WHATS COOKIN’ GOOD LOOKIN’

 

The rain was coming down in buckets, pounding the tin siding of the quonset hut I lived in like a thousand little hammers. Nearly an inch a minute, completely deafening those of us who lived there. The water rising toward the floors set nearly three feet off the ground. The neighbors on Achiu Lane who had houses set on the ground had already been evacuated by the Hawaii National Guard, hauled away in huge canvas topped trucks to the nearby Haleiwa Recreation Center. No electricity; so with nothing for light but a kerosene lantern, the only thing to do was to ask my neighbor Jim Kraus to come over for something to eat and then…… [Pause: Fanfare with trumpets.] Ta Ta Ta Da.

Whip out Recipe Roundup, the little cookbook my mother and her friends had written and published in 1953 which I have carried with me wherever in the world I have lived. Not only for the recipes in it but for the pure pleasure of sitting down with it and reading the names of the people from my little town who made it. A reminder of home and the people who once lived there. For there is much more to little books like this than just the paper, the type and binding.

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Cookbooks have been written in almost every literate society. One of the most famous is the Banquet of the Sophists, written in the 2nd century BC by Athenaeus, a well known Greek gourmet. It contains the first known recipes for cheesecake, or rather many cheesecakes, which seems great to me. It also has one which which is still a staple of the Greek diet, stuffed grape leaves.  The Important Things to Know About Eating and Drinking was written by Huou, the master chef of the imperial court of Kublai Khan 1215-94. Marco Polo may have partaken of the  soups made from it when he lived at the Great Khans court.

One of the first French books was called the Menagier de Paris, and, not surprisingly had recipes for frogs and snails. The first printed cookbook, 1485, was written by an Italian, Bartolomeo Scappi. It had recipes for Marzipan and many other types of Italian sweets. One of the most successful and famous cookbooks ever written was published in 1896 by Fannie Merrit Farmer, the editor of the Boston Cooking-School cook book, which, was the first to introduce standardized measurements and methods which guaranteed reliable results to its readers.

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Recipe Roundup is a community cookbook, still a popular type in America. They are unique  in that they focus on home cooking, documenting regional, ethnic, family, and societal traditions and local history. Conceived as a fundraiser, the Women’s Club worked on it for two years, collecting recipes, not only from members but friends and families. They used recipes from other cookbooks too, such as the ones below.

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My grandmothers Minerva Club 1951, my great-grandmothers church 1901

According to my mother, one of the most difficult thing to do was to write down recipes that had been passed from one generation to another. Most of the women prepared their tried and true dishes from scratch. What exactly is a pinch of salt, or a dash of baking soda? She had to cook each of her recipes several times to get the amounts correct. You can imagine how difficult this sometimes was, just look at how vague some recipes are. You can try and make my mothers biscuits or pie crust but if she didn’t show you how wet the dough needed to be or how to cut in the Crisco, you will fail as often as not. Note: substitute butter. If you are making strawberry short cakes, there are none better. MMM MM.

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When you look a the list of names above you might notice something curious. All of the names feature the given name of the husband and not the name of the wife. Kids like me never called a woman by any other name than Mrs or Miss, a habit that seems quaint today. If she was a close friend of the family you could use her first name if you knew it but in church or school it was formal. Miss Holland and Mrs Brown, Elizabeth and Edyth taught us at Branch. Mrs Harloe, Margaret or Maggie to her closest friends, at Arroyo Grande Elementary and Miss Walker, later Mrs Sullivan, who taught elementary also, was Gladys. Even widows still used the late husband’s name. It worked the opposite way for men. There was Ace Porter, Toots Porter, Hooky DaLessi , Beanie English, Mutt Anderson and I had no idea that Buster Loomis’ real name was Clinton. This didn’t mean that the women were walking three paces behind their husbands because they certainly weren’t. Some owned and ran their own businesses. Louise Ralph, Peggy Porter, and Marylee Baxter owned their own stores. Hazel Talley was bookkeeper for Oliver’s farm. My grandmother did all the business end for my grandfather  on their dairy. Edna Rowe was a school librarian, Gladys Loomis and Frankie Campbell were teachers. Most of these recipes came from families where both husband and wife worked. As with today, working families had no time for elaborate meals.

