Category Archives: FOOD RELATED ARTICLES

A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING BY MICHAEL SYMONS

i reviewed the following back in 2012–but I love, love, LOVE books about the history of food, of cooks and cooking and felt it could do with an update.

In 2012 I wrote:

How does a writer compile, in one volume, a book about the history of cooks and cooking? And yet, this is exactly what author Michael Symons has set out to do.

The University of Illinois Press (demonstrating once again the incomparable value of the books provided by University Presses) has published A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING.

In the preface to A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING, the author notes, “Between us, we have eaten an enormous number of meals. We have nibbled, gorged and hungered our way through history. Cooks have been in charge…finding, sharing and giving food meaning. We could not have survived without them. They have been everywhere yet writers have hardly noticed. In fact, I suggest that t his is the first book devoted to the essential duties and historical place of cooks…”

Symons claims, “If this is, with few qualifications, the world’s first book on the world’s most important people, it implies a surprising intellectual oversight. Nearly two and a half millennia ago, Plato warned against an interest in cooks, and western scholars have largely complied. Almost without exception they have failed to inquire into the chief occupation of at least half the people who have ever lived. Even thinkers must eat…”

And while I might not totally agree with Symons assertion—and finding myself wondering exactly why Plato warned the world against an interest in cooks—I do concur with his statement that “Cookery books are so consumable that French Chef Raymond Oliver compares them with wooden spoons, ‘one is astonished at the number which have disappeared…”

Symons states, “We have devoured innumerable books on how and what to cook, and even some about certain cooks and aspects of cooking, but this abundance makes the central gap even more peculiar. There are so many texts for, and so few, about cooks…cooks have always been in the background both ever present and unnoticed. Their contributions have seemed too common, pervasive, trivial, unproblematic…”

He also writes, “Virtually every archaeological dig, every diary, every streetscape tells the cooks’ tale. We do not lack evidence, and can appropriate much scholarship. But no one has tried to pull this all together. Since the nineteenth century, we have become so hyper-specialized that we scarcely know any longer how to place cooks within the great scheme of things…”

Symons also observes that, “If we are what we eat, cooks have not just made our meals, but they have also made us….”

The author provides, in the preface, a capsule breakdown of the chapters and the best way to give you some idea what this book is really about, is to quote Symons himself:

“In quest of cooks,” he begins, “we initially enter the kitchen of just one Sydney chef, Phillip Searle, (Chapter One). The book then relates how certain novelists have portrayed some cooks (Chapter Two) and finds the gastronomic tradition; often appreciative (chapter Three). Having traced the development of fire (Chapter Four), existing assumptions about what cooks do are examined (Chapter Five), why their key tool is the knife (Chapter Seven and how they are behind festivals, beauty and love (Chapter Eight).

Symons embarks on a journey, exploring how food, and the cooks who prepared it, were written about in books, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s THE LONG WINTER, AND Nora Ephron’s HEART BURN, touches on the American diner and street food, the contributions of various famous chefs, such as Henri Charpentier. (In yet another instance of synchroniscity, I acquired a book about Henri Charpentier and have written about him in an article for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and on my blog).

The publishers explain, “Symons sets out to explore the civilizing role of cooks in history. His wanderings take us to the clay ovens of the prehistory eastern Mediterranean and the bronze cauldrons of ancient China, to fabulous banquets in the temples and courts of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Persia, to medieval English cookshops and southeast Asian street markets, to palace kitchens, diners and modern fast-food eateries.

Symons samples conceptions and perceptions of cooks and cooking from Plato and Descartes, to Marx and Virginia Woolf, asking why cooks, despite their vital and central role in sustaining life, have remained in the shadows, unheralded, unregarded and underappreciated…”

No longer. Michael Symons’ A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING FROM THE University of Illinois Press has provided a tribute to cooks and will surely join the ranks of all other important food-related books.

*The Australian author uses the European spellings, whereas Americans spell many of these words with a Z instead of an S—I’ve corrected them for easier reading in this post—for one thing, my spellcheck has a nervous breakdown whenever I try to use European spellings.

Well, I don’t necessarily agree with much of what Symons has written but I wrote a review of this book for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 2001—and I think much has changed in our culinary landscape in the past eleven years. If nothing else, programs such as those shown on the Food Network focus on cooks and chefs all the time. There have also been many more books about individual cooks and chefs as well. Still, you may want to read A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING and decide for yourself. And even though this was published by the University of Illinois Press, the Australian author’s viewpoint may reflect what he has observed and studied in Australia.
Michael Symons is a former journalist for Sydney Morning Herald and also the author of “THE PUDDING THAT TOOK A THOUSAND COOKS.”

