Until I read a reader’s request in a hundred-year-old magazine, I never thought about whether muffins should have a flat top:
Tell me why my muffins are flat on top?
Here’s the response:
Muffins Flat on Top
We could no be hired to tell you how to make muffins that are not flat on top, because the test of the perfect muffin is a flat top. It is like cake, it should be flat as the floor on top, and if it is not there is something wrong with either the making or the baking. To be sure, we often have hummocky muffins and hummocky cake served to us in places where they ought to know better – and they even taste good, yet we eat them with inward grief. We congratulate you that you have achieved that by-no-means easy or common task, the flat-topped muffin. Long may you continue to make them and no other kind.
American Cookery (June/July, 1923)
I’ve made various types of muffins a half dozen times across the years for this blog. I clicked through those posts and was appalled to discover that my muffins do not have flat tops.
Oh dear, I make hummocky muffins. Maybe the person who responded was writing about English muffins, but somehow I think not. When you make muffins, do they have a flat top?
When I did this post I also learned a new word. “Hummocky” means a rounded mound of earth, knoll or a pile of ice, ridge.
Memorial Day means cook-outs, and picnics, and family reunions. And, in the good old days, there often was one (or more) gelatin salads at those events. So I decided to make a hundred-year-old recipe for Grape Gelatin. It was made using unflavored gelatin, grape juice, lemon juice, and sugar.
The gelatin had a rich grape flavor, and was sweet, yet a little tart . The flavor was much more authentic and complex than modern packaged grape gelatin. One possible downside – modern grape gelatin is a more intense purple, though the color looks artificial.
Here’s the original recipe:
Hmm. . . Is this a recipe for a grape “fruit salad” or a recipe for “grapefruit” salad”? When I made the recipe I was in a hurry and quickly read it. I interpreted the recipe as a recipe for grape “fruit salad”, but as I reread it, I think that I probably misinterpreted the recipe. Oops! In any case, the grape gelatin I made turned well.
I’m not sure how much gelatin was in a box of gelatin a hundred years ago. I used 2 packets of gelatin, since this recipe calls for 4 cups of liquid, and each packet now contains enough gelatin for 2 cups of liquid.
I molded the gelatin, but it would also work well in a dish.
Put 1 cup cold water in a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water, and let soak for 10 minutes.
Put 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the gelatin that has been soaked in water. Bring back to a boil while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the grape juice, lemon juice, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. If needed, strain; then pour into a 5-cup mold. Refrigerate until firm.
To serve: Quickly dip the mold in hot water, then unmold onto serving plate.
Often old organization and community cookbooks contain poems that describe cooking or foods. The poems sometimes are very dated, but they provide clues about what it was like to live years ago. For example, a 1923 Michigan Order of the Eastern Star cookbook had a poem near the beginning of the book which says that women who follow the recipes in the cookbook would be successful cooks and get lots of praise for their cooking.
It’s the time of year for rhubarb, and I’m enjoying various rhubarb dishes and desserts – Stewed Rhubarb, Rhubarb Pie, Baked Rhubarb with Orange, but I’m always looking for new recipes, so I was pleased to see a recipe for Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding in a hundred-year-old cookbook.
Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding is made using pearl tapioca which required soaking overnight, so this isn’t a quick recipe, but it turned out well. The tapioca is cooked until it is almost done, and then rhubarb pieces are stirred in. After I stirred the rhubarb pieces into the tapioca, I did not stir any more but cooked for another half hour or so using low heat. The result was tender rhubarb pieces embedded in the tapioca that maintained their shape. The old recipe suggested serving this with thin cream, so I served with half and half – though it would also be good with milk.
The Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding had an old-fashioned goodness. It had a nice balance of sweetness and tartness.
Here’s the original recipe:
The Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding was plenty sweet for me, so I did not add any additional sugar when I served it.
Cover tapioca with water and soak overnight. Drain. Put tapioca and salt in a large saucepan with a heavy bottom (or use a double boiler if you have one), then add boiling water. Heat with medium heat until bubbles begin to form at side of pan, but it is not yet boiling; cover and reduce heat to very low. Cook until the water is absorbed (about 45 minutes to an hour).
In the meantime put rhubarb and sugar in a bowl. Stir to coat rhubarb with sugar.
Stir in the rhubarb pieces coated with sugar, and increase heat to medium for 1 minute. Cover and reduce to heat to very low. Cook until the rhubarb is tender and the tapioca translucent (about 1/2 hour).
Can be served hot or cold. Serve with half and half or milk.
I recently was in the mood for comfort foods, so decided to try a hundred-year-old recipe for Noodles and Cheese. The noodles were in a creamy cheese sauce that was made using American cheese. The recipe had an old-fashioned goodness that took me back to dishes served at family reunions and potluck dinners when I was a child. When I make cheesy pasta dishes, I tend to use cheddar cheese, but the American cheese in this dish is a nice variation.
Fill a large saucepan 2/3 full with water; add 1 teaspoon salt. Heat to boiling using high heat. Stir in the noodles, then reduce heat and simmer until the noodles are tender (about 8-10 minutes). Remove from the heat and drain. Rinse with cold water and drain again.
Put half of the noodles in a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then dot with small pieces of the butter. Sprinkle with half of the flour. Then, using one-half of the cheese, add a layer of cheese. Put remaining noodles on top of the cheese layer, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dot with small pieces of butter, then sprinkle with the remaining flour. Top with a layer of the remaining cheese . Gently pour the milk over everything. Place in oven and heat until hot and bubbly (approximately 30-45 minutes).
Here’s what a hundred-year-old cookbook said about the value of eating economically:
E C O N O M Y ! !
I’ve asked the printer man to please let that word stand out just like that – boldly, defiantly, all by its little lone self!
Economy! If over-eating is a national trait, over-spending is certainly another. . . Extravagance with food is not clever, it is simply silly. Meal planning or preparing is no job to be slouched and hurried over as quickly and as extravagantly as possible. You do not need to use fussy, difficult recipes, either. It is no harder to cook a flank steak than a porter-house. It only take a little more skill.
Look on your marketing and cooking as a game. Take pleasure in seeing how cheaply you can set a healthful, delicious, and plentiful table.
The Calorie Cook Book (1923) by Mary Dickerson Donahey