Old-fashioned Mashed Potatoes

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Mashed Potatoes are a quick and easy-to-make comfort food. It’s one of those foods that I never use a recipe to make. Long ago I learned how to boil the potatoes, whip them, add a little butter and milk, and whip a bit more to combine.

Given how easy it is to make Mashed Potatoes,  I was very surprised to discover a hundred-year-old recipe  for Mashed Potatoes that contained extensive detail.  Back then even the most complex recipes were generally short and lacked details,  Why would recipes for difficult-to-make foods leave a huge amount of latitude for interpretation, while a recipe for a basic food be very specific?

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)
Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of Household Arts (1915)

This recipe referred to two other recipes. One explained how to boil potatoes:

potatoes-boiled

The other recipe mentioned in the Mashed Potato recipe was the Potato in the Half Shell recipe, which contained information about how much butter, milk, and salt should be used when making potatoes:

potatoes-half-shell

I generally use electric beaters to make “mashed” potatoes, but I decided to give the old-time recipe a try. I dug out my old potato masher out from under all my other seldom-used kitchen utensils in the back of bottom drawer in the kitchen cabinets, and made real mashed potatoes.

Here’s the old recipe updated for modern cooks:

Mashed Potatoes

  • Servings: 4-5 servings
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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4 cups potatoes, pared and cut into 1-inch cubes (4-6 potatoes) (I used red potatoes – though russets would also work well.)

water

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter

approximately 1/4 cup milk

Put enough water into a  large saucepan so that it is about 1/3 filled; add salt and bring to a boil using high heat. Add diced potatoes; return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes or  until the potatoes are very soft when poked with a fork. Remove from heat and drain. Using a wire potato masher, mash the potatoes until smooth.  Add the butter and half the milk. Mash a little more to combine. If the potatoes are too stiff, add additional milk until the potatoes reach the desired consistency. (Do not over-mash or the potatoes will get gummy.) Reheat the mashed potatoes using medium heat  To reheat, put the pan with the mashed potatoes back on the stove using medium heat for 15-30 seconds; stir once or twice. Remove from heat and put in serving dish.

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Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts

cranberry-saladRemember the  old-fashioned gelatin salads with embedded mystery fruits and vegetables that great-aunts inevitably  brought to Thanksgiving dinners? Well, I’ve found one of those old recipes.  The hundred-year-old  Cranberry Salad recipe called for gelatin — and celery and walnuts.

When I made this salad I didn’t want to like it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted similar to jellied cranberry sauce. The colorful, tart jellied sauce was perfectly punctuated with the crunch of the celery and walnuts.

The original recipe was for Cranberry Salad, but when I updated the recipe I renamed it, Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts, to more accurately describe the dish. Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (December, 1916)
Source: Good Housekeeping (December, 1916)

I bought a 12-ounce bag of cranberries to make this recipe. When I measured how many cranberries were in the bag, I realized that I only had 3 cups of cranberries, not the 4 cups (1 quart) called for in the old recipe. I reduced all of the other ingredients proportionately and made three-fourths of the original recipe.

When serving the Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts, I didn’t cut it into squares, and I skipped the lettuce and mayonnaise. I  just put it in a pretty dish and let people serve themselves.  Here’s my updated recipe:

Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Celery and Walnuts

  • Servings: 5 - 7
  • Time: 40 minutes active prep
  • Difficulty: easy
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3 cups cranberries (1 12-ounce bag)

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 envelops unflavored gelatin

3/4 cup celery, chopped

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Put cranberries and  1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil using medium heat, then reduce heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then press the cooked cranberries through a sieve or strainer. (I used a Foley mill. A food processor could also be used to puree the berries).  Return the cranberry sauce to the sauce pan and sprinkle the gelatin over the puree. Let sit for one minute, then add the sugar and stir. Put on the stove and bring to a boil using medium heat while stirring constantly, then reduce heat and cook for an additional minute. Remove from the heat.

Put half of the cranberry sauce into a serving dish or bowl; refrigerate until just set (about 1 1/2 hours). (Keep the remainder of the cranberry sauce at room temperature.) Remove the set cranberry sauce from the refrigerator and sprinkle with the chopped celery and walnuts. Pour the remaining half of the cranberry sauce over this , and return to the refrigerator until set.

I used a Foley Mill to make the Cranberry Sauce. It worked well, but a sieve, strainer, or food processor could also be used to make the sauce.
I used a Foley Mill to make the Cranberry Sauce. It worked well, but a sieve, strainer, or food processor could also be used to make the sauce.

Hundred-Year-Old Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Pumpkin PieFrankly I’m tired of the ubiquitous pumpkin pie recipe that calls for evaporated milk and a 1-pound can of pumpkin. Is it really necessary to use evaporated milk–or would regular milk work? And, of course,  I then made the short leap to:  How did they make pumpkin pies a hundred years ago?

I found an awesome  pumpkin pie recipe in the Lycoming Valley Cook Book. It was compiled by “the Ladies of the Trout Run M.E. Church, Trout Run Pa”. in 1907. The pie is similar enough to modern recipes that it won’t alarm your Thanksgiving guests. They’ll just think you used your usual recipe–but that it turned out better than it does in a typical year.

The resulting pie has a nice blend of spices that don’t overwhelm the pumpkin. The recipe calls for just two spices (cinnamon and ginger) rather than the three or four typically used in modern recipes.

It also uses more eggs than are generally used in recipes that call for evaporated milk. Since the milk used in the old recipe contains more liquid, additional eggs are needed to set the custard. This pie also requires more baking time than modern pumpkin pies, but the result is a rich and creamy custard filling.

