“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato”.
A recipe from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking 1974 called French Tomato Salad has been the inspiration for a a flavorful addition to my catered salad bars. The recipe calls for six thinly sliced tomatoes arranged overlapping on a serving plate and poured over with a French (vinaigrette) dressing and sprinkled with minced shallots or thinly sliced green onions.
Also taking inspiration from the 1950s Italian Caprese Salad consisting of sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese (made with buffalo milk if you want to be authentic), fresh basil and olive oil (Americans often add a little balsamic vinegar as well to give the salad some zip), I have created a hybrid version of these two recipes that is colorful and packed with flavor. I call it Summer Tomato Salad (with or without mozzarella cheese). During late summer when fresh tomatoes are at their peak, I serve this salad often and I sometimes even make a light meal of it for myself (recipe below). Enjoy!
Thinly slice tomatoes and arrange overlapping in shallow serving dish. Carefully insert a basil leaf in between each of the tomato slices. (If using, insert a slice of mozzarella in between each of the tomato slices then insert a basil leaf between each tomato and cheese slice). Sprinkle finely chopped sweet onion over tomatoes.
In a small shaker jar, combine dressing ingredients, shake well and pour over vegetables (and mozzarella). Refrigerate salad for at least two hours to blend flavors. Serve cold.
We have come to the time of year in the northwest when the bounties of summer are being harvested and preserved. My green beans and tomatoes have been canned, the peppers have been roasted and put in the freezer, the peaches and pears are in jars lining the pantry shelves and the local grain has been harvested. Just around the corner, the apples will be ready to pick and process into applesauce and pie filling, the onions and potatoes are ready to be dug, the pumpkins are turning orange and the county fair has come and gone. Our blissful daytime temperatures are in the 80s with our nighttime temps flirting with freezing and the children have gone back to school (although school in 2020 looks somewhat non-traditional).
Early in my elementary career, schools across America began experimenting with school lunch or hot lunch as we called it. Today school lunch is as American as apple pie, but up until then, generations of children brought their lunches from home. While reading from an old cookbook — Watkins Cook Book 1948, I discovered some advice, albeit dated, for packing a child’s lunch box.
The Lunch Box
Throughout most of the twentieth century, cookbooks were seen as a way of educating housewives on food safety, nutrition and technique. If the cookbook was sponsored by a food production company, one would also find nouveau recipes and methods for using their products. Watkins Cook Book 1948 is one of these cookbooks. Intertwined in the advice and advertising we can catch a glimpse of how lunches might have been prepared and what American school children might have been eating post WWII:
A lunch should be packed in a well-ventilated, sanitary container to protect the food and to keep it compact and odorless upon opening (is that possible with a tuna fish sandwich?). Waxed paper should be used to wrap all food, and covered jelly glasses (remember those in our grandmothers’ cupboard) are excellent to use for baked beans, vegetable salad, applesauce, baked apple or for a pudding. Highly-seasoned and rich foods should not be placed in a lunch box.
Milk in some form should be included in the daily school lunch — either plain milk, malted milk, or hot or cold Watkins Cocoa, which may be carried in a pint milk bottle or in a thermos bottle, using a straw for drinking. Fresh fruit in season is appetizing and healthful.
Hard cooked eggs, cooked 30 minutes (yes the book says 30 minutes), are as digestible as soft-boiled. Peeled, wrapped in a lettuce or cabbage leaf and waxed paper, they will make an appetizing salad. Cooked vegetables as a salad add a note of interest to a box lunch. Raw carrot sticks or celery sticks made crisp in cold water, dried and wrapped in waxed paper make a tasty accompaniment to a meat sandwich. Do not pack hot creamed meat, fish and poultry dishes as the food may sour when kept warm for several hours.
The lunch box should contain sandwiches, a raw vegetable, a relish, fruit, pudding, cookies and a beverage (More on a complete school lunch below).
If sandwiches are to be kept a long time, do not use lettuce or other salad greens. Use a mayonnaise dressing as the oil will not soak into the bread.
For making sandwiches in quantities, wrap them in a napkin dipped in hot water and wrung dry. Or wrap in waxed paper and fasten with a rubber band.
Watkins Cook Book 1948 offers the following suggestions for sandwich fillings. I wonder how popular or even practical some of these suggestions were back then, however, a #7 on wheat toast sounds pretty good.
