October 28, 2010

Cookbooks and the recipes we cherish

Pork has never been made a regular appearance on my table, which may be why, after each of my few feeble attempts to cook a pork chop for my pork-chop-loving husband I sugest he just order them in a restaurant. (FYI: John highly recommends Palmer Crossing's chops)

After the last attempt he asked me, "Has pork always been cheaper than beef?"

I looked at him in bewilderment. How was I to know?

I was raised in a kosher-style house. We didn't drink milk at the dinner table, but usually had butter on the vegetables. We ate lobster and shrimp in restaurants, but I don't think my mother knew how to cook them. And the only pork I can ever remember in her fridge was bacon - served exclusively on BLTs.

Then today I came across my mother's well-thumbed copy of The Settlement Cookbook. It's from 1940, the year she was married. On a whim, I looked up pork chops.

There is only one entry.
Wipe pork chops, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place in hot spider, cover and cook slowly until well done and browned on each side. Or fry pork chops, sprinkled with salt and pepper, in hot frying pan, brown on both sides until well done, arrange on hot platter, and serve with slices of apples fried in the fat remaining in the pan.
Mrs. Simon Kander was the editor of The Settlement Cookbook, which first appeared in 1901. Kander worked with the Russian Jewish immigrants (my grandparents!) who came to the country just before and after the turn of the century, so it makes sense that the allotment of pages in the book follow her intended readers' dietary interests.

Chicken, the low-cost staple of many an immigrant household, has 12 pages in the cookbook; pork only three. Even "Tongue, Liver, Sausage, Heart, Kidneys" rates greater play in the 1940 edition.

As I thumb through my mother's copy, it opens automatically to some stained pages.

Small Cakes, Cookies: ws she interested in the Poppy Seed Cookies or Almond Bread Slices?

Fresh and Cooked Fruits: Broiled Grapefruit was a regular on our table, as were the Sliced Bananas with milk.

Under Poultry I see how she made Chicken Paprika and Chicken Fricassee, the dish my children remember her making more than any other.

But Shrimp Creole (something I make fairly regularly in honor of John's Louisiana roots) is a virgin page, as is Tamale Loaf and Jellied Bouillon.

In between the pages are recipes my mother clipped, copied, or garnered some other way.

On the inside cover, in the sprawling handwriting of her mother, my Nana, is a recipe for flanken.

There's my mom's Banana Cake, not that different from the banana bread I make fairly often.

My Aunt Ruthie's handwriting is immortalized in a recipe for anchovies, of all things.

And clipped from the NY Times, a May 1981 recipe for a strawberry souffle, something I'm sure she never mastered.

There are still cookbooks on my kitchen shelves, but nine times out of ten I go online to Epicurious.com to find a way to cook the evening meal.

Which makes me wonder: are recipes still handed down, generation to generation, in this day and age?

Let me know your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, they are (at least in my family), but just a little differently in the 21st century. My mother would regularly email me links to the latest recipes she'd made recently for dinner -- usually with a substitution (I used diced tomatoes instead of stewed) or a change in the amount of an ingredient (I used 1/4 tsp salt instead of a 1/2 tsp) noted in her cover note to me.

    After a while, I had so many, that I created a separate "Recipes" folder on my laptop for them and often turn there (not to a cookbook) when I'm looking for something new or different for dinner.