My local library organized a book sale yesterday, and I was third in line, waiting in the cold for the assistant librarian to unlock the automatic door. I usually walk away with at least two large bags stuffed with books, and at a quarter a book, I can still spend less than ten dollars. One section of the sale is of particular interest to me: the area where the vintage books are on display. Here the books cost more—usually a dollar! The book I found yesterday, The Perfect Tribute, a small book about Abraham Lincoln written by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews and published in 1910, was an interesting find, but I recently perused the vintage book I bought at the library sale held in November of last year.
All About Home Baking was published in 1935 by General Foods Corporation (and was subsequently published periodically thereafter). Chapters include: “It’s a Wise Woman Who Knows Her Baking Rules” and “Some Bright New Menu Ideas for the Hostess.” Other chapters include an overview of utensils, measuring, and setting the proper oven temperature. And while the tips on cooking utensils every woman needs or the proper method of measuring or the definition of a “slow oven” are important ones, I must point this out: even the recipes are not the most fascinating thing about this cookbook. No, the most wonderful thing about this book is that it’s a survivor. It survived Sea Biscuit beating War Admiral, the decline of the use of silk stockings, the introduction of Swanson frozen dinners, the cancellation of Star Trek, maxi dresses, MTV, the beginning of the World Wide Web, the final Peanuts comic strip, and cell phones without buttons. A little skeptical? I understand. But don’t take my word for it. Below are eight inscriptions from previous owners of All About Home Baking, in chronological order.
The first inscription is dated November of 1964. Mary Telling (or is it Jelling?) apparently knew a thing or two about frosting, and I do not know if she was the owner of the book (and thought enough of her frosting to put her moniker on it) or that she knew Mary Telling (Jelling) and thought well enough of this person and the recipe to write it down. Either way, it uses a lot of sugar and our Baker seems to prefer “Spry” vegetable shortening (as opposed to “Crisco”). Brilliant!
On November 14, 1974, our Baker liked “Clever Judy Frosting” enough to write “Good” next to the recipe. Notice that it uses uncooked eggs.
We jump to Easter of 1991 (which was March 31), and our Baker made no other notations. When I read over the recipe for Hot Milk Sponge Cake, it seems like it might produce a skimpy amount of batter for a tube pan. But after 10 minutes of using an egg beater, I would hope that the volume of the eggs with the other ingredients would produce a more substantial batter.
On February 28, 1993, our Baker used ¼ cup of oil instead of the butter or shortening for the Busy Day Cake. A useful notation was added for the pan of choice, namely a 9” x 13,” and future bakers were alerted that should they follow in her (or, maybe even “his”) footsteps, the cake would take 40 minutes to cook at 375 degrees.
Seven Minute Frosting was the recipe of choice for our Baker on January 14, 1999. A bold selection considering the turn of the century was a mere 351 days away. But do we really know if our Baker actually made this frosting? Perhaps not, as next to it in the margin is a Martha Stewart recipe, and it uses cream of tartar instead of corn syrup. I assume she/he utilized a portable or stand-alone mixer instead of an egg beater, thus saving energy to frost two layers. Our Baker generously informs us that one can use baking powder instead of cream of tartar (baking powder has cream of tartar and baking soda, and you need cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites), and that you “heat rapid water simmer,” and I am sorry to say I do not know what that means. Nevertheless, a cracking collection of helpful hints!
On February 28, 2000, our Baker, now secure in the 21st century, offers handy tips for making the Calumet One-Egg Cake recipe which, unsurprisingly, calls for two teaspoons of Calumet Baking Powder. We are informed that four tablespoons of oil work just fine instead of the four tablespoons butter or other shortening that is called for, and we should take care to spoon our flour into the measuring cup. Our Baker prefers to use one cup of milk instead of the stated ¾ cup, and that an angel food pan will work as well as the 8x8x2 pan. The Clever Judy Frosting (see above) is recommended as the frosting of choice, and I heartily approve of this inspired pairing!
Our Baker made this recipe of Small Cakes on April 23, 2000 (Easter) and declared it “Very Good!” Once again, Clever Judy Frosting is recommended, as is Seven Minute Frosting (see above). It must have turned out well, for she/he made this same recipe again in June. However, this time our Baker first mixed the egg, oil and milk and then mixed in the dry ingredients all at once, a complete deviation from the written recipe. We may never know the results of this cheeky changeup, but we suspect it turned out fine since she/he took the time to let us know the recipe yielded 20 cupcakes. Well done!
Our Baker was busy baking pies for the Christmas 2004 holiday (perhaps for a large family or for a holiday bazaar), and this straightforward Calumet Pie Crust recipe must have been a favorite. Notations were made to adjust the recipe for three double crusts, and another notation seems to increase it further to 9 double crusts (3x). I confess I am not sure what the notation at the right margin bottom means, but I suspect it is the pie crust recipe found on the label of a Crisco can. Below this recipe is one for a Crisscross Apricot Pie with pineapple, and I have to say that after a quick go-over, I might have to try my hand at pie making. Good job, Baker!