COOKBOOK COLLECTION | Bring On the Comfort Food, Part 1

Another post—in two parts this time—in a series from the cataloger of the Anne M. Cranston cookbook collection, which consists of approximately 4,400 British and American cookbooks from the 19th and 20th centuries. In this series, Shelley shares fascinating recipes, quotes, kitchen solutions, and anecdotes she has uncovered in the collection.

Swan’s Cake flour advertisement from Grace Church (Ravenna, Ohio). King's Daughters, ed., Cook Book: Tried Recipes. Second edition. Ravenna, Ohio: Ravenna Democrat Press, ca. 1920s.

Swan’s Cake flour advertisement from Grace Church (Ravenna, Ohio). King’s Daughters, ed., Cook Book: Tried Recipes. Second edition. Ravenna, Ohio: Ravenna Democrat Press, ca. 1920s.

At this time of year my mind wanders far from fancy holiday fare and turns to comfort food – never mind that New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. It is winter and I am going to hibernate, but not before I eat myself into that coma. Despite trying our best to eat healthier, I suspect we are not much different from 20th- or even 19th-century folks when it comes to comfort food. So in the spirit of history and culture, I give you some recipes for American comfort foods that I have found in the latest batch of Cranston cookbooks.

This first recipe comes from a cookbook compiled by King’s Daughters of Grace Church in Ravenna, Ohio.  The Cranston cookbook collection contains some famous cookbooks from well known chefs and home economists, but there are also a great number of community or charity cookbooks from women’s clubs and churches. These I confess are my favorites as they are contributed and treasured family recipes.

This recipe for macaroni and cheese is the way my family has always made it. It is baked in a casserole without a roux or cream sauce. I make a larger version of this using longhorn cheddar and bake it at 350° until the top is browned.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

3 cups boiled macaroni
½ lb. cheese

1 ½ cups milk
1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper

Place layer of macaroni in baking dish, then a layer of cheese, piece of butter, salt and pepper. Another layer of macaroni, then cheese. Have the layers of macaroni thin, ending with cheese on top. Pour milk over and bake from ½ to ¾ of an hour.

Portage Park Woman's Club (Chicago, Ill.) Original Recipes of Good Things to Eat. Chicago, Ill.: Portage Park Woman's Club, 1922.

Portage Park Woman’s Club (Chicago, Ill.) Original Recipes of Good Things to Eat. Chicago, Ill.: Portage Park Woman’s Club, 1922.

These well loved favorites come from a book compiled by the Portage Park Woman’s Club in Chicago. I have noticed as a rule, the older the recipe, the more the author takes for granted the cook’s knowledge of the basics. Methods for putting recipes together or whole steps might be omitted. The measurements are given in terms that sound odd to the modern cook like: “butter the size of a hen’s egg” or a “teacup of sugar.” Temperatures are given as slow, moderate, hot, or fast instead of degrees or omitted altogether.

Chicken Pie
From the White House – Recipe by Mrs. Warren Harding

Boil chicken until it falls from the bones, cut in small pieces. Cook small potatoes, 1 onion in chicken broth. Make a pastry of 1 quart flour, lump of lard size of egg. One teaspoon salt, 2 heaping teaspoons baking powder. Milk to make soft dough to roll. Line baking dish with pastry and bake in hot oven, then fill crust with chicken, potatoes, and a small amount of broth, cover with pastry and brown in quick oven. Thicken remaining broth and serve over pot pie.

Swiss Steak

Take 1 round of steak 1 ½ inches thick, pound well on both sides and knead into the meat as much flour as it will hold, season with salt and pepper. Put into a hot frying pan, in which a large tablespoonful of butter has been has been melted, let brown a few moments on both sides, then place in roaster and pour enough hot water over it to half cover. Simmer in oven until tender, about two and one-half hours. Excellent gravy can be made with this.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

Shelley Kresan is a rare book cataloger in The Huntington’s technical services department.

3 thoughts on “COOKBOOK COLLECTION | Bring On the Comfort Food, Part 1

  1. Do you have the 1965 Pasadena Junior League “Pasadena Prefers? I assume you do as it is the best of them all, full of truly great recipes, a roster of young Pasadena matrons of the time, and hilarious to boot as in the forward to the savory filled Bird Watching chapter, “Bird watching is done well before breakfast, or in the case of snipes and nightingales, well after dinner.”

    • We do have the first edition of 1964 complete with the hilarious foreword and chapters on food suitable for activities ranging from camping and hiking to … armchair sports. There is a passage in the forward that relates to what I was saying earlier about odd measurements in recipes: “We have reluctantly omitted such picturesque phrases as ‘meatballs the size of castanets’ as well as handfuls, pinches, and ‘just enough to make it look right.’”

      That’s the way I usually cook and I see nothing wrong with it. It does make it awkward when someone asks for the recipe.

      I cataloged this cookbook back in February of 1995. It is part of the Helen Evans Brown collection. You are right. This cookbook is a gem. I would like to own it myself.

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