December 30, 2008

Beginnings of a Collection

At this time of year, like many other people, I find myself taking stock of my little space in the world. This transitional period at the end of the old year and on the brink of the new always begins with a promise to myself that this is the year I'll somehow become an organized person again.

As I sit here in front of my computer (that's part of the problem, right there), making a preliminary list of areas in which I can improve, my eyes wander the room and fall upon some of the things on top of one of the bookcases.

There, squished in between a collection of 1973 McCall's Recipe Cards and a box full of old, out-of-date cookbook catalogs, next to a stack of my mother's jigsaw puzzles that I haven't gotten around to doing yet (due to a lack of clutter-free and cat-free flat surfaces), I spy the old, rusty, tin Nabisco box.

I remember well the day of its acquisition nearly thirty years ago. Recently married, on a budget, and with time to kill, I wandered the aisles of the indoor flea market across the street from our apartment complex. Open three days a week, with semi-permanent vendors, it was a large metal building with a concrete floor. Many of the vendors had old rugs and carpets defining the boundaries of their spaces, and I can picture in my mind this rusty, light-blue metal box sitting down underneath an antique lamp table, it's lid adjar and the contents spilling out. The table was close to the edge of the aisle, atop a faded red-hued rug.

Its price was twenty dollars, which I neither questioned nor haggled over. It became mine that day even though twenty dollars represented a good part of our weekly food budget at the time. (I suspect we ate extra Tuna Casserole that week).

Although I've examined the contents numerous times over the years, I've never split them up, thrown anything away, or even permanently removed the plastic wrappings from some of the booklets. I think the little price sticker must have finally fallen off because I don't see it now.

In retrospect, I realize that the contents weren't exactly "antique" even back then, but the collection as a whole was a lot older and more plentiful than the newer and more current food company cookbooks and newspaper clippings I was beginning to accululate on my own in my role as a new wife and a regular cook.

The contents are made up of recipes from several sources. Product cookbooks from companies like Bacardi's, My-T-Fine, Occident, Frigidaire and others from the thirties through the early fifties. Newspaper clippings from the Houston Chronicle and the now defunct Houston Post. Clippings and pages from magazines like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens, sometimes accompanied by illustrations of the old products.

There are handwritten recipes on scraps of lined notepad paper, blank notepad paper, on blank bank drafts from financial institutions I haven't though of in years: Almeda State Bank, University State Bank and South Texas National Bank. There's even a couple scratched out on pages from an old Bridge tally pad.

There are recipes from the tear-out pads like you'd find at the grocery store, from Adam's Extract, General Foods and Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. I remember that at the time, I was still pulling those recipes from Adam's off the edges of my own supermarket shelves.

And last, but not least, are those recipes torn from or included within the packages of the products themselves: The circular discs from cans of Spry shortening, Swan's Down Cake Flour and Maca Yeast inserts, and the front panel from an old package of Kraft's Parkay Margarine.

After I pull them all out of the box in order to describe them to you, I then neatly place them back inside, just the way they were. A little more dust has fallen out on the table and it makes me cough. Then I replace the box back on the top of the shelf, just as it was before. I can already tell that it's going to escape the cut once again this year.

I really need to figure out something about all these boxes of recipe cards, though. McCall's, Life Magazine, Betty Crocker (all colors), etc. etc. They're taking up a lot of space and I just don't know what exactly to do with them.

I wish I were like Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations who has a spiffy little calendar with her job laid out neatly in front of her for the next 365 days. I vow to be more like T.W. at Culinary Types who clearly takes the time to make sure that every single post is thought provoking and interesting. Perhaps, just perhaps, if I weren't battling clutter and giving in to the desire to do so many more things than I have have adequate time for (have I mentioned I'm learning Spanish?), I might even find time to cook a little more.

December 29, 2008

Kenner Easy-Bake Cook Book

I don't remember if I ever had my own Easy-Bake Oven, but I remember that someone, probably my cousin, got one for Christmas in the 1960s. It was the turquoise model, with the flat, metal cut-out burners.

