Old-fashioned Fig Meringue Pie

A hundred years ago, fresh fruit was scarce during the long winter months, so pies were often made using dried fruit.  I found a wonderful recipe for a Fig Meringue Pie in a 1919 cookbook. The delectable fig filling is topped with a creamy meringue.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Recipes for Everyday by Janet McKenzie Hill (1919)

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Fig Meringue Pie

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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12 ounces dried figs

1 1/2 cups water

2 eggs separated

2 tablespoons sugar + 4 tablespoons sugar + a small amount of additional sugar

dash salt

1 8-inch (small) baked pie crust

Remove stems from figs, then chop. (There should be approximately 2 1/2 cups of chopped figs.) Put chopped figs in a saucepan, add water. Bring to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 325° F. Place egg yolks, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt in a bowl; beat together. Place a small amount (approximately 1 – 2 tablespoons) of hot fig mixture into bowl with beaten egg mixture, stir quickly to prevent eggs from coagulating. Then put this mixture in the saucepan with the cooked figs while stirring. Return to heat (medium), and cook until the mixture thickens while stirring continuously.  Pour into a pie shell which had been previously baked.

In a separate bowl make the meringue. Place egg whites in the bowl, and beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add 4 tablespoons sugar while continuing to beat. Then spoon on top of the pie and swirl; sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned.

Troubleshooting Cake Problems

cake with icing
Image source: Recipes for Everyday (1919)

Ever have a cake that didn’t turn out quite right? Well, here’s some hundred-year-old advice for troubleshooting cake problems (and, amazingly, much of it is still applicable today).

Here’s what Janet McKenzie Hill wrote in a 1919 cookbook titled Recipes for Everyday:

Heavy or fallen cakes are caused by having too slow an oven; by using too much sugar or shortening; by using too little flour; by having such a hot oven that the outside bakes so thoroughly that the inside cannot rise; by moving the cake in the oven before the cell walls have become fixed; or by taking the cake from the oven before it is thoroughly baked.

Thick-crusted cakes are caused by too hot an oven, by using too much sugar and shortening, or too little flour.

Coarse-grained cakes are the result of using too much leavening material, or of having too slow an oven. They are also caused by insufficient creaming of shortening and sugar, or insufficient beating of the batter before adding the egg whites.

A”bready” cake is caused by using too much flour.

A cake rises in a peak in the center when the oven is too hot during the first few minutes of baking.

A cake will crack when it contains too much flour, or when the oven is so hot at first that the outside bakes before the center can rise.

Old-Fashioned Pastry Hearts

heart-shaped pastries

Are you looking for a tasty, fun-to-make Valentine’s Day treat? Well, I may have found the perfect recipe for you. Pastry Hearts are made by spreading jelly on pastry dough, rolling into a log, slicing, and then shaping into hearts. The process of squeezing and pressing the dough to create the hearts was fun and felt a bit like playing with play dough.

Here’s the original recipe:

recipe for Pastry Hearts
Source: Recipes for Everyday by Janet McKenzie Hill (1919)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Pastry Hearts

  • Servings: approximately 12 hearts
  • Difficulty: moderate
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pie pastry for a 1-shell pie (or use scraps of pastry dough left-over after making a pie crust)

1 egg white

red-colored jelly – red raspberry, cherry, etc. (I used red current jelly, but if I made this recipe again, I’d select a redder jelly.)

sugar

Preheat oven to 425° F. Roll pie pastry into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Thinly spread with jelly. Starting at the narrow end, firmly roll into a log-shape. Cut into 1/4 inch slices.

Place slices on a greased cookie sheet. Shape into hearts by pulling into a point at one end, and pressing in at the other end. Use a paper towel to dab away any excess jelly. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for approximately 10 -15 minutes (or until lightly browned).

1919 Jell-o Advertisement

Source: American Cookery (January, 1919)

A 1919 Jello advertisement treats measles as a common ailment, and suggests that children who are sick with the measles might enjoy eating Jell-o while they recuperate. The first measles vaccines were introduced during the 1960s, and the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MRR) vaccine was introduced in 1973.

Old-fashioned Sour Milk Waffles

Recipes from a hundred-years ago often contain minimal directions and can be difficult to interpret. And, I occasionally come across old recipes that call for ingredients that are no longer available. Today is one of those times. When I read a 1919 recipe for Sour Milk Waffles, I immediately knew that I was not going to be able to exactly replicate the recipe.

