Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cooking from Memory

Victoria Chancellor's post a few days ago made me think of this funny little recipe book I have from 1973: Community Church Women PresentA COLLECTION OF FAVORITE RECIPES. It was put together as a fund raiser for the local church and cost all of a dollar-fifty. At the time, I’m sure it was a pretty penny to pay for these homey recipes. Now, this chance to travel back in time, food-wise, is invaluable.

The cookbook—bound at the top with a two-hole clip and covered with vinyl wallpaper—begins with a story written by Rafe Gibbs in 1953. I’ve never heard of the author. The piece has no title. I have no idea why it’s included since it doesn’t have a thing to do with cooking or food. It’s a summary of the life of one Dick Ferrell, one time blacksmith and up-and-coming prize-fighter. He left the fight circuit in 1914 to become a preacher, ministering to the lumberjacks in Northern Idaho for forty years. Someone must have liked it enough to type it up and insert it in the front of the book. I could probably find out why, but I’ve always been content to let the mystery lie. Don’t you think some things are better left that way, rather than be sullied by some prosaic explanation?

A variety of recipes follow this charming yarn. Some are my favorites: Chocolate Peppermint Creams, Three-Bean Salad, Dilly Casserole Bread. Others, I seldom use or have never even tried: Tater-Tot Casserole, Cucumber-Cream Salad, Celery Casserole Delight. There are at least five versions of meat loaf (including my mother’s which is baked with barbeque sauce and still my ‘gold standard’). Some of these dishes I remember from community potluck dinners or a meal at a school-friend’s home. I suspect a lot of them are still being made, passed down the generations, like mom’s meatloaf. The comfort food of our childhood.

Back at Christmas-time, when I was searching for the sugar cookie recipe that I always use, this recipe in particular caught my eye:

A Happy Home Recipe

4 cups love

2 cups loyalty

3 cups forgiveness

1 cup friendship

5 spoons hope

2 spoons tenderness

4 quarts faith

1 barrel laughter

Take love and loyalty, mix it together with faith. Blend in tenderness and forgiveness. Add friendship and hope, sprinkle abundantly with laughter. Bake it with sunshine. Serve daily with generous helpings

No one gets credit for this recipe, not like the others by Cheryl Gerdts or Grace Rule or Diane Lowry or other church ladies. Sandwiched between Amber Skillet Dinner and Golden Shrimp Puff, it is just another recipe. A good one, though. Worth whipping up and serving around on a regular basis. Comfort food of another kind, but just as nourishing.

Oh, and those sugar cookies? Here’s that recipe:

Best Ever Sugar Cookies by Finetta Smith

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup butter

1 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

4 ½ cups flour

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp baking soda

Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, oil and vanilla. Sift flour together with baking soda and cream of tartar; stir into mixture until well blended. Refrigerate for one hour, then roll dough into balls and dip in cinnamon sugar. Flatten with a glass. Bake at 350 until lightly golden-brown. [Or you can use a cookie press. I load the press up, make a pan of cookies, then put the still-partially-filled press in a zip-lock and stick it back in the refrigerator until I want another fresh batch of cookies.]

Try them and let me know how they taste.


Sarah said...

I want to know what a celery casserole delight is. Does something pop out of the center? I think it's awesome the church ladies slipped that recipe into the book, cooking is so much fun when there is love and laughter. My sisters and I always had a marvelous time hurling cookie dough and peas at each other across the kitchen. Any ideas for a book featuring a chef or a cook, Lisa?

Lisa Ruff said...

I've never been tempted to try that particular recipe, I must admit, but many of the others are good. It's amazing how these old recipes can bring out such memories of times, places and people.

I think writing about a chef would hit too close to home for me. My brother is a trained chef, and he might think I'm writing about him (only the bad parts, though, lol).


And I have to admit I wonder what kind of cookies those are with peas in them . . .

Estella said...

I enjoy looking through old cookbooks.
Some of the recipes are wonderful and some make me shudder.

Pamela Stone said...

I have a couple of those old church fundraiser cookbooks also. They are fantastic. Some really good stuff. But like Estella, a few that make me sudder.

Lisa Ruff said...

Yes, I have the same reaction. Interestingly, this cookbook reflects location in history as much as time. The town is tiny, pretty much snow-locked in winter, and these recipes are all able to be made with ingredients you would generally have in your pantry or freezer.

linda s said...

Dmil (age 99)gave me her 500+ page brown notebook cookbook. Handwritten, typed and cut from publications, they are the recipes she used across her liftime. Each recipe she got from a friend is carefully attributed to the source. Amazing reading.

Victoria Chancellor said...

I'm so glad the old recipes brought up the memories of the church ladies' cookbook. I have some from various organizations and they have the same type of regional choices and can be dated by the degree of convenience food they used. For example, the sugar cookie recipe must be really old because now, it would be "baking powder" rather than soda and cream of tartar, since baking powder is a combo of the two. The Dilly Casserole Bread is great! My mother-in-law used to make that all the time and introduced me to the recipe. Thanks for sharing the stories and the recipe.