A couple of months ago, I posted an essay about a vintage cookbook I had bought at my local library book sale: From Clever Judy Frosting to Small Cakes. The cookbook, All About Home Baking, has several inscriptions from a variety of bakers who, over a 75-year period, tried and then commented about their experiences after following some of the recipes.
I had bought another cookbook at that sale: Meals Tested, Tasted, and Approved by the Good Housekeeping Institute. Published in 1930, the cookbook was available only to those who had purchased a subscription to Good Housekeeping Magazine ($3.00/yr). I could find only one vague inscription and one other that was even more obscure, but the copy in the beginning of the book was quite interesting (Meals That Keep Us Fit, Meals That Fit Our Pocket-Book), and the illustrations at the back on how to set the table (The Etiquette of Table Service) offer ideas that include “Diagram of Table Laid for Home Service Without Service of Maid.”
This might sound loopy, but as you can see above, I like to browse through these timeless cookbooks. I try to imagine what it would have been like to use the same ingredients and kitchen equipment these ladies used. They honed their skills on gas stoves (hooray if it came with an automatic button so users did not have to manually start the flame and also a heat regulator!), a Frigidaire (with the compressor on the top!), simple gadgets like eggbeaters, whisks and graters and ingredients like Spry, lard and gelatin.
Our Chef (and I use that term with the utmost respect—these ladies whipped up some cracking meals with a tiny fraction of the conveniences we have today) may not have written many comments, but the two I found are telling. She probably liked to follow a recipe as written, at least the first time, so that she could experience what the ladies at Good Housekeeping had intended. And she was sensitive to variations in ingredient amounts, even (perhaps) trivial ones. Or my reasons could be dodgy at best. In the end, I am confident our eager Chef made use of more than two recipes, and I hope they turned out splendidly.
I suspect our Chef wanted to avoid any possibility of falling into the “poorly seasoned, soggy stuffing” trap, so for this first recipe she selected Bread Stuffing as an accompaniment (perhaps with a roast chicken or turkey for a Thanksgiving meal). Unfortunately, the Good Housekeeping Testing Kitchen ladies carried the “grand, not bland” mantra a bit too far when they recommended six teaspoonfuls of salt! Our Chef, who has faithfully followed it as written, declares that the recipe calls for TOO MUCH SALT! I agree and am thankful she took the time to record this bit of important information for future chefs, born and unborn, who might be tempted to follow this recipe as written. Well done, Chef!
The only other notation our Chef (who is officially a “Baker” for this recipe) made is for Two Egg Cake. Once again, she follows the recipe (did she use an extra dash of vanilla? Did she feel like pulling out the eggbeater when the recipe offers a choice to “separate the eggs?” Did she make cup-cakes?) but our Baker decides that the otherwise-expert ladies at Good Housekeeping might have made a bit of a bobble with one of the ingredients. Was the cake too heavy? Did it taste a tad greasy? Whatever the reason, our diligent chef prefers to avoid any future gaffes with her notation to add ⅓ cupful instead of ½ cupful of shortening. Brilliant move, Baker!
A few other recipes caught my eye. The first is cheese fondue, which bears little resemblance to the thick, yellow mixture of the ‘70s. Perhaps our Chef did try this, but it seems a bit labor intensive for she would have had to grate the cheese, grate the bread for the crumbs, and beat the egg whites. She had to be sure to test with a silver knife (as per recipe instructions), and my research reveals that since silver has antiseptic properties (with lower levels of toxicity), other metals would have been avoided if possible.
As for the second recipe, what can I say? To some, bacon goes with everything, and apparently bacon and bananas are no exception. The recipe calls for sautéing the bananas whole, and I wonder if our innovative Chef (should she have chosen this recipe) would have decided to slice each banana and cheekily wrap a slice of bacon around each, thus creating a more voluminous and, therefore, visually satisfying main dish.
The last recipe shows that one can put just about anything on toast, and suddenly broccoli seems like the perfect topper. I suspect chopped egg had been added to boost the protein component and, in the end, I declare this combination to be spot on! I wonder if our weary Chef may have been tempted to try this recipe after a long day of washing and wringing out the laundry and then hanging it out to dry.
There were countless others like our hard-working Chef (and Baker!), those who spent hours in the kitchen testing recipes like those found in this Good Housekeeping cookbook so that their families could enjoy a nourishing meal. I salute them all.