A Compete School Lunch with Advertising
Extending the suggestions for sandwich filling, Watkins Cook Book 1948 lists ten ideas for complete school lunches (mixed with a little advertising). I wonder about the feasibility of these lunches as they seem quite labor intensive and unrealistic. However my mother-in-law packed her children’s lunches with sandwiches made from homemade bread well into the 70s…then she would go out and milk the cows (No kidding!) It also seems like a lot of food for a child.
Tuna and Cream Cheese Sandwiches
Most of the time when I took a cold lunch or sack lunch to school, it contained a tuna sandwich on store-bought white bread and that wasn’t bad. I actually liked them especially with potato chips placed under the top slice of bread just before eating. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. A number of years ago I purchased a cookbook that I often refer to — Cooking from Quilt Country 1989 by Marcia Adams — featuring Amish and Mennonite recipes. This book contains a recipe for a tuna salad containing cream cheese, toasted pecans and lemon juice. I served these sandwiches at a women’s luncheon a few years ago (I used two cans of tuna as it seemed like there was too much dressing for just the one can). The ladies enjoyed the sandwiches and many asked for a copy of the recipe. Thankfully the tuna fish sandwich is not obsolete, it has just had a makeover. Enjoy!
Cucumbers taste like summertime. Simply sliced with a sprinkling of salt or added to a green salad they are a refreshing bite. We are all familiar with the classic Cucumber Salad made with slices of fresh cucumber marinated in vinegar and salt and pepper. Its a recipe that has been around for generations. In this post, I’m sharing another favorite cucumber recipe — Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream Dressing. It is a combination of sliced cucumbers and leeks seasoned with fresh garlic and dill and marinated in a sour cream dressing. I have served this dish as a part of a catered salad bar and as a summer side-dish and it is a crowd pleaser. Enjoy!
Slice cucumbers and leeks
Toss together in a bowl.
Add garlic, seasoning salt and dill to cream cheese.
In my quest to add interest to my catered salad bars, I took inspiration from a recipe for Green Bean Salad in The New York Times Cook Book 1961 (below). After tinkering with this recipe for several years, I came up with a dressing that is jazzy and delicious. This salad is served cold after marinating several hours or overnight, so it is a great summer salad and/or side-dish especially when serving Italian food. Enjoy!
Below is my interpretation of this “lost” recipe. I call it Marinated Green Bean Salad:
Wash and snap one pound of green beans.
Combine dressing ingredients.
Boil green beans four minutes.
Arrange cooked green beans in an air-tight container.
Salad can get a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.~Marcus Samuelsson
One of the earliest and definitely the largest salad bars ever featured appeared regularly in an American food restaurant in Chicago called R J Grunts beginning in 1971. The restaurant boasted forty different ingredients in their salad bar at any one time. Inspired by the health food craze of the 1970s, it was a virtual self-serve farmer’s market on a plate with most ingredients presented in their rawest form. This restaurant sparked the salad bar trend that swept the nation. And oh how we Americans love a good salad bar, so much so, that we have come to expect one in every restaurant and grocery store — the bigger the better; however, no one has done it as well as R J Grunts. Many small restaurants have tried to stay on trend by offering run-of-the-mill iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, shredded carrots, boiled eggs, frozen peas, croutons and shredded cheese, but a great salad bar is what Americans have sought after for fifty years. Sadly, covid19 has taken away the option of even eating out safely. One wonders if the American salad bar, as we have come to know it, will ever return.
Cookbook Lady’s Comments
As a caterer, one of my underlying challenges was creating ways to jazz-up my salad bar offerings without breaking the bank or creating an overwhelming workload. I never came close to offering forty options, but I did come up with a variety of ways to add flavor and interest to a salad bar. Over the course of my next several posts, I will be sharing some of my most popular “salad bar” recipes that will also work well for jazzing-up family meals, so check back often. Enjoy!
It turns out that home cooks have been preparing corn on the cob the same way for over a hundred years. Our pots are now stainless steel as opposed to cast iron, and our heat source is gas or electric instead of wood, but no matter the style of our stove, Americans still enjoy eating an ear of corn, piping hot and slathered with butter.
My one-hundred-year-old cookbook, Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners 1913, suggests preparing sweet corn using the tried and true method of dropping the husked ears into rapidly boiling water and cooking for five to ten minutes. This is the technique that I have used for years (recipe below) — simple and hassle free.