It probably had a cookbook like this one, Kenner's Easy-Bake Cook Book (undated, 8 pages), although I don't remember ever seeing or actually using it. We made the cakes from little packets of mixes.

The front of the booklet has a diagram that shows the front of the oven with the front panel cut away so you can see the inside. It operated off of two 100 watt light bulbs. It showed where to attach the wire rack to the end of the oven, where the tiny cake pan rested after it came out of the cooling chamber.

Inserting or changing the light bulbs required the removal of the front panel, which was held on with 6 screws. Pretty simple, really.

The oven needed to preheat for five minutes before you inserted the cake pan full of batter (all 1/4 cup of it) into the cooking chamber. Another pan was inserted after the cake was done to push the pans from the cooking chamber, into the cooling chamber, and then out onto the wire rack.

Two pages are devoted to Easy-Baking Directions. These are short, basic directions for the prepackaged cake mix, frosting mix, brownie mix, cookies, biscuit mix, candy, pie crust mix, pie filling, pizza crust and topping mix and for the pretzel mix. You could bake these mixes in either the Easy-Bake Oven or in Mom's oven. Mom's oven was set to 350 degrees and the baking time was the same. So does that mean the two light bulbs provided a 350 degree oven environment? Hard to believe.

Two other pages featured directions for using full size prepared cake, frosing, biscuit and piecrust mixes. There are also recipes you could make from scratch in case you were out of the special Easy-Bake Oven mixes. The booklet has recipes for Chocolate Cake, Crazy Cake, cookies called Snow Mounds, Quick Brownies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Angel Cookies and Oatmeal Fruit Bars. I never remember us kids making Oatmeal Fruit Bars. I'm pretty sure we went right for the good stuff with the chocolate in it.

If the stains on the recipe pages are any indication, this particular cookbook was used extensively by some budding little cook.

The rear cover of the booklet has a list of the then-available Easy-Bake Mixes and Sets. Refill mixes were $1 each. Sets, such as a Devil's Food and White Cake and Frosting mix (5 packets) were also $1 each.

Two dollar sets got you mixes and baking pans. The candy sets included baking cups. The Kiddie Dinner set came with 3 complete dinners and special partitioned pans. A little early Walt Disney branding was going on with the Disney Winnie the Pooh Honey Cakes and Cookies set.

For $3 one could get a complete baking set which included 12 mixes, 8 baking pans, a rolling pin and the cookbook. It would also buy a Birthday Cake and Party Set and a Candy Bar set.

The four dollar set was the Easy-Pop Corn Popper - an add-on metal corn popper with a wooden handle. It came with 3 mixes of popcorn and caramel syrup.

This cookbook was evidently published in 1965 or a bit later, as the Easy-Pop Corn Popper, Bubble Gum, Birthday Cake, Party and Kiddie Dinner sets weren't introduced until 1965.

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Holiday Recipe Ideas Featuring Knudsen Dairy Products (1965, 20 pages)

December 15, 2008

Cookies and Crafts

Gift Box Butter Cookies (undated, 32 pages) is one of my very favorite holiday booklets because it combines baking and crafts.

The crease down the center of the booklet indicates to me that it probably came packaged in a bag of Pillsbury flour during the holidays.

I believe the booklet was probably published around 1963 because of the two mail-in cookbook offers found inside.

One offer was for a Nestle cookbook, Perfect Endings, which was published in 1962. It was a hardcover book with a spiral binding and it featured chocolate dessert and beverage recipes.

The other offer was for The Pillsbury Family Cook Book, available in a Deluxe Ring Bound Edition, which was published in 1963.

Pillsbury's Best Flour isn't the only brand name product featured in the booklet. The recipes also called for the Pillsbury Cookie Decorator, Nestle's Morsels, Brer Rabbit Molasses, Sun-Maid Raisins, Sunsweet Prunes and dairy products from the American Dairy Association.

The gift boxes were meant to hold cookies and were made with a variety of items that could be found around the house. They were held together and decorated with a Modeling Mixture made with Pillsbury flour.

