Erica at the good old days has given another recipe of the American culinary past an (undeserved) try. For some reason, every time I click on over to the good old days, I think that Rose at Romantoes would really enjoy this blog. I have a feeling that we both grew up on the same cuisine, found mostly in 1950s, 60s, and 70s spiral-bound cookbooks assembled by church auxilliaries and women’s clubs.
This week’s treat? Orange Velvet Pie. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, frankly Erica, I think there was a good reason that this pie was illustrated with a drawing that recalls the abstract expressionists (above left). Because the actual pie? Well, it looked like this instead (see the slice at right.) Her verdict? “The taste and consistency is exactly what you’d expect from orange juice, whipped cream, egg whites, and a bit of gelatin. But the amount of ingredients and work required for is crazy, considering that you would get the same result with orange Jell-O whipped and folded with whipped cream” (Come on, Erica–Cool Whip would be more authentic!)
You’ve got to check out the rest of her entries under “retro recipe attempts,” which are mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, interspersed with a few very brave attempts at early American cookery from The Accomplished Cook: or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery, which went through at least two editions in seventeenth-century London. (The earliest edition I found was 1660, and I also saw a 1685 edition cited–but don’t trust me, this information is just from a lazy google search of the non-peer reviewed internets.) Don’t miss especially Erica’s attempts at “Jellied Boullion with Frankfurters” (see left–please tell me this is an artifact of wartime rationing) and “MOR cheeseburgers,” in which we learn that there was once a canned meat even more disgusting than SPAM. Perhaps the strangest of all was a recipe for a sauce for New England boiled dinner made of canned creamed corn spiked with mustard, horseradish, and pickle juice. Man, I want what those in-house Del Monte home-ec experts were smoking when they came up with that one!
Hey–wait a minute. My department’s fall potluck picnic is tomorrow–where can I get my hands on a can of MOR? I could dice it up and throw it in a crock pot with that “Swedish meatball sauce” made with a jar of grape jelly and a jar of mustard mixed together. That would really impress the team. (But I suppose the only place they stock MOR any more is in some undiscovered fallout shelter…) Maybe I’ll bring the baba ghanouj and veggie tray after all.
What makes roasted eggplant dip inherently more appealing than canned meat? Nothing, really. I’m sure most Americans in the 1950s would have found baba ghanouj disgusting and/or too embarrassingly ethnic and connected to memories of family poverty. It reminds me of when I made an offhand comment about historical dramas on TV and in the movies in a recent post, and how the costumers and makeup artists never get historical hairstyles right, and Sisyphus explained exactly what that is. Ze wrote, “historical shows/films never use period-accurate hair if they want you to find the characters sexy. Hair is so tied to the vagaries of beauty and how really culturally specific they are.” I think food is at least as freighted as hair as a vehicle for displaying a culture’s tastes and values–perhaps because it too has an even more intimate relationship with our bodies than purely external fashions in clothing, furniture, or architecture, for example.
My favorite essay on food, culture, and class is M.F.K. Fisher’s “The Social Status of a Vegetable,” originally published in Serve It Forth (1937), and available in a variety of reprints of her books and essays.
UPDATE, 10/5/08: Rose at Romantoes has a post up about depression-era foodways. She wasn’t kidding about her parents saving food products for decades (see her comment, below.) Rose, you might propose a Hathaway House Museum of the Twentieth-Century!