Using Paper to Determine Oven Temperature When Baking Cakes

A hundred years ago most people had wood or coal stoves – and ovens didn’t have thermostats. Here’s advice in an old home economics textbook about how to determine whether the oven was at the correct temperature for successfully baking cakes:

Baking Sponge Cakes [Cakes without Fat]: A practical test for the temperature of the oven is the placing of a bit of flour or white paper in the oven. If at the end of 5 minutes the paper or flour is slightly browned, the oven is of proper temperature for sponge cakes or cakes without fat.

Baking Layer and Loaf Cakes: If a bit of flour or white paper is delicately browned after being placed for 2 minutes in the oven, the oven is of proper temperature for layer cakes containing fat. For a loaf cake the oven should be cooler, since a longer time for baking is required. It is especially important that a crust does not form over the top of a cake before the cake has risen, or before it has been in the oven one-fourth of the time required.

A Textbook of Cooking (1915) by Carlotta Greer

Old-fashioned Chinese Chews Recipe

I recently came across a hundred-year-old recipe for Chinese Chews. The recipe was for walnut and date cookie balls. Why were they called Chinese? Were the balls supposed to seem special  because the name evoked thoughts of  exotic, far away places?  I think of the middle east when I think of dates – but not China.  That said, improbably named recipes inevitably intrigue me, so the next thing I knew I was making Chinese Chews.

Chinese Chews are a sweet chewy treat, and would make a nice addition to a holiday cookie tray.

They were fun to make. The dough is spread thinly in a pan or baking sheet, and then baked until it just begins to brown. The baked dough is then removed from the oven, cut into pieces, and rolled into balls which are then coated in granulated sugar.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (June, 1917)

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

Chinese Chews

  • Servings: 20-25 1-inch balls
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup dates, chopped

1 cup walnuts chopped

granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F.  In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and eggs. Then stir in the dates and walnuts. Spread thinly on a baking sheet. (There may not be enough to cover the entire sheet.) Place in the oven and bake until the dough sets and just begins to brown (about 15 minutes). The baked dough should look “not quite done.” Remove from oven and cool about five minutes.

Use a spatula to remove the baked dough from the pan  Take chunks of the baked dough and shape into 1-inch balls. (Don’t worry if baked dough comes out of the pan in odd-shaped pieces. I put all the pieces in a bowl, and intentionally combined some of the “crustier” portions from the edge of the pan with some of the softer portions from the center to make balls that had a nice consistency.)  Roll each ball in granulated sugar. Work quickly because the balls are easier to shape when the dough is still warm.

Cook’s note: The hundred-year-old recipe called for pastry flour. I used all-purpose flour and it worked fine.

Grandma’s 1914 Thanksgiving

The home Grandma lived in when she kept the diary.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Almost seven years ago I began this blog as a place to post my grandmother’s diary entries a hundred years to the day after she wrote them. She kept the diary for four years when she was a teen living on a farm in central Pennsylvania. After I completed posting all the diary entries, I changed the format to its current focus on food.

On this Thanksgiving day, I thought you might enjoy reading (or, for long-time readers, re-reading) what my grandmother wrote on Thanksgiving Day, 1914:

Thursday, November 26, 1914: Thanksgiving, have been having quite a long vacation. We had a Thanksgiving dinner for one thing. My taster was lacking due to a cold and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have. Carried a sassy goose down from town last Monday. The remains are in the pantry awating further digestion for the morrow. Wonder if that goose will keep me awake tonight.

Helena Muffly

Old-Fashioned Squash Pie

If you like pumpkin pie, but are looking for something a bit richer and more flavorful, Squash Pie is the pie for you.

I used  heirloom hubbard squash to make this hundred-year-old Squash Pie recipe, but other winter squash would work equally well.

This recipe uses less milk and more eggs than the typical modern pumpkin pie recipe. Similarly the spices are just a little different  from modern recipes.  Many modern recipes call for cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger – the old recipe lists cinnamon and nutmeg, but does not call for any ginger. All of these tweaks are good – but the texture and taste are a little different than modern Pumpkin Pies.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

Paste is an archaic term for the pie pastry. When I made this recipe I used my usual pie pastry recipe, but sometime soon I’ll try the old recipe for “Chopped Paste.”

