Recently I spent an evening thumbing through not ancient, but outdated cookbooks my mother accumulated over the years. One particular cookbook, compiled of personal recipes by alumni and friends of the local “Our Lady of the Holy Rosary School,” indicates how prudent people were when it came to feeding their family. Old recipes offer a fascinating glimpse into the culinary budget restraints of the past and the thriftiness of the cooks.
What Old Recipes Divulge
I want to note that although the cookbook “Sharing Recipes” was published toward the end of the ’60s, some of the people who donated their recipes to the book were 1927 alumni. It is my guess that many of these recipes were around long before the book published.
While reading, I observed a common thread throughout the 1968 cookbook. That is a “lack” of ingredients in the recipes. Many of the recipes utilize the most basic food elements. The incorporation of summer vegetables is prevalent, be it a casserole or in dessert recipes for cookies and pies.
Just about every household here in north central Massachusetts maintained a summer vegetable garden. As a major furniture manufacturing area, most breadwinners took employment in a wood shop and weekly pay was minimal. Growing your own vegetables to eat and to use for canning was essential to stretch the food budget in nearly every family.
My mother spent weeks of endless hours canning tomatoes and making spaghetti sauce from scratch, which she also canned. Our cellar shelves, lined with Mason jars of carrots, zucchini, green beans, piccalilli, crab apples and applesauce made with fresh-picked fall apples, were intended to take the family through the long winter months.
Recipe Titles Tell a Story
Browsing through the “Sharing Recipes” cookbook, I found myself quite intrigued by some of the no-nonsense recipes. I experienced vivid flashbacks of eating many “unusual” meals like this as a kid. Money was tight and cooks (generally the mother) had to be creative using few and not always the tastiest combination of ingredients. I never turned down a meal, though, no matter what my mother concocted. In our house, if you did not like the meal-you went hungry!
One of my pet recipes in the book, submitted by a nun, is a dish called “Catch-All Casserole.” It is a combination of ground chuck, chopped tomatoes, corn, onions and water; baked under a layer of seasoned stuffing. Thank goodness, the stuffing is seasoned. This does not sound too appetizing, but as I said, people made do with whatever they had on hand.
Other recipes I came across clearly show the resourcefulness of the time: “Tomato Soup (Surprise) Cake,” “Poverty Cake,” which includes vinegar (something that appears popular) and “Pizza Style Steak.” “Pizza Style Steak” is an odd mishmash of cubed steak browned in oil and then covered with a can of tomatoes, oregano and a cup of grated Romano cheese.
The recipe calls for the cubed steak to simmer an hour, but honestly, would there be anything left to eat? Cube steak never happened in my house. That would have been like having prime rib. The owner of this recipe surely ranked in social status!
Cake in a Cone Recipe
You cannot beat this recipe for simplicity. Taken from “Sharing Recipes,” I have a feeling mothers delighted many a child with this fun recipe. Old cookbooks full of dusty recipes tell a marvelous story of life!
1 – What You Will Need
1 box cake mix, flavor of choice
Flat-bottom ice cream cones
Frosting – your choice
2 – Directions
Mix cake according to instructions on box. Spoon the batter into the cone until ½ full. Stand cones in ungreased muffin pans or place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 18 minutes. Cool cones on rack and frost and decorate as desired.
*”Sharing Recipes” cookbook – published by Circulation Service – Copyright 1968-1984
*Our Lady of the Holy Rosary School