Just putting a recipe together was different. Moms kitchen was small, just and old dry sink with a wooden countertop and a tall cabinet at each end. The sink had been fitted for hot and cold water in the 20’s. There were just two drawers for utensils and to the side an enameled metal cabinet that had been inherited from my grandmother Shannon. We had a shiny sunbeam toaster and a Mixmaster that sat on top with her cookbooks. Basically everything else was done by her hand, or my brothers and I.

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Mom didn’t buy hamburger, she made it. Cole Slaw was made at home too and carrots were grated by hand for carrot salad. We used the sifter below, she didn’t use pre -sifted flour and the nut grinder is still in use today because it’s easier than using and cleaning the Cuisinart.

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Few of the recipes she used would make Sunset Magazine but she and many mothers like her fed their families on simple fare and everybody grew up OK.

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meat grinder        clam hammer

Grind the clams with this and tenderize them with this.

Above is my grandfathers recipe for clam soup. What I remember most about it is having to beat the clam’s tongue to death with a homemade two pound hammer to make it soft enough to eat. Good though. The most interesting thing about this recipe is the fact that its even in the book. Jack Shannon is the only man who has a recipe in it. I asked my mother why this was and she told me that he was highly respected by woman for his kindness. She said he genuinely cared for people and was one of the last of the “Old School,” gentleman. He would always tip his hat to women when he saw them, a certain graciousness that is long gone from our society. Quite a compliment.

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As you may have noticed, the illustrations were all done by my mother. She sat at our kitchen table and worked on them for many, many hours, carefully sketching with pencil and then finishing them with pen and ink, a medium that is notoriously difficult.

As with many of the best things, it was a true community effort and is still used and cherished today. If you have one you are fortunate, there aren’t any available anymore and you must inherit one, which is kind of a nice thing. So, if you have one, look through it and remember the people who made it, it will make you smile.

P S: I have heard that the Arroyo Grande Women’s Club is considering reprinting the book. You can contact them at P O Box 313, Arroyo Grande, CA 93421,  or google womensclubof arroyogrande.com. The president is Karen Lujan.  Email is womensclubof ag@yahoo.com

P P S: The recipe for the best mayonnaise cake ever! My favorite.

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HI-JINKS

When I was a boy we saw our mother in her kitchen when we got up in the morning. She made our breakfast every single day that I lived in that home. Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal or; in the summer, dry cereal. You could have “roundies,” or “poppers” in your bowl. Names supplied by my little brother Cayce when he was in the first stages of talking. Every family has quirky names for objects and people that are supplied, usually by the young. My father’s parents were called Mamoo and Poopoo and of course, as the oldest child, these had been the first names I was to call them. My first lesson in unconditional love came with those names. My grandfather Jack was proud to be called “Poops” all the rest of his life and he didn’t care in the least who knew it. Even his friends and acquaintances learned to call him “Poops.” He was never in the least embarresed. He was a proud of his children and grandchildren and they could do no wrong.

When we left for school, my mom was there. When we came home, running up the driveway and into the kitchen, she was there. When I was in Grammar school she didn’t work out of the home, she worked in the home as did most of the mothers I knew. That was who she was. She could make wonderful pies, great cakes and had meals on the table on time, every time. Lord knows how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she must have made. Her three boys always took a lunch to school. Seventeen years of school lunches five days a week. She taught me to knit crochet and sew. In the fifties she made most of her boys clothes. Mom skills, they were, and even though it wasn’t strictly necessary after WWII, she still did them. My goodness, my grandmother Annie Shannon still darned socks into the sixties though there was absolutely no need for that anymore. They were comfort jobs I think, things that were done because you had always done them.

Moms played bridge or canasta, perhaps hearts, usually with the same women year after year. Florence Rust, Hazel Talley, Gladys Loomis, Edna Rowe, June Waller, Marge Nelson, Nancy Loomis and many others came to our house to play bridge. The boys were put to bed early and my dad disappeared as the hens cackled the night away. I believe my grandmother’s bridge club lasted over fifty years with most of the same women and only the deaths of the members finally forced a halt when there were not enough left to make up a table of four. Minta Brisco, Hilda Harkness and Doris Henshaw, they slowly faded away.

