Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Guests Raved About Her Dinner!"

Spry Cookbook - Front cover
"What Shall I Cook Today?" is the title of yet another vintage cookbook that I found in the kitchen at the old homestead. This one is a collection of recipes using the brand of vegetable shortening Spry, which was available in grocery stores between the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. According to the brightly colored drawings that decorate the booklet's covers, "Guests raved" about dinners prepared with this canned shortening.

Published by Lever Brothers Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the booklet is undated, but judging from the clothing styles depicted on its colorful front and back covers, I would date it either late 1940s or early 1950s. The book contains 124 "thrifty healthful tested recipes"  --  consistent (health and thrift) in appealing to homemakers returning to the hearth after working in factories and offices while their men were fighting in World War II; consistent also with post-WW II ideals of the feminine mystique.

Deep-fried Fritters
The section on deep frying begins with a recipe for Apple Fritters, reminiscent of either Grandma VandenBergh's or Grandma Minnie's recipe; this one describes dipping apple slices in a batter of flour, baking powder, salt, egg, milk, and of course frying them in Spry. These fritters are seasoned with sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

A recipe for Corn Fritters fried in a similar fashion is described thus: "Make plenty  --  everyone will surely want seconds."

Other sections in the booklet include shallow frying, sauteing, cakes, frostings, cookies, and breads, but the longest section in the book is devoted to all sorts of pies and fruit tarts. There are both two-crust pies and one-crust pies. A sticky note on the page with the recipe for Blueberry Nectar Pie indicates that our Aunt Doris used this recipe to concoct the delicious blueberry pie that was always served at our traditional family dinner on Thanksgiving, made with berries harvested from Doris's blueberry bushes in the summer and frozen until the big day in November.

Mom also always made her own pie crust dough from scratch, cutting the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives as described in this booklet: "Do not handle dough anymore than necessary"  --  to keep it light and flaky.

Spry Cookbook - Back cover
The booklet include instructions for making a Spry Pastry Mix, so that the homemaker "can have oven-fresh pies at a moment's notice." The mixture contains one pound of Spry, two pounds of flour and one tablespoon of salt; it will keep in a covered container "for an indefinite length of time." This mixture is described as "The greatest 'shortcut' in the history of pie-making. Pie crust enough for a month  --  and all in a single mixing job!" (How many pies was the 1950's-era homemaker expected to make in a month?)

Today's busy homemaker has an even greater shortcut  --  ready-made pie crust from the dairy section of the local supermarket. I suspect that many more Thanksgiving pies are made by using this commercial dough than entirely from scratch. I confess that I used it myself to try out a recipe from this booklet:

"Eccles": When I saw this word at the bottom of a page, I had no idea what it meant. This type of pastry is described as, "Titbits [sic] from your left-over pastry":

"Roll pie crust thin and cut in small circles. Place a spoonful of mincemeat or jam or fruit in center. Wet edges. Place another circle on top and press edges together. Crease three marks across top, turn, and repeat. Bake in hot oven (425 F.) 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown."

I was curious about the origin of this pastry treat, as well as its name. It is apparently named after the English town where it originated, Eccles in Lancashire, where a baker named James Birch began selling small, flat, raisin-filled cakes in 1793. Birch's recipe was similar to one that was included in an earlier cookbook, by Elizabeth Raffald, "The Experienced English Housekeeper."

I baked a batch of Eccles cakes and shared them with friends. The pastries were filled variously with raspberry, blueberry, and mango jam. My friends didn't exactly rave about them, but they did have seconds. (At least, I did!)

Eccles Cakes  -- fresh from the oven

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Learn more about the origin of Eccles cakes at:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two Dutch Soup Recipes

Once again, chilly temperatures have put me in a soup-making mood. I searched through Grandma VandenBergh's old Dutch cookbook and found two recipes to try out:

Cauliflower Soup   (Bloemkoolsoep)

1 L. water (about 1 qt.), in which cauliflower has been cooked, with pieces of cauliflower in it
40 gr. (1/4 cup) whole wheat flour
40 gr. (2 tablespoons) butter or margarine
1 egg, beaten

- Use the water in which the cauliflower has been cooked, leaving a few chunks of cauliflower in it.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- In the meantime, heat while stirring the butter with the flour to form a smooth paste ("een gladde massa" in Dutch)
- Stir the boiling water and cauliflower into the butter and flour paste and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Beat the egg in a soup tureen and carefully stir the soup into this mixture.
- Garnish with croutons or serve with whole wheat toast.

My first experiment with this recipe entailed using an unusual variety of purple cauliflower that I came across in a local farmers' market:

Purple cauliflower

This soup turned out with a pleasant shade of pink, but somehow it didn't seem very appealing to me!

Purple cauliflower soup

But ordinary while cauliflower worked out just fine:

Cauliflower Soup

Leek Soup (Preisoep)

The ingredients and preparation of this soup are quite similar, except for the leeks, of course:

Chopped leeks
1 L. (about 1 qt.) water
7 1/2 gr. salt (1 1/2 teaspoons; I used only 1 teaspoon)
4 large or 6 small leeks
35 gr. (about 1/4 cup) flour
40 gr. (2 tablespoons) butter or margarine
2 teaspoons Arome Maggi or soy sauce
1 egg, beaten

- Chop the leeks into one-inch or half-inch pieces and cook in the salted water.
- In the meantime, melt the butter and stir in the flour, forming a paste.
- Slowly pour the liquid with the leeks into the flour and butter mixture, stirring to prevent lumps from forming.
- Let the soup simmer for about 10 more minutes until cooked through.
- In a soup tureen, beat the egg with the soy sauce.
- Stir in the liquid mixture and serve with croutons or toasted bread.

I altered the recipe a bit to add chunks of potato, to make it a bit more substantial. If you add a few bacon crumbles and consume it with whole wheat or rye toast, you'll have a whole meal:

Potato and leek soup

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal.