Lessons from our Mothers: Today's cooks use tried, true recipes

Published 12:58 pm Wednesday, October 22, 2008

By Staff
Mothers through the years have taught their children how to cook - without the benefit of cookbooks. From dumplings to cornbread, preparing home cooked meals comes more from memory and a feeling than by following a written recipe.
Adams said she learned methods of cooking dumplings from her mother that she continues to use in her own kitchen.
Adams isn't alone in using methods and so-called recipes in today's kitchens.
Melanie Hines said she learned how to make cornbread from her mother by watching and memorizing those methods her mother used.
Hines said she also has managed to perfect her mother's “recipe” for dressing as well.
Most cooks who began cooking in the 1930s cooked the same way - from memory. Hines said her mother had some cookbooks and she has one of her mother's books in a special place in her home.
Adams said her mother only had a couple of cookbooks.
Passing down recipes and cookbooks is a tradition most women hold special in their hearts and in their kitchens. Looking at recipes from those old volumes should be an honor for any cook. With most cooks learning from their mothers, finding recipes actually written down is a gift from the past.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have shared old cookbooks with each other in the office. As a matter of fact, Lydia Grimes, brought in a very used, old cookbook she got from her mother.
Lydia said her mother told her the cookbook was one received at the beginning of her marriage in 1925. One of the recipes used most from the book is for a hot water sponge cake. According to Lydia, it is the recipe her mother used anytime the family planned to enjoy strawberry shortcake.
Many of the cookbooks we've been privileged to go through this week included one that Lynn Crutchfield, our officer manager, brought in. That particular book has a copyright of 1937. Pretty old and plenty interesting. The book has just about as many methods of cooking as it does actual recipes.
Over the past couple of years, I've been interested in looking at older cookbooks because of the methods and recipes included in the books. It amazes me that many of today's cooks use so many convenience foods that we've gotten away from some of the old fashioned dishes we enjoyed in the past. For that reason, I regularly go through old cookbooks to find old recipes that become new in my kitchen.
I've decided to include a few of the old recipes found in some of the cookbooks we've enjoyed looking at here at the office. I hope you will enjoy reading them. They may give you some ideas and a desire to get hold of some of your mother's old cookbooks.
One thing to pay attention to is the heat of the oven. In most recipes in the older books, temperatures were never really given. Some of the recipes called for the dishes to be cooked in a hot, quick, moderate or slow oven. If you don't know what that means, you're not alone. Apparently, a moderate oven is between 325 to 350 degrees. A quick oven is around 450 degrees. A slow oven is about 300 degrees. These recipes are prime examples of what I have often said in this space: recipes are just a guide and you have to make it your own.
Hot Water Sponge Cake
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3/8 cup of hot water
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
2 egg whites
1 cup flour
1 1/3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Beat yolks until thick and lemon-colored, add one-half the sugar gradually, and continue beating. Add water, remaining sugar, lemon extract and dry ingredients mixed and sifted. Fold in whites, beaten until stiff. Bake in a buttered pan in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.
If you're interested in making dumplings you should know there are generally two methods of making the doughy bits. One method, of course, is to roll them out on a flour surface once the dough has been mixed. Another method is to simply drop the dough into boiling broth. This next recipe is one I found in the 1937 cookbook and chose to pass along for your enjoyment.
Dumplings for Chicken
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons fat
1 tablespoon salt
Sift dry ingredients together, cut in fat. Add milk enough to make a soft, spongy dough. Drop by spoonful into boiling stew. Cover well. Steam about twelve minutes. Serves 6.
Those old cookbooks have a lot of “method” items in them that are truly interesting.
This next item is one I found that, although it may work, I think I'll pass on using myself. If you try it let me know how it turns out.
Preserving Eggs
Procure a new and clean wood box the size that will hold the quantity desired to lay away. Lay over the bottom a layer of coarse salt about one inch thick. Have ready the eggs - fresh as fresh can be - and pack them in rows, placing the small ends down. When layer is complete put in salt until eggs are covered, and then put on another layer of eggs. Continue until box is full; cover and put away in dry, cool, dark place. If eggs are put in fresh, they will come out fresh.
If you have an old recipe or an old cookbook you'd like to share, please let me know. I love old recipes and would love to have a look at what you have from the past.
You can reach me at 867-4876 or by email at lisa.tindell@brewtonstandard.com.
Until next week, happy cooking.