Crab Meat in Timbales

Welcome back to my cookbook challenge.

As promised in my prior blog post, I am posting the video of my attempt to prepare Crab Meat in Timbales from page 15 of Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Elizabeth O. Hiller.

As you will see, I clearly need to practice my “Swedish Timbale” technique.

I paired the recipe with one of my favorite sparkling wines, a 2016 W. Donaldson Sonoma Rosé available from my favorite wine club – Naked Wines. Wayne Donaldson is the former head winemaker for Domaine Chandon, so you can be assured that his sparkling wine is superb.

If you’re interested in picking up a set of the timbale irons I used in this demo, you can find them on Amazon.

Until next time, I am as always . . .

Epicuriously Yours,

52 Sunday Dinners

“To the modern wide-awake, twentieth-century woman, efficiency in household matters is quite as much a problem as efficiency in business is to the captains of industry.”

Thus begins the Introduction to Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners.

This is the second installment of my cookbook challenge and the oldest of all the vintage cookbooks I inherited from my grandmother. This book is titled Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Elizabeth O. Hiller, published in 1913 by the N.K. Fairbank Company. At that time, the book sold for $1.00. According to the US Inflation Calculator, that equates to just under $26.00 in 2019 funds so clearly this was a cookbook aimed at a somewhat more affluent household of the time.

I am including my YouTube video review of the cookbook at the end of this post.

My copy of this cookbook is falling to pieces. Both the front and back covers have detached from the book, and it has clearly seen some use. The book is inscribed by my great grandmother, Lillian W. Bollin and dated 1918. She was born in 1863 in Richmond, VA, so at this point would have been in her mid-fifties and living in Columbia, SC.

The author, Elizabeth O. Hiller, was a prolific cookbook author and well-known culinary figure. Among other things, she wrote recipes for the Chicago Tribune and early in her career lost out to Fanny Farmer to be a columnist for Women’s Home Journal. If she has won, I imagine we would know more about her. If you look up her list of publications, however, you will see that she was a busy writer. You can get more information about her at her Wikipedia bio.

Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners is a fascinating cookbook for a number of reasons. First, the recipes are complex and use expensive ingredients – indicating again that the market was a more affluent household. Second, the structure of the cookbook is not just a collection of recipes, rather it is a collection of 52 full meal plans, each geared towards a different Sunday of the year. Finally, it is both a cookbook and what we would call an “advertorial” for a product called Cottolene.

I would love to know how many readers have ever heard of Cottolene. I know that I had no clue what it was until I started to read the cookbook and then did a great deal of online research. In 1868, the N. K. Fairbank company premiered a product made from a combination of cottonseed oil and beef suet. This product, called Cottolene, was touted as a healthy alternative to lard. The product was the end result of what had previously been waste products in two major industries – cotton and meatpacking. From 1868 until 1911, Cottolene was essentially the only product of its type on the market.

In 1911, however, a company called Proctor and Gamble created a product called Crisco (I bet you recognize that one). Crisco was 100% cottonseed oil. What ensued then was a competition to see which product would win over the hearts (and stomachs) of American’s housewives.

Both companies did traditional advertising, but also utilized the “advertorial” concept similar to the one from Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners. They would find a noted cook and/or recipe writer, have them compile a cookbook, then include information about the product. That information generally included testimonials from well-known cooks as well as testimonials from doctors, touting the health benefits of the product over those of lard and butter.

Obviously, Crisco won that PR battle because it’s still here while Cottolene has faded into the annals of culinary history.

In an online article, Alice Ross does a great job of exploring the history of both Cottolene and Crisco and what she terms the “mysterious disappearance of lard.” You can also get information about Cottolene and Crisco on their respective Wikipedia pages.

The advertising campaign for Cottolene was fascinating.  I invited you to use your favorite search engine to find images of early 20th century Cottolene advertising. I think you will be entertained by what you find. I will include a few images at the end of this post as well.

According to the Introduction of the book:

The eternal feminine question is, “What shall we have for dinner to-day?”

Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners, as you see, is clearly a product of the time. In 1913, the assumption was that women stayed home to take care of the family while husbands went out and worked to support the family. If you can get past some of these types of references in the cookbook, however, you will find an extraordinarily well-crafted series of recipes. The title gives a clue as to the layout of the book. Rather than being a simple collection of recipes, the book is divided into 52 sections each containing a full menu designed for a specific Sunday of the year. The assumption is that Sunday dinners are generally more elaborate than the rest of the week.

For instance, as I am writing this review the next Sunday will be the 1st Sunday of August. In the cookbook, that menu consists of the following:

  • Nova Scotia Canapés
  • Pan Broiled Fillets of Beef – Sultana Sauce
  • Carlsbad Potatoes
  • Peas and Onions French Style
  • Lettuce, Peppergrass and Onion Salad
  • Peach Ice Cream
  • Cocoanut Cake
  • Coffee

A very complete meal – and that’s one of the least complicated of the meals in the book.

The author aligns ingredients and recipes to be as seasonal as possible. In the Introduction, the publishers note:

While climatic conditions differ somewhat in various sections of the country, we have tried to approximate the general average, so that the suggestions might be as valuable to the housewife in New England as to the housewife in the West or South, or vice versa.

From the ingredient lists, it seems clear that refrigerated transport was available up to a point. Many winter recipes include oysters, which would obviously have to be shipped quickly and on ice to get to the Midwest safely. Beyond that, most of the ingredients seem to be focused on what can be found locally and seasonally. During spring and summer months, many menus include dandelion greens along with instructions how to harvest and clean them.

Overall, I found this cookbook to be one of the best I have read in a quite a long while. There are very few recipes repeated, so in the course of reading this cookbook you will find over 300 intriguing options. I also love the ‘meal planning’ aspect of this book. The idea of putting together full meal plans makes it easy to just lift a section and create a fantastic meal for six hungry people at any time. The meals are not simple to prepare, nor are they for the novice cook. Some of the techniques are time-consuming and intricate, but the results are sure to be superb.

If you’re interested in this cookbook, you don’t have to search for an actual vintage copy. I found out that the book was republished in its entirety in 1981 with the same cover art and all of the vintage Cottolene information intact! So check out Amazon for a more recent copy.

As promised in my introduction to the cookbook challenge, I used a random number generator to pick a page from the cookbook. The page chosen was page 15, containing the following recipes:

  • Consommé Duchess
  • Imperial Sticks
  • Crab Meat in Timbale Cases
  • Swedish Timbales

My next post will be a video of my cooking one (or more) of the recipes from that page. Until then, please enjoy the video review below.

Epicuriously Yours,

A vintage ad for Cottolene

Tuna Noodle Casserole

line drawing casserole magicGreetings! If you have been following my recent posts, you know that I have promised to prepare a randomly-chosen recipe from each cookbook I review.

The first of my cookbook reviews was Casserole Magic by Lousene Rousseau Brunner, published in 1953. When I used a random number generator, the winning recipe was Tuna-Fish with Noodles (page 89).

Enjoy the video recap of my cooking experience!

2016 Chardonnay, J McK Estate
The lovely chardonnay I paired with the casserole.

As promised in the video, follow this link for more information about the wine I mention:

Anaba Wines

This is my favorite winery in Sonoma, CA so please be sure to visit on your next trip there!

Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and be sure to sign up for the mailing list to receive updates about this blog. My next cookbook review will be coming soon!

Epicuriously Yours,

Casserole Magic

Close-up of the left end of the bookshelfWelcome to the first installment of my “Cookbook Challenge.” As you may recall from an earlier post, I have decided to work my way from one end of my cookbook shelf to the other – one book at a time. For each one I will read, review, pick a random page (or pages), then prepare the recipe (or recipes).

For those who prefer video to reading, I am including my YouTube video review of this first cookbook at the end of this post. Otherwise, read on!