So that is the picture I had of my mother as a boy. Steady, dependable dispenser of kisses, bandages for boo boos and as many hugs as you could use. A spoonful of heart medicine if you said a bad word, protector and drill sergeant all wrapped up in one person.

My mom belonged to the Arroyo Grande Women’s Club. Many of the mothers in town did. They had bake sales, sponsored the Gay Nineties and later the Harvest Festival. They were always saving to build their own building too. Some of the money was given to support our little towns library which was located just behind the American Legion Hall on Orchard Street where they met. They were good people who worked hard for their community.

Club meetings were  quite the thing in the fifties. Mom would dress up to go. Stockings, nice dress, she never wore slacks to those things, a cute little hat and gloves and off she would go. Dressing up was important then. My grandmother never left the house without her hat and gloves. My mom and Hazel Talley were at lunch with Gladys Loomis and myself in the Village Cafe in the late 80’s and they started talking about Womens Club. I was just a fly on the wall, of course and did my best to blend into the background so they would forget I was there. Moms didn’t talk out of school in front of their kids. Anyway, somewhere in the middle of their conversation the name of Leona Walton came up. Now the Walton’s weren’t from here and had just moved to Arroyo Grande in the fifties.  Hazel in reminiscing said, “Do you remember the wonderful pink dress Leona wore to her first club meeting?” They all remembered exactly, down to the buttons. They spent all the rest of the lunch talking about outfits they recalled  people wearing over the years. I’ve always been amazed that they would remember things like that for so long. How clothes punctuated their time. Formalities, like what you wore to club meetings were important in a time when ritual anchored life.

The women though, had a dark, dark secret. Or so it seemed to me when I was young and a stranger to the world of adults, particularly my own. Once a year the club would put on a show they called “Hi-Jinks.” Now, the definition of Hi-Jinks, Boisterous celebration, unrestrained fun and merrymaking surely seems at odds with the way my mom and her friends acted around us. I mean a joke was ok, you know, a play on words or some such harmless humor, but certainly NOT unrestrained or boisterous. We weren’t prudish kids, we were raised on farms you’ll remember but our parents lived in a different universe when it came to that kind of stuff.

Once a year the Women’s Club put on a private show they called HI-JINKS. It was for the membership only. Mom would get out her sewing machine, a Kenmore cabinet model with the machine that swung up out of the box, while the top pivoted to the side to make the run-off table. Without using any pattern she would begin cutting fabric, using the “never touch scissors and pinking shears” that could, and would, see you in major trouble if you even touched them; and in a mist of tiny pieces of chopped thread like dust motes floating in the air of our living room, magically come up with her costume. She would choose a son to be the model, and while you stood on the kitchen stool for what seemed an eternity, she made minor adjustments to her garment. Any wiggling might get you a swat or a poke with an errant pin. At the end she, this modest woman, modeled for the entire family what she was to wear. It was hardly to be believed.

EPSON MFP imageBarbara Shannon, The Harem Dancer

Now I have no idea what went on at these events, remember “Women Only” was the rule but I suspect they kept things quiet only because a delicious secret is a fine thing to cherish. Husbands were allowed for one night only and I remember my dad and Oliver Talley in their best suits having a hi-ball in our kitchen and then laughing as they left early in order to get the best seats to see what mischief their wives were up to. Bawdy, mischievous, a little off color it certainly was but watching my parents at the kitchen table  in the days after catching each other eyes and laughing for no apparent reason was our delight.

Of course, if any of these fine women were still alive, I suspect they would be embarresed by this story and I might catch a little grief.  I will never forget the last time I saw Hazel Talley. She had outlived almost all of her friends; including my mother, but we spoke of the old times when her son and I were just boys. As we talked, for what turned out to be the last time, this wonderful and gracious women started to cry and said “Mike, I miss your mother so much and all the fun we had when we were all so young.” Such a sad thing, but also a memory that goes in the box, on the very top too.

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Barbara Shannon, God only knows what, 1959

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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