Have the water boiling. Remove the husks and silk from the corn and drop them at once into the boiling water; bring water quickly to boiling point and let boil rapidly five to ten minutes (depending somewhat on age of corn). Drain from water and arrange in a napkin-covered platter; serve at once.
Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Elizabeth O. Hiller, 1913
Freshness and Tenderness
When buying corn on the cob from a grocery store, its hard to know how long ago it was picked. Fortunately, good cookbooks offer tips on how to tell if the corn is fresh. The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 suggests popping a kernel (recipe below):
Choose the freshest corn possible. To test freshness and tenderness of corn, break a kernel with your fingernail. If the milk spurts out, the ear is young, tender and at least fairly fresh. Corn is best when cooked immediately after picking. Husk the corn and remove the silks. Have plenty of boiling water ready. Put ears of corn into a kettle and pour on enough boiling water to cover. Boil 4 to 6 minutes, depending on age and tenderness of ears. Drain thoroughly and serve immediately with salt and plenty of butter.
The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 by Meta Given
Food Tastes Better Outdoors
The original Weber kettle grill came out in 1952. By then America had recovered from the food rationing and shortages of WWII and outdoor grills offered a new way of cooking the recently available choice cuts of meat that folks had done without for so long. Backyard outdoor grilling took off like wildfire and we have never looked back! Right away cookbooks began to reflect this new trend, offering recipes and tips for cooking outdoors.
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959 gives instructions on two ways to cook corn on the cob outdoors — on the grill or directly in the coals (recipe below):
Remove silk from corn by turning back husks [do not break off the inner husks]. Replace inner husks. Place corn on grill, turn often. Roast about 15 minutes. Serve with plenty of butter, salt and pepper.
If desired, corn can be husked. Spread corn with butter, sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil. Place over hot coals about 10 to 15 minutes; turn several times.
Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959
Iowa Corn on the Cob
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 quotes an Iowa woman offering tips for preparing corn on the cob. First she suggests a way to get rid of the corn silk, then she shares two different cooking methods — the traditional drop-the-ears-in-boiling-water method, and secondly, starting the corn on the cob in cold water. I have never tried this method, but I’m definitely interested in trying it. Finally, she warns the home cook to never salt the cooking water for corn as it toughens the kernel. Dang! I am guilty of that. I will never salt my corn water again.
An Iowa woman says, “Most good cooks in our neighborhood rush the corn from the garden, husk it; use a dry vegetable brush to brush away the stubborn silk, and drop the ears into boiling water to cover. They cook it 5 to 8 minutes — never more than 10. But I get more praise from folks around the table when I cover the corn with cold water; bring it to a boil — then drain the steaming ears and serve them at once. No smart country cook around here adds salt to the water when cooking sweet corn. It toughens the kernels.”
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971
Milk and Sugar
In the cookbook, Mrs. Witty’s Home-Style Menu Cookbook 1990, Mrs. Witty offers some up-to-date advice and suggests an energy efficient way to cook corn on the cob. She also mentions a couple of interesting add-ins (recipe below):
If corn is not to be cooked at once, refrigerate it without husking. Shuck the ears just before cooking.
Don’t heat a big potful of water, which takes time and fuel and overheats the kitchen; boil a few inches of water in a wide pot, add corn, sprinkle on a little sugar — 1 or 2 Tablespoons — clap on the lid, bring the water just back to a boil, turn off the heat, and leave the corn for 8 to 10 minutes, when it will be ready. Serve one round of ears at a time; the rest will come to no harm if left in the water for as long as a half an hour.
Some cooks salt the cooking water — I don’t, because it toughens the corn; some swear by a cupful of milk in the water, and some use milk plus salt or sugar. Whichever way seems best to you, just don’t cook corn to death, as was once considered necessary; half an hour’s boiling was a common direction in cookbooks gone by.
Mrs. Witty’s Home-Style Menu Cookbook 1990 by Helen Witty
Cookbook Lady’s Comments
If there is one thing that I have noticed when catering casual summertime meals, it is that many people are a little shy about tucking into a long hot ear of corn on the cob; it seems like a big messy commitment to them. However, a three inch piece of corn on the cob seems much more manageable even to the most dainty person. So cutting the cob into thirds or fourths with a heavy sharp chef’s knife will help to alleviate their hesitancy. The cutting is done before the cooking so the corn comes out of the pot “bite-size”. Extra napkins and perhaps some toothpicks on hand helps reduce any awkwardness that guests might feel.
