In Search of Fannie Farmer

“Precise measurements guarantee success.”

Thursday is waffle day at our house. It began when I gave my husband a waffle maker last Christmas. Over the years I’ve noticed Herb always orders waffles whenever we eat breakfast out. In fact, he always chooses to make his own waffle at any hotel with self-serve breakfast buffets. I thought I was so clever to give him something he would really appreciate.

Of course, I knew I would still need to be involved in the waffle making process. Christmas morning I announced I would mix up the batter every week, but the actual baking of the waffle would be his job. After all, he had more experience.

Our first few attempts at waffle making were very successful. Then all of sudden something went wrong. The waffle stuck to the waffle maker. Finally, Herb managed to scrape the waffle from the grid piece by piece.

Our waffle disaster!

To this day I’m not sure what went wrong. Since I cut the recipe in half, I may not have added the right amount of oil to the batter. My math skills might have let me down. What is on half of one third cup? We started over again, and our second attempt came out great.

The waffle disaster peaked my interest in Fannie Farmer. Did you know Fannie is called “the mother of level instruments?” As the author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), she made a more scientific approach to cooking popular. In her day cookbooks included recipes which called for “a handful of flour” or “a pinch of salt.” Fannie believed scientific cookery would elevate the human race.* Her cookbook encouraged all cooks to purchase standardized utensils to measure ingredients accurately.

Fannie’s Bio

Unlike many people who lived in the 1850’s, Fannie’s parents wanted her to attend college. At age sixteen a stroke left her paralyzed and she was forced to stay home. By age thirty she recovered and enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. The school emphasized laboratory precision in the kitchen, especially regarding measurements. Fannie excelled and eventually became principal of the school.

After Fannie Farmer wrote and published her cookbook, she became a culinary celebrity. Later she founded a cooking school that bore her name, lectured widely, and wrote food columns for women’s magazines. One of her main interests was the preparation of food for invalids, born out of her own experience of being bedridden for years.

By the time Fannie died in 1915, over 350,000 copies of her book had been sold. Continually revised, Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook can still be purchased. What a legacy!

Have you experienced any culinary disasters? Leave a message and tell me about it.

(Additional Reference: *Discovering America’s Past (1993)The Reader’s Digest Association.)

Cooking, Then and Now

Do you like to cook? Whether you do or not, I’m sure you enjoyed someone else’s cooking during this holiday season. Food is a big deal for my family. As the chief cook, I’ve spent quite a bit of time of time in the kitchen during the last two weeks. In addition to the tried and true recipes my family members expect, I like to unveil at least one new dish.

This year my search for cookie recipes led me to an ancient resource. As I scanned the books on my shelf, I came across Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, published in 1950 by General Mills. This family heirloom, handed down from my mom, describes American family life during that decade.

Betty Crocker dedicates her cookbook, “to homemakers everywhere who like to minister to their dear ones by serving them good food. Cooking for your family is the age-old way to express love and concern for their welfare.”

Most women of the 1950’s were not employed outside the home. Their days were spent cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. The book contains tips on how to keep your husband happy. For instance, “The clever wife has a simple appetizing cocktail (cold in summer, hot in winter) ready for her weary husband when he comes home from work.” By the way, all of the drinks listed are non-alcoholic. I never knew there were so many ways to jazz up tomato juice.

The book gives pointers on meal planning and purchasing quality food. The appearance of the meal when served is important. Cooks should add “finishing touches” in the form of garnishes. Dinner was an event, that demanded proper dress and manners. This was the same time period as the Leave it to Beaver TV show, when Ward, the dad, wore a suit around the house. June, the mom, always wore a dress, pearls, and high heels.

Quite a contrast to today’s culture where meals consist of pre-prepared foods hastily gobbled down in front of the TV. (Microwaves were not invented yet.) Does your family sit in the dining room for dinner? Recently I’ve noticed many people are no longer doing their own grocery shopping. They order food online and pay a professional shopper to gather it and have it ready for pick up.

My favorite part of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book are the snippets of food history included. At the time of publication, appetizers were new to American cuisine. According to Betty, the custom of appetizers began in ancient Rome. People munched on chicory, endive, or celery to excite hunger. Later the Europeans elaborated on the custom, by advancing to caviar and anti-pasta. By 1950, Americans were becoming more cosmopolitan and refined. The hostess who served appetizers was considered chic because the activity of moving around in the living room before a meal put guests at ease.

Although I didn’t actually prepare anything from my historic cookbook this holiday season, it was a great conversation piece. A lot has changed about American kitchens over the past seventy years but people are still eating and enjoying food!

Have your culinary methods of cooking and serving food changed over the years? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Bon Appetite!

See No Weevil

Do you like oatmeal? It’s a nutritious and low calorie food. Oatmeal is even more nutritious if you throw a few weevils into your bowl. What? Weevils?

One morning I decided to prepare some of the oatmeal that had been sitting in my pantry for months. I think I should also mention I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time.

I scooped the oatmeal into a bowl, added the recommended amount of water, and slid the bowl into the microwave. When the cook time finished, I removed the bowl and carried it to the table. I mixed in a couple of spoonfuls of brown sugar, poured a little milk on top, and began to eat while I scanned emails on my phone.

Suddenly I took a closer look into my bowl. What are those funny black specks? Hey, wait a minute, those don’t look normal. 

I walked back in the kitchen and opened the oatmeal container. Brown things were crawling inside! I felt sick to my stomach. Could those things be weevils in the larvae stage? Oh no, I already ate two spoonfuls. Of course, whenever anyone needs medical information, who should you turn to, but Google. Of course, Google knows everything.

