Better Homes and Gardens 75 Years of All-Time Favorites
1997. 320 pages, 230 + recipes.
Feather Rolls Chicken Vegetable Bake
Asheville Salad (tomato aspic)
Cheese balls! I'd forgotten all about cheese balls- those soft, lumpy
clumps of shredded cheddar, butter, and cream cheese. I think the last
time I actually saw a cheese ball was in junior high when my friend Kathy
and I were enlisted to help serve hors d'oeuvres at her parents' cocktail
party. Apple dumplings - I remember those! I haven't had apple dumplings
since my grandmother made them as a special treat when I was a child.
For anyone old enough to remember Flav-r Straws, Better Homes and Gardens
75 Years of All-Time Favorites should bring on some major food flashbacks.
For my mother, the book's World War II era recipe for egg-free brownie
pudding brought back patriotic, but glum, memories of food rationing.
The book's fondue recipe from the1960's reminded my older sister of all
the fondue pots she received as wedding gifts when she got married in1963.
The recipes are organized by category rather than chronology, each one accompanied by the year it appeared in Better Homes and Gardens. Which means that you encounter dizzying shifts of culinary time frames within each section. Memorable Main Meals features 1933's podgy Salmon (canned) Croquettes in Creamed Pea Sauce as well as 1994's light Spicy Red Snapper with Mango Salsa.
It wasn't the contemporary recipes like the Spicy Snapper or the California Pizza that drew me to this book, although those are the kind of typical 90's things I eat. It was the nostalgia numbers that got to me: the cheese-ball and apple-dumplings. (Never mind that I never actually tried those particular recipes; the memories they evoked were satisfaction enough.) On a more perverse note, I was attracted to recipes that mocked my usual eat-fresh credo. When I read the recipe for "Salade Flan" - an unapologetic mix of lemon jello, mayonaise, and frozen lemonade - I felt a little shiver of excitement: oooh, this is so bad! I couldn't believe I was making recipes containing canned cream of mushroom soup, Bisquick, Jell-o, onion soup mix. I felt like someone committed to wearing natural fibers who suddenly goes on a spandex binge. Maybe I needed to stray, however briefly, from the path of culinary rightousness.
As someone who happily ate bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches all the way through junior high, I thought I might enjoy re-visiting the unsophisticated, "unenlightened" cuisine of my past. In some cases I discovered my palate has become too educated to enjoy novelty creations. The No-Chop Potato Salad, in which frozen hashed browns are boiled, and then drowned in a gloppy mortar of oil, vinegar, sour cream, and mayo, was awful. On the other hand, I was surprised - and a little embarrassed - at how much I liked the tomato aspic made with canned tomato soup, cream cheese, and mayo. It's the kind of rich and dainty thing my mother used to serve to her Sewing Club when it was her turn to host lunch. With everything I made from this book, I cut back on the fat (except the cookies); even with my modifications, there's no way the recipes I tried would be considered low fat. (Recipes that have been de-fatted by the editors are noted with a heart symbol.)
Mirroring America's longtime carbo love affair, All-Time Favorites is in its glory in the realm of baked goods and desserts. My daughter and I tried the Butterscotch Cookies, moist cake-y mounds made with shortening and sour cream and topped with wonderful oozy, butter-and-sugar laden icing. They didn't last long even though only three of us were eating them.
Scattered throughout the book are "Vintage Views", excerpts from old issues BH&G. They're fascinating little time capsules. Here's one from1930: "As the ice melted in your mouth, you understood that here indeed was a miracle. For the frozen berry had the authentic taste of a perfectly fresh berry." Although it seems quaint to be talking in awed tones about frozen foods today, it's a little sad to be reminded how inaccessible that sense of wonder is once the miraculous becomes commonplace.
The main pleasure of All-Time Favorites for me was returning to some of the tastes of my childhood. This was not the case for my daughter who has had a different culinary childhood than mine. She had never tasted anything like the bouncy, party-dress-pink tomato aspic that reminded me of my mother's sewing club. My first bite sent me into a cozy retro-reverie. Belle took one bite and said, "Mom, this is kind of weird." I suppose each generation defines its own "madeleines".