Heirloom Recipes for the Holidays
No matter the decade, we consider the holidays a special occasion – a time for paying attention to the smallest of details, from the menus to the handwritten place cards. Our grandmothers knew this. They recall the times when getting together with family was truly a rare event, preceded by months of anticipation.
They didn’t just throw together dinner; they planned it far in advance. They spent time talking with friends, finding just the right combination of foods based on availability and each one’s specialty.
One such resource may have been the “Pictorial Review Standard Cookbook: A Sure Guide for Every Bride,” published in 1931. The 463-page cookbook (with extra pages for favorite recipes to be clipped and pasted) offers holiday menus as well as cooking methods – everything from stewing to toasting – and a dictionary of groceries.
Back then, one cookbook provided a guide on how to cook everything from bread to luncheons. It featured menus as well as dress patterns.
The book also describes the early 20th century woman: “The woman who enjoys cooking takes pleasure in the work because it is creative. She feels that when she has prepared a wholesome, tasty, attractive dish, she has done something worthwhile. That she has through her skill and care expressed herself. And she is right. The average woman, even as a little girl, loved to make things, and in this modern age when women have more time for many activities, this urge to create is more felt than ever.”
The cookbook provides helpful tips, including rules for menu making and how to plan meals for the family. A menu for a week in the winter called for lots of soup, creamed chipped beef on toast and coconut macaroons. Company menus were more complex, with items such as roast duck or an appetizer of crabmeat in cucumber jelly. In addition, suggestions are offered for a wedding breakfast, bridge luncheon and picnics.
When it came to the holidays, home cooks pulled out all the stops. I consider the menu for dinner my favorite in the collection, and it can be done just as easily today as almost a century ago. We’ve adapted the heirloom recipes for today’s ingredients. We’ve lightened the menu and the preparation methods to take into account we don’t still do everything by hand on the farm. Thankfully, we have dishwashers and tractors now. We also have lessened the calories because our calorie counts need to reflect that we’re not plowing with horses (and walking behind) or doing other strenuous activities on the farm.
The original menu included what we would consider two large entrees – fricassee of chicken with biscuits and Crown Roast of Pork. I chose to adapt the crown roast, which makes such a stunning centerpiece for any holiday table.
The side dishes such as Southern-style sweet potatoes contained plenty of butter and cream. I dropped some of that heaviness from Sweet Potato Apple Casserole in favor of the natural flavors of the sweet fruit. Escalloped Cauliflower still has the milk and cheese, but this recipe is also lighter than the original.
Finally, you may consider Steamed Chocolate Pudding to be more akin to cake than pudding. If you didn’t inherit one, old-fashioned pudding molds can be found online or at your local kitchen store for about $20.
These lightened heirloom recipes still offer plenty of flavor and speak of history but work in our kitchens today. If you decide to try any of these, I promise you will think of Grandma, clad in her handmade apron, proud as a peacock to feed her clan.