Weevils are small beetles that feed on grains. Their larvae is often found in packaged flour, cornmeal, cereals, and dog food. Weevils don’t break inside sealed packages, they are already inside as eggs. When the time is right they hatch.

I was greatly relieved that according to my internet source, weevils are not harmful to people or pets. Heating kills them, so that made me feel a little better. One site even shared that weevils could be considered a protein source . Actually, all of us have probably eaten a few weevils during our lifetime. Maybe we were  totally unaware of their presence.

Even though I felt a little better, that doesn’t mean I finished my oatmeal.  I poured it down the garbage disposal and got rid of the whole package of oats. I decided to eat a bagel with cream cheese instead. This was not a time to think about losing weight. 

The moral of the story: Take a close look (with your glasses on) inside any container of grains in order to be sure you “see no weevil.”

Readers, I hope this story has brightened your election week. Tomorrow many of us may be voting on  “the lesser of two weevils.”

The Case of the Green Bean Casserole Revisited

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Will green bean casserole appear at your feast  this year? Some families are divided over politics, but ours is divided over green bean casserole. See my previous post on this topic from November of 2016.

How did green bean casserole become a Thanksgiving mainstay? I don’t think the Pilgrims hiked to their local Publix for a can of mushroom soup. And what do FRENCH fried onion rings have to do with our all-American holiday?

I discovered the original green bean casserole was created by none other than the Campbell Soup Company in 1955. During the 1950’s casseroles ruled in most suburban American kitchens. Campbell’s was inspired to create a quick and easy recipe around two ingredients that most Americans had on hand, greens beans and mushroom soup. Dorcas Reilly, a home economist who worked for Campbell’s, added the French fried onions for a festive touch. GBC became the “go to” for everyone’s Thanksgiving feast. Today, sixty-two years later, we still celebrate Dorcas Reilly’s achievement.

I decided to make things easy on myself this year and place an order for our Thanksgiving feast with my local Publix. For the record, green bean casserole can be purchased from the deli. And for those who need an alternative side, sweet potato casserole is also available. I am thankful.

 

 

BOGO Banter

I like BOGOs.  Every Thursday morning I drop by my neighborhood Publix grocery and pick up their ad.  After lunch  I plan my weekly menu around their special promotions.  Then I check through my coupons to see if something matches a BOGO. On my shopping list, I star those items.  Before leaving for the store, I check my pantry to make sure I don’t already have two or three of any items on my list. This is a very important step. I don’t want to buy two more jars of pickle relish if I have four.  (I had to learn this the hard way!)

Once inside the store, I read the expiration dates on the BOGOs I might not use quickly. For example, mayonnaise isn’t much of a fast mover at our house. On the other hand, cookies disappear quickly.  Meats like chicken, bacon, and hot dogs can be frozen for later use. Canned goods have a long shelf life.  One product I know I will always use is Multi-Grain Cheerios. It’s a healthy, low-calorie cereal that is almost always on sale. I’m ecstatic if dog food is a BOGO. Might as well stock up for the family pet.

BOGOs encourage me to experiment with new foods. Sometimes it’s kind of scary to purchase two of something you’ve never tasted. This year I’ve been introduced to Califia Farms creamers, and Good Thins crackers. If this is a ploy to interest customers in new products, they caught me. Only once did I buy something I didn’t like, and my brother was happy to take it off my hands. In addition, some Publix brand products taste comparable to name brands. Recently I discovered the store brand healthy request soups taste comparable to Campbells.

I reached a shopping zenith during the week of Memorial Day. Between BOGOs and coupons I saved $81.09. I was absolutely giddy as I inserted my credit card into the payment kiosk.  On my way out the door I flaunted my receipt to the assistant manager. He looked surprised, but smiled and congratulated me. He probably thought I was bordering fanaticism.

I’ll admit I don’t always save as much as I did on May 28,  but I’m succeeding to hold my own as food prices rise. Some people say they pay less for food elsewhere, but do they enjoy the experience of shopping as much?  Is the store clean? Is customer service offered?  I appreciate someone ringing up and bagging my groceries. I enjoy chatting with the young people who help me load the car.  Forgive me if I sound like a commercial, but Publix has spoiled me. It’s the store where “shopping is a pleasure.”

 

 

For the Love of Bread

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This summer, I returned from a two week vacation to Nova Scotia and discovered I had  gained six pounds. I complained to my husband, “Honey, I thought lobster was low in calories.”

“Not if it’s prepared in cheese sauce and served over fried potatoes,” he smiled.

Like many dieters, I decided to stop eating bread. After all, it’s those nasty carbs that make us gain weight, right? I knew saying no to bread would be a challenge for me. I routinely ate toast with peanut butter for breakfast. Even so, desperate to drop the vacation weight, I started eating oatmeal instead. Which by the way, I could only manage to consume if I heaped brown sugar on top. Over the next few days I pondered how unnatural it felt to not eat bread.

Bread is the staff of life. It has been around since the dawn of agriculture. Revolutions have occurred over the price of bread.

Bread is multicultural. Mexicans make tortillas, the French are known for baguettes, New Yorkers love bagels, and Greeks eat pita. Bread comes in all sizes, colors, and textures. It can be leavened or unleavened, and made with wheat, rye, oats, or corn.

Bread is a symbol of hospitality. According to scripture, the first Christians gathered for fellowship and the breaking of bread. Bread is so important to life it became the symbol for Christ’s body as part of the Eucharist. How can I give up something of such cultural and spiritual importance?

This morning I measured the peanut butter and enjoyed a little slice of life.

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