Sunday, March 8, 2009

Culinary Mysteries

I returned from my last trip home to Detroit with an armload of cookbooks, including one published by the Detroit Times in 1936. My home town has fallen on hard times but in the 1930’s it had 1.5 million residents, the largest streetcar system in the world, and three major dailies as well as a German language newpaper, the Abendpost. The Times started life as an abolitionist paper in 1842 and went through several owners and points of view before becoming part of the Hearst empire. It eventually folded in 1960.

This cookbook appears to be made up of recipes submitted by local housewives rather than the work of the newspaper’s cookery correspondent, so there is a certain amount of duplication. It looks like the editors tried to put the recipes into a uniform format, but the directions are all over the place – some are very exact, some seem to leave out key bits of information.

Or ingredients. Notice there is no mention of cocoanut anywhere in this recipe except the title. I’m guessing that an experienced home cook knew enough to press flaked coconut over the top and sides of the cake after it was frosted.

This torte needs to be baked in a slow oven – probably 325° -- but there is no mention of time. Fifty minutes? An hour?

The recipe portion of the cookbook is only about 270 pages long, and the first hundred pages are all for desserts. I’m not sure what’s so Spanish about “Spanish Bun.” Maybe the cocoa. Anyone who has any other suggestions, keep them G-rated!

And this cake (which I remember from my days in Paris was called “Quatre-Quatres”) lists the ingredients and basic instructions, leaving everything else up to the cook.

This recipe should look familiar, it’s a "war cake" and I’m including it for the frosting recipe, in case Rebecca wants to make it again!

(scans of all of these pages can be downloaded from my Flickr account, if you’re interested).


Anonymous said...

I would guess that the bun recipe is called Spanish because they love cinnamon in their chocolate.. in fact I do too.. I learned that while living in CA

Rebecca said...

I love your old recipes. I have treasured copies of old cookbooks found in thrift stores, most notably a Sunset cookbook from the 30's, and a Magic Chef cookbook from '48, but first published in '24. And another favorite isn't vintage, but the recipes are. The publishers of Reminisce magazine published a book called Dining through the Depression. It's on my shelf now, next to the mega sizes of flour, rice, corn meal and popcorn. Can't go without popcorn.

We LOVED the war cake. I haven't had the nerve to make it again, but it did freeze up wonderfully.
thanks for posting these.