Archive for April, 2013

Love Affair

This love affair continues.

May 1979

The modern Southern restaurant cook is having an illicit love affair with the deep fat fryer. This is the conclusion I am forced to arrive at after spending a week sampling the food in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. This poignant liaison is not limited to dingy diners or third-rate joints. It flourishes just as exotically in classy cafeterias and delightfully elite dining rooms of haughty hotels.

While the affair amour may be illicit, it is not hidden away out of sight but blooms impartially in all its greasy glory on brown plastic counters or white linen clad tables.

As I, accompanied by my farmer, was eating my way down the streets and byways of Natchy, Mobile,Vicksburg and New Orleans the crusty golden brown offerings to the French fry goddess began to taste surprisingly good after I once became reconciled to the sudden demise of the baked potato below the Mason Dixon Line.

The peak of this gustatory experience was achieved one night at a charming restaurant in Natchy under the hill. After a torturous drive down the bluffs bordering one side of the river, the bus came to the very edge of the mighty Mississippi with its myriad lights and fascinating cargoes. Close by was this popular new eating place built to look as if it were 100 years old and featuring primitiveness, lanterns, checked tablecloths, tinned plates and battered cups.

After a suitably long interval designed to show tourists that no one ever, ever moves quickly in the southern part of the United States the waiters brought in platters filled with fried cat-fish fillets, French fried potatoes and piles of fried hush puppies. Cole slaw (it had somehow escaped the hot oil) and Jalapeno cornbread served in a cast iron skillet rounded out the meal.

Then as dinner was progressing the tour guide ordered, as a singular treat for all, the new specialty of the house. French fried batter dipped dill pickle slices! And for $5.00 a plate! Quite a mark up for a pickle. To report truthfully, the dill slices had no unique flavor, just crispy crust with a fried taste.

After digesting all this fried food even my gall bladder was convinced of the truth of the rumors about the love affair; but just as I accepted the inevitable, the southern chef in a fickle mood wearied of his first love and turned for a brief dalliance with his second mistress. Gravy. And this is not just a simple flour and milk gravy sitting quietly waiting to be discreetly dipped over mashed potatoes. Oh, no, this gravy is such a favorite of the head man in the kitchen it is poured unstintingly over all the food on the dinner plate of the helpless patron whether he wants the gluey gook or not.

When the cook wasn’t carrying on with the deep fat fryer or gravy he produced feathery biscuits, a continuous flow of grits, and delectable egg custards that were served in individual cups and made an agreeable dessert after a heavy dinner.

For a Touch of the South – In a cook book put out by the Junior League of La Fayette, Louisiana I found these recipes.
2 c. milk 1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon soda 1 tablespoon butter
2 sticks cinnamon 3 egg whites
2 tablespoons flour 1 c. finely ground soda crackers
4 tablespoons corn starch 1 c. sugar
6 egg yolks ½ teaspoon salt
Scald 3 cups milk, soda and cinnamon. Combine 1 cup cold milk with flour and cornstarch. Beat until smooth.To this mixture add 1 cup of the hot milk, 1 cup sugar and the 6 egg yolks. Beat well. Combine with rest of milk and cook in heavy sauce pan or double boiler until thick.Remove from stove. Add salt, vanilla and butter. Beat. Pour in greased 8 inch square pan about ¼ inch thick. Chill overnight.

Cut in squares. Beat egg whites. Dip custard squares in to whites, then into cracker crumbs.

Fry in hot fat, 1 inch deep, until brown. Drain on paper. Serve hot. 8 servings.

Nanny’s Custard
4 eggs 3 cups milk
½ cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla
Separate egg yolks and white. Beat yolks. Add sugar. Scald milk. Beat whites until stiff. Pour hot milk slowly in yolk sugar mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites.Pour in a casserole and place in pan of hot water and bake in a 375° oven for 30 minutes.

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Pie Love

I love pie and so did my grandmother, she made the best pies. My grandmother had a lot to say about pies. Here is one article describing the variety, history and wonder of pies and a good pie crust. There are some great pie crust recipes at the end.

April 1983

Pies have been a favorite food since pioneer days when they were eaten for breakfast as well as dinner and supper. Every home had a pantry just off the kitchen. Here was the pie safe – an enclosed cupboard, often with doors of perforated tin to allow for circulation of air. Inside were shelves set just wide enough apart to accommodate the depth of a pie. A lot of pies could be stored in a small area.

In many early day households one specific day each week was pie baking day. Often 16 to 30 pies were made, enough to supply the hungry family for the next week. Since the basic ingredients were homegrown they were a cheap source of food energy. Besides everyone liked to eat pie.

Each fall hogs were butchered for the year’s supply of cured meat. The day after the killing the women rendered the fat and made lard. This was stored in large stone jars in the coolest place available.