The first cookbook, all the way to the left of the bookshelf, is one of many that I inherited from my grandmother. She lived from 1898 – 2001 and although her collection of cookbooks was not extensive, it spanned over 80 years of cooking. Many of the cookbooks we will explore during this challenge can rightfully be termed “vintage.” This first one is a perfect example.

We begin with Casserole Magic: 300 Recipes for the Best in One-Dish Meals by Lousene Rousseau Brunner, published in 1953 by Harper & Brothers Publishers in New York. The book contains charming line drawings by Stephen J. Voorhies. All of the line drawings used in this post are his work from the book.

On the rear cover the price is marked as $3.00. According to my internet research, that equates to about $28.00 today. Not an inexpensive cookbook by any means.

I searched for quite a while online to see if I could find any information about the author, Lousene Rousseau Brunner. Sadly, nothing concrete seems to exist except a record of several other cookbooks. According to a combination of information from Amazon and Goodreads, she was also the author of Magic with Leftovers (1955), Casserole Treasury (1964), The Summer Cookbook (1966), New Casserole Treasury (1971) and New Casserole Treasury in Colour (1977). Clearly, she has a theme in her cooking passions.

drawing on casserold magic coverWhen I first picked up this cookbook, I was drawn to the stereotypical drawing on the cover – a woman in a crinolined dress, well coiffured, and wearing a decorative apron while serving casseroles. My first assumption was that this would be one of those old-school books extolling the virtues of things like “cream of mushroom soup” and “jello.” I felt suitably chastised when I sat down and began to read. This is a serious cookbook by a very knowledgeable and serious cook.

Brunner sets the stage by defining her purpose on page vii of the Foreword:

One simple principle has governed the preparation of this book: there is no excuse for dull or monotonous food. The hundreds of recipes collected here suggest a great variety of delectable dishes. Many of them are inexpensive – or perhaps it would be more accurate these days to say that they use cheaper foods. They provide many ways of using leftover food to create new dishes.

As I delved deeper into the book, I began to see that L.R. Brunner and I share a great deal when it comes to food. Later on that same page, she notes:

It is no part of the purpose of this book merely to shorten the process of food preparation. Prepared mixes and other short cuts have their place, but they contribute little to making either cooking or eating a joy, and that is what it should be.

A bit later, on page 2, she extols the virtues of cooking with wine:

Wine is a vital ingredient of some of the most appetizing casserole dishes, and its use adds distinction to all kinds of otherwise “plain” dishes. (Of course the alcohol in it evaporates almost at once, and only the flavor remains.) For superb results you do not need the fine table wines. Good domestic wines are perfect for the purpose, but they must be good. You can’t make a good dish with poor wine.

Clearly, she and I would have gotten along just fine.

In some ways, Casserole Magic is still a product if its times. Brunner uses feminine pronouns at all times when talking about cooks. She often refers to them as “housewives” and “hostesses.” One of my favorite 1950-centric quotes is this one from page ix of the Foreword:

The advantages of casserole cooking are almost too obvious to recount. Foremost among them, probably, is the act that most casserole dishes can be prepared some time in advance of mealtime, sometimes a whole day in advance. This leaves the housewife free for other last-minute chores – table setting, putting the children to bed, greeting guests calmly, or having a quiet cocktail with her husband – while the casserole cooks.

I have visions of June Cleaver meeting Ward at the door with a dry martini – attired in a crinolined dress, pristine apron, pearls, and high heels.

Once you get past some of the stereotypical moments, however, you then dive into an excellent cookbook. Brunner includes sections about the history of casseroles, the use of herbs in cooking, how to make herb butters, and a variety of inventive ways to marinate meats. Although she does tout the glories of a fantastic “new” product called “monosodium glutamate” I can forgive that when I look at the rest of this superb cookbook.

One of the things that fascinates me about vintage cookbooks is that inclusion of products and/or techniques that give an insight into the norms of the day. For instance, Brunner includes bacon fat as an ingredient in at least half of the recipes. The assumption, then, is that housewives in the early 1950s all had a ready supply of bacon fat in the kitchen. Actually, I remember this from my own childhood in the 1960s and early 1970s. My mother had a metal container on the stove which was a strainer for bacon fat.

