Sunday, November 1, 2009

Camouflage Cookery, 1918

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From the University of Wisconsin’s home economics website, an earnest little book published during the War to End All Wars (as it was once optimistically referred to), to help housewives cope with shortages of meat, wheat and seafood. Subtitled A Book of Mock Dishes, it is a gallant if occasionally misguided effort to make foodstuffs look and taste like something they are not (edited for correctness; it can be downloaded here. Unfortunately the University has chosen to post all their books in a format that requires you to do it page by page. Arggggh).

Many of the featured dishes would be perfectly acceptable in their own right. There is a recipe for Mock Oysters made with salsify, once known as oyster plant for good reason.

Mock Fried Oysters

“Wash, trim and cook a bunch of oyster plant (or salsify) in boiling water until tender. Drain and scrape off the skin. Mash well, and if stringy rub through a colander. To one pint of the mashed salsify add one teaspoonful of flour, one tablespoonful of butter substitute, one well-beaten egg, and salt and pepper to season highly. Take up a small spoonful and shape it into an oval about the size of a large oyster; dip each lightly in flour or very fine cracker crumbs, and brown on each side in hot butter substitute.”

This certainly sounds better than the mock oyster recipe on page 19 that calls for sliced green tomatoes, or the one on page 18 that uses tripe.

The recipes for mock crab use either cheese or corn, and again look like they’d be nice dishes without all the obfuscation (although I’d go easy on the vinegar in this one. Maybe a teaspoonful?).

Mock Crabs

“Grate a quarter of a pound of hard cheese and sprinkle it into a fireproof dish. Beat up one egg; add four tablespoonfuls of milk, two tablespoonfuls of vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste, and pour on the cheese. Bake until the mixture becomes the consistency of cream, then spread on very hot buttered toast. Serve at once.”

Very puzzling indeed is the recipe on page 8 for mock chicken gumbo that calls for, of all things, chicken, and the one on page 15 for mock turtle soup using a can of … mock turtle soup. The recipe on page 48 for mock ham is ersatz all the way, though.

Mock Ham

1 quart kidney beans
½ pint English walnuts
½ pint black walnuts
½ pint pecans
½ pint almost
1 can pimentos
1 tablespoonful salt
1 saltspoonful black pepper.

“Soak the beans over night; next morning drain, cover with fresh boiling water, boil twenty minutes; drain, throw the water away, cover again with fresh water, and boil until tender; press through a colander. Chop the nuts and pimentos. Add them, with all the other ingredients, to the beans. Form into a small ham, and place on a greased paper; brush with melted butter substitute; bake in a moderate oven one hour. When done, take out the ham, brush it again with butter substitute, dust it thickly with bread crumbs and brown. Serve this cold, cut into thin slices.”

How unthinkable it would have been for these well-meaning women to serve honest vegetarian food with no pretense that it was anything else. Maybe a delicious Indian dish of potatoes and greens, which I usually make using frozen spinach (and once with a bag of coleslaw mix when I was out of spinach. Yummy).

Sag Aloo

2 T cooking oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 large baking potatoes, cut into small cubes (or used leftover boiled or baked potatoes)
1 package frozen leaf spinach, thawed and drained
1 t. grated fresh ginger
1 small clove garlic, peeled and smashed
¼ t. cumin seed
1 t. turmeric
1 t. garam masala

Heat the oil over medium heat and fry the cumin seeds for a few minutes, just until they are brown. Remove them (otherwise they’ll probably burn). Add the onion and fry until it begins to get limp.

Push the onion to the side of the skillet. Turn up the heat slightly and add the cubed potatoes, frying them until they develop a slightly browned crust. Sprinkle the vegetables with the garlic, ginger, turmeric and garam masala, and the reserved cumin seeds. Stir and add a few tablespoons of water, cover and cook just until the potatoes are soft (this is not necessary if you are using leftover cooked pototatoes). Add the spinach and cook everything together until the spinach is heated through. Season to taste and serve with rice and yogurt.


Amanda said...

Interesting recipes. I wonder how they'd taste in comparison?

Packrat said...

Please help a technology challenged person. How do you download this? The only thing I saw was to print each page - which I could do in a pinch.

Packrat said...

PS - My how our staples have changed.

That poor cat - wonder how many times it gets stepped on.

Shay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shay said...

Packie, this is my one beef with the UofWI's website. You can't download the entire document. You have to do it page by page. Makes me cranky.

But thanks for reminding me; I've corrected my post to warn others of this inconvenience!

Amy said...

The last one sounds more up my alley...

Packrat said...

Shay, thank you. I thought maybe I was missing something very obvious like a "download" button.