Wheat was ground into flour at a nearby mill so the makings for pie crust, flour and lard, were always on hand.

If the cow was fresh and the hens laying, creamy custard pies could be made. Burnt sugar cream pie with a meringue topping was another variation of the basic materials – eggs, milk, lard and flour.

In summertime home orchards yielded apples, peaches and cherries for pies. Here on the plains the fruit of the sturdy mulberry tree made a marvelously juicy pie. Farther east wild blackberries grew in the woods and the children were dent to pick them.

I mustn’t forget to mention tart pie plant growing in kitchen gardens that are so popular as a pie filling. It’s called rhubarb now.

When winter came, dried apples and peaches as well as canned fruit were used as fillings. When all else failed the resourceful housewife came up with vinegar pie which used sugar, vinegar, flour, spices and water and was baked in a crust like custard pie.

Another eggless type filling was sweet cream, thickened with flour, laced with sugar, and sprinkled with cinnamon.

In recent times some nutritionists have laid a guilt trip on anyone making pie, not to mention the horrible consequences of eating it. It’s peculiar that obesity is an affliction of modern times when you remember the past high pie consumption rate without fat piling up on the body.

I notice that today pie still disappears fast at farm auctions and church suppers. People just plain enjoy a perfect piece of pie with a flaky crust and a flavorful filling. Here are some basic recipes for crust for you to compare with your own and maybe try – also one fruit pie recipe.


Flaky Pastry
2 cups sifted flour ½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup shortening or 2/3 cup lard 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Combine flour and salt. Cut in shorting with a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form.Sprinkle ice water over crumb mixture, tossing with a fork until dough forms. Press into ball. Use as directed in pie recipe.
Makes pastry for one 2-crust 8 or 9 inch pie.
Electric Mixer Pastry
1 ¾ cup flour ½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening ¼ cup iced water
Combine flour, salt and shortening. Mix 30 seconds, until coarse crumbs form using mixer at low speed.Add ice water all at once and mix on low speed for 15 seconds. Press firmly into ball. Use as directed in pie recipe. Makes 1 two-crust pie.
Country Pastry
2 cups sifted flour ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder ¼ cup boiling water
¾ cup lard 1 tablespoon milk
Combine flour, salt and baking powder. Pour boiling water over lard in another bowl. Stir until blended. Stir in milk. Add dry ingredients to lard mixture. Stir until dough forms.Chill 1 hour. Use as directed in recipe.
Makes 1 two-crust pie.
Apple- Cherry Pie
3 ½ cups thinly sliced tart apples 2 cups sour red cherries, drained
1 cup sugar ¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Roll out larger half of pastry to 13-inch circle. Line 9-inch pan with pastry. Trim to ½ inch beyond rim of pie plate.Combine all ingredients except butter. Pour into pastry shell. Dot with butter.Roll out remaining pastry to 11-inch circle. Cut slits. Place top crust over filling and trim to 1-inch beyond rimof pie plate. Fold top crust under lower crust and form a ridge. Pinch edges.Bake at 400° for 50 minutes. Cool on rack.

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Get to Gardening

As I prepare my small container garden for my small deck I thought about what my Grandma had to say about the joys of gardening and the cost savings. If you’re lucky enough to have the space for it try it out for yourself. Below is an article from April 1980.

April 1980

“Whenever Spring comes I have to get out on the ocean in a sailboat and sail,” says E. B. White, my favorite essayist. He doesn’t especially like all the trouble and expense of owning a boat, or all the hard work involved in sailing it, or being alone out on the water; but he has no choice. When the wind is just right and the sun sparkles on the waves, he has to be down to the sea and sailing.

So it is with me. Whenever Spring comes I have to get out in the fresh air and garden. I don’t especially like making straight rows that turn out crooked, or bending double to plant the seeds, or hoeing down interminable stretches of rows, or picking the vegetables while gnats buzz in my ears and sweat fogs my glasses, or preparing the food for the table or freezer; but I have no choice. When the sun warms the crumbly brown loam and the birds call to each other with delight and the white clouds laze in the blue Kansas sky I have to be down in the garden patch and planting.

I like to go to the Andale Co-op at Sedgwick, look at all the jars of seeds and have Elmer Christiansen help my springtime fantasies grow.

On the practical side a compulsion to garden will yield two or three hundred dollars worth of food in one season. The economic value will climb higher if a strawberry bed and cherry, apple, peach or plum trees are yielding fruit.

An asparagus bed is, also, a worthwhile investment of land, time and energy. Just put the roots in deep trench, fertilize, wait two years, trap the moles, and keep the bermuda grass away and the bed will produce for 20 years.

There is genuine delight in finding the first green spears of asparagus as they peep through the ground to see if it is warm enough to come out into the world. The flavor of fresh asparagus has no equal, canned or frozen just doesn’t measure up.

