Archive for September, 2007

People’s Dairy — Cookies

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Is there anything more beloved than a blend of sugar, butter, flour baked in child-size morsels and served warm next to a glass of ice-cold People’s Dairy milk? Wikipedia takes all the romance out of our little snacks:

A general theory of cookies may be formulated this way. Despite their descent from cakes and other sweetened breads, the cookie in almost all its forms has abandoned water as a medium for cohesion. Water in cakes serves to make the base (in the case of cakes called “batter”[2]) as thin as possible, which allows the bubbles – responsible for a cake’s fluffiness – to form better. In the cookie, the agent of cohesion has become some variation of the theme of oil. Oils, whether they be in the form of butter, egg yolks, vegetable oils or lard are much more viscous than water and evaporate freely at a much higher temperature than water. Thus a cake made with butter or eggs instead of water is far denser after removal from the oven.

It’s really hard to get snarky about cookies. But you know I’m gonna try anyway. . . .

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Why? First of all, what’s so Native American about these little guys? They are chocolate which is Aztecian (perhaps) and square. I’m at a loss.

But secondly and more importantly, why ruin a perfectly good blend of fat, sugar, and chocolate with walnuts? Now, you gotta know that in Missouri, when the recipe says walnuts, no self-respecting citizen is going to use those neutered nuts you get at the supermarket. No, no! Not hardly. No, they take them right off the tree, fully-potent with their fresh-from-the-moth-balls taste. It took me months to understand why my Gentle Husband and all his sibs pick out every walnut within a ten foot radius of the buffet.

Booyah!

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Since the 1990s, “booyah” has had a new meaning:

an exclamatory statement, often said when someone is extremely overjoyed. Often people do a hand movement simultaneously as they say ‘Booyah'(clinching fist and thrusting their elbow downward vertically).

Not in Mona Faye’s kitchen, however. This is the official “booyah.”

booyah

I have to admit that when I first joined the Lewis clan for their traditional New Year’s Supper, I thought I had misheard the name of this soup. Surely, it was “bouillion.” But when I got this little wedding gift from Mona Faye — a hand-written recipe book filled with family treasures — I realized that I didn’t mishear and they didn’t misspeak.

The tradition in my own slice of Lewis is to make this soup as soon as the weather turns brisk. Soups are really amazing. They are easy, requiring only one person’s presence somewhere in the house. They are cheap; I think I made a whole week’s worth of meals just today for about $5. They feel special; in contemporary times we don’t make a soup every day like our grandmothers did. The best recipes are the old ones — the kind you get over the phone or you remember without peeking at the instructions (notice my husband’s additional handwritten notes for the timing of each step and transcribed from a phone conversation.). They are crowd-pleasers; from adults to kids to toothless babes — everybody can enjoy soup. And they are really, really good for you.

Turns out, “booyahs” are way, way bigger than I realized. They even have their own wikipedia entry! The word comes from Green Bay, Wisconsin around 1905 (same year as our Perfection Salad made the news). Here’s the story:

Lester (Rentmeester) relates recollections of his schoolteacher father, Andrew, probably the “pioneer” of the chicken booyah supper. “At the old Finger Road School where he taught, funds were always in short supply,” he recalls. “So my father hit on the idea of a community picnic to raise money for the school. He went around to parents and neighbors, gathering up beef and chickens for the traditional Belgian soup that would be the main dish at the benefit affair. And he also went down to the office of the old Green Bay Gazette, looking for publicity.” The writer handling the news of the benefit picnic, so the story goes, asked what would be served. “Bouillon — we will have bouillon,” came the reply, with the word pronounced properly in French. “The young reporter wrote it down as he heard it,” Rentmeester relates. “It came out ‘booyah’ in the paper. It was booyah the first time it was served at Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Church — an affair my father also originated — and that’s what people have called it ever since.”

The Green Bay recipe doesn’t really cut it compared to Gramma Meyers’ Missouri version. But then I found this little letter from 1997:

From the Walloon point of view, the original “Booyah” was bouillon– a broth made from boiling a chicken with onion and celery, salt and pepper. The chicken was taken from the pot when sufficiently cooked and used as the main course of the meal, and the broth served in individual bowls. An additional bowl of rice was put on the table with each person adding what he wanted, if any, to the broth. This was related to me by a woman of Belgian descent, born in Kewaunee County in 1895, who lived to be 95 years old. As a young person, she had never seen the style of “booyah” as we know it today. With the Belgians’ penchant for frugalness, nothing was wasted. Bits of leftover vegetables gradually were added to the chicken broth– and later, the chicken, too– to make a more flavorful soup, almost a one-dish meal.