Symons is also the author of two other food-related books, ONE CONTINUOUS PICNIC: A HISTORY OF EATING IN AUSTRALIA, and THE SHARED TABLE.

You can find a copy of A HISTORY OF COOKS AND COOKING on Amazon.com at $19.95 and up for pre-owned hardcover. I am sorry to report that no other copies are available for less.

review by Sandra Lee Smith

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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

THE SIMMERING POT COOKBOOK

THE SIMMERING POT COOKBOOK, BY ALICE DEVINE LOEBEL is yet another cookbook on my soup/stews shelf that caught my eyes as I was looking over my personal collection of soups/stews, or one pot dishes. First published in 1969 with one repeat in 1974, it happens to be one of the books I found at the Burbank Friends of the Library Sales before I moved to the Antelope Valley in November of 2008. (I have fond memories of attending the Burbank Friends sales with girlfriends Connie and Mandy).

I have since found many great cookbooks at the Lancaster (California) Friends of the Library book sales. At their most recent Friends sale, I managed to buy FIFTY ONE preowned or Library discards for a total of $21.50! (I will be happy to write more about the Friends of the Library sales if anyone is interested in learning more about them). I have to confess – I don’t read all of the books I find and buy right away—I’m good but not that good. First I split them up into categories. At the recent sale, I found a dozen children’s books to give to a couple of my grandkids.

I wish I had spent more time going over the children’s books which are in so many different levels – from first readers to pre-teens; the latter is where my granddaughter, Jewls, is right now. Abby is a early reader, at the age of seven. I think she enjoys more being READ to, though.

But getting back to the recent Friends’ sale at Lancaster, Library—I found over a dozen cookbooks, some in like-new condition. I found about a dozen books of fiction that I am looking forward to reading. I found a few books I sent aside for my nieces, or my penpal, Lisa, in New York, who loves the books I send to her—I have managed to thin out the ranks of my book collection by sending a lot of them to Lisa.

(it was the only way I could find shelf space for new purchases!) – I’m embarrassed to admit this—but when Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley, we went from about 3,000 square feet of space, including the guest house which Bob outfitted with a lot of bookshelves and a guest room for my brother, Jim, when he visited. The Arleta house had plenty of space for bookshelves throughout most of the house and we made the most of it in our nineteen years in the Arleta house on Arleta Avenue.

In 2010 now in the Antelope Valley, Bob created a garage library utilizing some of our bookcases from Arleta, but creating other bookshelves, a wondrous creation when you consider the garage library only takes up half of the space in the garage – my car is in the other half along with Rubbermaid cupboards along one side of the garage half—those shelves are packed with all my cooking equipment that wouldn’t fit in the kitchen. It pretty much has to be seen to be believed.

And I donated boxes and boxes of books to the Lancaster Library in 2009 and 2010.
Well, my shelf of soups, stews, one dish meals – is at my eye level if I am sitting on the edge of my bed and looking over books that might be suitable for posting on my blog. And the catchy title of THE SIMMERING POT COOKBOOK caught my attention—it even has the original dust jacket which is especially desirable if you want to write about a particular cookbook.

(*I remember years ago, writing about the Browns and their cookbooks when the only information available was what you found on the dust jackets and that was scant—ditto two other favorite cookbook authors, Myra Waldo and Meta Given. Back then the publishers didn’t provide much background information about the authors. (was it to protect their privacy? I don’t know). The Internet changed all that! I have since discovered much biographical information about my favorite cookbook authors with the advent of the World Wide Web—I have even received emails on my blog from descendants of my favorite cookbook authors. It opens another whole dimension to what a writer can write about favorite authors and I am so thrilled and delighted when someone who was related to, or personally knew, one of my favorite authors writes to me!

Much along these same lines, the dust jacket to THE SIMMERING POT COOKBOOK is almost entirely devoted to enticing the reader into buying and reading (or borrow from the library) this cookbook. At the end of the jacket blurb, is a short message—kind of an after-thought “Alice Devine Loebel lives in New York City and in Connecticut. Her husband, Herbert Loebel, took the photographs for this book”. (a scant few, I might add)

But, a while ago, I discovered, on the back of the dust jacket, a comment written by none other than M.F.K. Fisher, who wrote, “who as a food writer and critic sees most of today’s cookbooks and approves of few, writes: “a good book in a morass of shoddy stuff..honest and sensible and well written, a rare combination in current culinary texts. It is also persuasive and tempting, so that no reader may well resist its intelligent approach to the pots and pans, prime weapons in our art of living.”

