More and more, Kris is becoming my partner on these blogs. Here she provides a guest entry for foldedspace.

Over the past few months, I’ve entered hundreds of recipes into MacGourmet, a computerized recipe database. While working on my recipe project this weekend, I came across an old mimeographed and bound cookbook put together in 1947 when both my grandparents and great-grandparents were working for a naval base in California. I thought you’d get a chuckle out of these.

Ambrosia Pie (Great Grandmother)
1 pint heavy cream
16 large ginger snaps, + 2 extra for garnish
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp sugar
9″ graham cracker pie crust
This is an ice-box dessert and should be prepared 6-8 hours before use. Whip the cream so it will hold its shape but not be too dry. Break the gingersnaps into pieces about the size of a quarter and stir into the whipped cream. Add the sugar and vanilla and heap into your pie shell. Sprinkle with crushed remaining two cookies. Set in refrigerator until ready for use.

Chicken Chasseur (from Grandmother)
Take one stewing hen. Boil with 3 stalks of celery, 1 large onion, salt and 5 peppercorns. When tender, remove meat from bones, put in casserole with onions. Add parsley, sage and thyme. Pour over meat 1 cup dry white wine and 1 cup cooking liquor. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and add 2 lumps of chicken fat. Cook in 325 degree oven for a half-hour.

Chocolate Puffs (Great Grandmother)
1 large bar Baker’s bittersweet chocolate
2 squares baking chocolate
1 package Rice Crispies cereal
Melt chocolates together in a double boiler. Pour in the Rice Crispies. Stir until they are uniformly coated in the chocolate. Drop by large spoonsful upon waxed paper and put outside to cool. This is something a child can successfully make.

Boneless Birds (from Great Grandfather)
Split the flank steak or have the butcher do it, then cut each half in half again to make 4 6″ squares. Lay flat, season well with salt and pepper. On each piece, at one end, place a piece of bacon, a sliver of dill pickle cut lengthwise, some chopped onion and a slice of garlic salami (diced small). Roll up each steak and skewer neatly with toothpicks. Fold ends together and skewer to keep contents in.
Put a teaspoon of fat in a Dutch oven and brown the “birds” well on all sides. Then, add any leftover onion, a teaspoon of vinegar, a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce. a bay leaf and a can of tomato paste. Reduce heat and cook slowly for one hour. Add water if it gets too dry.

Fruit Salad Dressing (Great Grandmother)
1 egg, well-beaten
2 Tbsp sugar
pinch salt
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp dry mustard, heaping
1 cup heavy cream
Cook all ingredients except the cream until they get quite thick. This must be done in a double boiler. Cool. Just before you are ready to use, whip the cream quite stiff and at the last few turns of he beater, fold in the cooked mixture. Pile on top of your fruit salad and top with a cherry. This makes an excellent tangy dressing.

These recipes are so, well, vague. What are you supposed to do with the Chicken Chasseur? Eat it over noodles? By itself? And what about the ingredients? There aren’t any amounts for anything! How much parsley? Where does the chicken fat come from?

It’s not just the vagueness that shocks our modern sensibilities. The very notion of eating some of these things puts my stomach ill-at-ease. Ambrosia pie? It’s just whipped cream with soggy cookies! And what’s up with that fruit salad dressing? (Just reading the ingredients makes J.D. sick.)

Aside from the “ick” factor, reading recipes like this should remind us that we need to provide specific weights and measures when we write things down for friends and family. (At least if we want our recipes to be prepared by our descendants.) Who knows if a package of Rice Krispies from 1947 is the same size as it is now. How much, exactly, is “one large bar of Baker’s bittersweet chocolate”? And how about “16 large ginger snaps”?

I’ve only posted the silliest recipes here, but I found my great-grandfather’s crepe recipe, which I remember eating in my grandmother’s house, and a braided Christmas pastry recipe that brings back fond memories. So many of our childhood memories involve food — it would be great if the recipes that we (not J.D. and I — but we as a generation) passed on were actually useable by our children. (Not to mention appetizing!)

