“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato”.
A recipe from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking 1974 called French Tomato Salad has been the inspiration for a a flavorful addition to my catered salad bars. The recipe calls for six thinly sliced tomatoes arranged overlapping on a serving plate and poured over with a French (vinaigrette) dressing and sprinkled with minced shallots or thinly sliced green onions.
Thinly slice tomatoes and arrange overlapping in shallow serving dish. Carefully insert a basil leaf in between each of the tomato slices. (If using, insert a slice of mozzarella in between each of the tomato slices then insert a basil leaf between each tomato and cheese slice). Sprinkle finely chopped sweet onion over tomatoes.
In a small shaker jar, combine dressing ingredients, shake well and pour over vegetables (and mozzarella). Refrigerate salad for at least two hours to blend flavors. Serve cold.
Recipe Compliments of Cookbooklady.com
Also taking inspiration from the 1950s Italian Caprese Salad consisting of sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese (made with buffalo milk if you want to be authentic), fresh basil and olive oil (Americans often add a little balsamic vinegar as well to give the salad some zip), I have created a hybrid version of these two recipes that is colorful and packed with flavor. I call it Summer Tomato Salad (with or without mozzarella cheese). During late summer when fresh tomatoes are at their peak, I serve this salad often and I sometimes even make a light meal of it for myself (recipe below). Enjoy!
Cucumbers taste like summertime. Simply sliced with a sprinkling of salt or added to a green salad they are a refreshing bite. We are all familiar with the classic Cucumber Salad made with slices of fresh cucumber marinated in vinegar and salt and pepper. Its a recipe that has been around for generations. In this post, I’m sharing another favorite cucumber recipe — Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream Dressing. It is a combination of sliced cucumbers and leeks seasoned with fresh garlic and dill and marinated in a sour cream dressing. I have served this dish as a part of a catered salad bar and as a summer side-dish and it is a crowd pleaser. Enjoy!
Slice cucumbers and leeks
Toss together in a bowl.
Add garlic, seasoning salt and dill to cream cheese.
In my quest to add interest to my salad bar, I have frequently served Four Bean Salad along with the typical salad bar fare. Being both flavorful and colorful, it is always an excellent addition, yet at the same time, I wanted another green bean dish to serve as an alternative. Never really finding a recipe that I was satisfied with, I began experimenting. After several years (yes, years) of trial and error, I finally developed the recipe that I had envisioned, and its incredibly easy. I simply call it Marinated Green Beans. Not only is this recipe great as part of a salad bar, it works as a side dish for a family meal especially when serving Italian food, and it is also a convenient choice for potlucks and picnics since it contains no mayonnaise and can be served cold right from the cooler. Marinated Green Beans is a garden-friendly recipe as well, as it is a perfect way to use some of the produce from a prolific green bean patch. I will say that I experimented with a number of commercially prepared and homemade vinaigrette dressings and I kept coming back to Olive Garden brand Italian dressing, but feel free to do your own experimenting. Enjoy!
Wash and snap one pound of green beans.
Combine dressing ingredients.
Boil green beans four minutes.
Arrange cooked green beans in an air-tight container.
Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.~Marcus Samuelsson
One of the earliest and definitely the largest salad bars ever featured appeared regularly in an American food restaurant in Chicago called R J Grunts beginning in 1971. The restaurant boasted forty different ingredients in their salad bar at any one time. Inspired by the health food craze of the 1970s, it was a virtual self-serve farmer’s market on a plate with most ingredients presented in their rawest form. This restaurant sparked the salad bar trend that swept the nation. And oh how we Americans love a good salad bar, so much so, that we have come to expect one in every restaurant and grocery store — the bigger the better; however, no one has done it as well as R J Grunts. Many small restaurants have tried to stay on trend by offering run-of-the-mill iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, shredded carrots, boiled eggs, frozen peas, croutons and shredded cheese, but a great salad bar is what Americans have sought after for fifty years. Sadly, covid19 has taken away the option of even eating out safely. One wonders if the American salad bar, as we have come to know it, will ever return.
Cookbook Lady’s Comments
As a caterer, one of my underlying challenges was creating ways to jazz-up my salad bar offerings without breaking the bank or creating an overwhelming workload. I never came close to offering forty options, but I did come up with a variety of ways to add flavor and interest to a salad bar. Over the course of my next several posts, I will be sharing some of my most popular “salad bar” recipes that will also work well for jazzing-up family meals, so check back often. Enjoy!