So our Great Gramma Meyers’ version is the authentic Booyah! Impressive. Even down to the description that it feeds “a crowd!” I’m dying to know how it traveled down the Mighty Mississipp so far in such perfect condition. Booyah for Booyah!

People’s Dairy — Cakes

Friday, September 21st, 2007

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I must say that I never realized that there were classes of cakes: butter and sponge. I s’pose the butter is the bourgeoisie of cakes while the lowly sponge cake must do all the proletariat work. Yes, I’m sure that’s the way it is in the cake class war.

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These all look pretty yummy, and I believe they would win spatulas-down in a fight against our meely, over-processed, HFCS-infested baked goods. The names get pretty optimistic, however. Which only makes you wonder what they are really selling since the worst salad of the century stole the moniker “Perfection.” I still think the Fudge cake could beat up both Sunshine and Pollyanna with 2 cups of sugar tied behind her back.

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I think in a cake war there really is no loser.

People’s Dairy — Vegetables

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned when it comes to veggies, but these recipes look pretty good. Granted, I prefer not to be “surprised” by my food — even green peppers — but the rest of the ideas are fairly timeless.

Until you turn the page.

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This . . . suggestion (?) . . . of combining cabbage, pasta, and velveeta? I have no words for how awful that sounds. Any one of them alone is just fine. Combining even two of them is a stretch. But putting all three into one single dish will most definitely create the mustard-gas of cooking. I’m sure of it.

PD -- 13b

If you google “Potatoes O’Brion,” the good people at our fav search engine ask the same question I would, “Are you SURE you didn’t spell that wrong?” The recipe is described as a kind of home fries with green peppers. Why, then, does the Dairy Council drop the peppers in favor of the listless but ubiquitous pimento?

Our namesake herself. . . .

Monday, September 17th, 2007

If you’re paying close attention, Mona Faye herself (!) has visited this virtual kitchen — grounding her daughter-in-law’s silliness with real facts and actual memories. Check out the comments. :)

Next to the People’s meat recipes, however, I feel like there’s a glimpse of a much younger Mona Faye (a.k.a. “Jean”) remembered in a tiny newspaper clipping.

PD -- 10c

 

It’s intriguing to imagine that this really rather complicated stuffing recipe was intended for the Junior chef. Either Mona Faye and her contemporaries were all mini-Marthas, or the newspapers didn’t know diddly about little kids.

A Brand New Luncheon or Supper Dish!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Yum! Chicken Salad! Stuck in a pie! With whipped cream! A perfect accompaniment to Perfection Salad!

People’s Dairy — Meats

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

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Honestly, I understand why people allotted only 12% of the food budget to meats. These recipes are disgrossting. Trying to spin it as “very delicious” won’t change anyone’s minds. Liver is still a body’s lint trap.

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But just in case you didn’t have enough transfats with that meal, People’s offers more! A side of bacon with that liver.

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But there’s still more! The sweets are coming. Sweetbreads, that is. After the sour cream gravy and the bacon stuffing, we can still serve up a cream sauce for our “sweetbreads.” Now for the younger set, those so-called “sweetbreads” are neither sweet nor bread. They are the pancreas or throat and stomach glands from lamb or a little baby cow.

PD -- 09c

People’s includes some fish secrets too. I really didn’t think that fish had any secrets with their tiny brain and inferior nervous system and all. But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter if their eyes are bulgy or not, this city girl’s not cooking anything that’s looking back at me.

And now. . . a Word from our Sponsor

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Oh, the big red letters stand for the Jell-O family;
Oh, the big red letters stand for the Jell-O family;
That’s Jell-O!
Yum-yum-yum!

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Jell-O: A Biography makes it clear that Jell-O was intended to be a dessert. But after Mrs. John Cooke’s Perfection Salad (also mentioned in Jell-O’s biography), it became a frequent addition to salads in the 1930s. Lemon rose from the fourth most popular flavor to second — specifically for its use in salads. And then they added the icky LIME flavor just to please the aspic fans. 1943 saw a cola-flavored Jello-O. By 1964, we get celery, mixed vegetable, seasoned tomato, and Italian salad flavors. They drop those by the time I was born.