5 Replies to “Ambrosia Pie, and Other Recipes from the 1940s”

  1. jenefer says:

    I laughed about this entry. You have to keep two things in mind. First, your great grandmother was a notoriously terrible cook. She seldom made anything the same twice and often fiddled with the recipe while she was putting the ingredients together. All she needed were the ingredients and some creativity. Her cooking was an art and often turned out poorly. Mother (your grandmother) took over the cooking at a tender age out of desperation and a need for survival.

    Second, cooking was a lot more creative then. Mother seldom measured things, just eye-balled it. When I watch Rachel Ray, I am often reminded of Mother’s cooking because she just uses her had instead of a measuring cup or spoon. A pinch of this or that and a feeling for the consistency or texture is more important than a specific measurement. Many of Mother and Main’s old recipe’s have weights instead of cup measurements.

    Glad you still remember the crepes fondly. I made them recently. Still as yummy as ever.

    If we teach our children to cook instead of just expecting them to read, they will know what to do with the recipe. A large part of the fun is cooking and creating together. I am still teaching our adult children and have moved on to some of their friends whose parents don’t cook. I hope when they use the recipe they will have as great a memory of making the dish as you have of eating the dish.

  2. mrs darling says:

    The old Mennonite Cookbook that was handed down to my generation is just as unusable. It says things like, “use the cracklins from the lard,” or “hang pot over open fire and simmer”.

    And therecipes are so heavy on lard its amazing anyone lived past thirty! I keep my Mennonite Cookbook though. I enjoy looking through it and seeing all the notations my sisters and I wrote beside the recipes as young girls.

    One recipe has a name something like Cherry Noodle Dumplings. In the margin we wrote, “Never make again. Pop says it looks like bloodclots and tonsils!”

  3. Jane says:

    Chicken fat floats to the top when you boil one of the little critters. You can get more quickly by frying or boiling a bunch of chicken skin. Skim it off and stick it in a washed out ben and jerry’s container in the freezer till needed. Or buy some schmalz.

    Baker’s chocolate is a brand that’s been around. “Baking chocolate” is unsweetened, one square is an ounce, and one bar is 6 ounces. Rice Krispie boxes used to be 5 and a half ounces. If you omit the rice krispies, substitute a good brand of dark chocolate, and don’t heat it the recipe will be great.

    The salad dressing is a classic from old cook books. mmmmmmmm!

    Cooking used to be different. Flour was less constant in moisture content. Ovens didn’t have reliable thermostats. Texture and visual feedbacks were important. Food was terrible, limited in variety, as high in fat as was affordable, and omitted/substituted ingredients were rampant. People also had to walk to school in the snow 10 miles each way all year long.

    The same might be true for our post-apocalyptic decendants.

  4. Lisa says:

    I like to give my mother-in-law a bad time about her recipes, because she often forgets to note something essential. While she understands my frustration, she usually just laughs.

    She once made almond cookies from her mother’s recipe that didn’t turn out well. When she asked about it, they decided that she hadn’t included the almond extract, which wasn’t mentioned in the recipe. Her mom’s comment: “Everybody knows that you’d put almond extract in almond cookies.” I think it kind of sums up the attitude from cooking at the time.

    I do admire the ability to cook with whatever is at hand, but it takes an incredibly good cook to make it all edible. I bet there were plenty of failures from recipes like that.

  5. Amy Jo says:

    I have both of my grandmothers’ recipe collections. Most recipes are clipped from newspapers or women’s magazines or written on a piece of scrap paper or on the back of a postmarked envelope. There’s not much I want to cook or eat, but I look through them from time to time when I’m feeling nostalgic (see for one of my efforts to prepare one of my maternal grandemother’s recipes). These collections and the handful of kitchen tools I inherited (and a couple of quilts and photos) are all that I have to remember my grandmothers by.

    Many recipes are written as “notes” to help the cook prepare them by feel and taste, the way I learned to cook. My mom prepares most of her regular “recipes” in this way; however, if she is preparing something new she leans on the recipe pretty hard. I’ve finally reached a time when there are specific things, mostly baked goods, that I can prepare without consulting a recipe, but it has taken me a long time to build the skills and the confidence to do so. I’m also much more comfortable winging it.

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