, because a) cake mixes have been considerably reduced in size by the manufacturers and b) the prices have skyrocketed in recent months—but a thought about storing items like cake mixes – I have two large plastic bins with tight fitting lids in my laundry room/pantry that hold a lot of cake mixes, as well as flour and sugar. I also have all these recipes for making cookies out of cake mixes and I haven’t played around with my recipes enough to know what changes we may need to make with a boxed cake mix. I will get back to you on what changes we may need to make with those stream-lined cookie recipes. If you have attempted cookie making with cake mixes since the sizes have been reduced, let me hear from you!

–Sandra Lee Smith