This being said, why should you look for THE SIMERING POT COOKBOOK? For one thing, Alice devotes a fair amount of information, “the basic technique of the magical stockpot, regarded as an essential by classic French cookbooks, together with the steamer method which preserves nutrition, flavor and the appearances of foods, form the theme of this high quality cookbook…” –

Alice pays close attention to kitchen ecology followed by The Stockpot. Writes the author, “the stockpot is the oldest, most tried and true method of recycling food. The basic requirements to produce a rich and toothsome stock exist in every contemporary kitchen.”
The chapter dedicated to the Stockpot starts with a quote from Escoffier “Stock is everything in cooking…without it, nothing can be done. If one’s stock is good, what remains of the work is easy. If, on the other hand, it is bad or merely mediocre, it is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result.” Escoffier knew what he was writing about. And so did Alice Loebel.

She tells us “the desire to serve forth from our modern kitchens the wholesomeness and delicious foods of our grandmother’s era is a universal wish. Despite the over-packaged and refined foods in today’s market, it can be done…she says “convenience foods such as TV dinners and commercial frozen entrees are costly, low in nutrition and their wrappings are pollutants”…elsewhere, she writes “During the era of large wood and coal burning kitchen stoves, whether in a palace or in a pioneer’s shack, the stockpot stood permanently and majestically on the back of every stove. It simmered continuously and the savory leftovers of meals and cooking scraps were always being added”…elsewhere she writes “the stockpot is the oldest and most tried and true method of recycling food..”

Reading this about stockpots reminded me of one of my grandmother’s soups that we all loved and enjoyed with a freshly baked homemade salt bread. Her soup was a broth, undoubtedly chicken broth, in which she added tiny little dumplings called Rivels. (we pronounced it as ‘rivel-lies)

Another family favorite was ham and bean soup, made with a ham bone and some ham scraps—to which everyone in the family added about a tablespoon or two of vinegar directly into your bowl of soup. This soup is still one of my favorites.

Alice provides stock recipes for classic chicken stock, classic beef stock, classic brown stock and classic ham stock- and one not to be overlooked, classic fish stock.
There are a variety of consommé recipes which gave me pause – I don’t recall ever seeing anything except a beef consommé – and recipes for making your own bouillon—that one did make me sit up and take notice. I have to confess, the only bouillon I had ever made are the little foil-wrapped chicken, vegetable and beef bouillon cubes-which, admittedly, are almost always very salty.

The rest of Alice’s cookbook is filled with mouth-watering recipes you will surely want to try—imagine Potato and Bacon Soup, or Potato and Spinach Soup, Avocado Soup, a delicate creamy cauliflower soup, or how about a cream of pea and mushroom soup? And I was thrilled to find a Hungarian Goulash Soup—a sister-in-law of the author was raised in Vienna and this was her family’s recipe. Additionally, there are an assortment of chowder recipes, providing a Scallop Chowder and a Fish Chowder that I know I will have to try. There is even a recipe for Pot Roast which just happens to be what I have been cooking this afternoon, using up left over pot roast from a Sunday Dinner for my youngest son and daughter-in-law.

I haven’t counted all the recipes in Alice Loebel’s cookbook, “The Simmering Pot Cookbook”—just want to say there are quite a lot of recipes I haven’t seen elsewhere.
I went onto Amazon.com to see if they have copies of pre-owned copies of the Simmering Pot Cookbook—they do and there are quite a few. I’ve been thinking, getting some extra copies would be great Christmas or birthday presents for my like-minded friends. There are eighteen pre-owned books, starting at $3.55. Remember that whenever you purchase a pre-owned book on Amazon.com, there is a $3.99 shipping & handling charge. I find that the pre-owned books are shipped quickly and are well wrapped.

Alice Loebel was also the author of “The Stockpot and Steamer Cookbook”, published in 1969, and may have the inspiration for “The Simmering Pot Cookbook”. I didn’t find any other cookbooks by this author.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING

“The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten. In the words of the New Yorker is “so well prepared, so expertly seasoned, so full of flavorsome surprises that if it were a meal, even Mr. Steingarten would have difficulty finding fault with it….it is a book worth celebrating” – and I agree!