It turns out that home cooks have been preparing corn on the cob the same way for over a hundred years. Our pots are now stainless steel as opposed to cast iron, and our heat source is gas or electric instead of wood, but no matter the style of our stove, Americans still enjoy eating an ear of corn, piping hot and slathered with butter.
My one-hundred-year-old cookbook, Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners 1913, suggests preparing sweet corn using the tried and true method of dropping the husked ears into rapidly boiling water and cooking for five to ten minutes. This is the technique that I have used for years (recipe below) — simple and hassle free.
Have the water boiling. Remove the husks and silk from the corn and drop them at once into the boiling water; bring water quickly to boiling point and let boil rapidly five to ten minutes (depending somewhat on age of corn). Drain from water and arrange in a napkin-covered platter; serve at once.
Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Elizabeth O. Hiller, 1913
Freshness and Tenderness
When buying corn on the cob from a grocery store, its hard to know how long ago it was picked. Fortunately, good cookbooks offer tips on how to tell if the corn is fresh. The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 suggests popping a kernel (recipe below):
Choose the freshest corn possible. To test freshness and tenderness of corn, break a kernel with your fingernail. If the milk spurts out, the ear is young, tender and at least fairly fresh. Corn is best when cooked immediately after picking. Husk the corn and remove the silks. Have plenty of boiling water ready. Put ears of corn into a kettle and pour on enough boiling water to cover. Boil 4 to 6 minutes, depending on age and tenderness of ears. Drain thoroughly and serve immediately with salt and plenty of butter.
The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 by Meta Given
Food Tastes Better Outdoors
The original Weber kettle grill came out in 1952. By then America had recovered from the food rationing and shortages of WWII and outdoor grills offered a new way of cooking the recently available choice cuts of meat that folks had done without for so long. Backyard outdoor grilling took off like wildfire and we have never looked back! Right away cookbooks began to reflect this new trend, offering recipes and tips for cooking outdoors.
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959 gives instructions on two ways to cook corn on the cob outdoors — on the grill or directly in the coals (recipe below):
Remove silk from corn by turning back husks [do not break off the inner husks]. Replace inner husks. Place corn on grill, turn often. Roast about 15 minutes. Serve with plenty of butter, salt and pepper.
If desired, corn can be husked. Spread corn with butter, sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil. Place over hot coals about 10 to 15 minutes; turn several times.
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959
Iowa Corn on the Cob
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 quotes an Iowa woman offering tips for preparing corn on the cob. First she suggests a way to get rid of the corn silk, then she shares two different cooking methods — the traditional drop-the-ears-in-boiling-water method, and secondly, starting the corn on the cob in cold water. I have never tried this method, but I’m definitely interested in trying it. Finally, she warns the home cook to never salt the cooking water for corn as it toughens the kernel. Dang! I am guilty of that. I will never salt my corn water again.
An Iowa woman says, “Most good cooks in our neighborhood rush the corn from the garden, husk it; use a dry vegetable brush to brush away the stubborn silk, and drop the ears into boiling water to cover. They cook it 5 to 8 minutes — never more than 10. But I get more praise from folks around the table when I cover the corn with cold water; bring it to a boil — then drain the steaming ears and serve them at once. No smart country cook around here adds salt to the water when cooking sweet corn. It toughens the kernels.”
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971
Milk and Sugar
In the cookbook, Mrs. Witty’s Home-Style Menu Cookbook 1990, Mrs. Witty offers some up-to-date advice and suggests an energy efficient way to cook corn on the cob. She also mentions a couple of interesting add-ins (recipe below):
If corn is not to be cooked at once, refrigerate it without husking. Shuck the ears just before cooking.
Don’t heat a big potful of water, which takes time and fuel and overheats the kitchen; boil a few inches of water in a wide pot, add corn, sprinkle on a little sugar — 1 or 2 Tablespoons — clap on the lid, bring the water just back to a boil, turn off the heat, and leave the corn for 8 to 10 minutes, when it will be ready. Serve one round of ears at a time; the rest will come to no harm if left in the water for as long as a half an hour.
Some cooks salt the cooking water — I don’t, because it toughens the corn; some swear by a cupful of milk in the water, and some use milk plus salt or sugar. Whichever way seems best to you, just don’t cook corn to death, as was once considered necessary; half an hour’s boiling was a common direction in cookbooks gone by.