As far as seasoning corn on the cob, I have learned that there are other ingredients that folks enjoy besides butter and salt and pepper, although those are the most popular. Mayonnaise, in place of butter, is very popular in some areas and is my personal favorite along with salt and pepper. For those who like a little heat, chili powder, smoked paprika and lime or other flavored seasonings sprinkled on corn (or any vegetable) offers a spicy Tex-Mex flavor that some folks like.
My best advice is to serve corn on the cob often during its peak season. Enjoy!
“For those who wonder why cabbage is way out in front as the American vegetable crop, the answer is a…four-letter word: slaw.”~Irma Rombauer The Joy of Cooking 1985
In the 1600s Dutch colonist settled in the new world on the east coast of what would become the United States. Dutch holdings included part of what is now New York state where industrious immigrates planted cabbage along the Hudson River from seed brought with them to this new land. They also brought along their recipe for “koolsla”, a salad made from finely chopped cabbage, dressed with a vinegar dressing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly, New York is still one of the top five cabbage producing states in the U.S. including Florida, California, Texas and Wisconsin. In 2016, these states produced over 1.8 million pounds of cabbage with nearly half of that being processed for slaw. Indeed, Americans have fully embraced coleslaw, often pairing it with another iconic American tradition — barbecue. Our summer picnics, cookouts and barbecues have even elevated coleslaw from a side dish to a condiment. Who doesn’t love a pulled pork sandwich piled high with cool crunchy slaw?
With cabbage having such a long history in America, it doesn’t come as a surprise that twentieth-century cookbooks contain a host of coleslaw or cabbage salad recipes. Recipes from the turn of the century were a simple combination of chopped cabbage tossed with a boiled dressing containing vinegar, a little sugar, salt and pepper, an egg and cream, but by the 1930s, things started to get interesting. Slaw makers began experimenting with the addition of fruit, assorted vegetables, seasonings and a variety of dressings. Some of these additions are still enjoyed today. Others have gone by the wayside, thankfully.
Coleslaw in the Thirties
Irma Rombauer, author of TheJoy of Cooking 1931, suggests adding green peppers, apples and celery to shredded cabbage for added flavor and texture. She offers two options for dressing — a French (vinaigrette) dressing or Boiled dressing. Ever practical, Ms. Rombauer offers some advice to home cooks preparing slaw as well, suggesting an improvised tool for chopping cabbage: [Place cabbage in] “a deep bowl and [use] the sharp edge of an [empty] baking powder can” [to chop the cabbage]. This homemade tool is something similar to the hand choppers we use today (EXAMPLE). Her Cole Slaw recipe also advises home cooks to soak the chopped cabbage in ice water for an hour to crisp it. Thankfully, today’s refrigeration makes this step obsolete.
The cookbook, Modern Meal Maker 1939 continues the creativity with several interesting ingredients as well. The first recipe simply titled “Coleslaw” calls for some chopped fresh mint “for an especially nice cooling salad,” to be dressed with Cream Salad Dressing (recipes below):
The second Modern Meal Maker recipe is similar to the Joy of Cooking 1931 coleslaw recipe calling for chopped apple and celery, and is also dressed with Boiled Dressing (recipes below):
The final Modern Meal Maker recipe appears to be a carry-over from the pineapple food fad of the 1920s called “Pineapple Slaw”. The recipe simply consists of a half cup crushed pineapple added to three cups shredded cabbage and is dressed with Golden Dressing, which incorporates the tropical flavors of pineapple, orange and lemon juice (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Forties
“Cabbage Carrot Salad” appears in The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 calling for an ingredient that is common in coleslaw today — shredded carrots — and a mayonnaise dressing, also common today, with orange sections for garnish (recipe below):
The recipe for “Cabbage Apple Salad” calls for chopped apple, of course, along with celery, green pepper, nuts and tomato to be dressed with Russian Dressing (a combination of mayo, chili sauce and chopped green pickle). With the help of pinking shears, a hollowed out head of cabbage, an unpared red apple and a stalk of celery, this salad makes a stunning presentation to be sure (recipe below):
Once again, pineapple shows up in “Cabbage Pineapple Salad” accompanied by an unusual ingredient — marshmallows. What?! Perhaps they were added to entice the children to eat their vegetables (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Fifties
A coleslaw recipe appearing in The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 titled “Farm Style Cole Slaw” offers the most minimalistic cabbage salad recipe by comparison, simply calling for three thinly sliced radishes to be added to three cups shredded cabbage, and a mayonnaise dressing.
