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:
- 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.
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.
Last came the tasting. The cookie seemed similar to a mild. 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
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs. flour
1/8 tsp salt
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
8. Cool onto 18 vanilla wafers, repeat other side w/ fat side on filling
Makes 6 Servings of (5 each?)
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