January 11, 2011

Half-Finished Recipe Book

I've often complained that household goods found in auctions or estate sales here in Texas just aren't as interesting or plentiful as those found in the northern states at the same type of venues. There are a dozen different reasons for that, but in the end, it means that it's slim pickings in the advertising cookbooks department for me.

This is a box of recipe books that I bought at an estate auction. Six months ago. The box has been riding around in the backseat of my car all this time. Evidently it just wasn't exciting enough for me to even take out of the car. I think I bought it because I was desperate to buy something. The thrill of the acquisition and digging through the box for treasures and all that, you know.

The contents of this box are pretty typical for what I usually see here in terms of condition. Dirty, brittle, yellow, insect eaten; certainly not anything worthy of my driving it around for six months. But it is what it is and we make do with what we have to.

I finally pulled the box out of the car yesterday and pulled the top book off of the pile to look at here.

It's one of those smaller three-ring recipe binders with tabs inside for the different categories and lined notepaper to write the recipes on. I'm assuming the binder probably came from Woolworth's, because inside the front cover it says "Additional ruled sheets can be secured at your Woolworth Store, ask for No. 1062."

The tabbed pages are referred to as Index Sheets in the instructions on the first page of the book. It says "On each Index Sheet are helpful hints to aid you in the preparation of the different kinds of food." You can see the dampstains and discolorations on the inside of the binder. This is what happens when you combine excessive heat and humitity with paper. Not much air conditioning back in the 1930s.

This binder doesn't have any handwritten recipes. The previous owner took the easy way out and cut out recipes and their illustrations and pasted them onto the pages of the book. The recipes and illustrations are very familiar, although I don't know right off hand which of the promotional books they came out of. It's also possible that they were cut out of magazines. I know I've seen them somewhere before.

This first recipe, for Sunny Fritters, is filed under Desserts. It came from a Crisco booklet or ad. These fritters have bananas and pineapple in them.

They've also filed this one for Prunes under Desserts. Some of it's kind of funny: "Prunes are often misunderstood." "Simmer your prunes instead of getting them all discouraged with hard boiling." "Pureed prunes make desserts worth making. As witness the prune whip." Mmmmm, Prune Whip.

These recipes are filed under Fish--Meat. They're also made with Crisco. This woman did her homework. Notice the handwritten notes with the prices. Forty-two cents, serves 6. The Porky Pie cost thirty-eight cents to make and also serves 6.

Frankfritters cost thrity-five cents and serves 6. These remind me of the unusual frankfurer recipes on Rochelle's Vintage and Frugal Recipes blog. The Surprise Packages, made with flank or skirt steak, are a bit more expensive at forty seven cents to serve six.

Here's an interesting combination: Hamettes with Bananas. Since it's a Crisco recipe, you know they're fried.

These recipes already have the cost included under the title. The recipe for Ham Roll-Ups is really expensive--sixty three cents. Must be the asparagus.

Moving on to the Salads category, we have a fruit and a vegetable salad pictured, both made with Wesson Oil dressings.

This recipe is called Tavern Dressing, and it's meant for Meat Salads. The ingredient list calls for Old English Dressing or Worcestershire Sauce. I couldn't find anything online about Old English Dressing, I wonder if it's something that tasted similar to Worcestershire?

The rest of the binder is filled with blank ruled paper. I guess she got tired of the project before she finished.

January 05, 2011

Martha Logan's Cookies

In my perfect world, my grandmother's old McCoy cookie jar on the kitchen counter would be filled with homemade cookies at all times.

I do manage to stock it with Chocolate Chip Pecan cookies and Snickerdoodles occasionally, but not nearly as much as I'd like.

Sometimes we resort to freezing the cookies in Ziplock bags to keep ourselves from eating them all at once. This works as a mild deterrent; it's only slightly more inconvenient to open the freezer door and remove a couple of cookies from the bag than it is to open the lid on the jar and take out a handful. I've developed a liking for the frozen ones, not even waiting for them to thaw.

