Raiders of the lost cookbook

I like to picture myself as a mix between a mad kitchen scientist, an academic historian and a culinary Indiana Jones. Pouring over old recipes, marked by unfamiliar handwriting and notations, making notes, cannibalizing part of one soup recipe and grafting it to another to come up with a better, more perfect version of potato soup.

I’ve got a rich fantasy life, for sure.

I was thrilled last weekend while at my wife’s grandma’s old house. We were cleaning it out for her when I made a great discovery.

It was a history of canning through the 80s. There’s a pamphlet from 1936 telling housewives how to store goods for the long winter ahead, a few small pieces telling how to butcher and preserve meet and random papers torn from magazines.

 All the books are full of tidbits and tips, ranging from the useful to the more academically interesting. For example, from the 1936 Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving Recipes:

Both bull-frogs and the small green marsh frogs are edible, but the latter are more delicate and more tender. Only the hind legs are eaten and they are generally considered to be at their best from June to October. 

Cut off legs, loose the outer skin and turn downward and pull off. Then cut off the skin and toes. Wash the legs in cold water, to which has been added 2 tablespoons vinegar, or lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon salt for each quart of water. Drain and wipe dry… pack frog legs, uncooked, into jars, add 2 teaspoons salt to each quart, partly seal and process for 60 minutes in a Steam Pressure Cooker at 15 pounds.

I’ve had frog legs a handful of times, never have they been pickled.

The books once belonged to my wife’s great-aunts. They lived on a farm down in Kentucky along with their brother, and were the model of old-time homesteaders. The books are somewhat tattered, and full of stains and notations. They might not be my memories, but they are someones, which makes me feel like a culinary adventure, traveling down a treasure trail long ago abandoned.

There’s a recipe for pepper mangos, circled by whichever sister this book belonged to. Despite its title, there’s no mangoes involved. It’s peppers and cabbage, picked for three weeks then used as a relish. I really want to make it to see what was so special that it led someone to circle it.

The farmers’ market last day here was this saturday. It was a sad occasion. It was the last time until spring my wife and I could eat our croissant filled with swiss cheese and ham. It was the last time to get fresh fruit outdoors before the gray days of winter.

We’ve got a few cans of tomatoes and peaches put up. So when it’s really cold out we can have a little bit of summer. And during those short days I will be plotting, using these books and a few others, and once spring gets here again, I’m going to preserve it.

Below are some of the prettier illustrations from the trove of books and pamphlets.

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