Mr. Steingarten, who has been a food critic for VOGUE Magazine since 1989, is, in my words – a hoot! I have often laughed out loud, whether reading alone or with someone else in the room, in which case I usually have to read aloud, to share.

“the Man Who Ate Everything” was the 1997 winner of the Julia Child book award and a finalist, also in 1997, of the James Beard Book Award.

Mr.Steingarden trained to be a food writer at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the HARVARD LAMPOON. For over eight years has been a food critic of Vogue Magazine.

When I leafed through THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING, my attention was riveted to a chapter called The Smith Family Cookbook….I thought “wait a minute—I’ve read this before….somewhere else” and of course I had. It was a chapter included in a charming little book called “Favorite Cookbooks” by Moira Hodgson for whom I wrote about in the CCE (Cookbook Collectors Exchange) some years ago, earning myself a few new fruitcake penpals along the way.

Mr. Steingarten’s book is a collection of essays, not a cookbook (although you may find a few recipes interspersed throughout the book, as when he writes about his challenge to find the perfect pie crust). The author writes with great humor while providing food for thought. (*I could have told him, there isn’t a perfect pie crust and saved him all the work)

If you are the kind of cookbook person who often wonders how something in the culinary world came about, this is the book for you.

“When Jeffrey Steingarten was appointed food critic for Vogue, observe the publishers, Vintage Books, which is a division of Random House, “he systematically set out to overcome his distaste for such things as kimchi, lard, Greek cuisine, and blue food. He succeeded at all but the last: Steingarten is ‘fairly sure that God meant the color blue mainly for food that has gone bad’. Steingarten devotes the same Zen-like discipline and gluttonous curiosity to practically everything that anyone anywhere has ever called “dinner.” As I tend to agree with Mr. Steingarten’s gut feeling about blue food, with perhaps the exception of blueberries, I felt I had met up with a kindred spirit.

Take, for example, his essay called “PRIMAL BREAD”. “The world is divided” explains the author “Into two camps: those who can live happily on bread alone and those who also need vegetables, meat and dairy products…bread is the only food I know what satisfied completely all by itself. It comforts the body, charms the senses, gratifies the soul and excites the mind. A little butter also helps…”
What follows is a day by day account of Mr. Steingarten’s pilgrimage to make the perfect loaf of bread.

Introducing a chapter called “Playing Ketchup”, the author writes “When rumor recently reached my ears that U.S. sales of salsa would soon eclipse those of ketchup, catsup and catchup (these words all mean the same thing) he rushed down to his local supermarket, planting himself in the ketchup department and stood a lonely vigil as though my presence alone could stanch the tide of chunky piquant salsa that menaced from the opposite of aisle 5…”

Jeffrey Steingarten is a funny man although sometimes so droll that you aren’t sure whether he is being amusing or sarcastic. I laugh anyway.

All of you cookbook collectors who love to curl up at night with a good cookbook, “THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING is a delightful diversion from strictly reading recipes (although the ones included in this book are treasures!)

Additionally, this is the kind of book you can carry around with you going to the doctor or the dentist or waiting for kids to get out of school.

Although printed some time ago, THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING can be found on Amazon.com with a wide variety of copies, both new and pre-owned, starting around $3 or $4.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith@sandychatter

BROWNIES…HOW DO I LOVE THEE?

BROWNIES…HOW DO I LOVE THEE?
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS!

I love thee made with walnuts
Or a cup of chocolate chips,
I love thee made with chocolate syrup
Or those toffee bits;
I love thee with a glass of milk
Or a cup of tea,
I love thee when you’re hot or cold;
It’s all agrees with me;
Brownies that are cake-like or
Brownies fudgy, dark and dense,
Flavored with vanilla too,
Makes a lot of sense;
Nobody knows from whence you came,
Or who was your creator
You’ve been around a hundred years,
And just keep getting better;
You’ve changed a lot since way back when
Though some parts are the same
But since you were invented,
Baking hasn’t been the same!
— Sandra Lee Smith

Brownies…I’ve been making them since I was about 10 years old. Who doesn’t love brownies?

