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:

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