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When things don’t go as planned…

Sometimes things change despite best efforts and best intentions. One of those stumbling blocks hit earlier this year when I discovered that I am very allergic to wheat and/or gluten. Is it celiac? Who knows? At this point it doesn’t much matter. All my cooking methods have to change.

Or do they? I’ve spent the past several months delving into the mysteries of gluten free baking. I found a set of cookbooks and a gluten free flour mix that I really like, and they work well for me.  I’ve learned to bake cupcakes that don’t overflow the pan, wrap hot dogs in dough for a quick hand held meal, and make a good gravy or white sauce.

The new gluten free recipes were tasty, and we were eating well. However, I felt a bit of a lack. Something was missing. That connection to the past that I loved was no longer in my kitchen.

Of course, it took me a few weeks to determine this. Over the last few days I paged back through my favorite 1920s cookbooks. And I thought… How hard would it be to convert some of these recipes to gluten free or allergy friendly? Many of them already contain no flour, wheat, rye, or barley. They use ingredients like milk, vegetables, sugar, and fish. Soy is nowhere to be found in most of them. The most decadent recipes reside in a candy cookbook, and in there one finds a call for white corn syrup. Not high fructose corn syrup, but the corn syrup found on the grocery store shelves. The best ingredient for our bodies? No, but who makes candy every day in a home kitchen? Certainly not me!

I began to go through the recipes again. Tuesday night’s dinner included a light cream of asparagus soup that involved opening no cans. Here is the recipe:

Asparagus Soup

from The Fifty Two Sunday Dinners, 1927 Ed., Woman’s World Magazine

Cut the head ends off, in 3 or 4-inch lengths, and use this part of a bunch of asparagus as a vegetable or cold boiled as a salad. Scrape the stalk ends, wash well, and cook in quart of lightly salted water for 30 minutes, or until the stalks are very tender. Rub through a sieve. To 3 cups of asparagus water add 1/2 tsp onion juice and 1/2 pint milk, scalding hot. Heat all in double boiler, and thicken with 2 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons flour. Season with salt and white pepper, and serve with toasted crackers or croutons.

Boston Cream Pie and Modern Priscilla

In 1924 The Modern Priscilla published a cookbook. The Modern Priscilla was a popular women’s magazine filled with needlework and household information that ceased publication in 1930. The 1924 edition has some good recipes in it — and I’ll get to those — but my favorite edition of the Modern Priscilla cookbook is from 1929.

I’ve used this cookbook for several years. Last November I decided to attempt something new: I made Boston Cream Pie. It was my birthday and I was looking for something that wasn’t heavily laden with icing. Boston Cream Pie looked like it would do nicely, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I hope you won’t be disappointed either.

Boston Cream Pie

1 egg
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 1/4 cups cake or pastry flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted shortening

Beat egg and sugar. Then add, alternately, the milk, and flour, baking powder, and salt which have been sifted together. Add shortening and flavoring. Beat well. Bake in two layers in a moderately hot oven. Cool and put together with Cream Filling. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.
Time in baking, 30 minutes. Temperature, 375 F. Serves 12.

Cream Filling

1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Scald milk, add sugar, flour, and salt and mix together and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add egg, slightly beaten, and cook a few minutes longer. Cool and add flavoring. Enough for 8-inch 2-layer cake.

Welcome to my little corner of the world!

Welcome to my corner. You can sit at the kitchen table and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while we discuss cooking and recipes from the Turn of the Century to World War II, or you can wander into my sewing room, where we can talk about fashions, sewing, needlework, and decorating trends from the same era.

For a long time I’ve been fascinated with the social history and culture of the early 1900s. It started with needlework, and I sat for hours browsing through old women’s magazines looking for patterns to try. Then, somewhere along the line, I realized that those magazines had recipes in them as well and that I’d found a goldmine of cooking knowledge. I tried a few of those recipes and found that I liked them. Some of them were tasty. Others seemed a bit lacking, but none of them sent us screaming for the nearest Wendy’s in the same way that some “modern” recipes made us look up from the dinner table and pile into the car.

Over the years I’ve amassed a small but intriguing collection of old cookbooks and sewing manuals, not to mention a well-loved stack of magazines that lives behind cupboard doors to keep out the light. These are things I would like to share. In these pages are cooking hints most of us have forgotten, sewing techniques some of us never knew, and short stories written by some of the biggest names in fiction in their time.

What are the benefits of sewing and cooking in the old way? Well, one benefit is that they include few short cuts. You’ll be pressed to find a recipe that calls for canned anything prior to 1924, unless it might be pimentos or tuna, or an ad for Campbell’s soup. In the same way, the sewing instructions of the past told us to baste before we sewed — and did you know there are several basting stitches, and you choose the stitch to match the type of fabric or the kind of join you want to make? I didn’t either. And I’ve been sewing for over 30 years.

Join me in my journey into the sewing and cooking techniques of yesteryear. Let’s go there together.