Monday, November 10, 2008

cooking with gas (a blast from the passed)

Even though refrigerators cost almost twice as much as an automobile, manufacturers were not shy about touting their many benefits. In fact, several went so far as to imply that a woman wasn't a good mother unless she had a refrigerator:

You, as a conscientious mother, buy the best food for your children, prepare it with scrupulous care and cook it correctly. Yet, in spite of all, you may be giving your children food which is unwholesome – even dangerous! For even the best food becomes unsafe to eat unless it is kept at the proper degree of cold, which medical authorities agree should be 50 degrees or less – always. ... There is only one way to be sure that your children’s food is fresh and healthful – correct refrigeration.

From Housekeeping to Homemaking", Trail End State Historic Site -- Sheridan, Wyoming.

Aw, when you were a kid, did you ever give your mom shit about the milk going sour? Act like she was personally, irresponsibly poisoning your breakfast cereal? Ouch. I did. So did my siblings and I am guessing other folks might also be guilty of blaming mother for failed refrigeration.

Our former home (the two-unit) had aged appliances, mostly in early '70s harvest gold. They worked just fine until the day that they died (only occasionally going out in flames). I was ridiculously pleased to replace all major appliances for both apartments in the late 1980s. It didn't cost buckets of money and it seemed reassuring that the new appliances would be around for many years to come.

But they weren't. The second time around, replacing all appliances for both units a scant decade later, it became apparent that they sure don't build 'em like they used to...

Your laundress currently lives with a refrigerator that costs as much as a damn good used car, but is about as reliable as a really bad one. A rustbucket Yugo with a brand-new Ferrari price tag. It has had several factory recalls, involving replacing the door hinges, then the door, then the hosing for the icemaker, then the whole damn thing. In-between times, it has leaked, drooled, flaked off enamel and generally misbehaved. A stainless steel behemoth of ridiculous proportions. It is lousy. I have lost sleep and wasted time, mopping up after this leaky convenience.

Recently, I repurposed an old ice chest, made of oak and lined with zinc, to function as an end table. It is large and solid and you can tuck all kinds of reading material inside. A proud, shiny brass placque on the front labels it "Hall's Reliable". Maybe this product should be used as originally intended? It was supposed to leak. It has a large drain hole and a nice-sized drip pan to accomodate leakage.

Is there a life lesson here, a take-away message on household appliances? They don't make them like they used to? You don't get what you paid for?



Just finished:

digging out basements -- the final episode.

The process has pretty near been the death of me, most of this year's vacation days were spent unpacking and dispersing the contents of moving boxes. Moving boxes often stuffed with souvenirs of other people's fun vacations.

Souvenirs from generations of people much fancier and more sophisticated than me, who took swank trips to enviably exotic and faraway places. Now they are all dead people, their final journey being one in which I am in no hurry to follow. But I do suffer major vacation envy.

Often, the basement souvenirs are survivors of holiday destinations that no longer exist -- or anyhow places where names and borders and politics and boundaries and such have changed.

My mother-in-law bet on horse races in Cuba in the 1920s. She lost on the ponies but kept her ticket stubs and a racing bulletin. I have also discovered playing cards from Venice, matchbooks from Thailand, a hat-check ticket from Monaco, stir-sticks from every island in the Caribbean, plus the ridiculous number of Lederhosen from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Prague and Budapest are well-represented, by several generations of travelers. Memorabilia from trips to London and Paris are positively tiresome. Handsome flyers and brochures from extinct resorts all over the U.S. had perhaps their final refuge, right here in the middle of (well, you know). Someone in my husband's extended family was creating wooden bicycle racing rinks in Bolivia in the late 1880s and sent home photos. And on and on and on...and it all came home.

In a box.

Everything was boxed. Mixed in with kitchen utensils, half-used cans of motor oil, broken wine glasses, high school yearbooks, and a jaw-dropping array of bridge tallies. Visit the local St. Vincent de Paul shop, and many of these wonders could become yours! Except for the motor oil (sent to the appropriate recycling facility) and the broken glassware and the moldiest of the Lederhosen.

The scrap of paper pictured above caught my fancy and perhaps will charm you too. Good lord, what kind of dedicated housewife goes on vacation and attends a cooking school? That would be like yours truly traveling to Miami to attend workshops on shirt starching and household organization. Blecch.

I was delighted to find evidence of someone in the past taking a lousy trip. Maybe that special attraction, the lecture on "Electric Refrigerator" was too much of a novelty to pass up?

What is the date of this mysterious cooking school?

It was sponsored by Majestic Refrigerators. Here is the cover art from a Majestic cookbook, dated 1931. This one was not in my basement, found it posted for sale ($12) over the delicious Heavens to Betsy Vintage (1930s-1980s sewing patterns and cookbooks) website, which encouragingly notes "Leans towards the elegant. You'll find some nice molded and jellied recipes in this one!"

Walt Disney World did not officially come to Orlando until 1971. Walt Dated World is a sweet website shrine to Disney Worlds of the past, Extinct Orlando is another long-gone Disney shrine.

I have never visited a Disney theme park. Neither have my children nor my spouse. We have no intention to do so... many perfectly fine people do adore all things Disney. We aren't them. This is okay. However, if I could time travel, I would kinda like to be sitting in on the cooking school with the Indiana hausfrau who saved her pink program guide. Thinking this might have been my mother-in-law, but maybe some other relative? Anyhow...

