Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Vegetable Love

The Home Comfort Cook Book was distributed in the late 1930’s by the Home Comfort Stove Company, of St. Louis, Missouri. Many women in this country were still cooking on wood-fired stoves until well after the Second World War, and (amazingly to me, since I've done some cooking over wood) while doing so regularly turned out food like this; glorious, hearty, mouth-watering repasts that today are mostly the stuff of memory.

Whether served at noon or in the evening, dinner for a large family of hard-working adults and growing children was no trifling affair. Tables were set with bowls of creamy chicken fricassee, great roasts of beef, pork tenderloins pounded thin, dipped in cracker crumbs and fried crisp and greaseless, potatoes mashed by hand with milk and butter, tender noodles, biscuits, pickles and preserves, and always pie or cake or a steamed pudding for dessert.

Vegetables, smoking-hot, scalloped, souffléd, browned, molded, buttered, cooked to within an inch of their lives, were an integral part of any meal, and none of this lightly steamed with a twist of lemon nonsense (unless you were a society lady on a diet). People ate a number of vegetables we don’t hear much about today, such as parsnips, rutabaga and oyster plant. Onions were eaten as a dish in their own right then, and weren’t merely supporting players to another ingredient. Nothing was served unadorned. Green beans were napped with a puree of crimson tomatoes, asparagus was never plain or just buttered but always teamed with egg sauce or Hollandaise. White sauce ruled, along with bread or cracker crumbs, chopped bacon and grated cheese.

(f you are a Southerner, or very lucky, you might still get dinners like this. I was invited to a few, when I was stationed in North Carolina and occasionally sang for my enviable supper by giving a speech to the D.A.R. or the county Historical Society. The speech always came first and the aromas drifting in from the kitchen were torment to me as I tried not to bring a talk about the battle of Fort Fisher or Civil War army nurses to an unseemly and rapid finish. Of course I was a quarter of a century younger then, and lived a physically strenuous and largely outdoor life. Today such a meal would probably finish me off).

Here are some of the ways vegetables were cooked before we started counting calories.

Oyster Plant (Salsify)

Oyster plant should be washed, scraped and plunged quickly into cold water containing a little vinegar to prevent discoloration. Cut into 2-inch pieces and boil in plenty of water; add a little salt and vinegar, and about 2 tbsps flour mixed to a paste with water. After 40 minutes, or as soon as they will bend under light pressure, lift out, drain well, and serve with white sauce.

Scalloped Onions

Place well drained, boiled onions in layers in baking dish. Sprinkle each layer with soft breadcrumbs, grated cheese, salt and paprika. Pour over them hot bacon drippings. Bake in moderate oven until top is brown.

Broccoli Ring

2 lbs broccoli
½ lb American cheese
3 eggs
2 cups thick cream sauce
1 tsp salt

Boil broccoli until tender and cut into small pieces. Cut cheese into cubes and add to cream sauce, then stir in beaten egg yolks. Add broccoli and then fold in beaten egg whites. Bake about 40 minutes in moderate oven in buttered ring set in pan of water. Turn out of ring and serve.

Harvard Beets

3 cups cooked sliced beets
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp. Cornstarch
½ tsp. Salt
½ cup mild vinegar OR
6 tbsps vinegar and 4 tbsps cream

Cook and stir last 4 ingredients. When clear, add beets and place pan, covered, over hot water for ½ hour. Just before serving, heat beets again and add 2 tbsps. butter.

Fried Apples

Pare, quarter and slice apples. Fry slowly in plenty of butter until brown, pour on a little water and cook slowly. Season with salt, add sugar to suit the taste.

Corn à la King

2 cups cooked corn
1 green pepper, chopped
1 chopped pimiento
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp salt

Mix corn, peppers and milk in double boiler and add beaten egg and seasoning. Cook until thick, stirring occasionally. Serve on hot, buttered toast.


Amy said...

mmm I have never had a dinner like that but it looks delish!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the picture of the stove. This is very similar to one (just a little smaller) my grandfather had. I watched my aunts and mom cook on that wood stove and loved the biscuits baked in the oven.