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A step back in time

[This is Part 1 of a two-part story about the author’s 1940s hometown cookbook. Watch for Part 2 next week.]

            If you enjoy cooking, chances are you have a favorite cookbook you refer to often. My mom and grandma had one called the Mequon Cookbook (Mequon being my hometown in rural Wisconsin). Mom pulled it off the shelf almost as often as her well-worn Settlement Cookbook, a staple for homemakers in our area.

            You probably love your cookbooks and find them quite complete. But I have a few questions:

            Does your favorite cookbook tell you how to remove feathers and down from a duck? (It will help if after you roughly pluck the duck, you pour hot paraffin over it, allow it to harden and then peel it off. Now you know.)

Does it describe how to prepare a rabbit for frying? How about a recipe for Liver and Noodle Loaf? Or Foamy Beer Soup?

            My copy of this 1944 cookbook reveals much about life in a German farming community at that time. From it, I learned how my grandma spent much of her day – and what Grandpa would likely find on his plate come suppertime.

I’ll bet in your cookbooks you will not find instructions such as “cook over fire,” or “grease your spider with lard.” Yes lard – it sounds disgusting, but I recall Mom using it quite a bit; if not lard, bacon fat. (A “spider” is a three-legged cast iron skillet used over an open fire.)

One omission stands out to me: 95% of the recipes requiring baking never give a hint as to what temperature you should bake the dish at, or for how long. I guess women (the usual cooks back then) were just supposed to know these things.

            But then I realized that many of the ladies may have only had an electric range for under ten years, meaning they had not yet worked out the details. That would take some trial and error.

            I find many fascinating recipes in this book. Some make me laugh, and some turn my stomach. The book also provides me with fodder for reminiscing about my younger years.

            I can put my fingers on recipes my family still enjoyed in the 1950s, ‘60s and beyond – including to-die-for German desserts. In fact, my 19-year-old great niece just made one of the included desserts for Easter. I also came across the mouthwatering chocolate-cherry cake Grandma baked for my birthday one year, knowing it was my favorite. 

[Be sure to tune in next week when this story continues.]

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