I loved this sort of crafty thing when I was a kid (still do). I was always pestering the adults, wanting to "make" something. Although I don't remember ever seeing this particular booklet, I do remember my grandmother making us kids "paste" out of flour and water, as well as a play-dough mixture made with salt and flour and food coloring. She had a drawer in her corner cabinet that held scraps of paper and junk mail that we could use for our playtime activities. My cousins and I entertained ourselves for many hours with these simple things. The only thing battery-operated we had to play with at her house was that flashlight she kept next to her bed.

There are quite a few cookie recipes inside: butter cookies, press cookies and cookies from some of the Pillsbury Bake-Offs are just a few of them. They're all illustrated in color along with the different gift boxes.

This Butter Churn was made from an oatmeal box:

The Scotchy-Chocolate Shop was made from a cardboard box and decorated with candy canes and peppermint sticks:

Didn't every kid, at one time or another, make a container of some sort decorated with glued-down macaroni and spray painted with gold paint? These Cookie Compotes were made from metal cans, coffee cans and oatmeal boxes using the center tube from a roll of waxed paper as the base:

This Santa's Boot was made from an oatmeal container and corrugated cardboard, decorated with cotton and elbow macaroni:

This Sugar and Spice Shop was made from a small cardboard box and decorated with sugar cubes and the Pillsbury Cookie Decorator:

The Carousel Shop was an oatmeal box covered with the Modeling Mixture and spray painted silver, further adorned with red ribbon and animal cut-outs:

There are some old product illustrations in here as well. The frosting-in-a-can, this brand known as the Pillsbury Cookie Decorator:

A bottle of Brer Rabbit Green Label Molasses:

Packages of Sun-Maid Raisins and Sunsweet Prunes. Check out the box lid of the gift box with the Cookie-Villa built on top. How much do you think that weighed?

There are also some other ideas for seasonal decorations, in the rear of the booklet, made with the Modeling Mixture; things such as Christmas Tree Ornaments, Place Cards, a Snow-Man (made from an oatmeal box) and Mobiles made from coat hangers.

These are the directions for making Candles:

Cover jelly glasses or any glasses with thin layer of Modeling Mixture, page 3. If desired, a picture may be pasted on glass first. Bring mixture to edge of picture. Decorate and paint as desired. Dry in oven. Fill 1/2 to 3/4 full with melted old candles or paraffin. When almost hard, insert old candle or wick.

As kids, we made a lot of candles in tin cans using old, broken wax crayons.

The last page of the booklet had a mail-in offer for the Mirro Cookie Press. It was advertised as a Regular $2.25 value for only $1.00. What a bargain! There are still quite of few of these old aluminum cookie presses around today.

The Brer Rabbit Molasses picture in this booklet also reminds me to tell you about one of the kinds of cookies I baked last week, the Great Aunt Ruth's Gingersnaps from my last post. I've never been a fan of ginger cookies, or molasses for that matter, but in the spirit of cooking from an old recipe I chose to make these one day.

I'm really bad when it comes to analyzing recipes and so forth, but it was apparent, even to me, that there wasn't a lot of sugar in this recipe compared to some of the cookie recipes we use today. I didn't think that the entire bottle of molasses I used made that much difference to the sweetness either.

I'm also usually a failure when it comes to rolling out dough of any type or making cut-out cookies, but with this dough it was surprisingly easy to do. I followed the directions exactly, choosing 350 degrees as my moderate oven heat, baking them for 10 minutes exactly, and they cooked perfectly.

My first bite left me with the impression that they didn't taste like anything. I reconsidered, however, after finishing an entire cookie, at which time I decided that they did taste like something--ginger and molasses. They just weren't very sweet. My father tested the next two and told me they didn't taste like anything. The other person around here (who only likes Chocolate Chip Cookies and Snickerdoodles) politely spit them out. It's the ginger, he claimed.