I'm thinking that this year, I'd like to make it a point to bake cookies more often. Perhaps branch out to Oatmeal Raisin and Peanut Butter; maybe some Shortbread to go with my fake coffee, just for starters. Maybe finally tackle Macarons, although I'm not certain they'd be successful, considering the Houston humidity.

I'm thinking I ought to open up some of these cookbooks lining my shelves and avail myself of the hundreds and hundreds of cookie recipes I have right at my fingertips. I wouldn't even have to turn on my computer; I've already got more recipes than I know what to do with.

One of the cookbooks I have is called Our Best Cooky Recipes (1962, 24 pages), which was published by Swift & Company. This book contains 65 recipes for cookies of all types: bar, refrigerator, dropped, pressed, rolled and no-bake.

The only thing fancy about this cookbook is the cover: it has a shiny gold foil background with color images of cookies on the front and back. The interior contains no other illustrations save that of Martha Logan, shown above.

Martha Logan was the spokesperson for the Home Economics Department of Swift & Company. Swift & Company was a meatpacking industry giant with side lines into byproducts derived from the animals they processed: eggs, butter, shortening, margarine, lard and soap.

Martha wastes no time advising us as to which products we should use to bake our cookies. It's right up front, first paragraph of the first page, which contains her Cooky Tips:

"Use quality ingredients such as Swift's Allsweet Margarine, Swift's Brookfield Butter, Swift'ning Shortening, Swift's Brookfield Eggs, Swift's OZ Peanut Butter, and Swift's Ice Cream for best results in these recipes."

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), all of the Swift & Company subsidiary products align together perfectly to make up a nice batch of cookies.

Since some, if not all, of these brands no longer exist, I'd have to make do with Parkay, Land 'O Lakes, Crisco, Egglands, Peter Pan and Bluebell.

Instructions for storing, freezing and packing cookies for mailing are on the second page. Lots of no-nonsense advice on what to do with your cookies when you're done baking. Given the publishing date, I'm guessing some of these cookies might have been mailed to the soldiers in Vietnam.

The type of cookie is shown in a black bar across the top of the page, making it easy to thumb through the pages to reach the section you want.

One thing I like about these cookie recipes are how underneath the title, it says things like "A Crisp Cooky," "A Chewy Rich Cooky," or "A Cake-like Cooky." I like knowing the resulting cookie texture ahead of time.

The last page is the Index. As you can see, there are quite a variety of cookies. Cookies made with dates and molasses were popular at the time, more so than today. Although semi-sweet chocolate pieces are called for in a few of the recipes, more often than not, the chocolate called for are the squares. Shortening seems be be used as often as butter or margarine. No Butterscotch pieces for the butterscotch, though. It's brown sugar all the way.

January 04, 2011

The New Flavor Enhancer

Nature's Own Way to Make Your Food Tastier (1955, 24 pages) is a small booklet that was published to promote Ac'cent flavor enhancer. At the time of publication, Ac'cent was the most widely available brand of monosodium glutamate (MSG) sold in the United States.

Although I don't wish to embark on a debate about the evils of MSG, or lack thereof, the current controversey concerning it's impact on one's health is precisely what makes the booklet so interesting to me, and hopefully, to you.

In 1955, convenience (processed) foods were considered our friends rather than the enemy. The manufacturer wanted everyone to know that this product was available and widely used. Today, monosodium glutamate is hidden on the food labels under a variety of different names, with the hope that we won't know it's there.