Mrs. Witty’s Home-Style Menu Cookbook 1990 by Helen Witty
Cookbook Lady’s Comments
If there is one thing that I have noticed when catering casual summertime meals, it is that many people are a little shy about tucking into a long hot ear of corn on the cob; it seems like a big messy commitment to them. However, a three inch piece of corn on the cob seems much more manageable even to the most dainty person. So cutting the cob into thirds or fourths with a heavy sharp chef’s knife will help to alleviate their hesitancy. The cutting is done before the cooking so the corn comes out of the pot “bite-size”. Extra napkins and perhaps some toothpicks on hand helps reduce any awkwardness that guests might feel.
As far as seasoning corn on the cob, I have learned that there are other ingredients that folks enjoy besides butter and salt and pepper, although those are the most popular. Mayonnaise, in place of butter, is very popular in some areas and is my personal favorite along with salt and pepper. For those who like a little heat, chili powder, smoked paprika and lime or other flavored seasonings sprinkled on corn (or any vegetable) offers a spicy Tex-Mex flavor that some folks like.
My best advice is to serve corn on the cob often during its peak season. Enjoy!
“For those who wonder why cabbage is way out in front as the American vegetable crop, the answer is a…four-letter word: slaw.”~Irma Rombauer The Joy of Cooking 1985
In the 1600s Dutch colonist settled in the new world on the east coast of what would become the United States. Dutch holdings included part of what is now New York state where industrious immigrates planted cabbage along the Hudson River from seed brought with them to this new land. They also brought along their recipe for “koolsla”, a salad made from finely chopped cabbage, dressed with a vinegar dressing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly, New York is still one of the top five cabbage producing states in the U.S. including Florida, California, Texas and Wisconsin. In 2016, these states produced over 1.8 million pounds of cabbage with nearly half of that being processed for slaw. Indeed, Americans have fully embraced coleslaw, often pairing it with another iconic American tradition — barbecue. Our summer picnics, cookouts and barbecues have even elevated coleslaw from a side dish to a condiment. Who doesn’t love a pulled pork sandwich piled high with cool crunchy slaw?
With cabbage having such a long history in America, it doesn’t come as a surprise that twentieth-century cookbooks contain a host of coleslaw or cabbage salad recipes. Recipes from the turn of the century were a simple combination of chopped cabbage tossed with a boiled dressing containing vinegar, a little sugar, salt and pepper, an egg and cream, but by the 1930s, things started to get interesting. Slaw makers began experimenting with the addition of fruit, assorted vegetables, seasonings and a variety of dressings. Some of these additions are still enjoyed today. Others have gone by the wayside, thankfully.
Coleslaw in the Thirties
Irma Rombauer, author of TheJoy of Cooking 1931, suggests adding green peppers, apples and celery to shredded cabbage for added flavor and texture. She offers two options for dressing — a French (vinaigrette) dressing or Boiled dressing. Ever practical, Ms. Rombauer offers some advice to home cooks preparing slaw as well, suggesting an improvised tool for chopping cabbage: [Place cabbage in] “a deep bowl and [use] the sharp edge of an [empty] baking powder can” [to chop the cabbage]. This homemade tool is something similar to the hand choppers we use today (EXAMPLE). Her Cole Slaw recipe also advises home cooks to soak the chopped cabbage in ice water for an hour to crisp it. Thankfully, today’s refrigeration makes this step obsolete.
The cookbook, Modern Meal Maker 1939 continues the creativity with several interesting ingredients as well. The first recipe simply titled “Coleslaw” calls for some chopped fresh mint “for an especially nice cooling salad,” to be dressed with Cream Salad Dressing (recipes below):
The second Modern Meal Maker recipe is similar to the Joy of Cooking 1931 coleslaw recipe calling for chopped apple and celery, and is also dressed with Boiled Dressing (recipes below):
The final Modern Meal Maker recipe appears to be a carry-over from the pineapple food fad of the 1920s called “Pineapple Slaw”. The recipe simply consists of a half cup crushed pineapple added to three cups shredded cabbage and is dressed with Golden Dressing, which incorporates the tropical flavors of pineapple, orange and lemon juice (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Forties
“Cabbage Carrot Salad” appears in The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 calling for an ingredient that is common in coleslaw today — shredded carrots — and a mayonnaise dressing, also common today, with orange sections for garnish (recipe below):
The recipe for “Cabbage Apple Salad” calls for chopped apple, of course, along with celery, green pepper, nuts and tomato to be dressed with Russian Dressing (a combination of mayo, chili sauce and chopped green pickle). With the help of pinking shears, a hollowed out head of cabbage, an unpared red apple and a stalk of celery, this salad makes a stunning presentation to be sure (recipe below):
Once again, pineapple shows up in “Cabbage Pineapple Salad” accompanied by an unusual ingredient — marshmallows. What?! Perhaps they were added to entice the children to eat their vegetables (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Fifties
A coleslaw recipe appearing in The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 titled “Farm Style Cole Slaw” offers the most minimalistic cabbage salad recipe by comparison, simply calling for three thinly sliced radishes to be added to three cups shredded cabbage, and a mayonnaise dressing.
