Category Archives: KITCHEN TALK

MORE COOKIE RECIPES FROM THE COOKIE LADY–OATMEAL COOKIES ANYONE?

I’ve been going through my files looking for cookie recipes that I want to share with my Canadian penpals–and there are loads of files – five boxes of cookie recipes in recipe boxes alone; about 15 3-ring binders of cookie recipes going back to 1958 when I got married; I didn’t have cookbooks except for one Betty Crocker cookbook that was a wedding present–I began that year cutting out the Christmas recipes that were in the 1958 women’s magazines. Plus a lot of cookie cookbooks! So, I am trying to share–starting with some oatmeal cookie recipes; there may be as many oatmeal cookie recipes as there are brownie recipes!

To make Outstanding Oatmeal cookies, you will need:

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened (make sure its a solid stick margarine, like Imperial – those spreads have a high water content)
1 egg
2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup M&Ms plain chocolate candies
3/4 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup flaked or shredded coconut, if desired
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix brown sugar, margarine or butter. vanilla an egg in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonsfull about 2″ apart onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Press 3 or 4 more dandies into each cookie, if desired. Bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool slightly; remove to wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen cookies **

OLD FASHTIONED OATMEAL COOKIES – to make these cookies you will need:
2 1/2 cups uncooked old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup shortening (shortening is something like Crisco, a solid type of shortening)
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1/2 cup = 1 stick butter, softened, or 1 stick solid margarine, such as Imperial)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (or else lightly grease two cookie sheets)
In a bowl combine oats, flour, walnuts, baking soda, salt & cinnamon. set aside.
In mixer bowl cream shortening, butter or margarine and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. gradually beat in dry ingredients just until combined. Drop by level tablespoons 2″ apart on prepared cookie sheets. bake 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. cool on cookie sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Makes about 6 dozen.
**

Just a couple suggestions–if you are serious about making cookies and you don’t want to spend all that money on oats, nuts, eggs, etc and not have really nice cookies to show for it, buy parchment paper – I see it every where now. Stock up on it. Also invest in a set of measuring spoons–get a nice stainless set of spoons; they’ll last forever. I bought the long handled type which makes it easier to measure baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon.

When you buy walnuts or pecans (or any kind of nuts for that matter) – take them out of the bags they came in as soon as you get home with them and pour each kind of nuts into glass quart jars–or Tupperware containers–but the main thing is–refrigerate them until you are ready to bake something. Refrigerated walnuts or pecans–or any other kind of nut–have a much longer “shelf” life if kept in the frig. Where I live there is a Trader Joes that always stocks fresh nuts. We also have a store called Smart & Final which carries large quantities of baking ingredients. I like buying molasses in a gallon container (and transfer a pint or so into a glass container) and large quantities of real vanilla extract. Costco and Sam’s Club also carry large sizes of baking ingredients. It’s a good investment .

Another thing I really like are new baking sheets–I like to replace them about once a year but I do a lot of baking. Around Christmas time, a lot of stores–even Penney’s and Kohl’s carry nice new baking sheets and other baking equipment like muffin pans. (and watch for the sales at all of these stores–a few years ago I bought a Wilton chocolate melting pot–and got it for 40% off. My daughter in law was so impressed that she and her sister also bought chocolate pots on sale at Michael’s. Watch for their sale coupons in the mail! They also carry parchment paper.

If you use just parchment paper on your cookie sheets, the cookie sheets will last for a much longer time. And shiny cookie sheets bake much nicer cookies. You can re-use the parchment paper–maybe about half a dozen times or more.

I apologize if this is too much information but these are tips that I learned the hard way by myself over many years. We were pretty poor most of the years my sons were growing up and I didn’t always have the money to invest in new baking sheets. Just saying….

if you are serious about baking, be serious about your equipment. And electric mixers? Get a good one! – I bought a bright red Sunbeam mixer when I retired; I also have a bright blue Kitchen Aid mixer that I get out when I start the heavy duty baking but its too big and bulky for my every day kitchen. I am also serious about sturdy different sized spatulas–I think I have half a dozen in different sizes.

