So, Stephanie, from Dispensing Happiness, has come up with a Real Challenge For Me this time. As hostess of the eleventh Retro Recipe Challenge, her chosen theme is “Your Mother Should Know” -- meaning you can use any recipe from any year before your mother was born. Thanks a bunch, I thought.
Ah, but I’m not one to shirk from a challenge, especially involving food. So, I called up my mother and inquired whether she remembered any recipes from her childhood. That was more than 80 years ago, folks. My mom was born in 1922.
Well, she did remember that her mother used to serve milk over toast during the Depression, but as for any specific thing, she drew a blank. In a moment of inspiration, however, she did recall that my grandmother had owned a cookbook that used to belong to her own mother: The White House Cookbook.
I was very excited to hear that, because, during some research into pre-1920s recipes, I had come across a fabulous food history website, called the Food Timeline. It’s a great history-at-a-glance for food, recipes, and cookbooks, so I returned to the site to find that The White House Cookbook was available online, thanks to the folks at Michigan State University and their Historic American Cookbook Project. Check it out and you’ll be amazed at what’s available.
Now, The White House Cookbook is pretty entertaining. Not only does it contain recipes and cooking tips, but you can also learn about etiquette, food for the sick, how to get rid of cockroaches, managing state dinners, etc. I was hoping they had some recipe for gopher control, but I haven’t found it yet.
One difficulty was which recipe to choose, while the other difficulty was how to translate a ‘teacup’ into a modern measuring tool. Times have sure changed. The rum omelette sounded good, but involved flaming a plate full of rum, so I felt, for safety reasons, that that wouldn’t do.
Finally, because I love bread, I searched for a recipe that was familiar but that I hadn’t made in a long time. I’ve been hungry lately for some good steamed brown bread, so that is what I chose. There are two versions, one with sweet milk and one with sour milk or buttermilk. Since I have buttermilk to consume, that was my choice.
So, without further ado, I now present steamed brown bread,
from White House Cook Book: A Selection of Choice Recipes Original and Selected, During a Period of Forty Years' Practical Housekeeping
By Mrs. F. L. Gillette
Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887
BOSTON BROWN BREAD (Sufficient for One Medium-Sized Loaf)
1 c. white flour
1 c. graham flour
1 c. corn meal
3/4 tsp. soda (2 teaspoons baking soda)
2 tsp. baking powder (omit)
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. molasses
1-3/4 c. sweet milk (2 cups buttermilk)
Mix and sift the flour, corn meal, soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the molasses and milk and mix all thoroughly. Grease a can and a cover that fits the can tightly. Fill the can two-thirds full of the mixture and cover it. Place it in a steamer and steam for 3-1/2 (to 4) hours. Dry in a moderate oven for a few minutes before serving.
Changes for the buttermilk version are in blue. Interestingly enough, the basic recipe has remained nearly the same for over a hunded years and probably longer. I found a cooking textbook, published in 1884, that gave a very similar recipe with both milk variations.