Thursday, June 08, 2006

retro recipes challenge

laura rebecca's kitchen is hosting the retro recipe challenge and i just couldn't resist, because i knew exactly what cookbook i was going to draw my recipe from.

growing up, my mom (you know, mooncrazy) had this cookbook called "betty crocker's cooky book." i think she got it as a wedding present in 1970 and i know she still has it. this cookbook was so cool. it had a red hard-bound cover with a picture of all different kinds of colorful cookies laid out on it. it really stood out on the cookbook shelf, especially to a kid. the leaves of the book were bound by wire rings (kind of like a spiral notebook) which gives it the advantage of laying flat while you are trying to cook from the recipe. genius, i tell you. i loved the hell out of that cookbook and i definitely credit it as one of the primary influences for my love of cooking. this book was much loved and well worn. i think the cover's come off and many of the pages have grease stains and flecks of dried on cookie dough as indicators that they were our favorite recipes, used time and time again. the mark of a good cookbook, indeed. i so totally wanted to spirit this thing out of the house when i left the nest, but i just couldn't. don't get me wrong, i liberated all sorts of other things (dad, still missing the white album?), but this was somehow sacred plus mom would know it was missing immediately, so it stayed on the shelf.

well, anyway, one day last year i was browsing the cookbook section at barnes & noble (like ya do), and i saw "the cookbook" on the shelf! i couldn't believe it, was there one leftover from 1963? not exactly. as it turns out, they issued a "facsimile edition" in 2002. it is exactly the same. i had to own it. it was like 25 bucks, which i'm sure is 10 times what it cost in 1963, but it had to go home with me. i took it home and read it like a novel.

this cookbook is so intiguing to me, not only because of my fond memories of my nascent culinary sensibilities, but also on a sociological level. re-reading it in my 30's, i take a much different view of this cookbook than i did when i was a kid. today, i see it as a snapshot of the our country viewed itself in 1963. the styling is straight early 60's white middle america, totally camelot, totally leave it to beaver. the narrative and subtext scream out, "stay-at-home, white donna reed-june cleaver-laura petrie mom, making snacks for the kids when they get home from school and elegant dessert bites for swank in-home entertaining of the husband's boss." it also has a nostalgic americana section, dedicated to the best cookies, sorted by decade from 1880 to 1930 and by half-decade from 1930 to 1963. there is a "heritage cookies" section that features "[r]ecipes we know and use today [that] came from 'round the world to the thirteen isolated colonies of america." apparently "around the world" in 1963 meant "northern europe." reading the cookbook today, i see it as an advertisment for a certain cultural norm or aspiration that was trying to be sold to the people of this country in the 50's and 60's. it smacks of an instrument of social control through the communication and challenge to conform to preferred social values: white, upper-class, exclusionary values. when people reminisce about how great the 50's were, i often add, "yeah, if you were a white man." this time capsule cookbook has become a measuring stick of sorts for me and when i drag it out, it reminds me of how far our society has come in terms of inclusion and equality and how much farther we have to go. that being said, it has some damn fine cookie recipes.

so, i enter this retro cooking challenge with eyes wide open. there are some things that were just plain cool in the 50's and 60's, with good reason to celebrate them. but there were a lot more things that were definitely not cool so let's not get totally caught up in the nostalgia without giving a thought for the changes that sorely needed (and still need) to be made in our country. i therefore intend this cookie recipe as a political act: an independent, educated, professional woman in the new millenium appropriating a recipe from a book that was used as a tool of opression against the women who came before her.

[sorry for the diatribe, i was a communications study major in college and now i'm a lawyer. i can't help it.]

so, anyway, i thought i'd try the french lace cookie. it was listed in the best recipe for the 1960 - 1963 period and i thought it looked totally jackie kennedy. our country was so in love with her and her "sophisticated french ways" at that time, and i think this recipe reflects that. the french lace cookies is kind of like a tuile, it uses a really thin batter and spreads out really thin on the baking sheet, but this one bubbles up and the leftover holes make it look lacy and crenellated. it's actually quite a pretty little cookie. here's the recipe:

1 c. flour
1 c. finely chpped nuts
1/2 c. corn syrup
1/2 c. shortening
2/3 c. brown sugar (packed)

preheat oven to 375. blend flour and nuts. bring corn syrup, shortening, and sugar to boil in saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. remove from heat; gradually stir in flour and nuts. drop batter by level teaspoonfuls about 3" apart on lightly greased baking sheet. bake 5 - 6 minutes; remove from oven and allow to stand 5 minutes before removing from baking sheet. makes about 4 dozen cookies. for the "lace roll ups" variety, roll into a cylindrical shape while they are still warm. for "peek-a-bows," tie with a "gaily colored ribbon." [their words, not mine.]

oh so retro


Laura Rebecca said...

Thanks for the submission! (I was a Comm major too!)

wheresmymind said...

Did you put your hair up in a beehive? :D

Deborah Eley De Bono said...

You crack me up, little bird.

Lea said...

Loved reading this post!

To this day as women we have to fight this "Betty Homemaker" stereotype that was formed for us during that time. I am a borderline feminist at times... and in no way consider myself "domestic". Yet as a women, who likes to cook and play in the kitchen... we're automatically placed as wannabe housewives.... but... put a man in the kitchen.. and he is a "potential chef"...

maltese parakeet said...

lea - i know exactly what you mean! i hate being pigeon-holed. if i want to make cookies and have a nice home, i'm going to do that. if i want to go to law school and be a lawyer, i'm going to do that, too. and there's no reason i can't do (and excel at) both. but don't tell me i can only do one thing or the other. being raised by mooncrazy may have had something to do with this attitude!

Anonymous said...

your description is deliciously eloquent. My mother is from the same era. I distinctly remember her burning several batches and nearly swearing when I was a young'in. It was hilarious.