Another recipe called “Vegetable Slaw” contains shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced celery and minced onion lightly tossed in a dressing made of mayo, mustard and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter!
The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959, in the section titled “From Field and Stream” is a recipe with a long name, “Coleslaw to Serve with Fish and Game”. Its not the ingredients that make this recipe interesting, its the recipe immediately preceding the coleslaw recipe that captures ones imagination — Roast Racoon, seriously!
This post would not be a thorough representation of twentieth-century recipes if I did not include a gelatin-enhanced cabbage salad. Again The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959 provides an interesting example called “Slaw with Mustard Mold”. The slaw is a combination of shredded cabbage, chopped salted peanuts and diced pimientos dressed with a French (vinaigrette) Dressing. The Mustard Mold, meant to crown the top of the cabbage salad, is a cooked mixture of unflavored gelatin, water, sugar, dry mustard, vinegar and eggs. The mixture is cooled and allowed to partially set, at which time whipped cream is folded in and the whole concoction is poured into a mold and chilled until firm. To serve, the slaw is layered on a platter with the mustard gelatin perched on top. A tasty addition to any potluck, I’m sure.
Coleslaw in the Sixties
In The New York Times Cook Book 1961, Craig Claiborne published a recipe titled “Cole Slaw with Caraway”. This understated combination of chopped cabbage and minced onion is tossed with a simple mayonnaise dressing seasoned with lemon juice, caraway seeds and salt and pepper. Claiborne even offers a helpful tip to home cooks, “blend the mixture well with the hands”.
About the same time Claiborne’s cookbook went on sale, McCormick–Schilling, published their recipe for “Caraway Cole Slaw” in a charming booklet titled “Let’s Eat Outdoors”:
Coleslaw in the Seventies
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 offers two recipes with an ingredient that has not been mentioned yet — raisins. I like raisins, but the inclusion comes as a surprise as the popularity of these dried gems has declined throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Today raisin producers have had to return to the advertising drawing board to try to generate interest and bolster declining sales.
The first recipe, titled “Cabbage Salad Bowl” calls for raisins soaked in orange juice, cabbage and shredded carrot. To me, this sounds like a recipe worth trying (recipe below):
The second Busy Woman 1971 recipe, one with an intriguing name, “Carolina Autumn Salad” contains what are almost classic coleslaw ingredients at this point — cabbage, apples and celery, along with a half cup seedless raisins. This is another recipe I would be willing to try (recipe below):
Bringing us full circle is a recipe from the Joy of Cooking 1985 edition, calling for yet another unexpected fruit to go with the cabbage — green grapes. However, its the dressing that really gets a makeover. Starting with whipped cream, the following ingredients are folded in — lemon juice, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper and slivered blanched almonds. I’m not sure about this recipe, but how can anything with whipped cream in it be bad?
I’m tossing my favorite coleslaw recipe into the mix. Its a simple combination of cabbage and apples, but my grandmother’s Poppy Seed Dressing takes this slaw to a whole new level. It is sweet and it is sassy, and it is a crowd pleaser. Mix some up for your next barbecue. You will be glad you did. Enjoy!
2 apples, shredded or julienned (Honeycrisp apples have thin, tender peels)
Poppy Seed Dressing
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Colman’s dry mustard
1 tsp poppy seeds
Using a blender or immersion blender, pulse dressing ingredients until mixture begins to emulsify; set aside.
Shred apples using a box grater or mandolin. Toss apples with shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Drizzle with half the prepared Poppy Seed Dressing; toss to coat. Add more dressing if needed. (Remaining vinaigrette makes a great fruit salad dressing).
