War and Peace Lamb Shank Stew

In honor of Veterans Day, I’m dedicating today’s post to those who served and those who cooked, especially during the meat-deprived WWII years.  Back in ’43, the year this Betty Crocker food-buying and recipe booklet was  published, women in charge of family meals  were told they were soldiers on the home front. “You must make a little do where there was an abundance before.” Wartime meal planning and preparation meant stretching the available meat supply, buying  less familiar cuts of meat, and slowly introducing new, yet nutrient dense food to your family.

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“The big concern when the war started was that it would last a long time,” explains Brian Wansink, an eating behavior specialist at Cornell University who wrote about changing eating habits on the home front back in 2002. “Beef and pork were sent overseas to either feed our troops or our allies. And at that point people didn’t really eat fish and chicken, so the biggest threat to American health at that time was malnutrition due to lack of protein” he says. “But one thing that was plentiful was all the leftover stuff.”  You know. Liver. Kidneys. Oxtails, shanks, necks, shoulders.

Enter Uncle Sam. Dr Wansink writes that the Department of Defense asked Margaret Mead and dozens of other high-profile anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists to put their heads together and come up with a plan to change eating habits in America. The results were interesting. Turns out people conform when you remove barriers. In other words, make it easier for them to cooperate. Sell the idea that there are lots of people sacrificing for freedom. This is one thing you can do for the war effort. Also, they learned by appealing to the person who has the biggest impact on the rest of the family—THE MOTHER–the more success you’ll have. You can’t browbeat Mrs. Jones into serving liver each night of the week. It won’t work, but one or two dinners a week? OK. And it’s important to incorporate these “variety” meats (yes, that’s where they got their name) into already familiar menu items. Cookbooks became overrun with recipes for liver loaf, green peppers stuffed with liver, and liver with scalloped potatoes, just to name a few.

But here’s the thing. I can’t do liver now. I might be able to do lamb shanks, though. I found a recipe from 1943 for braised lamb shanks and combined it with a colorful post-war magazine ad for lamb stew. That relic came from my mother’s files, and when both recipes were melded with some novemberpics 035

modern ingredients, I had one patriotic masterpiece on my hands.

War and Peace Braised Lamb Shank Stew

2 pounds lamb shanks*, cut into pieces

Mix with 2 tbsp. flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1/8 tsp. pepper, 1/4 chili powder (I used Penzey’s Chili 3000) and then brown in 4 tbsp. oil. (I put the flour mixture into a plastic bag to coat all the pieces and added the leftover flour to the pot). Add 2 cups of water, 1 bay leaf and 2 cans Hunts tomato sauce. (There was no size mentioned in the original recipe, but the can in the ad looked small. I used 2 8-oz cans of roasted garlic- flavored sauce). Simmer for 1 1/4-1 1/2 hours.  Add 4 carrots, cut in medium chunks, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and cook on low for another hour. Then, just because I wanted some green, I added frozen petite peas. Here was the result:

novemberpics 061  Unbelievably, bombastically, astoundingly delicious. I cooked this stew all afternoon on low, just because. The meat was falling off the bones and melted in your mouth. The only accompaniment required is a beautiful loaf of rustic bread, which I didn’t have, but I imagined a crusty slice of sourdough sopping up all that luscious thick sauce. Maybe next time.

This recipe was created out of great scarcity and improved upon with products manufactured when our cup runneth over. It could be the most delicious creation for the blog so far. One thing I know, though, it’s a new classic for me. I’ll make it again and again this fall and winter. I’d recommend the dish for a cold weekend when you have the time to cook low and slow.

*I purchased the lamb shanks at a rural butcher’s shop and asked one of the staff to cut the shanks into two-inch pieces.


Digging Into the Idareds

idareds 033The Idareds are in, so let the baking begin.  These late-autumn apples are popping up at most central Pennsylvania fruit and roadside stands about now and are a nice change from mundane Macs: they’re bigger, redder and retain their shape better than the more familiar baking apples available in supermarkets.

