Smitten with Cookbooks of Old

Beth, a co-worker of mine, is a woman who sees the beauty in the most simplistic items of everyday life. She and her sister frequent estate sales and find those hidden treasures buried in hoarder-like mountains of…stuff. I made some dessert bars for someone’s birthday and as a thank you for another co-worker.  Beth enthusiastically gushed about how good the bars were and how I “do” it.  She started telling me about all of the old cookbooks she has collected, but she only reads them; paralyzed from doing the actual cooking or baking. Beth promised me she would bring in some of her finds.  Good to her word, she brought me a large bag, busting at the seams, of old cookbooks dating back to 1907. I couldn’t wait to dig in and peruse these old treasures. I gently opened each cookbook, and turned the pages so carefully as to not add a tear or a rip. Inside are poems, personal notes, names of individuals I never knew and recipes so short and succinct, I could quickly read through each and every recipe. Some pages are speckled and stained with butter, oil or chocolate, or little notes, “not good-too heavy.”  All of this makes them all the more special(note to self: When I smear my recipe with sticky fingers, it will add personality to the recipe/cookbook).  After perusing the old cookbooks looking for a good recipe I could try, I notice why recipes are such short entries: No baking directions. Gulp, this leaves a large-margin for error. Here is an example from The Daniel Webster Flour Cookbook:

Mock Cherry Pie

One cup of cranberries cut open , half a cup of raisins cut fine, one cup of sugar, small cup of water(?), one tablespoon of Daniel Webster flour, one teaspoon of vanilla. Bits of butter may be added. Bake with two crusts.

Err, where’s the rest of the recipe?  I looked at the page before and after to see if there was a master recipe somewhere. Nope. If you didn’t have a mother who included you in her baking chores, your first couple of pies were epic fails.

I chuckle at some of the titles and notes with my 21st century-bias:  The Settlement Cookbook, Mrs. Simon Kander, second printing 1946, lists on the cover, “The way to a man’s heart.”  Oh, is that why I cook? Another book was titled, Food Preparation Meal Serving and Housewifery, Authorized by Board of School Directors; Milwaukee Public Schools. Housewifery isn’t recognized by spell check–thank goodness.

I especially love the literary references and poems in some of the cookbooks. This poem is from the Book of Recipes, Ladies’ Aid Society of The First English Ev. Lutheran Church of Detroit, MI, 1920. The author, Meredith.

We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience , and live without heart;
We may live without friends, and live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks.

He may live without books–what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope–what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love–what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?

Thank you, Meredith.

This recipe is taken out of The Daniel Webster Flour Cookbook, copyright 1907…sort of. It’s actually a recipe written in  the cookbook by it’s owner, Virginia Louise Schaefer.

Pour boiling water over prunes(10 ozs of prunes)and let sit till plump(2-8 hours). When you drain the prunes, do not forget to collect some of the liquid for the frosting. 

Drain the prunes and chop.

Mix the butter, sugar and prunes

Add the dry ingredients.

This is after the milk addition–crazy moist, and I didn’t think it would ever bake through. I thought by spreading it out in a 8×8 pan would quicken the baking time as well as increasing the temperature to 350 F. Not so much–it still took an hour. 
Looks good. I waited until just a bit of batter showed on my toothpick before I took it out of the oven.


Prune Cake
This prune cake (is)somewhat like a fruitcake in texture; it has a finely blended flavor, and is moist enough to keep well.

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup shortening(I used a stick of unsalted butter instead)
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped, cooked prunes(Pour boiling water over prunes and let sit for 2 hours or more)
2 cups sifted, cake flour(I did not sift)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting Ingredients
3 tbls butter(Two tbls)
1/4 cup prune juice(I used the liquid from the plumping prunes)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon extract(a squirt of a lemon)
2 tbls chopped prunes
1/2 cup chopped nuts
4 cups sifted confection sugar(I used two cups)

Cake Instructions
Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly; stir in prunes. Mix and sift dry ingredients and add to previous mixture. Slowly add milk and vanilla. Beat for two minutes.  Pour into shallow loaf pan(I used a 8×8 pan instead), greased and lined with wax paper.  Bake at 325 for 1 1/4 hours(I baked for 60 minutes at 350).

Frosting Instructions
Blend first four ingredients and add the prunes and nuts; slowly add the confection sugar until the frosting is smooth. Spread on cake when cooled.

Ok, this is my first recipe from the old cookbooks, but it will not be my last.  Beth has loaned these old cookbooks to me for as long as I need, and I plan on reviving a recipe or two off the old pages.

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