Just one more suggestion—when you buy oatmeal, flour, chocolate chips, various ingredients–I store them in other containers–mostly Tupperware from decades ago–and when you are stocking flour–put a bay leaf into the container. It’s a trick I learned from my mother; flour, cornmeal–any pantry item that can get buggy–WON’T if you have a bay leaf or two in the container with it. A few years ago I bought several large tubs from Walmart after Christmas one year when they are on sale—I keep a lot of pantry supplies in those tubs–particularly cake mixes–and pantry items that won’t fit in my small pantry.

Feel free to write to me if you have any questions–I began working on these cookie recipes because I have a lot of nieces (and some nephews)–as well as friends– who are serious about baking.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Another Recipe from the Cookie Lady

I didn’t get very far with my last post about cookie recipes–and when I am having a baking marathon, like baking cookies for Christmas, or making up batches of cookie dough for ice box cookie recipes or other ways to keep cookie dough chilled or refrigerated–I spend hours going through my cookie recipe collections. Oftentimes, I fall back on tried & true recipes –like my favorite recipe for butter cutout cookies. Either last year or the year before, I wasn’t able to use up all the butter cutout cookie dough. That might have been around early 2014 when I became sick and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks with kidney failure. Anyway, some months later when I was back on my own (my son Steve flew to California to take care of me for the month of March)–I found a double batch of White Christmas cookie dough at the bottom of the freezer. So, one day, I took it out and defrosted the dough–and I began baking cookies with it. I might have used the dough to make Easter cookies. So, why would I play around with any other cutout cookie dough recipe when I KNOW that White Christmas cookie dough is better than any other cutout cookie I have ever found. And admittedly, I bake some cookies year in and year out because a family member or a friend likes them–it makes a great gift to give someone their favorite cookies. I have been making cookies to give to friends and family members as far back as I can remember. I remember when we were living on Terra Bella Street in Arleta in the early 70s – my girlfriend Doreen and I would make up batches of cookie dough independently but when it got close to Christmas, we’d start baking cookies, together – her house or mine – batch after batch, dividing them up between the two of us—baking at night, when her kids and mine were asleep and we were free to focus on cookie baking. She lived around the corner from me and we were in and out of each other’s homes all the time. But baking cookies together is a fond memory. We were such good friends that she and her husband were my son Chris’ godparents at the church we both attended. so I can’t close without sharing my White Christmas cookie recipe with you: To make White Christmas cookies you will need: 1 cup butter 2 cups granulated sugar 4 large eggs 4 cups flour–sifted with 1/8 tsp each nutmeg and cinnamon Cream butter (softened beforehand) gradually adding sugar and beating with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Store overnight in a covered container overnight (or longer in the refrigerator). Roll dough very thin (I like doing this between two sheets of wax paper that has been dusted with flour) and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes until cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Cool on cookie sheets a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks. This makes a lot of cookies – how many depends on the size of the cookie cutters but you should get 8 or 10 dozen cookies. Store in tight fitting containers (old Tupperware containers are my favorite for storage) and when it gets closer to Christmas, start decorating cookies–OR you can brush a little egg white onto unbaked cookies and then sprinkle them with holiday sprinkles (Hundreds & Thousands in Canada) – and your cookies will be already decorated and ready to hide from the family until Christmas gets here. Christmas cookie recipes in June! Am I nuts or what? –Sandra Lee Smith

PLAYING RESTAURANT

As a child growing up in the 1940s, there were five children(including myself) and two adults to be fed. My mother baked bread in large turkey roasting pans twice a week and that supplemented our meals. She once told me she had ten dollars a week to spend on groceries during that period of time and for the most part, meals were repeated every two weeks or so. It is baffling to me that there were ever left overs–we were always a hungry bunch of kids – unless whatever was cooking on the stove was something one of us didn’t like. I didn’t like rice or cabbage but mostly I loathed Hasenpferrer–stewed rabbit that had been soaking for 3 days in vinegar and spices. The rabbit was one my father killed going hunting once a year. Once, when I was a very young child, I saw my father clean the rabbit in the kitchen sink. I dreaded supper anytime I came home and smelled that sickening sweet-and-sour mixture cooking on the stove. I wasn’t as clever as my brother Bill who would go to Aunt Dolly’s after school (not far from his school) and would call home to find out what was for dinner. If it was something he didn’t like, he would morosely hang around until Aunt Dolly would say “Billy, would you like to stay for dinner?” Of course he would! Aunt Dolly was a fabulous cook. It wasn’t until I was an adult and living in California that I had an enormous realization–it wasn’t the cabbage or the rice that I hated — it was the way my mother cooked things; cabbage would go on the stove at 9 am for supper at 6 pm. It was always a slimy mess. Rice, which we had with stewed chicken on a Sunday, was a sticky ball of goo. (Billy says he LIKED that kind of rice) I had to be introduced to Rice Pilaf and other great rice dishes to understand that my dislikes were due not to the food itself but to the way my mother cooked them. (and I think THAT was because she cooked the way HER mother cooked and food out of a can was cooked for an hour to be on the safe side and protect you from botulism).

