Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back to the Future, Food Edition

I spent a solid hour Monday after school doing panicked winter yard prep.  The afternoon high was 60 degrees, but I could feel the temperature rapidly dropping and the wind picking up as I planted front porch mums, dumped potting soil into divots in the flower beds, turned the compost heap, and stacked terracotta in the shed.  These are all things I've been meaning to do for weeks now, preferably at a leisurely pace, enjoying the last of the year's pleasant temperatures, not running in actual circles around my front yard with a rotting jack o'lantern under my arm because I can't decide which chore is the most urgent and thus must be done first or my life will just be over, do you hear me, over, but nothing motivates like the promise of a 40-degree drop in temperature from one day to the next.

Sometimes I attach too much importance to the mundane.  But you already knew that.

I got the most pressing of the outdoor needs squared away, and retreated indoors.  Yesterday morning we woke up to snow.  Just a dusting, but still- snow.  In November.  BLAAARGH.

The one good thing about cold temps- aside from drawing in those deep breaths of cold air, I love that, but not the kind of cold that makes your lungs feel like they're turning into brittle shards of ice and makes your throat wonder just what it ever did to you to deserve this treatment- aside from all that, the good thing is, of course, baking.  Temperatures plummet and my oven beckons.  But not in a creepy, come-hither way, you understand, more of a slide-some-apple-pie-into-me-baby way, which gracious sakes, is still creepy.  I don't understand what I've done to this post or how I've managed to violate my own oven.  I'm beginning to think I shouldn't be allowed to write after 11 p.m.

Right.  Baking when it's cold out.  Let's focus.

All this cold weather is rather fortuitous, as while we were in Kansas over the weekend celebrating a wedding and eating an early Thanksgiving meal and fighting over whose turn it is to hold the babies, my mom also passed on a recipe book my grandma picked up at an auction recently.

About 3/4 of its contents are dessert recipes and include titles such as Inspiration Cake (above), Peach Luscious, Plain Cake, Sugar-Saving Icing (to get you through all that pesky sugar rationing), and Saucepan Cookies.  It contains instructions like "bake in a slow oven" and enough shortening to choke a whale.  

My first thought had been to slowly bake my way through the dessert portion, but even I can't stomach the thought of feeding my family that much shortening- do any of you know if butter can be equally substituted?  Only one recipe cites its source- McCall's, May 1950- but the few savory recipes only serve to reinforce my opinion of mid-century American cuisine (ooooh, the salad molds):  Deviled Frankfurter Filling, Salmon Loaf, Cottage Cheese Salad (it involves cooked prunes and mayonnaise.  You don't want to know.  Save yourselves.) and Dressing Mold for Left-Over Fowl ("When preparing dressing, fix an extra amount.  Grease salad ring mold and fill with dressing.  Store in refrigerator.  Bake it next day, and fill the center with the remains of the fowl, creamed.  Garnish with greens."  GACK).

And somebody, PLEASE, shed some light on this untitled recipe:  "Mix ground coffee, unbeaten egg, salt and enough cold water to mix easily- corn bread batter- Heat water until steaming- add coffee mixture and bring to rolling boil- Simmer 10 minutes then remove from heat- Add 1 c cold water and let stand 5 minutes.  Ready to drink- Dip off carefully.  Coffee isn't done until foam breaks."  

Ice Box Cookies!
My sister Kelli and I were also both a little disturbed to find "B.M." as a common ingredient, but our combined sleuthing prowess led us to conclude that she meant Butter Milk and not, um, something else.  (Hey, this thing contains "Mystery Cheese Ball & Crax."  Anything seemed possible.)

Once I solve the shortening-to-butter conversion, I'm not sure where to start.  Devil's Food Whirligig Cake?  Sea Foam Fudge Cake with Sea Foam Frosting?  Or go more seasonally appropriate and try the Pumpkin Chiffon Pie?  All I know is I'm staying completely away from the pages labeled "Attractive Salads."


  1. Helpless laughter--that's what I'm reduced to when I read your posts. Your poor oven. And those recipes!

    And I can't help but think of Minnie's famous chocolate pie here. . .

  2. The recipe book is priceless, if only for the handwriting, which is a work of art, unfortunately a dying one.

    I vaguely know that using shortening instead of butter in cookies changes the consistency of the cookie - I think butter makes the cookie spread out more, like my bottom when I sit down, than does shortening. I don't know what difference it would make in a cake. I love butter so much that I usually use it instead of shortening, no matter what.

    And thanks for the warning on the weather. I think it's headed our way. Tomorrow I have baking to do!

  3. Something I learned when Emma took her cake-decorating class: you can always substitute butter for shortening. It makes things taste better (as you knew), but it does not hold its shape as well at room temperature. Shortening basically stays the same consistency over a large temperature range, while butter gets harder and softer more easily. I think this difference is only really important when you're making frosting. So for God's sake, use butter, because shortening is just darn gross.

    We did not get all the garden stuff done before the temperatures plummeted. In particular, we need to transfer huge amounts of birdseed from bags to plastic gallon jugs, and I think my fingers may freeze off during the process.


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