Garnish slaw with apple slices and additional poppy seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
“Pies, plain old fruit pies anyway, were not In during the Sixties: too simple, too old-fashioned, too uncreative. But there was a class of pie that a modern gal could serve and still be considered a go-go gourmet. These acceptably chic pies almost always had a crushed graham cracker or cookie crust and were fill with ice cream, or pudding, or gelatin mixed with something sweet and creamy.” ~Sylvia Lovegren, Fashionable Food Seven Decades of Food Fads 1995
While researching twentieth-century cookbooks for my blog post Rhubarb’s Reign, I discovered a “lost” sixties-chic recipe for Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie in The American Woman’s Cook Book 1966 containing then trendy ingredients including gelatin and heavy whipped cream in a crumb crust. The resulting refrigerator pie smacked of tangy rhubarb mellowed by the rich smoothness of whipped cream. The crunch of the graham cracker crumbs added a good textural contrast. Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie is a delightfully retro alternative to traditional rhubarb pie — delicious on a hot summers day.
The recipe for Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie, suggests a Cereal Flake (corn flake) Pie Shell, I opted for the now classic graham cracker crumb crust called Crumb Pie Shell (above) included in the same chapter as the pie. The crumb mixture was easy to work with, kept its shape and held together well, however, it was a little too sweet for modern tastes. Next time I would add maybe half the sugar called for to cut down on the sweetness.
While preparing the filling for Rhubarb Whipped Cream Pie (recipe above), I took a gamble and modernized the amount of unflavored gelatin in the recipe to coincide with the product packaging that is available now: instead of two tablespoons of gelatin, I used two packets (each packet equaling about 2 teaspoons) of Knox unflavored gelatin. In spite of this adjustment, the pie maintained a good set.
Like the crumb crust, the rhubarb filling ended up being very sweet. A full cup of sugar was more than the filling needed, nevertheless tartness in varieties of rhubarb vary so the amount of sweetener added is best left up to the cook. Next time I would start with 2/3 cup sugar and work my way up from there, tasting as I go.
My final adjustment to the recipe was to stabilize the heavy cream before whipping by blending two tablespoons of mascarpone cheese into the cream on a low speed before whipping at a higher speed. The combination of gelatin in the filling and the stabilized whipped cream kept the filling firm and the crust crunchy for several days. I would definitely make Rhubarb Cream Pie again. Enjoy!
Graham Cracker Crumb Mixture
Baked Graham Cracker Crumb Crust
Combine chopped rhubarb and sugar.
Dissolve unflavored gelatin in cold water.
Bring rhubarb, sugar and gelatin mixture to a boil.
Stablized Whipped Cream
Fold stewed rhubarb mixture with stabilized whipped cream.
As a kid did you ever play travel games to pass the time while on a road trip? I remember playing “I Spy”, the “License Plate” game and “Simon Says” with my siblings as we drove across the state to visit our grandparents. My personal favorite was the memory game “Going on a Picnic” where each player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring…” the player then lists an item starting with the letter “A” such as Apples. The next player says, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring Apples and…”, that player adds an item beginning with “B“, and so on. In our version, the items didn’t always have to be food items — every picnic needs Paper Plates, Napkins, a Volley ball and maybe an Umbrella, in case of rain. As I recall, the last person always brought Zucchini.
Picnic Bean Salad
Most times, when my family took a road trip, it was for a family celebration or reunion which often involved a potluck picnic where everyone brought their signature dish to share — a dish that travels well, serves a lot of people and gets the cook the most compliments. On my husband’s side of the family, my signature dish has become Four Bean Salad (a recipe handed down on my mother’s side of the family). I almost feel guilty that such an easy salad is my requested contribution. There is almost no work involved in the prep as most of the ingredients come from a can. It travels/stores well since there is no mayonnaise in the dressing and the presentation is eye-catching with all the colorful ingredients. Best of all, the flavor is zippy! Lucky is the person who gets the last few tablespoons of vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl once the vegetables are gone. Drizzle that over potato salad or green salad and it takes flavor to a whole new level!
Nouveau Bean Salad
I remember my grandmother making Bean Salad when I was a little girl. With some research in my twentieth-century cookbooks, I discovered that Bean Salad was still fairly nouveou in the 1960s. The first Bean Salad recipe on record was printed in a booklet put out by Stokely — Van Camp (processors of canned dried beans and makers of pork-and-beans) in the 1950s. The earliest recipe printed in a comprehensive cookbook is found in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. The Good Housekeeping recipe, appropriately titled Three Bean Salad, calls for one pound cans of french-cut green beans, yellow wax beans and red kidney beans drained and combined with half cups of minced green pepper and onion, to be dressed with a classic vinaigrette consisting of salad oil, cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. The directions suggest making the salad the day before serving to allow flavors to blend. My grandmother’s Four Bean Salad (recipe below) is very much like this recipe.