Well, that was us in the 1940s and going into the 1950s. If there was ANY amount of a leftover item–even a tablespoonful – it would go into small covered dishes and into the frig. (I think aluminum foil was unavailable during the War. All we had to wrap anything in was wax paper. Mom never threw out anything.

Well, from around the time I was about 9 or 10 years old, I looked after my younger brothers all the time. In the summertime, when mom was working, I had to figure out what we could eat for lunch–and playing restaurant was born. I would dig through the refrigerator for any kind of leftovers and write everything down on a “menu”. Then Biff and Bill could choose their lunch which I would reheat and serve. Voila! no more leftovers and the next day I would have to come up with something different – unless we had more leftovers from the night before. It was just something that I dreamed up to make leftovers an interesting game for my siblings. And you know–I never resented or disliked looking after my younger brothers–they were just my brothers to look after.

Sandra Lee Smith

KITCHEN LEGACIES -SOMEWHERE OUT THERE

“Women have conserved a whole world, past and present, in the idiom of food. In their personal manuscripts, in locally distributed community recipe compilations, and in commercially printed cookbooks, women have given history and memory a permanent lodging. The knowledge contained in cookbooks transcends generations…” – Janet Theophano, author of “Eat My Words”, Published in 2002 by PALGRAVE, a global publishing imprint of St Martin’s Press.

How it came to be written is just as interesting as the subject matter itself, for Ms Theophano discovered what so many of us cookbook and recipe collectors ourselves have learned, that there is a lot more to be learned from a manuscript cookbook or a collection of recipes, in a small wooden box, than just recipes.

“Over the past ten years,” Ms. Theophano writes in the Introduction, “I have been researching manuscripts and printed cookery books from the United States and England from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries and finding myself constantly amazed by the richness of these sources…”
“Few of these materials,” she acknowledges, “are readily available to readers today; some have been kept in families as purely private documents, while others have languished in archives in manuscript form. Even those that were published are no longer widely known and now are generally available only in historical collections…” (and sometimes a recipe box or a manuscript cookbook is added to my collection because someone in a family knew that I collected these items).

Janet Theophano’s purpose in writing this book was first to make these materials known both to scholars and general readers, but also to open a window into the lives of women of distinct classes, cultures, and historical periods, who would otherwise be unknown to us.

What intrigues me most about the writing and publishing of EAT MY WORDS is the author’s description of a spectacular find. So many of us, cookbook collectors, writers, and researchers alike, have experienced similar events that have charted a course for us. I know I have.

Theophano writes, “My interest in cookbooks began with a chance discovery over a decade ago when I was browsing in an antique shop and stumbled across a book of writings. When I opened it, I realized I had discovered a manuscript. At first glance, the handwritten book reminded me of a journal of poetry. When I looked more closely, I discovered that it was a collection of household advice: recipes for Lady Cake and Parker House Rolls, for instance, and folk remedies for flushing the colon and dyeing hair. Inserted between the pages were newspaper clippings of other recipes as well as a poem and a letter dated August 3, 1894, and addressed ‘My Dear’ and signed ‘kiss the babies for me. John.’ The volume also contained a section of clipped recipes pasted onto the pages of an early telephone directory…”

Janet Theophano bought the book for a dollar (be still my heart!) from the shop owner, she says, reluctant to ask for even that much money, which reinforces my belief that many such treasures are thought to be worthless and are often thrown away. Ms. Theophano returned home and began to search her new treasure for clues to the identity of the owner.