Back in the mid-1990s writer Roger Yepsen published Apples, a small, beautifully illustrated book of 90 different apple varieties. I’m trying to get through them all, but some like Pitmason Pineapple, Yellow Bellflower, and Fameuse, an old-fashioned variety used for stocking stuffing at Christmas, have eluded me.  About 15 years ago I finally scored some Idareds at my favorite orchard in Lebanon County and have been buying them annually just to make baked apples. These large, finely textured apples are tart and best used for baking or applesauce, and according to page 140 in Yepsen’s book, “uncut, Idared breathes a sweet perfume. The crisp pale yellow-green flesh is juicy, fine-grained, tender, a bit tart and aromatic….”  You don’t have to be a Johnny Appleseed type to swoon over his descriptions. He describes each variety like a mouthwatering jewel, which is why I always have my apple radar up and on high alert at this time of the year. I’m lucky to have found an Idared supplier close to home.

But back to apple baking. Since I’ve documented one Old Food flop and left unrecorded a second involving purple cabbage–well, at least it was a colorful failure–I needed something old-timey yet reliable.  I followed the directions from Victor Lindlahr, author of the 1940 classic nutrition handbook You Are What You Eat.  Lindlahr threw me a curve ball with that cabbage last week, but he did give me delicious results with the blackberry pie this summer, https://oldfoodcooking.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/you-are-what-your-eat-or-i-am-blackberry-pie/  I thought he deserved a third try with this simple apple dessert, and the directions closely match how I would have done it on my own today. I learned from my Mom. And who knows, maybe she learned her technique from Lindlahr.

You Are What You Eat Baked Apples

Victor doesn’t say this but I will. I’ve never baked a Gala or Fuji or Honeycrisp–snacking apples that are the mainstay of many brown bag lunches.  I’m no apple expert but baking apples just seem to have better flavor out of the oven  Yet I suppose if you want to be an anti-establishment culinary revolutionary you can do what you want. This recipe is for a single serving, and I adjusted the ingredients for four, going a bit lighter with the sugar. Truthfully, I didn’t measure. I’m turning into my Nana.

   Core and pare one-inch of skin from the top of apple. Place in baking dish and fill center of each apple with 2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown). If desired, sugar may be mixed with cinnamon or nutmeg, a few raisins or chopped nuts (I used cinnamon and walnuts and dusted nutmeg over top). Maple syrup or honey may replace sugar. Fill bottom of pan with 1/4-inch water; cover and bake in 375-degree oven(I forgot to cover, oops) until apples are soft.

Note: My mother always added a small lump of butter to each apple and I did the same.   Also, that water you add before baking?  OOOHhh. What a lovely syrup that makes by the end. Spoon some over the apple before serving.

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Old Food Flop #1

It was only a matter of time before I reached back too far in time and found a loser. It happened over the weekend when I attempted (and had high hopes for) Old Fashioned Rice Pudding from the Metropolitan Insurance Company cookbook. There are a lot of you out there who don’t respond well to rice pudding, but I am among the pudding base (and you lovers of all things rich and creamy know who you are) who adores the milky, starchy, ricey-ness of it.  It is comfort food at its best.

Here’s the recipe:
skinnycado 011I’m even wondering if there’s a mistake. Notice the four cups of milk on the far left, just below the 1/4 cup of rice? I had bad vibes from the start about that ratio of liquid to solids, but after three hours of cooking at low temps who knew how the ingredients might behave? I was optimistic.

I stirred the pudding every 20 minutes during the first hour—just like I was told–and there was no discernible thickening going on. But it was early. By the end of the second hour, the lemon rind and vanilla coaxed a lovely sweet aroma from the pudding dish that floated throughout the house. By hour three, I could see things hadn’t progressed. There was a thin milky skin on top and when I plunged my wooden spoon beneath the surface, hoping to meet creamy resistance, I experienced only slightly thickened milk. The rice kernels were still a bit hard, too.

Even another hour inside my oven didn’t fix things. The rice was cooked, although still a tad al dente, and the milk was as thin as ever. But here’s the thing, it tasted sooooo goooood.  The lemon rind was just enough to keep it from being too, too sweet.  I ladled it into a teacup, and who wants sweet rice soup when you’re expecting a pudding?  It was too sad to photograph. White rice soup in a white ceramic dish. A total white-out of failure.