Personally, I like my brownies best loaded with ingredients – chopped nuts, chocolate chips, some chopped up Hershey’s miniatures if I am out of chocolate chips, some dried cherries – I love it all. (If I am making brownies for my sons, I have to leave out the chopped nuts. They all LIKE nuts but not in their food. Go figure – they didn’t get that from me). I made a great discovery not long ago; I keep a candy jar filled with Hershey miniatures but the little Mr. Goodbars are always the last to get eaten – so one day when I was out of chocolate chips, I chopped up about a dozen little Mr.Goodbars and tossed them into the brownie batter. Oh, yum! For special occasions, my brownies are topped off with a dark chocolate glaze .

I have been working on my recipe file collection while watching the Olympic Coverage in Vancouver this month—if you clip recipes, chances are you stick them into a junk drawer and then forget about them. Well, I don’t stick the clippings into a drawer – but I collect them in a box, one of those fairly large boxes that reams of computer paper come in. The box is overflowing; when the Olympics roll around so I take it out, stock up on 3×5” or 4×6” file cards and buy a lot of Elmer’s glue—and start pasting the recipes onto cards. One of the fringe benefits of doing this – aside from watching all the Olympic events – is reading through recipes and setting aside interesting ones to try and maybe write about as well. I get a lot of inspiration this way. I knew I didn’t have enough recipe boxes for all the newly pasted cards so today we went to Michael’s and I bought 3 of those boxes designed to hold 4×6” photographs. They’re just the right size for 4×6” recipe cards too! (And the boxes were on sale, 3 for $5.00 – whoohoo!)

You may know that I collect recipe boxes – and love finding a “filled” recipe box (one filled with the previous owner’s recipe collection) but I don’t like to change anything about those collections, even if they have space to hold more recipe cards. I think I will have to go back on Ebay and search for some more small recipe boxes—meantime, I will be busy as long as the Olympics are on, pasting clippings onto cards.

So, today I have been setting aside brownie recipes even though I think my fudgy-wudgy brownie recipe, previously posted on my Blog, is about as good a brownie as you can make. But you may not care for a brownie that is more like candy than cake.

One of the things I love about brownies is that the ingredients are all pretty basic, generally what you would already have in your kitchen cupboard. But as much as we love our delicious brownies, the history of brownies is somewhat obscure. And although they are baked in a cake pan, we think of the brownie as a bar cookie. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes for brownies—just going through some recipe cards this afternoon I found about 40 brownie recipe cards. This doesn’t include all the brownie recipes in my cookie cookbooks. Just for the heck of it, I checked some of my earliest cookbooks—one of the first I owned was my mother’s copy of Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook first published in 1942, and as a wedding present I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook. Both provide basic Brownie recipes that are fairly similar. Also in my possession is one of the very FIRST Betty Crocker Picture Cookbooks published in 1950. This is in slipcase and was one of a limited edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbooks presented to General Mills Employees. The father of a friend of mine worked at General Mills and received the cookbook, as did other employees. The point I want to make is that the brownie recipe in the 1950 edition is the same as the one published in a ring binder a decade later. **

There are a number of stories explaining the history of brownies–Extensive information about brownies can be found in my favorite cookbook author Jean Anderson’s 1997 “The American Century Cookbook”, and a little blurb of information is in John Mariani’s “ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN FOOD & DRINK”. What is particularly intriguing is a paragraph in James Trager’s FOOD CHRONOLOGY which provides a timeline for food going back to prehistoric times. Trager’s comment on Brownies can be found on page 354, under the year 1897. He writes “The first known published recipe for brownies appears in the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. Probably created when a careless cook failed to add baking power to a chocolate-cake batter; the dense, fudgy squares have been made for some time by housewives who received the recipe by word of mouth…”

But then a brownie recipe was published in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is not as rich and chocolaty as the brownie we know today, using two squares of melted Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares. No one knows if Fanny Farmer obtained the recipe from another source and food historians will probably continue to debate the issue ad nauseum. As for Fannie Farmer! That’s another story I have been planning to share with you! Look for it in an upcoming post on my blog! She was a most interesting woman.

Jean Anderson refers to Lowney’s Cook Book, another cookbook in my collection, written by Maria Willet Howard and published by the Walter M. Lowney Company of Boston in 1907. Ms. Howard was a protégé of Ms. Farmer and added an extra egg and an extra square of chocolate to the Boston Cooking-School recipe, creating a richer, more chocolaty brownie. For reasons only known to Ms. Howard, she called her recipe Bangor Brownies. Anderson also notes that Betty Crocker’s Baking Classics, published in 1979, credits Bangor Brownies as the original chocolate brownie—in any case, Lowney’s brownie recipe was richer and perhaps tastier. You can decide for yourself –

To make Bangor Brownies, you will need:

¼ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ tsp salt
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
½ to ¾ cup flour
1 cup nut meats

Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until well mixed. Spread evenly in a greased baking pan. Bake and cut in strips.