Another recipe called “Vegetable Slaw” contains shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced celery and minced onion lightly tossed in a dressing made of mayo, mustard and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter!
The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959, in the section titled “From Field and Stream” is a recipe with a long name, “Coleslaw to Serve with Fish and Game”. Its not the ingredients that make this recipe interesting, its the recipe immediately preceding the coleslaw recipe that captures ones imagination — Roast Racoon, seriously!
This post would not be a thorough representation of twentieth-century recipes if I did not include a gelatin-enhanced cabbage salad. Again The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959 provides an interesting example called “Slaw with Mustard Mold”. The slaw is a combination of shredded cabbage, chopped salted peanuts and diced pimientos dressed with a French (vinaigrette) Dressing. The Mustard Mold, meant to crown the top of the cabbage salad, is a cooked mixture of unflavored gelatin, water, sugar, dry mustard, vinegar and eggs. The mixture is cooled and allowed to partially set, at which time whipped cream is folded in and the whole concoction is poured into a mold and chilled until firm. To serve, the slaw is layered on a platter with the mustard gelatin perched on top. A tasty addition to any potluck, I’m sure.
Coleslaw in the Sixties
In The New York Times Cook Book 1961, Craig Claiborne published a recipe titled “Cole Slaw with Caraway”. This understated combination of chopped cabbage and minced onion is tossed with a simple mayonnaise dressing seasoned with lemon juice, caraway seeds and salt and pepper. Claiborne even offers a helpful tip to home cooks, “blend the mixture well with the hands”.
About the same time Claiborne’s cookbook went on sale, McCormick–Schilling, published their recipe for “Caraway Cole Slaw” in a charming booklet titled “Let’s Eat Outdoors”:
Coleslaw in the Seventies
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 offers two recipes with an ingredient that has not been mentioned yet — raisins. I like raisins, but the inclusion comes as a surprise as the popularity of these dried gems has declined throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Today raisin producers have had to return to the advertising drawing board to try to generate interest and bolster declining sales.
The first recipe, titled “Cabbage Salad Bowl” calls for raisins soaked in orange juice, cabbage and shredded carrot. To me, this sounds like a recipe worth trying (recipe below):
The second Busy Woman 1971 recipe, one with an intriguing name, “Carolina Autumn Salad” contains what are almost classic coleslaw ingredients at this point — cabbage, apples and celery, along with a half cup seedless raisins. This is another recipe I would be willing to try (recipe below):
Bringing us full circle is a recipe from the Joy of Cooking 1985 edition, calling for yet another unexpected fruit to go with the cabbage — green grapes. However, its the dressing that really gets a makeover. Starting with whipped cream, the following ingredients are folded in — lemon juice, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper and slivered blanched almonds. I’m not sure about this recipe, but how can anything with whipped cream in it be bad?
I’m tossing my favorite coleslaw recipe into the mix. Its a simple combination of cabbage and apples, but my grandmother’s Poppy Seed Dressing takes this slaw to a whole new level. It is sweet and it is sassy, and it is a crowd pleaser. Mix some up for your next barbecue. You will be glad you did. Enjoy!
2 apples, shredded or julienned (Honeycrisp apples have thin, tender peels)
Poppy Seed Dressing
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Colman’s dry mustard
1 tsp poppy seeds
Using a blender or immersion blender, pulse dressing ingredients until mixture begins to emulsify; set aside.
Shred apples using a box grater or mandolin. Toss apples with shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Drizzle with half the prepared Poppy Seed Dressing; toss to coat. Add more dressing if needed. (Remaining vinaigrette makes a great fruit salad dressing).
