[Five Cent Meals, price 10 Cents!]
Upstairs in Joshua’s grandparent’s loft are some bookshelves packed with memorabilia and old, forgotten books. Among these, I was delighted to discover, were about fifty old cookbooks. Cookbooks ranging from 1905 to the seventies; product sponsored recipe booklets (like from Crisco or Sunset magazine), Christmas recipes from the congregation of such-and-such church, and various local spiral-bound neighborhood collections. Most of the really amusing stuff was from the fifties, when the modern woman had all sorts of little cooking tips and tricks up her sleeve and made complicated multi-course meals involving gelatin, cans of cream of somethingsomething soup, oleo, cracker crumbs, and salad molds.
Here are some recipe titles that stood out. “Fruit Fluff Salad,” “7-up Salad” (there were quite a number of recipes calling for various sodas), “Refrigerator Cake” (which sounds like what you get when you leave it in too long), “Chocolate Angel Puff Rice Pudding,” “Ham and Macaroni Loaf” (it can’t just be me who finds the word “loaf” particularly nauseating, sort of school lunchy). “Kenny’s Good Junk” sounded like it might be in the wrong, ah, cookbook. Here’s one: “Brain Fritters” (this one threw me; it was just nestled alongside two totally non-freaky animal part items like casserole and molded salad). “Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake” was one that Tucker’s friend, Doris Ann, assured me was common and popular once upon a time and that it actually is very good because it is very moist. We’ll just take her word for it.
In the church collections were many “clever” ways to use up leftovers, such as “Salad Soup,” which calls for “at least one cup day-old leftover salad (plus 2 tablespoons dressing)” among other things.
There were many unusual-sounding cakes. “Coca Cola Cake,” “7-up Cake” (the ever-popular recipes with soda), “Dump Cake” (I envision something with rusty tins poking out of the rubble and seagulls), “Fruit Cocktail Cake,” which not surprisingly contains of can fruit cocktail, drained. I found something curiously named “Pig Pickin’ Cake” that gave no indication by the ingredient list of how it got such a name, unless there’s something about the ‘½ cup Wesson oil’ I don’t know.
There were recipe names with animal motifs: “Blushing Bunny” and “Billy Goats.” Plenty of cutesy names, like “Jiffy Jim Dandies,” “Fancy Dan Cupid Cake,” and “He-Man Main Dish” (baked, one assumes, by She-Woman). I found many things trying to be other things; for instance, “Bologna in Disguise,” “Mock Chicken Legs,” Mock Poi,” and “Apple Pie Without Apples,” which, incidentally uses Hi-Ho Crackers in lieu of apples, plus 2 cups cold water, 1 ½ cups sugar, ¼ cup butter, and 2 teaspoons cream tartar all in a pie shell. Can that possibly taste anything like apple pie?
Not to be excluded were some singularly revolting names, such as “Chocolate Refrigerator Yummy” (again, this just sounds like something that was left in so long it picked up that special refrigerator taste), and, my favorite, “Lemon Snow.” (Ew. Ew ew ew ew.)
No fifties-era cookbook is complete, apparently, without a full section of jellied items—things with “congealed” in the name and calling for products like Dream Whip. “Jellied Guacamole Salad”—where one takes perfectly delicious guacamole and makes it into a jellied mold. Another, simply called “Crabmeat Salad,” has as the first ingredient: 3 tablespoons gelatin; “Cucumber Salad”—it starts out so innocent, yet it contains 1 envelope lime gelatin (also ½ cup whipped evaporated milk, which, how does one whip evaporated milk anyway?) And let’s not forget Aspic! “Shrimp Tomato Aspic,” “Artichokes ‘n Aspic,” “Tomato Aspic Supreme.” Here’s another goodie: “Tomato Soup Salad,” which has a note beneath the title saying, “Men like it;” this also contains gelatin, by the way. “Pimiento Salad” sounds pretty gnarly: box lemon jello, 1 ½ cup sugar, ½ cup vinegar, jar pimientos, six sweet pickles, can diced pineapple, 1 cup walnuts.
And here’s a recipe for “Green Salad for Seventy People.” Holy cats! The ingredient list calls for four quarts salad dressing. In general, I find alarming things were done to vegetables in the fifties. “Golden Broccoli” calls for two packages frozen broccoli, one can cream of chicken soup. Another seemingly normal food-turned-evil recipe is avocado halves filled with FROZEN mayonnaise. Frozen mayonnaise?
For the amusement of the snickering homemakers over luncheon, the 1959 edition of “River Road Recipes” has included what appears to be a novelty section entitled, “How Men Cook.” The women’s italicized commentary is vaguely condescending, “And this is precisely how these men cook! … and please try them out on the family before ‘Company Night.'” Ironically, to me these recipes actually sound pretty normal. “Stuffed Mushrooms,” “Shrimp Curry” (the guy did a military stint in India and picked up some things there, it says), steaks many ways, that sort of thing. One cooking man begins his “Oysters Olga” recipe with the following: “Naturally you first make a roux, and for goodness sake, use creamery butter.” Things like Romano cheese, whole ducks, and fresh mint are specified as ingredients. There is no lime gelatin in anything. Basically, it looks as if the only cooking men they could find were actual chefs. I wonder if anyone ever made any of these recipes. Even the desserts sound good; the first recipe is for “Yeast Raised Donuts” and after that it is heavy on the egg nogs spiked with booze.
From the bachelors who do not consider themselves chefs we have “Ed’s Party Pie,” which is a combination of 6 chocolate almond bars, 18 marshmallows, dash salt, ¼ cup milk, ½ pint whipped cream, and a “glub” of any flavored liquor if desired (and oh I imagine Ed desires). Here’s another desert just as sickening sounding as Ed’s Party Pie but for the kiddies: “Pink Peppermint Dessert,” which contains 1 pint whipped cream, 8 oz marshmallows, 25 peppermint sticks, 1 stick margarine, 1 box graham crackers, and 2 cups pecans.
In addition to the books were piles of clippings and hand-written recipes on note cards. This is my favorite:
Historically antiquated names like “War Cake” and “Ghetto Bread” made me think perhaps they were to be made using common ration foods. I wonder where they came from?
I scanned a few of the really old and interesting cookbooks, my favorite of which was “What Salem Dames Cooked” from 1910 (9MB; check out the printing and all those fonts!). Also, “A Few Cooking Suggestions” (4MB) and “Home Helps” (22MB) both sponsored by cooking shortening products (be sure to read the plugs for the respective shortenings). Enjoy!