I’m not giving up on this, especially since the soup/pudding was good enough for seconds.  I’m going to add a cup of rice next time, up the oven temp to 300 degrees and let the chips fall where they may.

Indian Summer Cider

cider 029    The calendar may suggest fall is just around the corner, but in mid and late September summer can hold on and flame out with occasional high heat and humidity. By noon it can feel like July, and if you’d like  a break from lemonade , iced tea or soda, try this concoction of cider, fruit juices and a bit of ginger ale that I’ve renamed Indian Summer Cider. The 1932 Westinghouse Refrigerator Book calls it “Cider Blend.” Maybe the copywriters hit a speakeasy over lunch for a few sidecars or gin fizzes and came back sleepy the day they had to write recipe titles for the beverage chapter. Cider Blend has no zing, unlike this delicious thirst quencher.

Cider is showing up at roadside fruit stands and grocery stores now, but I’m not quite ready to commit to it full strength. Cider is a weather-sensitive drink for me, and there’s got to be more of a snap and crackle to the air before I’m ready to chug a mug of this unfiltered apple juice. That’s why cider is cloudy by the way–tiny bits of apple and sediment remain after the apples are pressed and create the opaque appearance.

Indian Summer Cider is a nice transition beverage with plenty of apple flavor that’s light enough to beat back the heat. Orange and lemons brighten and lighten the cider, while the ginger ale gives it a little zip. By the way, the recipe specifies “a bottle of ginger ale.” A tad vague for 2013. According to the Harvard School of Public Health,  “before the 1950s, most standard soft drink bottles were 6.5 ounces.” If Harvard says it’s so, that’s good enough for me, and I measured accordingly.

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Indian Summer Cider (previously known as Cider Blend)

1 quart cider

2 oranges

2 lemons

1 cup water

1 bottle ginger ale (I measured out 6.5 ounces)

   Add the fruit juices and water to the cider and place it in the refrigerator to mellow for several hours.

   Before serving, add a bottle of ginger ale. This is a surprisingly refreshing beverage and has a much more interesting flavor than plain cider.

Note: If doubled or tripled, this would make a great punch, I think, especially with slices of citrus floating on top.

Home Ec. Molasses Cake

home ec 017      I didn’t have a bulletin board in my bedroom when I was a senior in high school, but I created a reasonable facsimile that could have been mine back in the day. The centerpiece is a mimeographed (ooh, remember getting a fresh copy and sniffing the ink?) recipe from my home economics teacher, Dixie Gross.  Don’t you love that her “Home Ec. Molasses Cake” is written in cursive rather than typed? What an artifact!

I had home economics every day because I was heading off to college to be a home ec. major. Foods, nutrition, textiles, consumer economics, interior design, clothing construction, diet therapy were all awaiting me. I was going to be a home economist.  And I took a lot of crap for that, let me tell you. Good-natured kidding to be sure (My Dad would consistently harass me when I came home from college during semester breaks and when I didn’t help my Mom clean up or cook he’d say, “Oh, I guess doing dishes is a graduate course.”). He laughed when he said it–so did I, but then I laughed at everything he said–but the comment reflected home ec’s PR problem. For many it was just cooking and sewing.

But not so fast. Home Economics–known since 1994 as Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)–had and has much to offer.  Back in the 20s, the curriculum had a more homespun identification. It was sometimes called Domestic Science, but this splendid booklet from the Reading, Pennsylvania, school district lists home economics as part of its department of Practical Arts. That woman on the cover looks very artistic, I must say. She’s choreographing quite a meal there.

home ec 001And inside there is much to be learned about meal planning:

home ec 004Tease us home-economists all you want. We’ve got the low-down on what you need to live healthfully. In a 2010 American  Medical Association article, “Bring Back Home Economics Education,” by Alice Lichtenstein and David Ludwig, the authors conclude that “girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves  and their families within the current food environment: a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st. century.  Through a combination of instruction, field trips and demonstrations, this curriculum would aim to transform meal preparation from an intimidating chore into a manageable and rewarding pursuit.”