“I was struck,” she recalls, “not only by this book’s recipes with their titles and ingredients but other information contained within its covers. There were letters, poems, loose recipes on scraps of paper, devotional texts, and a list of books and rhymes…”

Even so, she was unable to learn the name of the author of her treasure, and she wondered how many books like this were anonymous and how many had been discarded, lost, or destroyed because they were considered unimportant. How many were intended for publication? Or were they meant to be kept in families and given as legacies to children? Did women compile the keep these books as symbols of wifely and maternal devotion? Or as a way to give themselves identities apart from those roles? Were these books read? If so, by whom?

Which brings me up to date and what started out as a newspaper article. Some time ago, my Michigan penpal, Betsy, sent me this newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune, dated June 6, 2007, the title of which was “KITCHEN LEGACIES”.

What is a kitchen legacy for one person may not be the same thing for someone else. I know several women—not including myself—for whom old kitchen utensils are kitchen legacies. I have three old sifters (and yes, I still use whichever sifter is closest at hand when I am making cookies or a cake and need to sift the dry ingredients). About a decade ago I began collecting old glass measuring cups after finding one in green Depression glass.

My favorite was a 2-cup green glass measuring cup that I thoughtlessly poured some hot coffee into, while making brownies. The measuring cup cracked. I couldn’t bear to throw it out so now it’s part of a kitchen box collage that also contains a couple old potato mashers and one egg beater (I cracked up—no pun intended—seeing a revamped egg beater for sale recently in one of my cooking supplies catalogs–everything old is new again!)

The red or green painted handles help narrow down the age of these items. Long before I started looking for small kitchen tools, I had already collected cookie cutters (which have been a collection since the 1970s) – but with red or green wooden handles you can get a better idea of the age of the cutter. (And if rolling pins are your kind of kitchen legacy, those, too, have been manufactured with red or green handles).

Then around the late 1980s, after I met Bob and we began making weekend treks to Ventura, California, a filled recipe box came into my radar. The first box like this that I found was in an antique store in Ventura and was priced at $11.00. I didn’t buy it the first time I saw that box –I may have looked at it three or four weekends in a row before finally buying it. And once I bought (and carefully searched through) that first filled recipe box, I began wondering if there were more of these “out there, somewhere”.

And of course, there were. I now have over two hundred recipe boxes, different sizes, some filled with another person’s collection of recipes, some empty. What is the lure? Possibly, they make me think “kitchen diaries”—but backing up several decades earlier when my cookbook collection was in its infancy, I discovered a used book store in Hollywood that sold nothing BUT cookbooks. And many of the books were only a dollar each—so if I had ten dollars to spend, I could come home with ten cookbooks.

Then, one day when I was at this bookstore by myself, the owner said “I have something upstairs in my office that you might be interested in” – and he went upstairs and came back with a really worn small leather bound notebook…I opened the book and discovered it was filled with handwritten recipes. If memory serves me, I think I paid $7.00 for this handwritten notebook. I have written about it several times and for several decades had no idea who the owner, someone named Helen, was.

From a blog post, I wrote the following:

“A serendipitous event can take place when you write a story about an experience in your life, telling the story as you know it–never knowing, when it appears in print, how it may ultimately affect someone else, far away.

I wrote about Helen’s Cookbook for Inky Trail News in 2007 (but had originally written an article about it for another newsletter, the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, back in 1993) –and again, on my blog, in June, 2009.

Obviously, Helen’s cookbook has continued to fascinate me, more than 40 years after I acquired it. Its pages are fragile, now, and I handle the book with extreme care. I couldn’t treasure it more if my own mother had compiled it.

This is what I wrote in my blog in 2011: “To bring you up to date, In the 1960s, when I was just beginning to collect cookbooks, I found a bookstore in Hollywood where many cookbooks were $1.00 each. While I grabbed books off the shelves, thrilled by my find –the store owner said “I have a cookbook you may be interested in seeing” and he brought it out–it wasn’t ONE dollar, however, it was $7.00 (a lot of money for me at the time)–but I was captivated. The collection is in an old leather 3-ring binder but not your 8 1/2x 11” size binder. This one measures 5 ½ x 8 ½”.

I learned a lot about its creator by carefully reading through all the handwritten recipes and examining cards, newspaper clippings and other scraps of paper kept in a pocket on the inside of the cover. I knew that her name was Helen.