Currently a subsidiary of B & G Foods, Inc., a short summary of the history of the brand is found here:

The origins of Ac'cent flavor enhancer actually can be traced back 2,000 years to the Far East, where the use of glutamate, discovered in the process that converted soya bean meal to soya sauce, was first introduced. During World War I, potash, used in munitions, was in great demand and manufactured from the byproducts of the beet sugar industry. According to legend, a Detroit beet sugar mill owner searched for a new use of beet sugar after the war and discovered that it could provide a plentiful supply of glutamate. A factory to manufacture glutamate opened in 1936, and by 1949 the flavor enhancer began to be sold in grocery stores. Created from glutamate, Ac'cent has no flavor of its own; rather, it compensates for the loss of glutamate in processed food, thus restoring flavor.

I enjoyed reading this article, which also contains an interesting story about the early use of MSG in the U.S.:

The product took off, immediately, and within a few years Ajinomoto (which was now the company's name) was selling MSG across Asia. The breakthrough to America came in the aftermath of World War Two. Like pizza and vermouth, MSG was a taste American soldiers brought home with them. They weren't aware that MSG was what they'd liked in Japan - but the US Army catering staff noticed that their men enjoyed the leftover ration packs of the demobilised Japanese Army much more than they did their own, and began to ask why.

MSG arrived in America at a key moment. Mass production of processed food was booming. But canning, freezing and pre-cooking have a grave technical problem in common - loss of flavour. And MSG was a cheap and simple additive that made everything taste better. It went into tinned soups, salad dressings, processed meats,
carbohydrate-based snacks, ice cream, bread, canned tuna, chewing gum, baby food
and soft drinks. As the industry progressed, it was used in frozen, chilled and
dehydrated ready meals. MSG is crucial in no-fat or low-fat food, where natural
flavour is lost with the extraction of oils.

This booklet was published about six years after Ac'cent began selling in the grocery stores. It's purpose was to familiarize consumers with the brand and the virtues of the product. It does a nice job. The twenty-four pages are packed with various persuasive techniques designed to compel one to purchase Ac'cent. I can't imagine that most housewives didn't rush right down to the store to buy some after reading this booklet.

The manufacturer educates the consumer by providing basic information about the product and it's uses. One example, "Here is how Ac'cent works," is shown below.

Also covered are:

  • You can use Ac'cent with all foods (except desserts and baked sweet goods),
  • Ac'cent is not a seasoning, salt, or a flavoring,
  • Ac'cent is easy to use,
  • Ac'cent is economical,
  • Your family will be delighted,
  • Try this simple taste test,
  • Some helpful hints for cooking with Ac'cent,
  • Some special uses for Ac'cent,
  • For salt-limited diets, and
  • For softfood diets.
They employed the use of customer testimonials "from thousands of letters" they claimed to have received. There are three pages of consumer testimonials. Interesting how the entire names and addresses of the letter writers were printed. That wouldn't be acceptable today.

If one needed further convincing, then perhaps one could be persuaded by celebrity-type testimonials, in this case chefs who held impressive positions in famous restaurants and organizations. There are two pages of these.

    Then there's the suggestion that if the food producers and manufacturers use MSG, then it must be good for us to use it too. The statement "More than 2,500 items now use monosodium glutamate," is quite interesting since practically every processed food item on the shelf today contains this ingredient and that 1955 figure has increased to approximately 45,000 to 50,000.

    If consumers weren't won over by these selling points, then maybe a glimpse of the company facilities might do the trick. This was probably a holdover from earlier in the century when manufacturers sought to ease consumer fears about the sanitation and cleanliness of the large, newly emerging food processing plants.

    Don't be caught with "old," outdated cookbooks. New, modern cookbooks call for the ingredient we're selling!

    In case your cookbook collection wasn't quite up to snuff, Ac'cent offered these two cookbooks by mail which could be used to help bring you out of the dark ages.

    The last page of the booklet shows the four sizes of Ac'cent that were available for home use in 1955. There is also an offer for a "Third Shaker Set," which had a special shaker for Ac'cent to go along with the salt and pepper shakers. They had bright red caps and lettering to match the Ac'cent product package. These shakers were available for $1.25. You can still find the Ac'cent seasoning shaker ocassionally for sale as an advertising collectible on Ebay.