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Category Archives: American Culture

Odd Holiday Leftovers

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I found these dandies while going through my cookbook collection in anticipation of some new old recipes for next year. I’m not really sure what to say:


Meat Power PArty                          California Fruitcakes and Brandy

When Flower Power just isn’t enough,                         New meaning to California as the land of fruit and nuts     turn to Meat for a groovy time!                                              Sponsored by the Brandy Council of CA.


Creepy Jello Brain Surgery

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Creepy Jello Brain


On Friday I became a brain surgeon. And a cannibal. In honor of Halloween and my anniversary of surviving brain surgery I made a Jello brain. The mold from Amazon showed all the bundles of squiggly wrinkles (non-medical term) that make up a real brain. The size was larger than a real human brain though, more like a hard hat. Gives new meaning to putting on your thinking cap.

Since Betty Crocker didn’t have jiggly brain recipes I searched the Web. After rejecting a few recipes for what seemed like giant Jello shots, I found a couple that gave some guidelines. I combined 3 boxes of peach Jello and 1 strawberry Jello box equivalent (three sugar-free boxes that offer less for more money) then added some lite sweetened condensed milk for opaque creaminess. Then it all sat in the fridge for 6 hrs after which my brave wife removed my brain and put it on a platter.


The fresh flesh was pink and gloppy. The color was redder than a real brain would be but still creepy enough to cause you to squiver. I did the honor of severing the hemispheres and performing a frontal lobotomy.



This brain was firm and cut well…not as jiggly as you’d expect. As I was slicing into it I felt an eerie out-of-mind moment. It seemed strange to think a doctor did this to me a few years ago to remove a tumor. But I’m glad it happened. My life has been much better since then.


I the served fresh brain sliced with Reddi-Wip. It didn’t have much taste though. But that didn’t matter much because it looked so cool and creepy.

Apple Cider & Cinammon Apple Waffles

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Apple Cider & Cinnamon Apple Waffles

Fall is here again. In Michigan that means apples: Applesauce. Apple Pie. Caramel Apples. Apple Cider. And of course, the fall favorite, Apple Cider Donuts. A crispy outside sprinkled in sugar and a soft inside full of apple and cinnamon flavor. I wanted to make some, but alas, donut making has been prohibited in our house due to past experiences with hot oil.

{However, it was a donut accident that helped draw my wife to me. When we were dating she once gave a heartfelt attempt to make  me peanut donuts. But the hot oil splashed up and burned her foot. When I saw it and asked what happened she told me the story. I looked in pity at the sight of donut stigmata on her foot and knew she really must love me.}

So instead of donuts I decided to make Apple Cider & Cinnamon Apple Waffles

Apple Cider Waffles

I followed the directions for waffles on the pancake box and added about 1/2 tsp of cinnamon into the mix. Instead of adding water, I added leftover apple cider in the fridge. I then peeled and cored a small apple into fingernail-sized pieces and threw them into the batter. The batter was a little watery; the solution was to decrease the cider by a few Tbs and add about only half an apple. Tossing the apple pieces in flour and freezing them for a few minutes before mixing into the batter seemed to help too. Because of the juicy apples and cider, the batter needed to bake longer and at a higher temperature than usual to obtain crispness.

When they came out of the waffle maker, I buttered them and sprinkled on some cinnamon sugar too. They also taste good with maple syrup or caramel sauce/dip.

While not quite the same as apple cider donuts,t hey ended up being sweet, crispy, and full of apple flavor, or “scrumptious” per the lovely wife.


  Apple Cider & Cinnamon Waffles Recipe

1. Follow waffle recipe on box. Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon to mix.

2. Substitute apple cider for water, minus 1-2 Tbsp.

3. Add to batter half of a medium apple, chopped into small pieces.
The consistency of the batter should be thick enough to poor; add more mix if too thin.

4. Bake on high on waffle maker to desires doneness.

Happy Fall!

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Cranberry Pie from Lincoln’s Kitchen

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Cranberry Pie

Cranberry Pie Slice

I’ve been working my way through food and time recently with the book, Abraham Lincoln in the KitchenLinconIt’s a biography of Lincoln through the view of food history. Each chapter includes period recipes updated for the modern kitchen.  So far I’ve made biscuits and almond cake.  This week I came across cranberry pie from Lincoln’s inaugural year. I decided to make it since kamikazi cranberries, leftovers of overly zealous holiday plans, have been leaping from the freezer onto the floor for the past weeks.

Most of us think of cranberry as a fruit that brightens the table on holidays in a relish. But with enough sugar the plucky fruit can be used like other berries to make a cranberry pie. The instructions called for fresh cranberries, but I just thawed the frozen ones instead. The recipe was simple: 2 cups diced cranberries and sugar (or 1:1 ratio if more) and a little flour and store-bought vanilla put into a latticed pie crust. I took the risk of dishonoring the culinary ancestors and used an Aldi pie crust instead of making my own.