To make Lowney’s Brownies, you will need

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 squares Lowney’s premium chocolate (use 2 squares of any unsweetened chocolate. I usually have a box of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares on my pantry shelf)
2 eggs
½ cup nutmeats
½ cup flour
¼ tsp salt

Cream butter; add remaining ingredients; spread on buttered sheets and bake 10 to 15 minutes. Cut in squares as soon as taken from the oven*.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: The above is typed as originally directed; most brownie recipes today suggest you let the pan cool completely before cutting the brownies into bars.
**
Jean Anderson also notes that in 1916, Maria Parloa, one of the founders of the Boston Cooking School, developed a number of recipes for Walter Baker & Company (of chocolate fame), with all the ingredients worked out by Fannie Farmer in level measurements* to meet the needs of the demands of the time;. (*Fannie Farmer is credited with being the originator of level measurements. Prior to her creating exact measurements, such as 3 teaspoons equal one tablespoon and 8 ounces equals one cup) – early cookbooks might call for “butter the size of a walnut” or “a tea cup” of flour. Before Fannie Farmer, measurements were terribly imprecise).

In any case, brownies became enormously popular—possibly because they were so easy to make with ingredients commonly found on any pantry shelf, and now we have brownies to suit everybody’s palate.

So, here are some of my favorite Brownie recipes. This first one is a recipe I have been making ever since my sons were little boys.

SAUCEPAN BROWNIES

To make saucepan brownies, you will need:

4 ounces (4 squares) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter or margarine (but don’t use a soft spread)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour

Grease a 9” square pan and dust with flour. Set aside. Combine chocolate and butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat. Remove from heat, add sugar, eggs and vanilla and mix well. Stir in walnuts. Gradually add flour, mixing well. Pour into prepared pan and bake in pre heated 350 degree oven about 50 minutes. Cool thoroughly in pan on wire rack before cutting into 16 squares. Store, covered, in a cool place.

This next recipe has been in my files for so many years, I no longer remember where I found it. One bone of contention – her name is misspelled in the original printed recipe. MOST people misspelled her name. It was KATHARINE with an “A” not an “E”. The recipe is great.

KATHARINE HEPBURN’S BROWNIES

To make Katharine Hepburn’s brownies, you will need:

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
¼ lb sweet butter*
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add
Eggs and vanilla and beat like mad. Stir in flour, salt and walnuts. Mix well. Pour into a buttered 8×8” pan and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool and then cut into 1 ½” squares. NOTE: Because the recipe calls for only ¼ cup flour rather than ½ or ¾ cup most brownie recipes call for, these brownies have a wonderful pudding-like texture.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: ¼ pound = 1 stick of butter. I assume sweet butter means unsalted. Also, Hepburn’s brownies are similar in preparation to saucepan brownies which translates into less cleanup in the kitchen.

Baker’s Chocolate One-Bowl Brownie Recipe, prepped in the microwave, only requires a bowl and a baking pan – and something to stir with. Another easy recipe. To make

BAKER’S CHOCOLATE ONE-BOWL BROWNIES, you will need:

4 squares Baker’s unsweetened chocolate
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) margarine
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Microwave chocolate and margarine in a large microwavable bowl on HIGH 2 minutes or until margarine is melted. Stir until chocolate is melted. Stir in sugar. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and nuts. Spread in greased 13×9” pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (DO NOT OVERBAKE). Cool. Makes 24.

*Rangetop: Stirring constantly, melt chocolate and margarine in a 3 quart saucepan over very low heat. To make CAKELIKE brownies, stir in ½ cup milk with the eggs and vanilla. Use 1 ½ cups flour.

The following cookie recipe is my friend Mary Jaynne’s signature dessert dish, often requested by friends and family. WE request it when there is a cookie exchange.

To make MJs Meltaway Brownies, you will need:

1 package brownie mix
½ cup each coconut and walnuts

Prepare brownies according to package directions, adding coconut and walnuts. Bake and cool thoroughly. To make 1st topping you will need:

3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 TBSP milk

Mix together powdered sugar, margarine or butter, and vanilla. Add milk a little at a time until spreading consistency. Frost brownies and refrigerate until firm.