I didn’t think that Helen had any children–consequently, her handwritten collection of recipes ended up in a dusty little used book store–and has been a prize gem in my cookbook collection for over 40 years.

The book is packed with handwritten (in real ink) recipes, interspersed with pages of recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers and pasted onto the pages. Helen apparently began her collection in the early 1920s, shortly after she married. One of the earliest entries is a recipe she obtained while on her honeymoon–Helen always gave credit where credit was due; most recipes are dutifully named after the person who gave it to her. There are dozens of recipes with titles such as “Aunt Maude’s doughnuts” or “Florence’s pound cake”.

Helen liked to have dinner parties; she and her husband usually hosted Christmas dinners for eight or twelve; guests were assigned duties (everything from serving up celery stalks to putting up the card table chairs). Helen kept her menus and guest lists from the mid-1930s until after WW2. And she kept copies of her guest lists, assignments, and menus.

Helen was thrifty and often copied recipes onto the backs of envelopes or old greeting cards–sources that provided clues to who she was and how she lived. Gradually, it appears that Helen’s vision began to fail her. Her handwriting became scrawled and almost illegible. Judging from a message inside an old card, I believe her husband died first.

What happened to Helen? My guess was that she died, and when she did, her belongings were sold in an estate sale or perhaps by a distant relative. That part of Helen’s life was–until recently–a blank page; her manuscript cookbook offered no clues.

Then, earlier that year (2011), a package arrived in the mail one day, from England -Inside I found a recipe journal, very old–possibly 1920s and a letter from an ITN subscriber offering the book to me since she had read about Helen’s cookbook and thought I would appreciate this one as well.

Would I! I wrote to the sender, Anna, and in answer to her questions, provided what little other information I knew about Helen–her name and address had been printed on a sheet of stationery that ended up in the cookbook with a recipe written on it. And Anna – with the assistance of a genealogy-minded friend – soon sent me several pages of information about my Helen–where she had been born and grown up, when she had married, – and most amazing of all (to my mind) that Helen had been a psychologist and the daughter of a surgeon in Chicago.

And, as I had surmised, Helen and her husband Mart never had any children. They had lived most of their married life here in Southern California (strongly reflected in the pages of her cookbook). It would have never crossed my mind to try and discover the history of the author.

Helen’s husband did die before she; he passed away November 14, 1956. Helen died January 20, 1971, in Los Angeles.

It is the most amazing discovery–to think that this handmade cookbook I have treasured all the years – has more than just a name. It has a history. But even more amazing – that my story reached a woman in England – who provided all the details about another southern Californian whose passion, like mine, was cooking…” (my blog, 2011)

Well, after discovering Helen’s cookbook—I began wondering if there were more hand-written cookbooks “somewhere out there” – and, of course, there were –why else would I be sharing this story?

The article in the Chicago Tribune provides stories about yet another kind of Kitchen Legacy. These are hand-bound collections of family recipes—not famous families–there are certainly many published collections of celebrity recipes -–but families just like yours or mine. (in my family, we began collecting recipes in 1984, after my father passed away—but it took us twenty years to get the Schmidt family cookbook published by Morris Publishing, a company that specializes in family and church cookbooks) but rather focused on an endeavor which sidestepped the considerable cost of spiral bound publishing.

Of these homemade cookbooks, some of which, photographed for the Chicago Tribune article, the primary focus was to preserve various family favorite recipes which are often lost to posterity when a family member passes away. Within the ranks of the Schmidt family, we made a hard push to get the Schmidt family cookbook published while my sister Becky was still alive.

She passed away in 2004. When I flew to Nashville in June of 2004, it was with a duffle bag full of the Schmidt family cookbook “Grandma’s Favorite” so that Becky could give copies to her children and grandchildren.

And since publishing our family cookbook we have lost two of our aunts and one of our uncles—a sad reflection on what were once large families on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. (And as an aside—five of my uncles served during WW2 – in Army, Navy, and Air Force—and all made it back home to tell their stories).

So—to summarize– keep your eyes open at estate sales or even when a family member passes away and no one else wants that rolling pin or Smiley Pig cookie jar. (Ok, that’s another collection of mine).

–Sandra Lee Smith

COOKING

Cooking, and I mean this as all aspects of cooking including baking, has been such an integral part of my life that I feel it should be addressed entirely on its own.