Prior to riding roller coasters and romping with Mickey, visiting Orlando meant you could attend edifying workshops, such as the Yowell-Drew seminar -- and learn to create some tasty recipes and curious cooking techniques (such as steaming fish for three hours).

The Yowell-Drew Cooking School had formidable recipes, no doubt targeting a refined audience. Check out the delish crabmeat and whipped cream icebox treat, "Frozen Crab Salad". Reproducing the recipe below, in case you have trouble reading the 2 point type from the image:

Frozen Crab Salad

2 cups flaked crab meat
1 tablespoon chili sauce
3 tablespoons salad dressing
Salt and paprika
2 hard cooked eggs
1 cup cream
Slices of lemon
Strips of pimento
(added in pencil: 1 cup celery)
Blend the crab meat with egg, chili sauce, parsley, salad dressing, pickles and seasoning. Whip cream, fold in, freeze in tray 3 to 4 hours.

There you go. Summer bridge club delight.

Does pimento = pickles? Where does the parsley come in and how much... a sprig? a bunch? Several pounds?

Never mind possibly wild variations in "chili sauce" and "salad dressing" (in the midwest, that can only mean Miracle Whip, right? Neatorama explains the difference between Miracle Whip and mayonnaise here, worth checking out plus noting Miracle Whip did not appear until 1933 -- does that help date this document? or did I just make up this whole digression on creamy white dressings?)

Also included in the Yowell-Drew brochure, a recipe for deviled crab, made with with canned crab meat and canned mushrooms -- so easy to recreate back home in the midwest. The cooking school's stuffed eggplant: fill it up with minced ham and lumps of butter. YUM. These are practical recipes to take back and serve to the bridge club.

Okay, this post was going to meander into some curious recipes for meatballs and a rant on the latest tooth-whitening versions of Nicorette plus some speculation on why various John Prine lyrics have deeper current social relevance than anything Bob Dylan ever thought of...

But I am tired and anxious to try um, actually POSTING something on this blog. So here you go, sweethearts.

Hugs and please say hi!

your cranky old


Perky Skeptic said...

John Prine RULES! Even my five-year-old knows this. :)

Most excellent post! I have enjoyed the trips into your basement, and into the past!

Citizen Reader said...


I double the sentiment that I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing what was in your basement(s). Both of my grandmas were of the "use or toss out" school, very spartan ladies, so I've enjoyed your glimpses into the past.

I'm sorry about your troublesome fridge. Constantly breaking down appliances of any type are tiring in the extreme.

Have you ever seen John Prine live? I love, love, LOVE that man. I have his signature on a CD around here somewhere and unlike my grannies, I'm not throwing it out.

Norma said...

I love those old recipe books, especially from the food companies.

I haven't had that much trouble with my new frig, but the Maytag dishwasher rusted its racks the first 2 years, and the Maytage drier bundles and doesn't fluff, and the washer screams when it's ending a cycle. My 30 year olds didn't do that.

Speaking of food, please stop by and comment:

mary said...

Nostalgia brought on by your post:
Back when I lived in Kansas there was a really old GAS refrigerator in the garage of the house, wish I could have brought it to Colorado with me.
I haven't been to any Disney theme parks either. Did you know they used to own some ski places in Colorado? Think they owned Keystone-sold it to Ralston Purina of dog food fame-who sold it to Japanese investors.
As for recipes, did you ever hear of cooking crabs in the dishwasher? Just don't add soap...

Awesome Mom said...

Pimentos are not pickles. They are those red things that you see stuffed into green olives. Gag!

I am not into Disney either and would be quite surprised if I ever go to a theme park. Rides make me sick so that takes out the main reason for even going.

Appliances may be more likely to break but they cost less to run. Maybe we just traded on expenses. I am not sure which expense is worse.

Libby said...

Loved the post. Very cool items from your basement museum.


The Laundress said...

Hello, hello!

John Prine does most surely rule. Have seen him six times (I think), best was with Steve Goodman, it was fabulous. I owned everything early on vinyl but tossed it. Been having "Clocks and spoons" playing in my head lately, just bought "Diamonds in the Rough" from iTunes so I could hear it for real. Man, that fellow does bleat it out! Poetry.

Perky: you are raising that child right!
CR: oh boy! autographed JP? did you talk to him? I could never, would faint and swoon.
Norma: sounds like shoddy modern conveniences are ubiquitous these days. (I will visit ya pronto).
Mary: never heard of gas refrigerators but that sounds dangerous and exciting. I like that in a household appliance, will check 'em out. Wonder what conglomerate now owns Disney? Maybe Starbucks?
Libby: my blogging inspiration, sorry that I have been such a weak imitator. Especially lately. Oh you have caught it, the basements are a museum but kind of a shoddy one with one crabby curator.

Thank you all for visiting!

The Laundress said...

oops, Awesome! Missed you, sorry! The recipe instructions are maddeningly out of synch with the instructions. Pretty sure this crabby ice cream confection would be awful but maybe the pimento would make it pretty?

You are an inspiration and I envy you your efficient laundry appliances. I think you made a good choice.

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