I decided to see if it was a generational thing (my father excluded--he doesn't really eat sweets), so I took several of the cookies over to the retirement community where my gardening friend lives. He's 84, so he would have been eating cookies made from these type recipes when he was a young man.

And I was right. He thought they were great. He's been around for looking for more, and even though I was going to wait until closer to Christmas to give them out, I've been doling them out to him, one bag at a time, from the freezer. At this rate, I'm going to have to make another batch.

December 04, 2008

Tis the Season for Cookies

I've been in a quandry about my holiday baking, having difficulty in deciding exactly what to bake, but the Months of Edible Celebrations post on Christmas Cookies provided me with the motivation I needed to move forward. It was there I found out about The Twelve Days of Cookies Gourmet Cookie Extravaganza currently going on over at Coco Cooks and where I was led to this fabulous online article with seven decades of cookie recipes that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon reading the Gourmet article and all the reader comments, then proceeding on to the blogs of the bakers who are participating in the cookie extravaganza event.

I really liked the magazine feature and am grateful to Louise for bringing it to my attention. Being constantly immersed in older recipes and cookbooks, I thought it was nice that some of the those recipes were included. I especially liked the fact that the recipes weren't altered, or modernized, a bit.

Some of the commenters evidently had issues with the recipes being run exactly as they originally read even though this was explicitly stated on every page. The main problem seemed to be that those recipes from the 1940s and 1950s were fairly short and sweet and sometimes lacked explicit detail. I noticed that the recipes gradually grew longer and more detailed as the decades progressd and by the 1990s and 2000s the practice of what I call recipe hand-holding had kicked in. There were noticably fewer comments on the latter recipes.

Explicit detail can be just as frustrating to some as the lack thereof is to others.

Admirers of old cookbooks are familiar with earlier way of doing things. Sometimes the entire recipe might take up a scant a 1/2 inch of print. These are two examples of what women had to work with back in the 1800s:

Two cups molasses, one of lard, one table-spoon soda, one of ginger, flour to roll stiff. Miss Mary Gallagher.

From: Buckeye Cookery, And Practical Housekeeping, 1877


One cup brown sugar, two cups molasses, one large cup butter, two teaspoonfuls soda, two teaspoonfuls ginger, three pints flour to commence with; rub shortening and sugar together in the flour; add enough more flour to roll very smooth, very thin, and bake in a quick oven. The dough can be kept for days by putting it in the flour-barrel under the flour, and baked a few at a time. The more flour that can be worked in and the smoother they can be rolled, the better and more brittle they will be. Should be rolled out to wafer-like thinness. Bake quickly without burning. They should become perfectly cold before putting aside.

From: White House Cook Book: A Selection of Choice Recipes Original and Selected, During a Period of Forty Years' Practical Housekeeping, 1887
I like how the bakers in the cookie event don't seem to be distressed by the lack of information in the older recipes; instead, they tackle any problems that arise and find solutions. It will be interesting, after it's all over, to see how many of them chose to bake the cookies from the earlier decades.

I picked out a few promotional cookbooks pertaining to holiday cookies that were published in years past by the food companies. Most of them aren't really, really old because I didn't feel like pushing the sewing machine cabinet and the box holding the spare third printer out of the way to get back to where those were on the shelves.

And as it turns out, I'm only looking at one of them today, as this post has already grown much longer than I'd originally anticipated. (And now I have cookie baking to do!)

94 Brer Rabbit Goodies (undated, 48 pages) isn't devoted exclusively to cookies, but since molasses used to be a very popular cookie baking ingredient, and it specifically mentioned Christmas cookies, it made the cut.

From the beginning of the booklet:

Say Merry Christmas with Cookies

I hope all my readers know the joy of making Christmas Cookies. I know of nothing that injects more real Christmas spirit into a household than the fragrant, spicy, intangible odors that float through the house when mother begins her Chrismas baking.

