I made a trip to northern West Virginia over the holidays. I had a great time visiting with friends and enjoying holiday events at the Museum of Ceramics and the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame in East Liverpool, Ohio; the Steubenville Nutcracker Village in Steubenville, Ohio; and the Hancock County Museum in New Cumberland, West Virginia.
Following a concert at The Museum of Ceramics, my husband and I met a childhood friend and her brother for dinner in Calcutta, Ohio.
“I have a gift for you,” my friend said, “something I’ve been saving for you.”
The gift, presented in a Walmart plastic bag, was a scrapbook of recipes, household tips and inspirational messages compiled by the mother of my junior-high teacher. I learned the book was destined for the trash heap, until my friend rescued it knowing I was one of her few friends who would appreciate the collection.
The scrapbook is contained within the pages of a Modern Plan Book supplied by the Kurtz Brothers, in Pittsburgh. They furnished school supplies and equipment to area schools in the 1960s and ’70s. The notation on the first page indicated the book was printed on good grade bond paper, providing a fine writing surface, assuring a serviceable book for the entire year’s plans.
That may have been true, but, now, decades later, the pages are yellowed and tattered.
And, yet, this gift is one that I will forever cherish.
Vintage recipe collections are a great way to peek into the personal side of history. This was one woman’s personal collection with the past. The recipes are fun and fascinating to read. The recipes define an era. They were largely submitted by women who identified themselves by their husbands’ last names. There are only a few recipes by men.
There are recipes for Lipton Onion Soup Dip, quivering desserts and salads made with Jell-O, meatballs cooked in grape jelly, celery stuffed with cream cheese, cocktail wieners wrapped in crescent rolls, and that famous award-winning Tunnel of Fudge cake that is baked in a Bundt pan.
The recipes are a good example of how cooking methods have changed through the decades. There are a lot of recipes for canning and food preservation that would never pass USDA regulations today due to food safety issues. There are several recipes calling for raw eggs, something no longer recommended due to the risk of salmonella.
The yellowed newspaper recipes reminded me of my childhood, when my mother proudly presented a strange dinner salad made with lemon Jell-O, canned sauerkraut and green onions, served with mayonnaise. The disgusting concoction evoked disrespectful grunts and comments from everyone at the dinner table.
On another occasion, a mock apple pie recipe made with Ritz crackers caught my mother’s attention. Why someone would think replacing apples in a pie with crackers is a good idea stumped me, since we lived just a few miles from several large commercial orchards and apples were readily available. We were served lemon sauerkraut salad and mock apple pie only once.
There seemed to be a fascination with canned bean sprouts in the ’60s and ’70s, and they were used in everything from casseroles to salads. There was a liberal use of SPAM and mayonnaise.
Some of the dishes had brief popularity, and some (mainly desserts) are still enjoyed today.
The scrapbook is a good example that fashion, music, art and food go through different trends each decade. Today’s recipes are influenced by technology or other cultural influences. We have a greater availability of ingredients and foods from around the world. There are more pre-packaged foods and new equipment, like modern pressure cookers and air fryers, that make cooking easier and less time consuming.
I probably won’t make many of the recipes in this collection, but the scrapbook has been fun to flip through and provides great entertainment value. The recipe for meatballs cooked in mayonnaise was intriguing enough that I had to try it out of curiosity. The Butter Balls contain rum. How could they be bad?
Maybe when I’m feeling more adventurous, I will dig out my Pyrex dishes, copper gelatin molds and dusty old Bundt pan to make a few more recipes carefully collected by a homemaker decades ago. I don’t know if my husband will be perplexed or horrified when I offer up a meal of a Garden Chicken Liver Sandwich, Congealed Potato Salad and Pink Mystery Pie. The dishes will surely give me content for a future column.