Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The New American Cook Book

I freely admit I am a dreadful cook, and thus avoid the kitchen as much as possible. Occasionally I forget how bad I am, and attempt to make something. Yesterday, I tried the wasabi aioli recipe in the latest 'NZ House and Garden' magazine, and rather wished I hadn't. I now know to 'pulse' in the blender 'until combined' is not the same as whizzing at top speed for five minutes.

However, despite my culinary short-comings, I love collecting and reading vintage cook books. They prove to be a whimsical and entertaining window into the past.

For example, my 'Lily Wallace New American Cook Book' (1953), has a recipe for 'Planked Swordfish.' The instructions begin, naturally, with a plank;

Take a piece of well-seasoned oak, 24 inches long, 18 inches wide, and 3 inches thick, grooved around the edge... Put this in a cold oven, gradually pre-heating plank and oven to 450° to 500° F.

When roasting a pig, one is directed to 'Put cranberries in eye-sockets.' I’m not sure why one would do this. Perhaps they mean the pig’s eye sockets.

Instructions for cooking possum commence grimly with;

Plunge animal into very hot but not boiling water 2 minutes. ...Slit belly from throat to hind legs. Remove entrails, feet, eyes, and brains. Do not remove head or tail.

One must volunteer a 'big ups' to our female forbears. Reading this book, it appears housewives of the past were a canny combination of genteel Emily Post and Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter.

There is advice on mixing cocktails, and proper attire for servants, alongside recipes for brain croquettes, and fried feet with tomato sauce. They boiled turtles, broiled squabs (I thought squabs were those cushion-things one sits on? I’m fairly certain they're not edible), and turned squirrels into pot pie (Take "3 grey or fox squirrels...").

Housewives of the past. I salute you.


golfwidow said...

The original edition of The Joy of Cooking includes a story about a woman who instructed her cook to place an apple in the mouth before serving the roast pig. The cook did, indeed, walk into the dining room bearing the pig on a platter and an apple in her own mouth.

Gman said...

HI, I'm putting your link under "other blogs--non-politico" is that the correct tag?


Mrs Smith said...

Thank-you, Gman. Non-politico sounds perfect. I try never to write about things I know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

I have spent hours looking for this cookbook title and author; I read it as a young girl in the 1970's and was fascinated (then and now) by descriptions of meals and recipes that I can only imagine. I was just googling old american cookbooks, and lo and behold, I got to your website and almost screamed with joy! Yes, THIS was the cookbook that I had been looking for! What gave it away was your description of the instructions for getting the opossum ready to cook. As a 10 year old in the Philippines I had no desire to eat one but Mrs. Wallace's graphic description of "slitting the belly from throat to hind legs" and "removing the entrails, feet, eyes and brains" was pretty memorable. Now I've moved to the US and sometimes this image comes idly to my mind when I see a possum lumbering across the road. Thanks for that glimpse of my childhood. Now I can start the hunt for my very own copy.