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The White Stuff: How the Ghost of Mary Ann Taylor Haunts my Kitchen (Stuffed Vanilla Wafers – 1939)

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The wayback machine visits another cooking phenomenon of 1939: the Mary Lee Taylor radio show. I’d never heard of her before, but apparently it was the longest running cooking series in the U.S.  The show featured  not only cooking  lessons and tips, but also a mini soap opera drama that culminated with a helpful aphorism by Mrs. Mary Lee.

The show sounds rather comical by today’s standard. But in an age without the Internet to display the recipe, bakers needed the time to write it down. So Mary Lee repeats each ingredient. Each ingredient. Her monotonous but matronly voice reads the instruction and then pauses before beginning the cadence  again. The phrases “16 marshmallows” and  “18 vanilla wafers” still haunt my dreams.

In this episode Mary Lee offers a recipe for coconut vanilla wafers. It sounded somewhat appealing, so I tried to make it. But a historical recipes raised some issues:

  1. What were vanilla wafers at that time? Mary Lee’s instructions call for 2-inch wafers. Modern vanilla wafers are round and about one inch in diameter. Since I could not find any other types of vanilla wafers in the store, I just worked with what I had on hand: mini Vanilla Wafers.
  2. Mary Lee suggests a can of coconut for the filling or bulk coconut (but who buys coconut in bulk, unless you are making a tower of coconut macaroons?) The grocery shelf sold only bags, and those were all sweetened coconut flakes.

Other substitutions I made were 2% milk for PET whole milk (the show’s sponsor), as well as mini marshmallows for the equivalent standard marshmallows.

Despite these deviations I persisted in my quest for stuffed vanilla wafers.

Putting the filling together was not too hard. However, getting the mixture out of the double broiler and onto the wafers ended up being a blessedly sticky mess that took a while to clean up, especially after it got stuck in my hair somehow. :-s

The instructions said to spread the filling mixture evenly across the wafers. But that didn’t work too well on the rounded tops of the vanilla wafers. Turning them flat didn’t help much either since the batter just went in between the empty spots. So I decided to flip over both halves to make a cookie sandwich. wafer

Last came the tasting. The cookie seemed similar to a mild Almond joy. The shreds of sweetened coconut added texture to the smooth vanilla filling and the wafers’ crunch wrapped it all up. The moment was short-lived though. After sitting for an hour, the filling began to soak into the crackers and the coconut began to flake off too.

While sweet, the cookies lacked the full flavors of desserts today. Tastes were milder back then, maybe because ingredients like peanut butter and chocolate were not readily available. Or perhaps because desserts were not filled with supercharged chemical sweetness and preservatives we have become accustomed to enjoy.

Conclusion: Coconut vanilla wafers were pretty good for a sweet snack that night. But like Cinderella, they didn’t look so fancy the next day. With the original ingredients and measurements, I might make them again. Still, I’m not sure coconut vanilla wafers will make the holiday party list. But they were fun to try. 

Listen to Recipe

Stuffed Vanilla Wafers

From Pet Milk Kitchen

Ingredients :

2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs. flour
1/8 tsp salt
16 marshmallows
1 1/2 C. coconut
18 vanilla wafers


1. Melt over boiling water 2 Tbs butter
2. Blend in 2 Tbs flour
1/8 tsp salt (omit if salted)
3. Stir in slowly 1/2 cup Pet milk
4. Cook until thick and smooth; stirring constantly; add in 16 marshmallows
6. Continue cooking while stirring until marshmallows are melted
7. Remove from heat and fold in 1 & 1/2 c shredded coconut
Cool thoroughly
8. Cool onto 18 vanilla wafers, repeat other side w/ fat side on filling

Makes 6 Servings of  (5 each?)

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Welcome to Recipe Roadshow!

Join me as we journey through time to find unique cookbooks and recipes. Along the way we will encounter vintage recipes, both delicious and atrocious. We’ll also explore food history and it’s relation to present food culture. Finally, we will experience modern creations of old recipes.

So hop in the wayback cuisine machine, and let’s get started.

Fun with Salad

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The first stop on the way back cooking machine is at the 1939 Mazola Salad Bowl. The venerable vegetable oil company was around then; and while some recipes mention oil, it appears instead Mazola mayonnaise and dressings seemed to be all the rage that year.

According to the introduction page, salad was an accidental invention by a Roman chef. The Greeks adapted it and then somehow the wilting French stole the salad before it spread to a thousand islands.

“Maximus yumminus! This kalamata olive salad is great.
  Hmm…Perhaps someday they’ll be a salad named after me.”


Now we move on to the best part of the culinary exhibit: the domesticated husband.

The “trusty male” just needs to be “exposed to the practise” of salad making. Then just see “how proud they [men] are of their creations” If we men ever doubted our servile state, this book proves that females are indeed in charge to break mens’ wills and train them.

Watch how he has been trained to enjoy making salad.  According to the article, men will enjoy making salad if they just have the right ingredients and giant forks, and an apron.

“Oh boy, making salad is sure fun! If I raise my elbows high, it’s even better!”

The giant grin and wide-eyed stare may indicate some sort of hypnotization or medication. It’s unclear what the man is staring at; perhaps he is hoping the celery will turn into bacon through telemetry.

Says the article: “Men just need a bowl. There’s nothing to boost a man’s ego like his own salad creation. He even gets to name it!”

Wife: “Honey, I’m sorry you lost that big client at work. Here, have a bowl and make a salad! It’ll be all better.”
As for the naming part, somehow “Bob’s salad” doesn’t have a ring to it. I sure hope the men of the 30s were more clever than that.

To sum up,  the article suggests, “The next  time you have a buffet or supper party, tie an apron around the nearest man.”
Not really sure about that advice.  It could be rather awkward coming up behind your pastor and tying an apron on him.

picnic2We now pass by an idyllic pastoral scene where the dutiful wife prepares a picnic.

Now look, what adorns the head of the dutiful wife? Is it a spotted salad bird? Or perhaps the halo of a domestic angel?

We now creep towards the most horrific object in this collection: the abominable salad monster!


While the title says it is grapefruit salad, I somehow doubt its legitimacy as a fruit. The abhorrent object looks more like a fly eye’s view of Cyclops. Or maybe a worm hole has swallowed a piranha? Or perhaps the sushi rolls have been eaten by a jellyfish. Feel free to share you interpretations!

After looking through grayscale photographs of supposedly gorgeous salads, I found one agreeable: Tomato and Avocado Salad Bowl. The ingredients are common and identifiable (avocado, lettuce, bleu cheese). I followed the recipe exactly. Below is the original picture and my version.

tomsaladThe real thing looks much better than the black and white photo.  Mine doesn’t have a cool bowl and big salad forks though. I had to settle for just tongs… But at least it tasted good.


It’s nice to know that after 74 years the salad is still good.  Fortunately, natural food selection has weeded out the dubious creations. Times and tastes have changed, but salad has remained, along with the hilarious historical proof.

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