To make 2nd topping you will need

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 TBSP margarine

Heat chocolate and margarine to melt. Pour over frosted brownies and spread evenly. Refrigerate until cool and firm.
**

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES.

To make peanut butter brownies you will need:

¾ cup shortening
¾ cup peanut butter
2 ½ cups sugar
5 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips*
¾ cup chopped peanuts

In mixing bowl, cream shortening and peanut butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts. Spread into a greased 15x10x1” baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 3 dozen.

*Sandy’s cooknote: For a more intense peanut butter taste, try substituting peanut butter chips for the semisweet chocolate chips—or use half and half, ¾ cup of peanut butter chips, ¾ cup of chocolate chips.

To make Hershey’s Syrup Snacking Brownies, you will need:

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup Hershey’s syrup
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 cup Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9x2” baking pan. Beat butter and eggs in large bowl; add chocolate syrup, eggs and flour; beat well. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minute o until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes about 36 brownies.

To make BROWNIE MACAROONIES you will need:

Bar:
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa

Topping:
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
8 ounce package (2 2/3 cups) coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 15×10” jelly roll pan. Cream sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Add flour and cocoa to sugar mixture and mix well. Spread in prepared pan.

In a small bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and coconut. Spread over batter, spreading evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes or until coconut topping is lightly browned. Makes 48 bars.

Philly Marble Brownies also starts out with a box of brownie mix but dresses it up for special occasions.

To make Philly Marble Brownies, you will need:

1 pkg (21 ½ oz) brownie mix
1 pkg Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Prepare brownie mix as directed on package. Spread batter in greased 13×9” pan. Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Blend in egg. Pour over brownie batter; cut through batter with knife several times for marble effect. Sprinkle with chips. Bake at 350 degrees 35-40 minutes or until cream cheese mixture is lightly browned. Cool n pan on wire rack. Cut into squares. Makes 2 dozen.

There is one more brownie recipe I want to share with you—and I admit, I haven’t tried making these yet, but I WILL very soon. I found this while working on my recipe collection and was intrigued by the addition of a particular ingredient – PEPPER!
To make Black Pepper Brownies, you will need:

¾ cup butter or margarine*, softened
1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
1 tsp EACH: instant coffee, black pepper, and vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
3 eggs
4 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
¾ cup flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped coarse

In large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar, coffee, pepper, vanilla and salt; beat until well blended, scraping bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each only until incorporated. Slowly beat in chocolate, then flour, scraping bowl and beating only until blended. Stir in nuts. Turn into greased foil-lined 9” square pan; smooth top. Bake in lower third of preheated 375 degree oven 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out only barely moist. Remove from oven; cool in pan 15 minutes; remove from pan. Peel off foil; cool completely on rack. Chill slightly before cutting into 32 small brownies or 16 cake squares.

*Sandy’s Cooknote: I almost always bake with real butter. If you are using margarine always make sure it is a solid stick good for baking. The soft spreads won’t work and I am telling you this from personal experience. Also want to mention, the previous recipe is the only one that requires using a foil-lined pan but I always make my brownies in foil lined pans. It’s so much easier to remove them from the pan and then cut into nice tidy squares.

Happy Cooking!

*this was previously posted on my blog–I accidentally came across the recipe today and thought it would make good reading in 2016!

THE ORIGINS OF WEIRD RECIPES

You have to stop and wonder, sometimes, about the origins of some recipes. I can imagine how some of them might have come about—I can picture myself making a chocolate cake and suddenly realizing I don’t have enough eggs or oil. I might think hmmmm, mayonnaise is made up from oil and eggs—I wonder if I can just substitute half a cup of mayo for the missing oil and eggs—and voila! I’ve just created chocolate mayonnaise cake.

This makes perfect sense to me. And in case you are wondering, the recipe is very good. Equally delicious are chocolate mayonnaise cookies—I took them to work a few times and was almost embarrassed to divulge the recipe. What could be easier? Chocolate cake mix, some mayonnaise and one or two other ingredients.

