Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Cooking, Vintage 1927

People who know me well will undoubtedly keel over from shock when they see me contributing to a cooking meme. After all, I'm the one who baldly states that my dream house would not have a kitchen! Truth is, I haven't won the Lottery yet, so I don't have my dream house. Casa Kittling does have a kitchen, and I am forced to use it from time to time.

When I saw Beth's description of her Weekend Cooking meme, I saw that it was so loosely structured that even an old grouch like me could obey the rules. Although you will see me posting a recipe or two in future, I'm going to start out with one of my finds as I was busy shifting books last week.

When my grandmother got married in 1935, she didn't know how to cook. To the left, you can see the spine of the book she used to teach herself how to feed my grandfather and mother without poisoning anyone. It's the 1927 edition of Everyday Foods by Jessie W. Harris and Elisabeth V. Lacey. It's her high school Home Economics textbook. It covers everything the good housewife was supposed to know in 1927.

When I opened the book, several yellowed sheets of "scratch paper" fell out. Each one contained a handwritten recipe that my grandmother considered worth keeping, and I certainly do remember eating her wilted lettuce many times.

Evidently my grandmother didn't make the transition to chef easily because my mother told me of scorched food and horrible meals when she was a child. Grandma, I feel your pain. I inherited your "I hate to cook" gene! My mother, on the other hand, thought cooking was wonderful, and she would drag a chair over to the stove to help my grandmother out. As my mother grew older, she actually taught my grandmother many cooking tips, and by the time I came along, she and my mother were the best two cooks I've ever had the pleasure to be fed by.

To end this trip down Memory Lane, I thought I'd share an illustration from my grandmother's book. While I was growing up my grandparents as well as my mother and I had large gardens. A rite of passage for me was to help when it came time for canning all the bounty of the garden so we could enjoy it throughout the long cold winters. The illustration shows a pressure cooker, circa 1927. Looks a bit like an alien spaceship, doesn't it?

Is canning a lost art now? Do any of you can fruits and vegetables, or do you remember older family members doing so? Has that homemade goodness soured you on buying certain "store bought" foods?

It has me.

One year three generations of our family gathered around a huge cauldron (large enough for the witches in Macbeth and their extended families) placed over an open fire in my grandparents' backyard. The womenfolk had been peeling and coring apples for ages, and I was one of the kids chosen to bring the apples out to the cauldron.

There was much discussion over spices, liquid and the like, but finally everything was done to my grandmother's satisfaction, and all of us took turns stirring, stirring, stirring-- all day long. By the end of the day, there were dozens and dozens of jars of apple butter. Every vehicle that left was loaded to the gunwales with apple butter. We ate the stuff (pure nectar of the gods) for years, and the memories of that day will always be with me.

I just can't eat store bought apple butter!

Thanks, Beth, for hosting this meme. If you'd like to see what other folks are cooking up this weekend, click on the Weekend Cooking logo at the top of this post to be taken directly to the source: Beth Fish Reads!


  1. My grandmother (who must have been a bit younger than yours, since she was married in 1940) also hated cooking. Before she married my grandfather, she was sent away to a cooking school for young girls, which was a place where girls were sent to learn how to be good cooks and wives, and while my grandmother had nothing at all against learning how to be a good wife (this was the 1930'es after all), she hated the cooking school so much that she never really became fond of cooking. She was a good cook and made great meals, but they were definitely cooked out of obligation and not out of love of food and cooking.

    My mother is a fine cook and enjoy cooking, whereas I love it and consider myself an okay cook. Both my brother and father are good cooks, but my sister can barely cook an egg, and hates cooking with a vengeance.


  2. This discussion of grandmother's getting married in 1935 and 1940 is making me feel very old. My mother got married in 1936. As one of seven sisters all who tried to cook she had not had much time in the kitchen but took over cooking for my father and his two, at the time unmarried, brothers. They were living in accommodation at the hospitals where they worked, so the moment they had free time they would rush to their brother and sister in law for decent food.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your memories. I feel for your grandmother who didn't like cooking but had to do it anyway. Those first years of her marriage were also tough years with the depression and then war and it's rationing. Poor thing. By the way, lots of people still can, especially the ones I know who have big gardens.