I have told the story of my first experience in cooking. My mother was allowing me to make some muffins. I assume I was following a recipe in my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. The ingredients and the muffin pan were on the kitchen table. My mother instructed me to leave the yellow Pyrex bowl on the table as I stirred the ingredients—but I wanted to hold the bowl in the crook of my arm like I had seen it done on TV. Needless to say, I dropped the bowl and it crashed to the floor. I ran upstairs crying.

My memory stops right there. Did I go clean up the mess? When did I try again? I surely did because I have been making many kinds of muffins almost all my life. And it took me at least a year to save up enough money to buy my mother another yellow bowl –you couldn’t buy JUST the bowl—you had to buy the entire Pyrex set, which cost about $3.95.

Somehow, I saved up the money and gave the bowl—the entire set of bowls—to my mother. I may have been about ten years old – where did I get the money? I have no idea. I don’t think I started babysitting for my older sister and some of the young mothers in our neighborhood until I was about twelve years old. I was always looking after my younger brothers.

One thing my mother did make from scratch for many years was homemade bread. She baked two large loaves of bread (in black speckled roasting pans) twice a week. I think the homemade bread must have gone by the wayside when my mother began working full time.

I began baking the cookie recipes in Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook; I particularly remember making large peanut butter cookies to send to my mother who was in the hospital at the time.

I learned how to make brownies. From my mother I learned how to make salmon patties from a can of salmon. I learned how to make macaroni and cheese and macaroni with tomato sauce. When I was ten or eleven, my mother instructed me to make dinner for my three brothers (this was long before my brother Scott was born) – mom and my father were going to a dinner.

“Do we really have to eat this?” they asked Dad.
“Every bite” he told them.

Our dinner was salmon patties, canned spinach and macaroni and cheese, with cottage cheese as a salad. When we had finished eating, my brothers all stood up together, grasped their stomachs, and fell down on the floor, pretending to be unconscious. I may have cried, kicking them. They thought it was a good joke.

Salmon patties played a part throughout my life. Years later, when Bob and I had driven in our little Chinook camper to Point Arena in northern California, it was late and we were hungry. We parked in the Point Arena camping area but couldn’t sign in until the next morning. Meanwhile I began making macaroni and cheese (from the blue box) and salmon patties. The mac and cheese was only halfway done and the salmon patties a little on the undone side when we ran out of propane–but we ate them anyway.

For many years after that, whenever I made salmon patties and mac and cheese, Bob would say “This is good but you know what was really GREAT? Those salmon patties and mac and cheese you made that cold foggy night in Point Arena—“ and that was how his memory always remembered that meal.

The next day I took beautiful pictures of the Point Arena light house – many I would have enlarged and framed – and we continued north until we reached the redwoods; we camped near a river and Bob would strike up conversations with people in thirty footer motor homes—us with our little Chinook.

The day after that, we traveled south in very hot weather and so traveled west to get back at camp grounds near Morro Bay where it was always much cooler; we traveled south to reach Pismo Beach again. Throughout our stays I cooked on a two-burner little gas stove. I think we also visited the lighthouse at Morro Bay. I would say that was our best vacation. **

But getting back to my learning how to cook—I learned some things from my
mother, other things from the Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. At some point in time, my mother acquired a Meta Given cookbook. She always maintained that Readers Digest sent the book to her, unsolicited, and she refused to pay for it. I began reading the recipes in the Meta Given cookbook and eventually acquired it for myself. I was curious about Meta Given for many years—until I began researching her and writing about her life and cookbooks.

In a blog article I posted in 2013, I wrote:

“I think it was a book club offering but that baffles me as neither of my parents ever joined a book club. I have a vague memory of my mother refusing to pay for it and so it languished on the family bookshelves until I began to read it and eventually claimed for my own. And, to add to the mystery, there is no indication on the inside pages of the cookbook that it was ever a book club selection. The original copyright was 1942. This edition was copyrighted by Meta Given in 1953, which sounds about right to me.

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

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

None of my copies of Meta Given books have dust jackets and therein is the crux of the matter – so often, biographical information can be found on the dust jackets of cookbooks…”

Over time, as readers found my blog articles (http://sandy chatter.wordpress.com) about Meta Given on Google, they began to write to me and I learned more about her. (there are over six hundred comments in response to this post).