Their paper reports that obesity among poorer Americans may, in part, result from a “lack of knowledge about how to prepare nutritious food at home with inexpensive ingredients.” Middle and upper class Americans, however, own such slick, “smart” appliances that limited cooking skills are required.  It makes you wonder how  children from either environment will ever learn to make a grilled cheese,  scramble an egg, toss a salad, or even identify a cantaloupe. Friends who teach FCS tell me startling things that their students don’t know, like identifying basic fruits and vegetables, washing dishes, how to set a table (Who eats at the table? Everyone’s in front of the TV).  These same kids think scratch baking means opening up a cake mix and adding water, oil and eggs.  And last year a middle school FCS teacher reported that many students in her school were blowing off a real breakfast in favor of quick-to-chug energy drinks. No wonder our adolescent obesity rate in the U.S. is up to 35 percent.

These kids need Home Ec–oops FCS.  And this cake isn’t a bad place to start. It would get kids in the kitchen, and the end result would be a decent snack, dessert, even breakfast. Especially when served with a tall glass of milk alongside.

Home Ec. Molasses Cake

(1 square pan 8″ x 8″)

                                                                                    2 cups sifted flour                                             1/2 cup soft shortening (I used butter)

                                                                                    1 teaspoon baking soda                                 1/2 cup sugar

                                                                                     1/2 teaspoon ginger                                        1 egg (beaten)

                                                                                     1 teaspoon cinnamon                                    3/4 cup molasses (the recipe called for ‘Grandma’s’ brand)

                                                                                    1/2 teaspoon salt                                              1 cup water (microwave for 1:30 seconds)


   1. Sift together flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

   2. Cream  shortening thoroughly in mixing bowl. Add sugar gradually and cream together until fluffy.

   3. Add egg and molasses to shortening mixture. Blend.  Then add flour mixture and water alternately, a third of the amount at a time. Beat  after each addition.

   4. Bake in prepared pan (spray with cooking spray and then dust with flour) in slow-moderate oven, 325 degrees for 50 minutes or until done.

   5. Cool   in pan.

   6. Serve plain or with topping of hot applesauce, whipped cream or ice cream.

Note: This is a very thin, runny batter, but you’ll be rewarded with a rich, moist, delicious cake. Unbelievably good. And easy–even a senior in high school could do it.

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Thank Goodness It’s Fryday (in two parts)

fryday 060There’s a part of me that wants to be Aunt Bea , frying up chicken and corn fritters and packing it in a basket for someone’s lunch down at the Mayberry police station. I’d wear sandals instead of sensible shoes and trade her shirtwaist for capris, but I definitely want to clone her chicken.  Andy and Barney just love it, don’t they?

For years I presumed the fried chicken gods cursed anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line who dared plunge poultry in a cast iron skillet.  My versions (I’ve tried many, believe me) were either too bland or too greasy or too underdone, or too quiet–the crispy coating  always slid away during cooking. A very un-Aunt Bea result.  But today the gods were crushed by fictitious Swift & Company home economist Martha Logan.  Her 1952 meat cookery paperback was a  staple in my mother’s kitchen. Today it’s barely holding itself together. Yellowed and creased and falling away from the cover and binding, this book is not to be cast aside. Inside that dog-eared cookbook was the best and easiest fried chicken I’ve ever encountered.
fryday 036 Here’s the recipe that took me to the mountaintop:

Quick Fried Chicken

1 1/2 to 3 pound frying chicken (I used thighs and drumsticks)

Coating (see below)

2 pounds shortening (I used vegetable oil)

 Place the chicken in a colander or large sieve. Place the colander in a kettle with one inch of boiling water in the kettle. Cover the kettle and steam the chicken 30 minutes or until tender. Do not let the water touch the chicken.  The cooked chicken may be kept in the refrigerator until meal time.   AH-HA. Precooking the chicken takes away the guesswork.  It will be nearly cooked by the time it hits the frying pan. What a concept!

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Heat shortening (I used oil about 1/2-1-inch deep) to 375 degrees. Dip pieces of  chicken in batter or a dry coating (I used the dry). Fry the chicken in the hot fat 5 minutes (I did mine  5-10)or until well browned.

Flour coating: 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt (I used 3/4 tsp.), 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon poultry seasoning.

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fryday 051Good enough for company.  Quick, somebody call Gomer and Floyd.


