Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Story of My Vintage Cookbooks

Each year as the Christmas season rolls around, my thoughts turn to holiday baking and cooking, and I start looking at recipes for cookies and breads and candy. I like to cook and bake now, but this was not always the case.
There was a time when I was proud to say that I didn’t like cooking, or even know how to very well… and I didn’t care to learn either. I even wore this refusal to “learn my way around a kitchen” like a badge of honor and maybe it was my feeble attempt at being “liberated.” Who knows? Ironically, I also bought a lot of vintage cookbooks. There was a wonderful used bookstore, located in an old apartment house, that I would visit quite often, and at 1 or 2 bucks a piece, I would come out with armloads of old cookbooks. I bought them because they were vintage, and cheap, and they were filled with great vintage pictures. I’d line them up on a shelf in my kitchen and look at them from time to time…but never use them. I guess I thought that to be a successful cook one had to be a “gourmet” cook and master the types of techniques taught at the Culinary Institute.
Over time, my ideas about what defines a successful woman began to change, and I started taking my inspiration from women of the past-both women in my own family, and women in society as a whole. It was the ordinary hardworking, resourceful homemaker from the Depression years and wartime years who began to seem extraordinary-- the women who would have used the cookbooks I collected. My Grandmothers and Aunts were such women. So I decided I would not only learn to cook and bake, but do it in such a way as to honor them and make them proud.
Now I’m happy to say that I can bake a beautiful loaf of bread, or roast a chicken on Sunday and come up with three or four ways to use up the leftovers during the week, or make perfect fudge the old fashioned way. (Well ok, I’m still working on that one-soaking the pan overnight really will get the hardened cement-like chocolate to come out.)
I love my old cookbooks even more now-- now that I actually use them, and I can’t help thinking about the unseen hands that touched the pages before me. I only wish these dear women were still around, because I have a question about that biscuit recipe on page 80…

Here is a recipe for my Great Aunt Olga’s Ice Box Cookies. These are very dangerous and can cause a serious case of over indulging…and they are most certainly not healthy, (but my Aunt lived well into her 80’s!)
Preheat oven to 350

1 cup softened butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 to 4 cups of flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream all ingredients together well except flour. Add 3 cups of the flour, and additional flour to form a soft dough. Mold dough into long rolls and wrap in waxed paper and chill in freezer until firm. Cut into 1/8” slices and bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown on ungreased baking sheet.
Makes a lot!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely looking recipe! All the women in my family on my Mums side were all artistic, could bake sew, etc. When I was younger believe it or not, I loathed sewing! Now of course I love it, and I love all the baking , dressmaking, embroidery and the like, because I think it reminds me of childhood and cosy homes! Thanks for your comment on my blog! Pop by again if you like,as I have just written another post! Have a lovely weekend! suzie. xxx