Garnish slaw with apple slices and additional poppy seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
As a kid did you ever play travel games to pass the time while on a road trip? I remember playing “I Spy”, the “License Plate” game and “Simon Says” with my siblings as we drove across the state to visit our grandparents. My personal favorite was the memory game “Going on a Picnic” where each player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” the player then lists an item starting with the letter “A” such as Apples. The next player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring Apples and…”, that player adds an item beginning with “B“, and so on. In our version, the items didn’t always have to be food items — every picnic needs Paper Plates, Napkins, a Volley ball and maybe an Umbrella, in case of rain. As I recall, the last person always brought Zucchini.
Picnic Bean Salad
Most times, when my family took a road trip, it was for a family celebration or reunion which often involved a potluck picnic where everyone brought their signature dish to share — a dish that travels well, serves a lot of people and gets the cook the most compliments. On my husband’s side of the family, my signature dish has become Four Bean Salad (a recipe handed down on my mother’s side of the family). I almost feel guilty that such an easy salad is my requested contribution. There is almost no work involved in the prep as most of the ingredients come from a can. It travels/stores well since there is no mayonnaise in the dressing and the presentation is eye-catching with all the colorful ingredients. Best of all, the flavor is zippy! Lucky is the person who gets the last few tablespoons of vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl once the vegetables are gone. Drizzle that over potato salad or green salad and it takes flavor to a whole new level!
Nouveau Bean Salad
I remember my grandmother making Bean Salad when I was a little girl. With some research in my twentieth-century cookbooks, I discovered that Bean Salad was still fairly nouveou in the 1960s. The first Bean Salad recipe on record was printed in a booklet put out by Stokely — Van Camp (processors of canned dried beans and makers of pork-and-beans) in the 1950s. The earliest recipe printed in a comprehensive cookbook is found in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. The Good Housekeeping recipe, appropriately titled Three Bean Salad, calls for one pound cans of french-cut green beans, yellow wax beans and red kidney beans drained and combined with half cups of minced green pepper and onion, to be dressed with a classic vinaigrette consisting of salad oil, cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. The directions suggest making the salad the day before serving to allow flavors to blend. My grandmother’s Four Bean Salad (recipe below) is very much like this recipe.
A Good Vegetable Salad
While researching pre-1950s cookbooks, I didn’t find a single bean salad recipe, but I did find recipes for marinated green beans to be served as a cold salad, so I’m wondering if marinated green beans might have been the precursor to the now classic Bean Salad.
Elizabeth O. Hiller’s 52 Sunday Dinners 1913 suggests serving a cold Veal Loaf (very similar to meatloaf of today) on the first Sunday in July. The recipe instructs the home cook to pack the seasoned ground veal “solidly in a granite, brick-shaped bread pan” and “bake in a moderate oven for three hours”. The veal loaf is then chilled, removed to a platter and surrounded with a “good vegetable salad”. The recommended vegetable salad is String Bean Salad (recipe above) comprised of cooked string beans, void of strings of course, marinated in French Dressing (meaning a vinaigrette) sprinkled with sliced fresh onion, chopped parsley and Nasturtium blossoms for garnish (Nasturtiums are a brightly-colored edible flower with a peppery flavor similar to radishes). Joy of Cooking 1931 also presents a comparable marinated String Bean Salad minus the veal loaf and flower blossoms.
Modern Stringless Green Beans
Beans (Green or Wax) Young pods are now stringless. ~Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950
After decades of hybridizing, string beans finally lost the fibrous strand that ran the length of each bean as announced by the authors of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950. With no strings attached, the beans eventually came to be known as green beans (however my grandmother called them string beans her whole life). The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 used modern terminology when naming its dish “Green” Bean Salad (recipe above). Celery and radishes were added for crunch, and mayonnaise is suggested as an option for dressing the salad.
At Long Last
Finally, in the early 1960s, a clever cook thought to add cooked dried beans to a marinated green bean salad — and the rest, as they say, is history. In this charming 1964 women’s magazine ad for Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing, if we look closely enough, we can see a recipe for Three Bean Salad calling for 2 cups lima beans, 2 cups kidney beans, 2 cups cooked cut green beans, 1 cup chopped tomato, 1 cup sliced celery and half a cup of chopped sweet pickles, tossed with Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing.
Bean salads are always popular, especially for buffet serving. ~Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966
Ms. Church speaks authoritatively of the popularity of Bean Salads so we can assume that by 1966 the concept had been around for several years. Then, as with recipes now, cooks loved to personalize their dishes. The recipe in Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966 is called Chinese Bean Salad (not surprising since Americans have had a fascination with “exotic” food post WWII). Ingredients include green beans, wax beans, (no dried beans however) water chestnuts and red onions tossed in a dressing of vinegar, sugar, salad oil, soy sauce and celery salt.