A Good Vegetable Salad
While researching pre-1950s cookbooks, I didn’t find a single bean salad recipe, but I did find recipes for marinated green beans to be served as a cold salad, so I’m wondering if marinated green beans might have been the precursor to the now classic Bean Salad.
Elizabeth O. Hiller’s 52 Sunday Dinners 1913 suggests serving a cold Veal Loaf (very similar to meatloaf of today) on the first Sunday in July. The recipe instructs the home cook to pack the seasoned ground veal “solidly in a granite, brick-shaped bread pan” and “bake in a moderate oven for three hours”. The veal loaf is then chilled, removed to a platter and surrounded with a “good vegetable salad”. The recommended vegetable salad is String Bean Salad (recipe above) comprised of cooked string beans, void of strings of course, marinated in French Dressing (meaning a vinaigrette) sprinkled with sliced fresh onion, chopped parsley and Nasturtium blossoms for garnish (Nasturtiums are a brightly-colored edible flower with a peppery flavor similar to radishes). Joy of Cooking 1931 also presents a comparable marinated String Bean Salad minus the veal loaf and flower blossoms.
Modern Stringless Green Beans
Beans (Green or Wax) Young pods are now stringless. ~Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950
After decades of hybridizing, string beans finally lost the fibrous strand that ran the length of each bean as announced by the authors of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book 1950. With no strings attached, the beans eventually came to be known as green beans (however my grandmother called them string beans her whole life). The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 used modern terminology when naming its dish “Green” Bean Salad (recipe above). Celery and radishes were added for crunch, and mayonnaise is suggested as an option for dressing the salad.
At Long Last
Finally, in the early 1960s, a clever cook thought to add cooked dried beans to a marinated green bean salad — and the rest, as they say, is history. In this charming 1964 women’s magazine ad for Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing, if we look closely enough, we can see a recipe for Three Bean Salad calling for 2 cups lima beans, 2 cups kidney beans, 2 cups cooked cut green beans, 1 cup chopped tomato, 1 cup sliced celery and half a cup of chopped sweet pickles, tossed with Kraft French (vinaigrette) Dressing.
Bean salads are always popular, especially for buffet serving. ~Ruth Ellen Church, Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966
Ms. Church speaks authoritatively of the popularity of Bean Salads so we can assume that by 1966 the concept had been around for several years. Then, as with recipes now, cooks loved to personalize their dishes. The recipe in Mary Meads Modern Homemaker Cookbook 1966 is called Chinese Bean Salad (not surprising since Americans have had a fascination with “exotic” food post WWII). Ingredients include green beans, wax beans, (no dried beans however) water chestnuts and red onions tossed in a dressing of vinegar, sugar, salad oil, soy sauce and celery salt.
Bean Salad Flattery
The Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 includes a recipe titled Overnight Bean Salad located in the “Make-Ahead Cooking” section promoting the convenience of Bean Salad. Interestingly, the recipe is exactly the same recipe as described above from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook 1963. Its said that imitation is the best form of flattery. I’d say its also a good indicator of a great recipe.
Below is my family’s recipe for Bean Salad. We call it Four Bean Salad. It could also be called Four Generation Bean Salad as it is the recipe my grandmother used, the one my mother and I use and the one my daughters now use. Anyone of us could say, “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring a really good Bean Salad”. Enjoy!
I remember the year I turned eleven as the apricot summer. The neighbor’s lone apricot tree bloomed its heart out and blessed the earth with a plethora of fruit. Everyone around was invited to help themselves to the apricot bounty, but my mother was the only one that accepted the offer.
The tree rarely produced much fruit, due to the fact that apricots bloom ridiculously early in the year, and springtime in the northern states is notoriously fickle. But this year was different. The ambitious apricot tree burst into bloom with dainty white and light pink blossoms covering every limb of its twenty foot stature. Providently, the weather was moderate, and tiny apricots began to grow as the tree leafed out around them. Gradually, spring morphed into a hot summer, and by mid-July the tree limbs were drooping from the weight of the fruit. By early August the fruit was ripe. A canning enthusiast, my mother got out her water-bath canner, sterilized her jars, grabbed her laundry basket and started picking apricots.