Here’s the Squash Pie recipe updated for modern cooks:

Squash Pie

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 3/4 cups winter squash (hubbard, butternut, etc.), pared and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 9-inch pie shell

Put cubed squash in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes); remove from heat and drain. Puree squash. (There should be approximately 1 cup of pureed squash.)

Preheat 425° F.  Put pureed squash in mixing bowl, add sugar, eggs, milk, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; beat until smooth. Pour into prepared pie shell. Place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°. Continue baking (approximately 40-50 minutes) until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

1917 Mistletoe Oleomargarine Advertisement

Source: The Housewife’s Cook Book (1917) by Lilla Frich

Hundred-year-old cookbooks often included advertisements at the back of the book, which helped defray the costs of printing the book. Here’s a 1917 cookbook advertisement for oleomargarine. (Yes, they had margarine back than – though they called it by a longer name.). It appeared in The Housewife’s Cook Book (1917) by Lilla Frich.

The book was self-published by Ms. Frich. (Is Ms. the right title to use when writing about a woman who wrote more than 50 years before the term was term was commonly used?) She was the Supervisor of Domestic Science for the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Even though the book’s title refers to “housewife’s,” I think that the book was written for use in high school domestic science (home ec) classes. I guess the presumption was that students needed to be taught skills in school so that they were prepared for their future careers as homemakers.

Old-fashioned Creamed Carrots and Onions

I’m currently auditioning foods to serve on Thanksgiving. Some people love to try new recipes when family and friends convene for the holidays. I, on the other hand, prefer to try new recipes ahead of time to help ensure that all goes smoothly on the big day.

So when I saw a hundred-year-old recipe for Creamed Carrots and Onions, I had to give it a try.  It just said Thanksgiving to me, and brought back vague memories of wonderful creamed vegetables lovingly prepared by my grandmother and other elderly relatives when I was a child

The recipe did not disappoint. The Creamed Carrots and Onions passed their audition. They were easy to make, colorful,  and tasty — and definitely deserve a spot on the Thanksgiving table.

Here is the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (August, 1917)

And, here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Creamed Carrots and Onions

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 cups sliced onions

water

2 cups bite-sized carrot chunks (peel or scrape carrots, then cut into chunks)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup milk

Put onions in saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add carrots and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the carrots are tender. The carrots should be tender but not mushy. Remove from heat and drain.

In the meantime, in another pan, using medium heat, melt butter; then stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. Gradually, add the milk while stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the white sauce thickens. Gently stir in the cooked carrots and onions. Remove from heat and serve.

Wanted: Recruits for an Army of Kitchen Soldiers!

Source: Good Housekeeping (December, 1917)

A hundred years ago, the United States (and many other countries) were engaged in World War I. Much food was being shipped to Europe to feed the troops, and women were being encouraged to support the effort.  Good Housekeeping magazine was even encouraging its readers to join the effort by becoming “Kitchen Soldiers.” Here’s a few excerpts:

Wanted: Recruits for an Army of Kitchen Soldiers!

Women of America, this is a call to you to enlist in an army of food conservation. It is an opportunity to fight a battle that is being waged as earnestly, as bravely, and as skillfully as any battle overseas. It is a call to put your heart and soul into winning this war — to be a Kitchen Soldier!

For Washington the Government is working with a giant’s strength. But the first official request is for cooperation. The Food Administration can make us think, can lay down great, broad, general plans, can tell us what our country and our Allies need. But then the burden comes to us–to work out for ourselves the details of the ways in which each one can serve best.

And that is where Good Housekeeping knows that it can aid you as a central point of contact, a clearinghouse of ways and means, a vast recruiting station for the women of this country.

If you are willing to play an active, vital part of saving food and making every meal a blow for freedom, send us your name to be enlisted in the Kitchen Soldiers’ Army. As a symbol of your devotion to the cause in which the Allied nations are engaged, you will receive from us a richly printed certificate. Hang it upon your kitchen wall to remind you of your pledge!

Good Housekeeping (December, 1917)