The other day, my neighbor invited me to go through a pile of books she’d weeded from her library. She was giving them away and was kind enough to let me have first pick. I went home with a nice stack of happy finds – a copy of the 1937 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book amongst them.
I love old cookbooks.
And this cookbook has been great fun to look through. There’s a little of everything; recipes for familiar things like ravioli and club sandwiches, as well as instructions for more exotic things like molded chicken and venison jelly.
But, even more than the recipes, I love the glimpses old cook books give into the daily life of a bygone era. According to the Boston Cooking School,
Dishes which were once considered incorrect for any but the simplest home meal now appear at parties, - corned beef hash, kidney stew, and finnan haddie, for example.
Now, that would be a menu for one crazy dinner party. Can you imagine your guests’ faces as you served them corned beef hash, kidney stew, and finnan haddie? (Finnan haddie is cold smoked haddock, by the way – I had to look it up).
Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those foods. It’s just that our tastes seem to have changed. Now you’d be more apt to serve things like chicken wings or lasagna or pasta alfredo. My own mother’s never-fail “company meal” was chicken cordon bleu. We always knew someone was coming over when we heard her in the kitchen, pounding the chicken breasts.
The book also contains an entire chapter on “Menu Making,” with specific suggestions for children’s parties. According to the Boston Cooking School, my children are likely to enjoy a celebratory meal of tomato juice; creamed chicken, creamed eggs, or minced lamb; toast; and some sort of green vegetable.
My daughters disagree. Pepper – ever diplomatic – said that that sort of food wasn’t really her “style.” Ginger, much more blunt, looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
They were all right with the dessert suggestions, though. It seems cake and ice cream are acceptable regardless of the century. Though, I imagine ice cream was a bit more difficult to get your hands on in the 1930’s. I suspect you had to make it yourself – anyway, the cookbook has pages of recipes for it.
Not that I’ll be trying any of those. But, I do plan to try the recipe for “Hot Water Gingerbread.” Or maybe “Cambridge Gingerbread” – which is just “Hot Water Gingerbread” with an egg thrown in.
But the finnan haddie? I think I’ll be content to just read about that.
From the dining room table with Ginger across from me, hard at work on Valentines,