Asparagus should be cooked immediately after cutting in a small amount of water until it is tender crisp. The delectable vegetable deserves real butter as a sauce. Some people like a little lemon juice mixed with the melted butter before it is poured over the asparagus.

Here is a recipe that can be used as the main dish for lunch or supper.

Asparagus Casserole

3 tablespoons butter ¼ cup flour
¾ teaspoon salt 1 ½ cup milk
1 teaspoon grated onion ½ cup chopped celery
½ cup grated American cheese 1 cup buttered bread crumbs
1 pound fresh asparagus 4 hard cooked eggs, chopped
Cook asparagus in small amount of water until tender crisp. Drain.Melt butter in sauce pan. Blend in flour and salt. Stir in milk and cool until thick.Add onion, celery and cheese.Sprinkle 1/3 of crumbs in bottom of buttered casserole pan. Alternate layers of asparagus, eggs, sauce, and remaining crumbs over crumbs in casserole pan.

Bake at 350°F oven for 25 minutes.

Serves 5 or 6.

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Nutritional Value for your Dollar

Many of my Grandmother’s articles were seasonal so I will begin with her April column from 1979 from the Co-op news. Though the prices have changed the advice on what foods to buy and prepare for dinner still stands. My grandmother was a very frugal person and liked to get the most nutritional value she could get for her dollar. The recipes at the end feature recipes that can be made in the microwave. She refers to the March column of that year, which I do not have a copy of.

April 1979

A reader asked me where I got the figure I used last month to say that $2.00 a day is enough to provide a wholesome diet at current prices. Well, that is the food allowance at the transitional living house I manage in Newton, and we have to buy everything that is eaten. Dr. Jean Mayer, professor of nutrition, at Harvard University believes that “The healthier you eat the less it costs you.”

The key is to buy products which haven’t been completely revamped in appearance between the farmer and the consumer. That is where the price builds up and up.

Study the ads in the newspaper and plan menus around the specials, pork chops, salmon, chuck roast, hamburger or whatever. Recently, grapefruit, flour, potatoes, pork and canned vegetables have been good buys.

Instead of potato chips buy fresh potatoes. Chips are approximately $1.60 a pound, and potatoes sell for 9 to 15 cents a pound. Popcorn makes an excellent snack food, and is an economical buy at our Co-op.

Buy fresh milk or orange juice in preference to soft drinks and powdered artificially colored aids. Even most canned fruit juice is 80% water and 20% juice. At the present time frozen juice concentrate is the cheapest source of an honest-to-goodness fruit drink for your family.

Substitute cheese or bread sticks (homemade if possible) for deep fat fried snacks, rich salty crackers, cookies, cake and candy.

Ice cream, oranges, apples or a seasonal fruit make good desserts instead of rich, elaborate concoctions or sweetened canned fruit.

Avoid most convenience foods. Their desirability has been vastly overrated. They are less nutritious and more expensive. Most of them don’t save much time or work either. When you buy convenience food you are paying the manufacturer to provide you with a built-in cook or maid. Ask yourself “Can I really afford servants?” If that is what American women want that is their privilege, but they should not then put all the blame for the high cost of food on the middleman and farmer when they are asking for services that escalate the cost. Everyone who refines and handles food has a right to a living wage.

Bypass all commercial helpers and extenders. Make your own soups. Canned soups from the store are mostly thickened starchy water with a couple thimblefuls of food thrown in and are a mighty poor buy for anyone’s dollar. Shop the produce counter and know what vegetables are in the soup you feed your family.

I like Julia Child’s advice for reducing food bills. “Learn to cook. You’ll be amazed what marvelous dishes the simplest things you can make if you know what you are doing.”

The demonstration at Sedgwick was a success and I’ve had requests for some recipes to use in it.

Microwave Oven Orange Chicken
2 ½ to 3 pound chicken, cut up ¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup chopped green pepper 1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup catsup 2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
Place chicken pieces, skin side down and thick edges toward outside in 2 quart glass baking dish. Combine rest of ingredients, pour over chicken. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 8 minutes per pound of poultry. Use high setting. Let set 5 minutes before serving.
South of the Border Special
1 pound lean hamburger 1 medium onion, diced
2 cups undrained canned tomatoes ½ cu sliced ripe olives
1 teaspoon chili powder 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules 1 teaspoon salt
4 ozs. Slightly crush corn or taco chips
Crumble ground beef in 2 quart casserole. Stir in onion. Tomatoes, olives, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, salt and beef bouillon granules.
Cook, covered, 10 minutes in microwave oven at high setting, stirring occasionally after 5 minutes. Stir half of chips into casserole and sprinkle remainder on top.Variation: Add a 16 ounce can of chili beans.

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