Thursday, July 15, 2010

Inspiration Among the Dust

A few weeks ago when my mom was visiting me in Kansas for the first time, I took her to a little town called Paxico, Kan., which is known for neat antique shops. One shop had just come into a huge collection of old cookbooks that they were selling for $3 to $10 each. Oh my, did I have a field day. This is just the kind of thing that gets me fired up!
One could look through old cookbooks and not see a thing of relevance for today's kitchen (think salad molds, Crisco, and steak tartare). However, amongst the gems I took home, including Melting Pot of Mennonite Cookery 1874-1974, BH&G's Heritage Cookbook (1975), The Art of Cooking and Serving (1937), and The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook (1963), I found endless old-time recipes for basic, simple dishes, and some not-so-simple dishes that take a cook's intuition to figure out (love those kitchen-riddles).  
The Melting Pot cookbook features recipes from all different ethnic (Mennonite) groups all over Europe including Dutch, Swiss, German, Polish, and even Russian. It includes so many neat little histories like a detailed description of hog slaughtering day, and the meals the women prepared during it, told by a Russian man, and of course, recipes. It struck me that most of the recipes are really like peasant cooking--very little spices or adulteration and few ingredients. A Dutch vegetable soup was comprised of just potatoes, carrots and celery, and "10 kernels of whole clove" and salt and pepper. The boiled potatoes recipe (also Dutch) was potatoes, water and salt, with a note of caution that the Dutch are very particular about the texture of their boiled potatoes. "Potatoes must be flaky when dished up!" Few instructions are given, and recipes don't indicate what to do with ingredients like vegetables; no "diced," "chopped," "minced," etc. I love to study these old cookbooks and see how dishes were prepared, and really, how recipes were written. I feel like it is training me a bit by making me think about cooking and why things are prepared the way they are. I've already got scores of pages marked for things I want to try like Dutch Pea Soup (better start planning now to acquire a pig's ear and a pig's trotter), and the more easy-to-come-by corn pudding, made from our heirloom corn, Hickory King, that we're growing on the farm.  
Go hunting for some old cookbooks. I promise it will make your time in the kitchen more meaningful as you think about your ancestors and the old days. 

1 comment:

  1. I love old cookbooks too and hope to come across a trove like that myself!

    I have a 1920's era pamphlet that has what looks like the best gingersnap cookie recipe ever - have to get around to trying that...