Of equal interest are those things that Brunner writes about as being “new” or “innovative.” Like the idea of MSG being a fantastic new product, she also writes extensively about cooking with herbs as a new and daring innovation. The inside covers of the book contain charts of common herbs and how they should be used. In a section of the Foreword, she spends two full pages discussing the joys of using herbs in cooking, herbs that are not necessarily easy to find. She notes on page x of the Foreword:

American cooks are slowly becoming aware of the extent to which the skillful use of herbs can bring out food flavors. Dried bottled herbs in great variety are now carried by most “fancy” grocers and even by some chain stores.

If you do find a copy of Casserole Magic, you will probably be as intrigued as I was by the more inclusive definition of the word “casserole” used by the author. We generally think of casseroles as oblong and sometimes round Pyrex dishes that are used in the oven. For Brunner, the concept of casserole includes those cooking containers that are used for one-pot meals. Many of the recipes in this book are crafted to be prepared on the stovetop in things like the French marmite or a cast-iron Dutch oven. Many recipes involve cooking on the stovetop, then transferring the entire pot to the oven.

After the initial Foreword, Casserole Magic is divided into seven broad sections:

  • Meats (Beef, Ham, Lamb, Pork, Veal)
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • One-Dish Meals
  • Vegetables
  • Cheese, Eggs and Cereals

line drawing casserole magicFor all of the meat-centric sections, each recipe includes the author’s suggestions of sides to serve with the main course recipe. For instance, in the recipe for Flemish Beef Stew (page 13) she ends by saying, “Serve with buttered noodles or spaghetti, hot garlic bread, and a tossed salad of romaine or chicory.” Each recipe in these sections has similar (and often intriguing) suggestions.

The section on “One-Dish Meals” contains those dishes that the author deems hearty enough to serve as a meal alone with the possible inclusion of garlic bread (for which she provides a tasty recipe on page 103). Here we find things like Lasagna, Spanish Olla of Beef, Chicken Curry, Kentucky Burgoo, Irish Stew, and such.

The section on cooking with vegetables starts on page 129 with one of the most fascinating passages in the book. She warns cooks not to boil vegetables in a lot of water, but to cook in “an absolute minimum of boiling water (except for cabbage), barely long enough to become tender.” The fascinating piece is this tidbit of advice, something I have never before seen or heard:

A new method of waterless cooking which can be done in any kettle produces vegetables that are a miracle of tenderness. The method is simple but takes a little longer than boiling. In any kettle at all melt one tablespoon of margarine or butter for every two portions of vegetables . . . Put vegetables in the kettle, add about one-half teaspoon of salt and a little sugar for two portions, stir well to coat with fat and seasoning, lay over the top a single layer of lettuce leaves, cover tightly, and cook without stirring, over very low heat, about twenty minutes.

What? I can only assume this is a way of steaming vegetables – so I wonder if the concept of a steamer basket was not prevalent in 1953? Any cooks who would recall that era, I would love to know!

Overall, as you can tell, I loved this cookbook. I recommend grabbing one of the few rare copies left on Amazon. The tips and tricks for things like making a perfect soufflé, easy browning of meat, using inexpensive cuts of meat, using leftovers, and more are all invaluable time-savers for any cook today.

And now, the moment we have all been waiting for (at least I hope)! During my video review (available on YouTube), I used a random number generation program to point out two recipes. You can find that section of the video beginning at 17:30, revealing the two pages containing the recipes I will prepare from Casserole Magic.

cover of casserole magicThe winning recipes are: Tuna-Fish with Noodles (page 89) and Quick Cheese Soufflé (page 161).

Tasty? I’ll know soon!

There you have it! My next post (and my next series of videos both here and on YouTube, will be my preparation of those two recipes. This could get highly entertaining!

Epicuriously Yours,