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

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

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

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

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

So, do you suppose that the original creator of pink beet cake was some harried housewife, exhausted from trying to get her kids to eat their veggies, so she dumped a can of red beets into the cake batter and thought to herself hmmm, there’s more than one way to…. Et al.
And every time I think I have said all I need to say on a subject, I happen to come across something else. While sorting through an overflow of cookbooks (I am always sorting through an overflow of cookbooks), I found one that looked interesting and hadn’t read…a book titled CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE by Al Sicherman. CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE was published in 1988 by Harper & Row.
The author joined the Minneapolis Star & Tribune in 1968. A copy editor since 1981, Siherman has been writing articles for the food section of the Star & Tribune. Mr. Sicherman is a kindred spirit, the kind of person who ALSO wondered about pinto beans and avocadoes turning up in your cake batter. He wrote a piece called “Things that go bump in the Oven” and speculated how Catherine Hanley ever came up with the Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe—he even called her up to ask—and he wonders about things like Impossible Pies (which we all know and love). Well, all of us who are well versed in, and collect the Pillsbury Bake-Off books, know the Tunnel of Fudge story and it appears that Impossible Pies were an accident, created by some unknown person.

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

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

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

And now you know the rest of the story. But let me add that I have friends who are still making impossible pies. Last year, I copied a bunch of the recipes and sent them to a girlfriend.
Back to CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE: Sicherman asked “Did you ever wonder, when you were eating a piece of bread, how in the world anybody figured out what yeast would do what it does in there? Or have you ever wondered what caveman reasoned that smashing a chicken egg into some other stuff would be anything but peculiar? (or how many times he did it before it occurred to him to remove the shell?)…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO MAKE IMPOSSIBLE PUMPKIN PIE

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

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

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
1 tsp EACH baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon,
1l2 tsp each nutmeg and salt
1/4 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 tsp each vanilla extract and grated orange peel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (3 or 4)
1 cup walnuts or pecans
Use shredded raw or pureed cooked zucchini (gives a finer texture) Preheat oven 350.
Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and cocoa and set aside.
In large bowl beat eggs very light. Gradually add sugar and beat until fluffy and pale ivory in color. Slowly beat in oil.

Stir in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk and zucchini. Blend well. Add nuts (if using). Put into sheet cake pan or 2 9″ layer cake pans. Bake 350 40-45 minutes for layers, 1 hr for sheet. Layers: fill and frost with icing. Sheet cake: while warm drizzle with orange glaze.
GLAZE: Stir in bowl, 1 cup powdered sugar, 5 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp shredded orange peel and 1 TBSP hot melted butter.

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

2/3 cup sauerkraut
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup butter or margarine
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
9 oz dairy sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
PENUCHE GLAZE:
¼ CUP BUTTER
½ CUP BROWN SUGAR
2 TBSP HOT MILK
¾ CUP SIFTED POWDERED SUGAR

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

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

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

Alternately add dry ingredients and water to the butter mixture, stirring after each addition and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients Fold in sauerkraut and chocolate chips.
Turn into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees 55 minutes to an hour, or until cake is springy. (Toothpick test won’t work). Remove from oven, cool 10 minutes; loosen cake from sides of pan with knife and invert on serving plate. Peel paper from the top. Prepare glaze; melt butter and brown sugar together. Boil 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Cool 10 minutes, then beat in hot milk. Add sifted powdered (confectioners) sugar, stirring until glaze consistency. Drizzle over slightly warm cake.

QUICK CHOCOLATE COOKIES

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

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

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

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

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease one 9 or 10 inch tube pan.
2. Cream butter or margarine and sugar together. Add the beaten egg and mix well. Stir in the mashed cooked beans and the vanilla.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground allspice together. Add the chopped pecans, golden raisins, and the diced apples to the flour mixture. Stir to coat. Pour flour mixture into the creamed mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

4. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 45 minutes. Dribble with a simple confectioner’s sugar icing and garnish with candied cherries and pecan halves, if desired.

Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

¾ cup sauerkraut drained and chopped
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
3 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup water
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
1. Sift all dry ingredients together. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla. Beat eggs in one at a time.
2. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with water.
3. Add sauerkraut mix thoroughly.
4. Pour into greased pan or pans.
5. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until cake tests done.
6. Frost

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

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

RED BEET CAKE

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

Mix flour, soda, salt and set aside. Combine sugar, eggs, oil in mixing bowl. Beat in beets, chocolate and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients, beating well. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

This is an excellent cake. Healthy too. Very moist.

Chocolate Avocado Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To make the Browns’ Frosting for tomato soup cake:

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

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

Happy Cooking!

Sandy
*This blog article was originally posted on 11/11