Thursday, 29 December 2011

A trip into vintage recipes - or for goodness' sake, don't get sick!

As the bananas rapidly moved towards the stage of ripeness known as "they'll be good for banana cake", I looked through some cookbooks in my mother's cupboard for a recipe.  I felt certain that the Country Women's Association Cookbook or Common Sense Cookery would have what I needed, but they did not.  Instead I stumbled upon some truly stomach churning delights.

In the twenty-second edition of the CWA Cookbook, published in 1965, the banana section of the index reveals  a recipe for "Banana Steak (Baked)".  This sounded interesting, but was unlikely to lead to a tasty banana cake or bread.  Boy, was I right about that.

At first I thought it was a mistake that it was the second recipe in the beef section of the book, but it wasn't.  You basically take a piece of steak and split it open ("like a book") and put the bananas on the meat.  Season with pepper, salt and grated nutmeg.  Don't forget to sprinkle the bananas with sugar before you close the meat book and bake it in the oven.  I'd need more than the recommended parsley garnish to rescue this travesty!

Flip forward a few pages and you're in the "M" part of the index.  In this case, M is for "mock".  There are several options for mock cream but keep going through the list to find:

  • mock brains - cold, leftover porridge, egg, onion and thyme formed in a ball, dusted in flour and fried.  As if real brains weren't challenging enough.
  • mock crab - a sandwich filling made from grated cheese, worcestershire sauce and mustard.  Could be okay, but I fail to understand what it has to do with crab.
  • mock duck - steak with herbs, pounded and rolled in breadcrumbs.
  • mock goose - fried onion layered in a dish with potato and then baked in the oven.
  • mock schnapper - potato, eggs, cream of tartar and flour fried in "plenty of boiling fat" and served with lemon.  The wedge of lemon would convince me I was eating fish don't you think?
  • mock tripe and eggs - Why? Why? Why? It's just the tripe that's mock - the eggs are real.  This is basically onions stewed in milk.
  • mock tripe and mutton - as above but also stew the mutton in the milk.
I'm perfectly terrified when I venture further into the M's to find a listing for "monkeys" but am relieved to discover they are a normal sounding spiced biscuit.  Why they are called monkeys, I do not know.   At least there is no recipe for mock monkeys. 

The foreword to the previous, twenty-first, edition is included in this edition.  Merle Simonsen, the State President in 1963 tells us that the book was revised "to meet the challenge of the changing times and newer cooking methods".  We are assured that the "old proven" recipes have been retained and new ones added.  Who was needing to do all this mocking?

Useful lists of quantities are included at the front of the book to assist in catering for numbers of people.  The list for fifty people includes "5 fowls" and "2 tongues".  Fruit salad features heavily on all the dessert menus and there is even a list of what to do if you need to serve lunch to 300 adults at a public stock sale, whatever that is.

The recipe for curry for 50 people is intriguing.  The only spice listed is a small tin of curry powder.  The other ingredients include bananas, pineapple, sultanas, half a tin of plum jam and almonds.  Very strange when I consider how many spices I include to make even a basic curry these days.  Curry powder isn't one of them!

If the thought of mock brains was enough to turn your stomach, wait until you take a tour through the section on invalid cooking.  After discovering such delights as "beef tea custard" (it is a custard made from beef tea), raw beef juice and raw liver sandwiches, I started to wonder about the purpose of the recipes in this section - restoration or certain death?  If anyone served me the raw liver juice I'd be certain there was a plot to get me.   In fact, I think I'd plead to be smothered with a pillow.  Perhaps I'd muster one last bit of strength to do it myself.  (Raw liver juice is more complicated than you may appreciate - you squeeze the liquid out of the liver, pass it through a mincer twice and then push it through a wire sieve.  You put the pulp on ice for an hour or two and then mix it and the juice up with orange or lemon juice.  Oh, my, god.  Don't forget to serve it in a ruby glass!)  I don't think the ruby glass would be enough to disguise what was being served.  It sounds like something that would be force fed to a contestant on one of those bizarre Japanese game shows.

The Common Sense Cookery Book was published in 1964 and seems to have a less aggressive approach to cooking for sick people in its chapter on convalescents' children's cookery.  There are a few options for making beef tea, but also things like apple delight and various versions of barley water.  Then we meet the brains - brain cakes, fricasseed brains and scalloped brains (served with a quantity of "masking sauce" - perhaps the masking is necessary when we're not mocking them).  Next step into Dickens to find out how to make a cup of gruel.  The best part of the gruel recipe is the instruction to "pour it into a fine china cup within half an inch of the top, and serve very hot on a daintily prepared tray".

All I can say is that I'm very glad that I wasn't trying to recover from an illness in the mid 1960's!

For the last word on entertainment turn to the advertisements at the back of Common Sense Cookery and be persuaded by the ad for "Small's club chocolate for men".  I'm not sure what that's all about at all.

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