Here’s my adaptation of the old recipe for modern cooks:

Pumpkin Pie

  • Servings: 5 - 6
  • Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1 cup pumpkin

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 8-inch (small) pie shell

Preheat oven to 425° F. Combine all ingredients (except pie shell) in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Pour into pie crust. Bake 15 minutes; then reduce heat to 350°. Continue baking (about 50-60 minutes) until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Notes: This recipe filled the 8-inch pie shell to the very rim, and it was a little difficult to get it into the oven without spilling.  (Don’t overfill pie shell. If there is too much filling put the extra in a small casserole dish and cook separately.)

I used fresh pumpkin, but 1/2 of a can of pumpkin (14-16 oz. can) could be used. This recipe makes a small 8-inch pie. If I used canned pumpkin I’d probably double it, and instead make a large 10-inch pie.

To prepare the fresh pumpkin for the pie, I peeled part of a pumpkin and cut it into one-inch cubes. About 1 3/4 cups of cubed pumpkin will make a cup of cooked pumpkin. I put the cubed pumpkin into a saucepan and covered it with water. I turned the heat to high and brought to a boil; I then reduced the heat to medium and cooked until tender (about 20 minutes). I drained the pumpkin and used my mixer to blend it until smooth. I then proceeded with the pie recipe.

Fresh pumpkin can also be roasted. Cut the pumpkin in half and remove seeds and membranes, then put it in the oven at 400° F. Bake for about an hour or until the pumpkin is tender. Remove from oven. When the pumpkin has cooled, remove the pulp from the pumpkin shell. Use mixer, blender, or food processor to blend the chunks of pulp until smooth. Proceed with the pie recipe.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Lycoming Valley (PA) Cook Book (1907)
Source: Source: Lycoming Valley Cook Book, compiled by the Ladies of Trout Run M.E. Church, Trout Run, PA (1907)

Old-Fashioned Squash (Yeast) Bread

squash-bread

Have you ever “hidden” vegetables in food to get your kids to eat healthier? I thought that hiding vegetables was a recent trend, but when I made a hundred-year-old recipe for Squash Bread, I discovered that cooks have been hiding vegetables for a long time.

The Squash Bread had a rustic artesian look, a nice texture, and a sunny yellow tinge – but I couldn’t taste the squash in it. It just tasted like the typical homemade bread.

The verdict: If you want to hide vegetables in bread this recipe is worth a try; otherwise, just stick with your usual bread recipe.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Lowney's Cook Book (1912)
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Squash Bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
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2 cups milk

2 packages dry yeast

5-6 cups flour

1 cup pureed winter squash (Butternut squash works well in this recipe.)

1 tablespoon shortening (or lard)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

Scald milk by heating in a sauce pan until the milk begins to steam and form bubbles; use medium heat and stir occasionally. Remove from heat before it comes to a boil. Let the scalded milk cool until it is lukewarm, then dissolve the yeast in the milk.

Put 2 cups flour, squash, shortening, butter, sugar,  salt, and the water and yeast mixture in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Add enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).

Place in a greased bowl. Cover; let rise at room temperature until doubled in size (about 1 hour). Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead for an additional 5 minutes. Divide dough into two equal parts and shape into loaves. Place in 2 greased loaf pans, 9″ X 5″ X 3″, and cover. Let rise until doubled in size (about 30 minutes).

Bake loaves in 400° F. oven for 35 minutes or until lightly browned.

I always find old-time bread recipes particularly difficult to interpret because modern yeast is so different from what it was a hundred years ago. Back then it was not dried like the yeast that we generally use today. I guessed that 2 packages of dried yeast would be the equivalent of 1/2 cup (1/2 yeast cake) back then. This substitution worked just fine when I made this recipe.

100-Year-Old Church Supper Menu and Costs

Source: American Cookery (June/July, 1916)
Source: American Cookery (June/July, 1916)

Did you ever plan the menu for a meal with 200 people? . . . and ended up getting sticker shock at how much it would cost? According to a hundred-year-old magazine, a church supper for 200 people in 1916 would cost only $74.58. To keep the costs down, the menu did have a few limitations. For example, canned peas were listed as the main vegetable. But, on the other hand,  the person planning the menu did budget $3.50 for “help”.

We really should factor in inflation when looking at this old menu. According to an online inflation calculator, a dollar in 1916 is worth $22.22 today. So in today’s dollars, the total meal cost $1,657.17 or $8.29 per person – which, at least in my book, is still a very reasonably priced meal.

Hundred-Year-Old Bavarian Cabbage Recipe

bavarian-cabbage

I found a delightful Bavarian Cabbage recipe in a hundred-year-old magazine. This traditional German dish was refreshingly sweet-sour (more sour than sweet), and would be lovely served with sausages, roast beef, or pork. It tasted very authentic; and if I closed my eyes and listened hard enough, I could almost see myself sitting at an outdoor cafe on the banks of the Rhine on a cool October day while listening to merry Octoberfest music.

Here’s the original recipe.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (February, 1916)
Source: Ladies Home Journal (February, 1916)

Here’s how I updated the recipe for modern cooks:

Bavarian Cabbage

  • Servings: 4 - 5
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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1/2 head cabbage (6 cups) shredded cabbage

1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter (I used bacon drippings.)

1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Using medium heat, melt  the bacon drippings (or butter) in a frying pan; add onions and cook until tender (but not browned). Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Then add the shredded cabbage and stir; cover the pan and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pan cover once or twice during cooking to make sure there is enough liquid; if too dry add enough water to keep from burning. (I did not need to add any water.)

I used less salt than the original recipe called for. One tablespoon of salt seemed like a lot – so I decided that it probably was a typo and instead used 1 teaspoon of salt. I also didn’t quite understand the last part of the old recipe about cold water (though I’m guessing that it was directing the cook to wash the cabbage prior to cooking).