Corn Fritters

fryday 022 A corn-studded side dish is mandatory in late August, when the crop is as high as an elephant’s eye and you’re feelin’ like you want to use every morsel of local produce available. With such stellar ingredients, I felt like I was willing to try something new. New, as in corn fritters. A Calumet Baking Powder Company cookbook I had from the 30’s (my estimate, judging by the illustrations) seemed like it was a reliable source.

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fryday 029Marian Cole Fisher, an obvious baking dignitary (probably the Martha Stewart of her time), is impressed with the product. And anyone who looks that serious must know of what she speaks.  I like my chances.

Corn Fritters

2 cups corn, cut from cob ( I think you could use canned or frozen)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup flour

2 beaten eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch pepper

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon melted shortening (I used butter)

Sift dry ingredients thoroughly, rub in butter (I mixed in with my hand) and add liquids, beat well and fry like other fritters (they assume this isn’t your first fritter rodeo) in a deep kettle (I used my wok) of hot fat (I used vegetable oil).

fryday 070Note:  I served these crunchy fritters plain, although I’ve learned that syrup or powdered sugar are sometimes preferred.  Also, add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the ingredient list if you’d like a sweeter batter.

Scrutiny of the Bounty

Finally, my heirloom tomato crop is coming in, and Tappy’s Heritage has been the most reliable producer during this wet, tomato-unfriendly summer. I was picking only one at a time for the past month, and then this week they blushed and kept getting redder. I had an armful yesterday, which is all the sign I need that it’s time to make my mother’s Stuffed Tomatoes. It’s been two years since I made them because last summer’s precipitation rained on my tomato parade. I was lucky to get a BLT every now and then.

Upon closer inspection I can see this week’s harvest is ready for prime time.  Some of the smooth skin is splitting from all the moisture so there’s no time to waste. I placed the uncut tomatoes in a pie plate to see if they all fit, and then I started cutting, scooping, mixing, and re-filling.

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My mom’s recipe is vague. Actually, it’s downright unclear and is typical of Old Food Cooking recipe writing. The cook jots down just enough instruction for herself, and unless you’re there with her, questions loom as time passes. I stood by my mother plenty of times while she prepared this luscious side dish. Good thing I did. I know what to look for–especially the degree of ‘runniness’ that’s required for success–and it absolutely does not come across in her notes.

Mom worked as a nurse and her medical shorthand sneaks in from time to time, and I enjoy seeing the symbols in all her personal writings, including these recipes from her book. Truthfully, she would have been the first to admit she  didn’t love cooking, although there were some things she nailed, like pie, these tomatoes, homemade applesauce, braised rump roast, and a mouthwatering angel food-cherry dessert that made my brother weak in the knees. Her recipe files reflect her nonchalance with the kitchen. Orange ice at the top of the page, stuffed tomatoes in the middle, followed by bar-b-que hamburger. Her objective was to record it, not get all obsessive and fussy and divide things in categories.  Just wasn’t her thing, but this recipe was so simple and delicious we thought she was our own Julia Child for the evening meal. It was a burst of summer color on the table, and with corn on the cob alongside, a simple meal of grilled hot dogs and burgers turned into a feast. bounty 020                                                                         Mom’s Stuffed Tomatoes

After tomatoes are in baking dish, cut off the tops and scoop out the flesh.  (Be prepared for a soupy mix here. No way to avoid it.) Dice bigger pieces of tomato flesh into very small pieces. Mix in one tablespoon of finely diced onion. Then add one tablespoon of melted butter and stir to combine.

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Now, here’s the very tricky part. Add enough bread crumbs, as my Mom would say, “so it’s not too dry or not too runny.” Sprinkle in a little at a time. Depending upon the size and number of tomatoes, you might need  a scant 1/4 cup of crumbs.  I used  Parmesan bread crumbs but any type will do.  The mixture changes from bright to pale red after the crumbs are incorporated.

bounty 012Stuff the tomato shells with the mixture and top with a sprinkling of crumbs and a little butter. Bake for one hour in a 350-degree oven. Let them sit a few minutes before transferring.  And use your biggest serving spoon and fork to do the job. The potential for a mid-serve drop is huge, although I did have bragging rights at home for always getting the drippiest of tomatoes safely to home plate.

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