The cranberry pie results were pleasing. My wife was dubious at first but agreed after one bite it was delicious. It was like a blueberry pie, but with a thicker texture and a tarter flavor. Still, two cups of sugar made it taste sweet enough. The lattice crust gave it enough pastry without masking the strong flavor of the berries. I served it with whipped cream on top; it would also be good with ice cream. Next time I may add a little orange zest to enhance the cranberry flavor even more.


Cranberry Pie Plate                                                                                                         The remains of the day

Through this I learned that cranberries can be more than a relish, and that many types of berries can be made into a pie. I also discovered that I am allergic to cranberries! :-p.  I had a piece at breakfast (fruit and starch make a complete meal, right?) and a slice at lunch. By dinner I had pretty pink circles and stripes all over. Didn’t know cranberries could even do that. Still, the pie was worth it.

Custard’s Last Stand – Just Desserts

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Junket Custard Catalog – 1941

Tempting Nutritious Desserta - Junket 1942

If you didn’t read the the first post with fun pictures and recipes from the booklet, How to Make Tempting and Nutritious Desserts, then click here for the fun! Then proceed along the route to custard enlightenment.

The Junket Food diet continues with even more tempting and nutritious desserts.

Image (53) The milkshake pictures here start looking tempting, minus the yellow radiation in the pineapple shake. While many variations on the theme of homemade ice cream still provide deliciousness, some recipes just didn’t survive the next few decades. See Golden Glow Custard

I’m sorry, but I don’t like my desserts to glow. Orange light emanating from a bowl makes me feel like I’ve entered a plutonium-enhanced Halloween party. Plus, 7 Tbsp sugarDanish Dessert?!

The queen of curious desserts is the Danish Dessert.

The writing is in a Nordic text, so it must be authentically Danish. But was it a gelatin or pudding, or something new entirely?  I just had to know, so I ordered some from the Junket site, along with a chocolate ice cream mix and box of Rennet tablets.

Time to try the recipes. First up was the frozen vanilla custard. The modern and vintage recipe versions gave the same directions with a few exceptions:

1. The original recipe called for a freezing tray. I wasn’t sure what it was. According to the quaint domestic drawings it may have been part of an early electric refrigerator or icebox. So I just decided to use a small loaf pan.

2. The 1941 directions says to test the milk temperature by dropping it on to your wrist. But how do you know if it is “comfortably warm” or uncomfortable scalding? The latter could leave red spots on the wrist that may be difficult to explain to friends at work – did you get bit by a tarantula, or was it some rare disease? Mercifully, the current version just uses a food thermometer at 110 F.

3. The vintage recipe wanted you to whip the heavy cream and then add it to the mixture at the end. I managed that to some success. The modern version avoids all the mess; instead, it adds all the liquids directly into the initial mix that is beaten later.

After a relatively easy assembly and a firm beating, the concoction entered the freezer. After waiting impatiently for some time the frozen custard ice cream emerged from cryostasis. Would frozen custard still taste good after 74 years? Yes. Yes it did. The frozen delight felt like the texture of homemade ice cream. That is, not too firm or gloppy like the store-bought stuff, but with just enough creamy substance and sugar to make it pleasing to the taste buds.

Finally, I was going to satisfy my curiosity about the Danish Dessert. What was it and why did a whole country identify with it? I followed the package directions and boiled it like you would do with Jell-O. Only Junket Danish Dessert is thicker and the flavor is a little more tart and sweet. It can be used for pie filling but tastes delicious on its own with whipped cream.


Whatever the year, Americans’ sweet teeth need to be satisfied. And some recipes, hidden from time in a yard sale box, still meet that tasty, tempting desire.

Find surviving vintage recipes for current Junket products at their site:

Artwork and recipes copyright 1941 by Junket Desserts, a RedCo Foods company. Used by permission.

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Eat Your Brain, Dear! or Meat, Your Friend

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Image (48).1
Today we’re throwing a bone to the past with a 1942 publication of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture meat manual.  At that time the American people were trying to live frugally after the Depression. The threat of war made it necessary to watch food consumption too. And most importantly, Americans needed sustainable nutrition. But the cost of meat meant it needed to be used thoroughly. So this pamphlet shows how to use each part of a cow.

Cooks then had the same concerns we do today: frugality. Meat doesn’t need to be expensive. It’s all in how you use it. Basically, meat cooked slowly in water or marinade produces tender savory results. Many slow cooker cookbooks attest to this. Bones can be used for stocks and soups. Leftovers can be made into a myriad of dishes. And even the hidden parts of a cow can be consumed. Well, supposedly.

Bu sometimes frugality extends a little too far. Thus, we end up with several, um, interesting recipes you won’t find at Applebee’s.