1936jello

What was a “Savior to the Servantless” in WW1 was simple, cheap, and fancy in the Depression. It sold for 3 boxes for a quarter. Perfection Salad was often featured (“a delicious vitamin-rich salad for a few pennies a serving!”) and a Jell-O Cheese Loaf. The Crown Jewel Jell-O recipe makes it into all the history books. But overall, the most popular Jell-O recipe in the 30s was “Under-the-Sea Salad,” in the 40s was “Lemon Chiffon Pie” (great for war rationing since it required no lard or even eggs) and in the 50s was “Parfait Pie.”

All this from cow bones and pig skins.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SMsxBVDT34[/youtube]

Perfection Dinner . . . Not.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

I couldn’t let Perfection be ignored. I couldn’t go on and on about a 102-year-old recipe without giving it a go, right? And I’m here to tell you, it’s everything you imagined it could be.

When I told Gentle Husband that I was making said Perfection, he quipped ever so galantly, “You’d better have your parents over when you serve that because somebody has to eat it.” Ah! Good idea! A party!! Perfection demands guests after all.

What else to serve alongside Perfection? I did what any good depression-era housewife would have done — I looked at what I already had in my cupboard that would fit the bill (of fare). There’s that stack of hot dogs. . . . Of course, pigs in a blanket! The exemplar of creativity and economy. Add some diced carrots and peas, and you have a square meal. Sublime!

Could any dessert match a congealed paragon of virtue? Why yes! The Crown Jewel itself! Again using that collection of Jell-O I’ve acquired over the years.

The pigs were met with skepticism. Gentle Husband recalled, “Yeah, my Mom tried that. . . . Once.” Hm. Note to self: If said recipe was once served in the literal Mona Faye’s Kitchen with little acclaim, serving it in a virtual Mona Faye’s Kitchen, even with the requisite amount of kitsch, will not please Gentle Husband. Gentle Boys, however, enjoyed the pigs but missed the swine connection.

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Those photos really sell it, don’t they? You can just smell the history as you see those sweaty weiners glistening in their Kosher glory. Yum!

Peas and Carrots were appropriately tough and under-salted. I should have boiled them for hours rather than zapped them for minutes.

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Crown Jewel Dessert was . . . well, just like you’d imagine Jell-O and whipped cream would taste. Utterly forgetable. Very diety.

 

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But we can’t forget the recipe that gathered this crowd — Perfection Salad itself. When I invited my parents, my mom said, “Oh yeah. . . . I remember that! They served it in the cafeteria in my high school all the time!! But it was the War.” Ah, happy memories of the good War. I chopped the pickles and gathered the Knox and vinegar. I had no pimentos, so I added chopped carrots instead. Plopped it ever so carefully into my Bundt ring and set it to chill.

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When I schlepped it onto the serving platter — a 1950s Jadeite green — Gentle Husband said, “Huh. Looks just like a Horta.” Ah . . . another vintage reference. That’s what Perfection does, I guess. Brings together all the high-cultural elements into a kind of transcendent symmetry.

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Perfection tasted gelatinous and stringy. I imagined that Perfection would be more crunchy and zingy, less slurpy. Touché. My Dad had two helpings while my dear Mother tried to imagine improvements: “Honey, I think the cabbage should be chopped smaller and less coarse. And the pickles. Leave out the pickles. . . . The recipe called for pimentos? Ew. I wouldn’t put in pimentos. . . . Well, I’ll have something to tell your Aunt Stella tonight when I call her. Aunt Wanda used to make this for all those Polish showers. Yeah, we always had something exactly . . . like . . . this.”

And so Perfection had what we all deemed the perfect ending — down the drain.

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Perfection Salad

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

So important is this little gem that I’m giving it an entire post.

If the thought of munching on “vitamins” in the second course leaves you blanched, People’s Dairy offers that dish that is nothing short of transcendent. Take a closer look-see:

 

PD -- 07a

This recipe earned Mrs. John Cooke third prize in the 1905 Knox gelatin cooking contest — a new sewing machine! Food historians label this recipe an exemplar of the domestic science movement for its “impeccable,” molded looks.

 

It appealed to turn-of-the-century housewives who used the family dinner table as a feminine manifesto to express belief in proper nutrition, daintiness, and, above all, efficiency (Perfection Salad xi).

Dainty and disciplined, “healthy” and homemade — this aspic (my favorite vintage recipe category EVAH!) offered it all.

And so, just for you my Gentle Reader, I shall attempt Perfection right here in the next post of Mona Faye’s Kitchen. Stay tuned. Striving for the Tower of (Vege)Table might cause our servers to crash.