I always start two weeks before the holidays, making a different kind each day. The
molasses drop cookies ar so simple that two batches can be made easily in one day. I make plenty of Great-Aunt Ruths' gingersnaps and cut them out in shapes that will delight the youngsters and any young guests they may have during the jolly season.
I believe this booklet was probably published during the 1940s and I don't especially feel that the directions are lacking. The author, Ruth Washborn Jordan, dispenses plenty of advice in the beginning of the booklet about the ins and outs of molasses cookery.

Watch your Oven!

In molasses cookery one must be very careful to have the right oven temperature, as molasses burns very easily. A moderate oven for most will be safest.

Gingerbread and cookies bake best at 325° to 350° F. Gingersnaps make be baked in a little hotter oven but must be watched very carefully.

If housekeepers realized the perfect results obtained by using an oven thermometer I am sure every stove would be equipped by one.

Once I saw Grandmother Jordan put a sheet of old-fashioned writing paper in the oven and when she saw my surprise she informed me that was her way of testing the oven for her fruit cake, which needed a slow oven. If the paper browned delicately and evenly in five minutes that was the proper heat.

Gingerbread requires a moderate oven and in that case the paper should be medium brown in five minutes.

A hot oven would make the paper a dark brown in the same length of time. These tests are helpful but cannot be absolutely depended upon.
I'm not sure this method would be recommended today, but it's interesting just the same.


2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup Brer Rabbit Molasses*
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons cold water
4-1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon soda
1 tablespoon ginger

Cream shortening with sugar. Add beaten egg, then molasses, vinegar and cold water. Sift flour, soda and ginger and add to first mixture. Stir in as much of the flour as you can, and knead in remainder. Roll out, cut in desired shapes and bake 10 to 12 minutes in moderate oven (350° to 375° F.). These are delicious made either thick or wafer thin. Thick ones, cut in stars and sprinkled with sugar before baking, make fine Christmas cookies.

*Brer Rabbit Syrup may be substituted for Brer Rabbit Molasses

The recipe below, for Dandy Snaps, is similar to the Gourmet Brandy Snaps recipe for July 1949. No brandy in either one of them, by the way.


1/2 cup Brer Rabbit Molasses*
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar

Heat molasses to boiling point, add butter, then slowly, stirring constantly, add other ingredients which have been sifted together. On oiled baking sheets drop 1/2 teaspoon batter at intervals of 2 to 3 inches. Bake in a slow oven (325° to 350° F.) about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and roll over the handle of a wooden spoon.

*Brer Rabbit Syrup may be substituted for Brer Rabbit Molasses

This recipe for Cinnamon Snaps is similar to the one they chose for October 1944,
Cinnamon Sugar Crisps:


1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
1 cup Brer Rabbit Molasses*
2 teaspoons soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 cups flour
2 tablespoons warm water

Cream sugar with shortening. Add molasses; then add soda dissolved in warm water. Stir 2 cups flour with remaining dry ingredients and add to first mixture. Add enough more flour to make a stiff dough. Roll out very thin on slightly floured board. Cut in desired shapes and bake 8 to 10 minutes in a moderate oven (350° to 375° F.). This is an old Dutch recipe used by the good housewives when New York was called New Amsterdam. The spicing is unusually good.

*Brer Rabbit Syrup may be substituted for Brer Rabbit Molasses


6 to 8 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups Brer Rabbit Molasses*
2 tablespoons vinegar
4 scant teaspoons soda
1 cup boiling water

Sift 6 cups of the flour with salt and spices. Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg. Beat all together until light. Add molasses and vinegar, then sifted dry ingredients. Lastly, add soda dissolved in boiling water. If necessary, add more flour to make a soft dough. Stand in cool place over night. Next morning flour hands well, break off small pieces of dough, roll into balls, place in baking pan and pat flat into cakes (not too thin). Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in moderate oven (350° F.). Makes about 100 plump, spongy cookies.

*Brer Rabbit Syrup may be substituted for Brer Rabbit Molasses

I guess it's nice to know that one has choices today in regards to the type of recipes they prefer. I occasionally look at cooking videos if I'm not familiar with or unsure of a particular cooking technique. This video on how to make ginger snaps would surely satisfy anyone who has issues with scant recipe instructions.