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Old-Fashioned Recipes

Recipes from Old Cookbooks  -  The Old is New Again


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Old-Fashioned Recipes

by Diana Serbe with Shari Dewey

While it is easy to understand that fashions in hemlines come and go, creating controversy as they change, it is hard to fathom the changes in food tastes. Food has become as fashionable a subject as hemlines and old-fashioned recipes sometimes evaporate in air.  Old-Fashioned?  What determines the trends that make one recipe old-fashioned, another the next wave of cooking?  Do we really want to lose the old-fashioned recipes which often are the most comforting recipes?  And when we rediscover them, the old-fashioned is a new discovery. 

Though there are basic nutritional needs to sustain us, food is subject to the means of production, methods of preservation, to the availability of ingredients, and especially to the news we receive whether through newspapers, magazines, the Internet, or that wonderful staple - the book.

Cookbooks have not always been with us.  Many recipes were transmitted orally, many passed on from one generation to another as a child watched his or her mother cook.  But electricity meant refrigerators which paved the way for freezers, and frozen foods came into vogue.  Once we settled in with our freezers, we wanted new things to do with the foods stored there. 

What do we find hidden in our old-fashioned recipes?  We find life as lived in another time, often one more connected to the most basic elements of food - the need to get something tasty on the table without gadgets, without sophisticated bottled dressings and flavorings.  "Pour into bottle; seal with a cork," tells us that corks were once saved for reuse and were valuable to us, not another object tossed into a landfill.  "Serve with crackers and butter," tells us that crackers were the most available accompaniment to a soup and a pat of butter made that cracker very tasty indeed.  And butter was less deadly to those working hard physically.

What  do we learn from old-fashioned recipes?  We learn simplicity and ease, a tradition lost in these frenetic times.  Working with the available ingredients, often more meager than our own resources, makes cooking simpler and more relaxed.  There is no last minute rush to the market to stand in line for that one bottle of flavoring.  We can make what we have tasty and delicious without that frenzy.  We see such simplicity in the recipes and wonder how we got away from that easiness.  Today we pride ourselves on sophistication, but isn't it more sophisticated to make tasty dishes without relying on bottles and cans? 

Many of the recipes state "to taste" while some do not even have specific measures.  Rather than slavishly following a chef's recipe (one that often requires a staff) the old-fashioned cook understood that tastes vary and the recipes accommodate that difference.  We can almost feel the recipes being whispered in the market or over a back yard fence.

We learn about the thrifty ways of the generations that preceded us, another tradtion that has been swallowed by ATM machines and easy credit card purchases (we'd like thriftiness to be our heritage).  'Milk riffles' is a strange title to us today, but in the old days the cooks scraped their rolling pin and boards after making noodles, pie, biscuits, etc.  They put them into a jar. When they had enough they'd make Milk Riffles. Since there was a lot of home baking going on the scraps would pile up.

Old-fashioned recipes do not mince words.  They are written to be transmitted from one cook to another, a heritage not a lesson, assuming that each individual understands the kitchen.  Despite their brevity, they are clear and easy to follow.  Perhaps we overdress our recipes today?

We have left the recipes intact as they stand, often amused by the old-fashioned spelling, but always amazed at the intelligence and imagination that human beings apply to food.  Try a few recipes.  Cook them their glorious old-fashioned way before you fiddle with ingredients, but don't be afraid to experiment.  However you use these recipes, they are fun to look at and discover the secrets hidden in their pages. Experimentation and imagination has sustained us as much as the ingredients themselves.



Shari Dewey


Our guide to these recipes has been Shari Dewey whose love for the old-fashioned books has opened new vistas to us.  We are indeed grateful to Shari for opening our eyes to the possibilities that lie within the pages of the old-fashioned books.  We asked about her love of old cookbooks.  This is her answer, one rich in tradtion and heritage:

"I grew up a tomboy in Emmett, Idaho and learning to cook was the last thing on my mind! Not when I could be out in the garage with my dad inhaling the wonderful smell of fresh cut pine boards as we planned our next woodworking project or laborously sanded the boards in ready of a bookcase, end table or china hutch. Or out horseback riding in the fruit orchards with my friends. Eventually, I discovered someone I loved more than my horse and found myself in the daunting task of running a household without a clue on how to cook. Needing simple recipes, I turned to my Grandma's old cookbooks and hand written notebooks for help beginning a life long love of old books. Grandma, existing on an income of whatever my nomadic Grandpa could send to her from his logging jobs, had to create thrifty meals to satisfy their 6 small children."



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