Source: American Cookery (March, 1919)

A hundred-years-ago many families still lived on farms; and, even in towns, much of the milk that was sold was not pasteurized. Back then, if the non-pasteurized milk was not used quickly, the “good” bacteria in the milk would turn it into a sour milk suitable for use in recipes. Today’s pasteurized milk can be turned into a sour milk by adding a little vinegar or lemon juice to create a slightly curdled acidic milk.

But this recipe calls for “thick sour milk.” The soured milk that I make with vinegar or lemon juice isn’t very thick. Then I remembered that milk in days gone by would have also contained cream that floated on the top. Perhaps the recipe is referring to the thickness of the soured cream. So, I substituted 1/4 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup milk, and 2 tablespoons vinegar for the thick sour milk.

The recipe also says that if the milk lacks richness, add additional shortening. I decided that the sour cream added sufficient richness, and that no extra shortening was needed.

I was pleased with how my updated version of Sour Milk Waffles turned out. If you are looking for a soft waffle recipe, this is the recipe for you. The waffles had an old-fashioned goodness, and were very tasty. They browned nicely, and were fluffy and soft –  though they were not crispy like most modern waffles.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Sour Milk Waffles

  • Servings: 3 - 5
  • Difficulty: easy
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3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice (I used vinegar.)

2 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons shortening, melted

1/4 cup sour cream

Put the milk in a cup or bowl, then stir in the vinegar. Set aside for at least 2 minutes.

Put the egg whites in a small mixing bowl, beat until light and foamy. Set aside.

Put flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, shortening, sour cream, egg yolks, and milk soured with vinegar or lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Gently fold in beaten egg whites.

Ladle batter onto a hot waffle iron and cook, following the waffle iron directions.

1919 Advice About Substituting Foods in U.S. to Help Needy Children Abroad

Source: Public Domain Wikimedia – Imperial War Museums.

So many people around the world today are food insecure. A hundred-years ago people also often lacked sufficient food. Here is some advice in the January, 1919 issue of American Cookery magazine. World War I had just ended two months prior the publication of this magazine, and food was still in short supply in Europe.

The Needs Abroad 

Fats, including butter and milk, are short the world over. Butter and milk are necessary to child life. The dairy herds have been terribly depleted throughout Europe. Eighty thousand more children died last year in France than the year before.

To help restore these herds we must ship cereals to feed them. Use more potatoes, and less than normal of bread or cereals.

Butter in England is $2 a pound. Eggs are $2.25 a dozen. Milk is impossible to get in many places.

Let us help all we can!

Old-fashioned Canned Corn Custard, Mexican Style

corn custard in casserole dish

Today I often hear that fresh fruit and vegetables are best – and that canned vegetables aren’t as tasty. This differs from a hundred years ago when canned vegetables were considered a “modern” way of preserving food.

I recently came across a hundred-year-old recipe for Canned Corn Custard, Mexican Style that intrigued me, and – though knowing that canned corn is not trendy – decided to give it a try. Perhaps part of what intrigued me was the claim that this was an internationally-inspired recipe. Was it really Mexican style? – or did the recipe author just think that a humble dish seemed more enticing if it was billed as an internationally-inspired food?

I’m glad that I gave this recipe a chance. The Corn Custard was rich and silky, and brought back warm, fuzzy memories of family gatherings many years ago when a similar dish was served.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (January, 1919)

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Canned Corn Custard, Mexican Style

  • Servings: 7 - 9
  • Difficulty: moderate
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2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1/2 green pepper, chopped

1 pint corn (15-ounce can corn) – I used creamed style corn.

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Melt butter in a skillet using medium heat. Put chopped onion and green pepper in skillet; saute until tender.

In the meantime, in a bowl, stir together eggs, milk, corn, salt, and paprika; pour mixture into the skillet with the onions and green peppers while stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is hot and steamy. Remove from heat and pour into a well-greased 2-quart casserole dish.

Place a pan of hot water (the water should be about 1/2 inch deep) in the oven. (I used an old aluminum baking sheet with sides for the pan.) Then set the casserole dish with the corn mixture in the water. Bake until the corn custard is firm in the center and lightly browned. The length of time this dish needs to cook will vary depending upon the depth of the casserole dish. (When I made this recipe, it took about 45 minutes for corn custard to get firm.) Remove Corn Custard from oven. (I left the pan with the hot water in the oven until it cooled to avoid the risk of burning myself.)