Twice a day she filled her basket, washed and pitted apricots, packed them into quart jars with some sugar syrup. Then, while the apricots processed in the canner, she sterilized the next set of jars, prepared more syrup and headed back out to pick more apricots. At the end of the day, she would boil down the extra apricots into a batch of jam. (To a child that jam smelled as sweet as candy as it cooked). Once thickened, the hot jam was ladled into up-cycled jars of various sizes and shapes. Then a layer of hot melted paraffin was poured over the jam to “seal” it. While filling our mouths with warm juicy freshly-picked apricots, my siblings and I looked forward to eating home-canned apricot jam on homemade bread.
Mom’s canning routine went on for days until finally the now overly ripe apricots fell off the tree. She had canned dozens of jars of fruit, nectar and jam and we enjoyed the bounty for several years, taking them with us when we moved.
Throughout the fifty years since the apricot summer, my mother and I have continued to can, but never has there been another neighborhood apricot tree. In fact, around here backyard apricot trees have mostly been cut down and chopped up for firewood. Its as if apricots have become a forgotten fruit.
Curious about the significance of apricots in the American diet, I started doing some research. The earliest record of an apricot tree in the US was in Virginia in 1720 grown from seeds brought over from England, however the fruit was slow to catch on. The west coast was introduced to apricots by Spanish monks coming north from Mexico into what is now California to establish missions. The apricot trees were planted and cultivated in the gardens of these religious settlements.
The Santa Clara Valley, the location of one of the Spanish missions, proved to be an ideal location for growing apricots and other fruits known as drupes (this includes peaches and almonds). The fruit became popular almost immediately. By 1792, California produced its first significant apricot crop. A hundred years later, the annual apricot harvest was close to three million pounds. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, fruit production increased as orchards grew, reaching 24,000 acres of trees producing 160,000 tons of apricots by the late 1920s.
What in the world did America do with all those apricots? Well, during the twenties, 60 — 75% of California’s apricots were dried (laid on fruit racks by hand out in the sun), 15 — 35% were commercially canned and shipped out for retail, and less than 10% were shipped fresh or consumed locally. At that time, the US was involved in restoration efforts in post-WWI Europe by helping to feed the hungry, so many of California’s dried apricots were exported to Germany. That is, until Hitler came to power and suddenly stopped importing from the US in 1933. This happened as American farmers were grappling with low demand and even lower prices brought on by the Great Depression. At one point, the US Government stepped in and purchased most of California’s apricots to prevent farmers from just plowing them under because of the extremely low prices. The apricots were distributed this time to feed America’s hungry.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor engaging the the United States in WWII, the US government again purchased almost all the dried California apricots to feed the US military and that of its allies. In 1944 and 45 all the California apricots were reserved for the war effort.
Following WWII, interest in apricots began to wane. Orchards in the Santa Clara valley were sold in large parcels to the aeronautics, defense and technology industries, leading to Santa Clara Valley’s “make-over” into Silicon Valley. In 1964 there were still 35,000 acres of apricot orchards in California, but they had dispersed to other areas. Today only about 17,000 acres of apricot trees remain.
In the 1970s, dried apricots had a bit of a resurgence with the popularity of tail mix. Although raisins were the dried fruit most commonly added, many people liked dried apricots in the mix as well. Now days folks make trail mix from any combination of their favorite dried fruits, seeds, nuts, cereals, grains and of course, candy.
As I researched my twentieth-century cookbooks, I found that at one time the use of apricots was common and creative with a majority of recipes calling for dried apricots. Only instructions for home canning or jam-making called for fresh apricots. It became evident that during the twentieth century it was common for home cooks to keep a supply of dried apricots, like raisins, on hand for cooking and baking. Never having cooked or baked with dried apricots all these recipes piqued my interest. Over the next several months, I will feature some of these twentieth-century apricot recipes in my blog posts so we can appreciate the creativity of our mothers and grandmothers cooking.
Recently, I enjoyed a walk down memory lane by making a batch of apricot jam. I created a photo collage as I worked. You will notice that I even sealed one of the jars of jam with paraffin like my mother used to do. The others I sealed in my water-bath canner. Enjoy!