Spleen Stew                                                       Jellied Veal Salad
Image (56)Image (64)
Plus, there’s recipes for braised heart and stuffed liver. And in case you want a new twist on scrambled eggs, just try adding some  brains. “Come on kids, I have an extra special breakfast today!” ;-D  Talk about having your mind on food …

                                                               Scrambled Brains
Image (66)

Image (59)Now for a special treat, try to hold your tongue—with a fork. Cold sliced tongue…Mmmmm. I admit tongue is not my favorite. The rough texture makes it rather hard to chew. However, if it is sliced thin and fried with peppers and onions in a tortilla, it is tolerable in Mexican meals.

I experienced a close encounter of the other kind of meat once at a Vietnamese restaurant. I thought beef pho soup contained just broth with beef and noodles. But when it came I saw some floating spongy brown blocks. They tasted rubbery and strange. So dumb me asked what it was. The waitress paused a moments before saying, “I no know word. It in here,” at which point she pointed to her stomach. Apparently, only the Vietnamese characters explained the inclusion of tripe, beef intestines from the first two stomachs of a cow. After I heard where it came from I wasn’t too keen on finishing the dish. Now there was yet another unsettled stomach at the table.

However, these beefy insides won’t be appearing on my table anytime soon. To be fair, part of the reason is modern American taste prejudices. The national palette has been dumbed down to a bland blend of protein. Americans want simple meat: “white meat” chicken nuggets, 100% pure beef burgers, and taco meat. However, if you ever read the full packaging info on these items, you’ll realize we’ve been eating a lot more parts than we think! I remember being frozen in fear in the McDonald’s storage locker when I read the three inches of text for the the ingredients in chicken nuggets. I haven’t eaten them since. Granted, they claim to have changed their recipe, but still, I don’t trust them. (Watch chef Jamie Oliver show how chicken nuggets are made here.)

While these beef dishes don’t seem too delicious, they are likely nutritious. Still, I think I’ll stick to regular eggs and bacon for breakfast.


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Those Old Spry Ladies

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Vintage Spry Cookbook, 1942

Image (58)

When I found this vintage cookbook at a garage sale I wanted to know what Spry was. It turns out to be an earlier Crisco competitor that lasted until the 70s. The product gained popularity through its character Aunt Jenny, who hosted a weekly radio soap opera with recipes.

This booklet opens with an appeal to women’s to build national strength by feeding their families good wholesome food, and plenty of it. And Spry vegetable shortening provides that all in pastries, pies, casseroles and biscuits. Spry topples the food pyramid and emphasizes the importance of fat and carbs. Fats provide lasting energy at only 4000 calories per day (8 times the total amount of recommended fat today). And don’t forget the recommended egg and pint of whole milk, plus some pats of butter to top off the mound of cholesterol. Big Boy would be jealous!

FatsThe Daily Fats category lists my favorite dietary recommendation: serve desserts twice a day. And serve cakes often. Plus keep the cookie jar filled. I could definitely stick to this plan!Image (40)

Even fruit can help  round off the daily fat intake: Cherry cobblers, berry dumplings, apple fritters, and chocolate cranberry bread. I think it is time for me to pick more berries.

The next section discusses frying with Spry. They remind us that you can make “pleasant and digestible” fries made with only 2 POUNDS of delicious Spry. (Seriously, just how many cans do they want you to buy?) However, it is true that everything tastes better fried: Twinkies, cookie dough, Kool Aid, just to name a few. In fact, all I remember from high school health class is “Fat give food its flavor.” I don’t really think that was the message we were supposed to learn, but is must have been effective because I still remember it.

Canteen Cookie Bars

Image (57)After looking over a dozen cookie recipes I found one that seemed relatively tasty: Canteen Bars. They must be good– just look at the ruddy, smiling, excited faces of the men.  Notice how the young sailor suddenly becomes a best buddy of the cookie recipient and puts his arm around him while reaching with the other hand for a delicious canteen cookie bar.

The recipe was pretty simple. It called for coconut and nuts, but that seemed rather boring. To get more of an Almond Joy feel I added some chocolate granola bars to the nut mix too. The results tasted pretty good and gooey. My wife was apprehensive but eventually admitted the cookies were pretty good, as evidenced by the fact we each ate two.


Aunt Jenny’s Favorite Cookies

The best find from this old cookbook was Aunt Jenny’s Favorite Cookies with lemon. Her signature cookies affirmed the simplicity of cooking with Spry. I followed the recipe directions and added the sugar and shortening (alas, Crisco since Spry no longer exists). The mixture became very creamy when beaten. It turns out 1 and 1/2 cups of vegetable shortening is a lot, even more than the amount in pie crust. The batter was still over half Spry. So basically, we were going to be eating balls of shortening. Yummy!


I decided to follow option 2 for the lemon version. The citrus lent an extra zip to the cookies. And since you just can’t get enough lemon, I added even a little more zest.


It turns out they were yummy. Very yummy.  So much so that it was hard to save some for bringing to family. Good thing the recipe made 5 dozen cookies!

Spry claims its vegetable shortening  product makes any baked good delicious. My experience shows that to be generally true. But if everything were so delicious perhaps nothing would be special. And we really would be tubs of lard, or rather delicious Spry.

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