Bean Salad Flattery
The Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 includes a recipe titled Overnight Bean Salad located in the “Make-Ahead Cooking” section promoting the convenience of Bean Salad. Interestingly, the recipe is exactly the same recipe as described above from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. Its said that imitation is the best form of flattery. I’d say its also a good indicator of a great recipe.
Below is my family’s recipe for Bean Salad. We call it Four Bean Salad. It could also be called Four Generation Bean Salad as it is the recipe my grandmother used, the one my mother and I use and the one my daughters now use. Anyone of us could say, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring a really good Bean Salad”. Enjoy!
Every spring, when I was a kid, my mom would make Creamed New Potatoes and Peas. My siblings and I loved it. Recently, I started wondering about the history of this dish — did the world know about Creamed New Potatoes and Peas or was it just a regional dish developed here in potato-growing country. I delved into my twentieth-century cookbooks to see what I could find. Right away, I learned that Creamed Potatoes has been a “thing” for at least a century, but the peas? Not so much. I also learned, quite unexpectedly, about a “lost” recipe style.
What’s In a Recipe?
My mother cooked mostly without a recipe, but as modern home cooks, we have some expectations regarding the information to be included in a recipe — a list of ingredients, the amount needed, directions on assembly, cooking or baking instructions, even serving suggestions. Interestingly, a number of recipes in my older cookbooks are written instead in a short truncated style that doesn’t include a lot of detail, leaving a home cook to rely on her own instincts and kitchen experience.
Examples of recipes written in this brief style:
There are no amounts given in the recipe above, nor does it tell the ratio of potatoes to white sauce. Another brief recipe below, gives only three sentences of instruction. The third recipe again has no measurements. I’m lost!
No wonder my mother and grandmother didn’t cook with a recipe. They weren’t always that helpful. One cookbook from the 1930s had so many recipes written in this truncated format that the editors gave them a name — “recipe-ettes” (see below). I’m glad this style didn’t catch on. I prefer lots of detail in my recipes.
A Creamy Foundation
While reading, I also looked into the history of white sauce (see recipe above). I learned that white sauce is simply the American version of a french sauce that has been around for hundreds of years called Bechamel (recipe below). Both sauces begin with a roux, which is a mixture of equal parts fat (usually butter) and flour that is cooked together for several minutes. For the American sauce, cold milk or cream is whisked into the hot roux, brought to a boil and simmered until the mixture is thickened. The French add broth to the roux, then finish the bechamel with cream. They also tend to cook their sauces much longer than Americans. I guess we are in a hurry.
Some Creamed New Potato recipes call for a super-simple sauce of heated cream seasoned with butter and salt and pepper to be poured over cooked potatoes (below). That’s for when we are really in a hurry.
Herbs and Seasonings
Adding herbs or spices to an ordinary dish is a great way to personalize a recipe and turn it into a signature dish. My old cookbooks offered some suggestions. The New York Times Cook Book 1961 featured a recipe for Herbed New Potatoes with Fresh Peas (finally someone added peas!). It calls for two pounds new potatoes, one pound fresh shelled green peas and a little light cream with dried basil for flavor and fresh parsley for garnish. A Creamed Potatoes recipe found in Joy of Cooking 1985 calls for boiled new potatoes, white sauce and dill seed for flavor. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950 calls for small new potatoes, white sauce and parsley or chives for garnish. Several other recipes call for a dusting of paprika to finish the dish.
In the late eighties, I watched a cooking show on PBS hosted by Marcia Adams, author of the award-winning cookbook Cooking from Quilt Country 1989 featuring regional (mid-west) home-style cooking. I enjoyed her program so much that I ordered the companion cookbook. I have loved it these past thirty years. The recipes are humble yet delicious, calling for ingredients readily available from farmer’s markets and grocery stores. It is from this book (and my mom’s “recipe”) that I based my recipe for Creamed New Potatoes and Peas (Yes! Adam’s recipe actually calls for peas). She uses two pounds small red potatoes and a cup and a half of green peas, fresh or frozen. The peas are added to the thin white sauce that has been seasoned with nutmeg (I have never included nutmeg), and is then poured over the boiled potatoes. She suggests a garnish of mint leaves or chives. The directions for the dish are four paragraphs long with plenty of detail. Awesome! With the addition of chopped onion, celery and a little garlic, the recipe has become my own. Enjoy!
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