  4. I love this post...I collect old Junior League cookbooks, and there are so many "lost arts" in them!

  5. I love that photo of the pressure cooker -- no wonder my mother always had a slight fear of hers!

    I was fortunate to grow up in a family of fabulous cooks on both sides. Cooking was second nature to all of us, but some are more experimental than others.

    Looking through those old hand-written recipes is definitely a trip down memory lane!

    I canned up until the mid-1980s. Then I guess I became lazy!

  6. I have never canned, but both my mother and mother-in-law used to. I do think less and less people do it now.

  7. I have the same gene! I can cook, just don't like to do it. I used to can quite a bit, but now just do applesauce.

  8. Louise-- I think the only time my grandmother didn't feel obligated was when she could prepare something she loved: pies and cobblers. With those, she had a true gift.

    Uriah-- Age is relative. (Actually I wish it were one of my forgotten relatives!) I'm still trying to envisage all those girls trying to get "stove time"! :)

    Margot JR-- When I had to get my grandparents' house ready for sale, I found all sorts of things like the ration books they had to use. And I'm glad that people still can. I just must live around the wrong people! :)

    Jill-- I know! I've gone through this book, and it has everything: how to set the table for breakfast, lunch and dinner; how to go grocery shopping-- all sorts of fascinating things. Thanks for stopping by!

    Beth-- I'd be scared of that thing, too! My mother was a natural-born cook who loved to experiment. My grandmother's handwritten recipes mean more to me than the book. There's something about her handwriting that really tugs on my heartstrings. I can understand why you stopped canning. It *is* a lot of work!

    Kathy-- Canning is labor intensive, hot and sweaty work, but ooooh the marvelous eating that came out of those jars!

    Nise'-- When I was writing about the apple butter last night, I could taste it. I almost broke down and bought some at the store today, but I held firm!

  9. What a lovely post! I think old cookbooks like that are wonderful, when people leave notes in that manner. I should start doing that in mine.

    I am a really big fan of cooking, personally. I like that you can start the task, finish it, and then enjoy the fruits of your labors all in a fairly short time frame. I am trying to get more into vegetable gardening as well. It's really fun for me, but I know many people dislike it.

  10. Aarti-- I do leave notes in mine. Not many... usually a thumbs up or down on a recipe, or the changes I've made to one. I think I'd be more cooking friendly if someone else would take care of all the clean-up (even though I clean up as I cook). I once tried vegetable gardening here, but the ground in Phoenix is like concrete, and the sun is brutal-- a much different proposition than gardening in the Midwest!

  11. My grandmother didn´t like cooking either! She learned it, however, but I have no cooking genes at all. Fortunately I am well married, and two of my children also cook quite well.

    Cathy, it doesn´t matter whether you can cook or nok. You can write! - so well that I had to read a blog post about cooking!

  12. I don't think my grandmother liked cooking much either...but she did make a great wilted lettuce salad! She was from north eastern PA and had a number of 'Pennsylvania Dutch' recipes among her standards. Chow Chow...a great chicken soup...

  13. I have inherited many of Nana's recipes, via an old cookbook of Mum's, full of yellowing hand-written scraps as you describe. And it gave me an interest in old recipe books - no, in books that are collections of old recipes, the book itself is often new, and a reprint. Some make me laugh so much, especially the handy hints and remedies, but I also find and mark treasures to attempt some day when I get time to bake again.

  14. This was such fun to read! My grandmother had a huge backyard garden and canned all sorts of things - she even had a second kitchen in the 'back room' of her house. It was such a treat to go over and 'help'. Thanks for jogging all those old memories!

  15. I have my grandmother's cookbooks including pamphlets handed out at WW II cooking classes showing how to cook well despite rationing. All very interesting. Wish I could make noodles like she did and biscuits like my great-gram did. Heavenly stuff.

  16. Dorte-- Thank you so much for those kind words. I can imagine your shock when you saw me participating in a cooking meme!

    Caite-- You know...that's something you just don't hear much about anymore-- wilted lettuce salad. My grandmother made it a lot in the summer.

    Susan-- Opening my grandmother's book and having those slips of paper float to the floor like confetti was wonderful. I felt very close to her as I read them.

    JoAnn-- You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed my little trip down Memory Lane.

    Barbara-- Ooooh! My great-aunt made the best noodles, and my mother's scratch biscuits were so light they had to be nailed to the platter so they wouldn't float up to the ceiling!


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