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On a recent visit to my grandmother’s house, I pulled out her battered 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking. My grandmother turns 95 just after Labor Day. She’s lived through many changes of fashion. An early photo of her shows a little girl dressed in an exuberant flapper’s sailor suit. Twenty years later, she posed for her wedding photos next to my grandfather (he wears his Navy dress uniform) in a gown showing the restraint and elegance of that Depression-into-wartime era.
She’s also seen fashions in food come and go. Her generation of housewives thrilled to the convenience foods that crowded grocery store shelves in the 1950s. But when Julia Child introduced French cooking to Americans, my grandmother was ready. She and my grandfather had fallen in love in France, and they continued to travel well into retirement. However, when nouvelle cuisine took over in the 1970s, my grandfather rebelled. The portions were too small, the food undercooked, and the whole thing took too long.
In fact, at home, my grandparents stuck to the American lines drawn by standards like Joy of Cooking and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It was from the latter that I culled the recipes for the first supper I ever made, when I was 8 or 9. Given the freedom of my grandmother’s kitchen, I put together a menu of sauteed trout, a green salad, crescent rolls from the freezer, and homemade lemon ice cream with Pepperidge Farm cookies.
The ice cream recipe has held up well. I recently introduced it to a group of cooking students, who stirred it up without my assistance. As I thumbed through the 1953 Joy, I looked for recipes that might appeal to younger cooks in the same way, recipes that would be simple to prepare but a pleasure to eat. After all, the audience for this book would’ve been home cooks who craved a release from the drudgery of housework and the dark years of wartime privation.
I found some surprises that wouldn’t be out of place in the pages of contemporary family magazines. Our efforts to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables can yield some silly dishes, often in the form of animals with cherry tomato bodies, carrot stick legs, and canned olive ring eyes wandering landscapes thick with broccoli trees. Kids like to play with food, but I’ve never tricked a kid into eating something that didn’t taste good. So I tend to laugh at these recipes/crafts projects, and write them off as a passing trend in parenting.
How wrong I’ve been. Sixty years ago, American housewives might’ve swept into the dining room with these kid-pleasers:
Fresh Peach-and-Cheese Salad. Peel, halve, and pit 6 peaches. Roll 3 oz. cream cheese into 6 little balls and coat with chopped nuts. Place balls into 6 of the peach halves, press halves together with empty halves, and roll in lemon juice. This note offers playful advice: “A bit of cress, stem and several leaves, may be placed in the stem end of each peach. Decorative, though it may affront a horticulturist.”
Black-Eyed Susan. Skin sections of orange or grapefruit. Place them on lettuce leaves, on individual plates, around a center of chopped dates and nuts. Serve with French dressing. Cherry and Hazelnut Salad. Drain and pit canned white cherries. Insert a hazelnut into each cherry, and serve with mayonnaise and cottage cheese.
I’ll admit that the peach thing tempts (and tickles) me, but how is this cherry recipe a salad? Is it the mayo? Some of what I found was baffling, but as always, I learned something new from Granny’s old cookbooks. Fashions come and go and come again, but ice cream is always in style.
Lemon Ice Cream
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
makes about 3 cups
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Put the lemon rind into an 8”-square baking dish. Add the lemon juice and sugar, and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture is well blended and the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the cream, and continue to stir until it is completely smooth. Cover with foil and freeze at least 4 hours, until it is set. Spoon out to serve; do not stir.