Mean while—back in the 1950s—I was a teenager learning how to cook. In my sophomore year at Mother of Mercy High School, I took cooking classes with Mrs. Cunningham—a dedicated and delightful teacher if ever there was one, who treated cooking as a science. It was there I began to understand that if you could read and follow directions—you could cook–or bake.

Mrs. Cunningham realized that one other classmate and I had more knowledge about cooking than most of her students and so would single us out to take messages to the principal or run other errands. Once a week or so, we were assigned one of the stoves in the cooking class and would make something. I remember once making cream of pea soup out of canned peas—which gives me something to think about these many years later as I make split pea soup with dried peas. Mrs. Cunningham’s approach may have been to get the soup made in a class of 45 minutes. For the life of me, I can’t remember what else we cooked in that class.

At the age of eighteen, I married a boy whose mother was from West Virginia. I didn’t have the best of relationships with his mother but I did learn how to make white (southern) gravy from her, as well as perfect fried chicken and fresh string beans cooked until they almost fell apart. (The fresh green beans was a departure from my mother’s CANNED green beans—speaking of which, my mother always cooked canned corn, peas, green beans, asparagus, beets; if there was a canned version of vegetables, that’s what we grew up on. I nevertasted fresh asparagus until we had been living in California for a few years. Ditto fresh spinach.

Come to think of it, I never tasted a steak until we moved to California. Or avocadoes! Or Clam Chowder! Or Yogurt! Or Artichokes!

In 1961, my father bought several copies of a cookbook being sold by one of his coworkers. That book was the 50 ANNIVERSARY COOKBOOK by WOMEN’S GUILD MATTHEW’S UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (in Cincinnati) – for something like one dollar each. He gave one of the cookbooks to me but several years would pass by before I began to wonder if there were other church and/or club cookbooks such as the one Dad bought and asking myself how I could go about finding those cookbooks. I wrote a letter to a magazine called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Family Circle or Woman’s Day that are still being published). Women’s Circle was published by Tower Press and was entirely made up of letters sent in by women like myself—looking for a book or penpals or any number of other things. I was looking for a Culinary Press cookbooklet of Hungarian recipes for my friend Peggy whose husband was Hungarian) – I think I received well over two hundred letters—some for the Hungarian cookbooklet – I bought two copies for $1.00 each, one for Peggy and one for myself—and began answering the other letters and buying many different cookbooks that formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection.

And it was a revelation to discover the thousands of church and club cookbooks being published over the decades. It was how I knew what to do when my sons’ grammar school PTA announced the desire to compile a cookbook. I immediately contacted the woman whose name was on a flyer my sons brought home from school in 1971—two of those women became life time girlfriends – and our cookbook, RECIPE ROUNDUP was published in 1971.

Moving to California was the proving ground for many foods and many more recipes. I began collecting cookbooks in 1965—some years later, I began collecting filled recipe boxes; I didn’t want just an empty recipe box—I wanted the collection of recipes that can sometimes be found in recipe boxes that turn up in antique stores or even thrift shops. I wanted to find out what recipes other women collected. I began to think of them as the Kitchen Diaries.

And so here I am, in my 70s and not doing very much cooking. I continue to bake but generally give the cookies or cakes away—often to people I am bowling with. Bob passed away in 2011. Jim and I divorced in April of 1986. I met Bob around in August of that year. We did a lot of canning and he was a willing helper. We entered the L.A. County Fair for about a decade, proudly displaying our blue ribbons (and even the red and yellow ribbons).

If I have learned anything along the way—it’s that if you can’t BE cooking, you can at least WRITE about cooking.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Reference (see also)
SEARCHING FOR META GIVEN, originally posted 2/14/11. UPDATED JUNE 22, 2013
BATTERED. TATTERED, STAINED PAGES IN A CHURCH COOKBOOK, June, 2011
WHEN IT’S NOT A BATTERED, TATTERED, STAINED CHURCH COOKBOOK, WHAT IS IT? August, 2011

GROWING UP PRACTICALLY GREENLESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Sandra Lee Smith

Surely Synchronicity!  Received this from girlfriend Doreen:

EATING IN THE FIFTIES

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

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

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

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

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

MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN KINGDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Sandra Lee Smith