Friday, February 1, 2013

the cook book obsession

I've developed an obsession for collecting vintage cookbooks. Because our diet has been changing to more meat, potato and vegetable type fare at the same time that I'm trying to eat more seasonally and locally, these books have a practical benefit. But I also adore their aesthetics. Back then it was far too expensive to print photos on most cookbooks (now, with digital printing, full-colour printing costs the same as one-colour) so instead they used a lot of charming drawings and etchings. I only recently found a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II, and I was fascinated to discover that although her husband photographed the recipes quite painstakingly (I remember reading about it in My Life in France), they hired an illustrator to make simpler line drawings from the photographs instead. Now, when I see the cookbooks at Chapters, they all look so gawdy with all those vivid photographs everywhere.


It all started last January when I was looking for materials to make collages with. I found a 1980 hard cover edition of Elizabeth David Classics and the etchings are absolutely adorable. Behold:



But I couldn't bring myself to actually cut up the pages and when I started looking at some of the recipes, I didn't want to anyways. I haven't actually made anything from the book yet, but its time will come, I am sure.

Anyways... I've been trying new things in the kitchen. Yesterday I baked my first ham and made up my glaze with dijon, brown sugar and a bit of ground cinnamon. I also made baked beans for the first time, which had been on my mind for some time, even though I've never actually enjoyed baked beans. Mine turned out delicious. I used about half a raw, pureed beet instead of ketchup and added a bit of extra maple syrup and apple cider vinegar, along with salt and dry mustard. 

Today I tried my hand at a grass-fed pot roast. I guess I was feeling a bit cocky after yesterday's success, and as well, I had an actual, real-life friend visiting so I wasn't able to find a real recipe to follow. Anyways, it was more than edible but still rather tough and over done. A good (if expensive) learning experience. 

Today's great success was Date Oatmeal Cake, which I discovered in More Food That Really Schmecks, a cookbook written by a woman in the town next door. It was published in 1979 as a sequel to her 1968 Food That Really Schmecks. My copy of Food That Really Schmecks actually came from my Grandma Ruth's box of recipes and cookbooks that my mom just gave me last Thanksgiving. I was all excited to start going through her recipes, but I was soon disappointed as I remembered that she was an upper-middle-class housewife in the fifties. So pretty much every recipe has a can of Campbell's mushroom soup or some other modern convenience food, which is currently verboten even if it didn't gross me out.

What I find interesting is that my husband actually had lunch with the author, Edna Staebler, through mutual friends during his early days in Canada. Apparently she was friends with my mother-in-law's then-love interest. In fact, the love interest's previous wife actually contributed a recipe to More Food That Really Schmecks, which my mother-in-law discovered when she was absently paging through the book a couple of weeks ago. Small world, eh?

But back to the Date Oatmeal Cake. It was the first recipe I've seen that I just felt immediately compelled to make. Of course, it helped that I had all the ingredients on hand. But it also just looked so weird, I couldn't imagine it would actually make a cake. But oh did it ever. And it was delicious.

The recipe called for 2 cups of brown sugar, but I just couldn't do it with all the dates. I only used 1 cup and that was absolutely the right call. I cannot imagine it being any sweeter than it was, and next time I think I'll use only half a cup. I'm tempted to try to cut the sugar out completely, but I've heard that sugar really helps retain moisture in baking, so I worry it would come out like congealed oatmeal. I used my own gluten-free flour mix and no gums. (recipe below)

Speaking of successes, right before dinner Eldest said he wanted to celebrate the first day of February. My eye caught on the four jars of peaches I made late last summer, and I thought perhaps it was time to taste them. So we had them with the cake and hoo boy, did it ever make up for the tough pot roast. It was my first time canning anything other than jam, and I seem to recall there was a screaming baby and grumping husband as I painstakingly peeled and sliced the slightly underripe clingstone peaches. But it was so worth it. Next summer I need to do more, and I'm pretty sure this time Eldest and my husband will be jumping in to help. I used the recipe for Peaches in Vanilla Syrup from Canning for a New Generation, which I had from the library, but which now I really, really must buy it to have forever. I found the recipe reproduced here.

Date Oatmeal Cake

Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 cups rolled oats, mix well, cool slightly, then blend in:
3/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups finely chopped dates
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I didn't have any so left them out)

Sift together:
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves (I left this out because I'm not a big fan but I wonder about cardamom)

Pour the oatmeal mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well (Oops! I put the flour into the oatmeal mixture. Oh well). Bake in an 8-inch square greased pan at 350F for 45 minutes or until done.

From all the blogs I read, it seems that a recipe is not complete without beautiful photos of the making with lots of soft focus and no clutter. Well, my house just doesn't roll that way. In truth, we need an intervention. But until that happens, this is what my kitchen looks like. The unwashed bowl from last night's chicken stock straining, the silly dentist advertisement that says "We have laughing gas!" as its main message, bulk dry goods in paper bags that I don't have jars into which to put them, the vinegar and water spray bottle, the choking hazards, and all the other things that I can't figure out where to put because our house is so open concept and the toddler gets into EVERYTHING. But look at that pyrex bowl! I just found a set of four of them in pristine condition. 

I'm thinking of starting a series of photo posts called This Fucking Moment where it's all clutter and chaos. Surely there must be someone else out there for whom those pretty, clean photos of homemade goodness are pure fantasy? Someone else who will take comfort that we of the domestic incompetence are not alone?

No comments:

Post a Comment