Gail’s daughter, Karen is the guest blogger today.
“As I worked to clear 4 inches of snow and 1/2 inch of ice off my car this morning, I thought about our relatively carefree childhood snow days growing up in the country. And then went on to think about how a big snow and cold weather made things just that much harder for my parents.
Quite likely the battery would be dead in our car, more wood would be needed for the heating stove, and Mom and Dad would be worrying about money. Dad worked in all kinds of awful weather on drilling rigs in the oil fields of southern Kansas, but there were times when the weather was just too cold/severe to have a crew out working. And when the rig was down, Dad didn’t get paid.
Mom often put a big pot of beans on to cook on laundry day, but beans were also one of her go-to winter meals for her family of eight. It didn’t cost a lot and she had a hearty meal on the table (yes, we all ate at the table back then!). Most often we had navy beans with bread and butter or cornbread, but my very favorite, then and now, was butter beans.
I made butter beans and ham in my Instant Pot on New Year’s Day this year. This is a recipe that’s a pretty far cry from the basic butter bean recipe Mom used. It’s made in the Instant Pot, so there’s no need to soak the dried beans overnight, cooking time is just 25 minutes in the Instant Pot. It’s also made with chicken stock, onions, garlic, and a variety of spices. Mom used the meat from ham hocks, and that’s what I used, too. It’s delicious. “
Mom used to make ham salad for a sandwich spread back in the 1960s. It’s what they call Poor Man’s Ham Salad because it used a chunk of bologna, not ham, that was ground up for the spread. We called it baloney, and looked forward to those tasty sandwiches in our school lunch boxes. It was much cheaper, but tasted exactly like ham spread.
Here’s the recipe:
an unsliced roll of Bologna
Miracle Whip (or salad dressing of your choice
Sweet Gherkins (or pickle relish)
The amount of each isn’t crucial. You needed a meat grinder. Ours fastened onto the kitchen counter. Grind up the hunk of Bologna in the meat grinder and the sweet pickles too. Mix enough salad dressing in to make it spread easily on the sandwiches. Done!
We never put boiled eggs in it but other people did. The boiled eggs were used another day for egg salad sandwiches. Our bread back then was often Rainbow brand or Sunbeam.
A Lunchbox Like Dad Had
Fixing the School Lunches
With six children, packing the lunch boxes on a school day took teamwork. Someone would get the cookies and wrap them for each box. Another child would get the fruit (a banana, an apple, or some raisins). Someone else assembled the sandwiches, then cut them in half.
I was good at wrapping the sandwiches with the wax paper. Mom had taught me how to make the double fold where the edges came together, just like the butcher would wrap meat at the supermarket. Then I’d make a triangle at each end and fold that to the back.
We had those metal lunch boxes with colorful designs of our favorite television shows. I browsed around on Etsy which is a good place to find vintage items. Wow, some of these are for sale for over $100. I should have saved mine.
My mother, Gail Lee Martin, used to make a lovely German chocolate cake. This was back in the day when you didn’t buy a container of pre-mixed icing, so she laboriously made that with the coconut and chopped pecans and other ingredients. It really was special to eat that cake. The cake’s name came from the German chocolate bar that you had to melt for making the cake.
My sister, Karen, found an easier chocolate cake to make that didn’t require melting baker’s chocolate but did have a strange ingredient (sauerkraut). Her recipe produced a very moist chocolate cake and it looked wonderful with the German chocolate icing on the top.
Karen made the cake during her teens and college years. I didn’t realize that she still made it until a picture appeared on her social media recently. That brought back memories, for sure.
You can tell from the range of spices in the cupboard behind the cake that my sister is a serious cook. She even made a recipe book for her daughter with all their favorites in it. Of course, it included the Sauerkraut Cake and the Coconut-Pecan Icing.
Just to tease you a bit more, here’s a slice of the cake on a plate ready to eat. I think a glass of milk would be perfect with this rich and moist cake.
I asked her where she had found such an off-beat recipe. She still had the original recipe booklet, so I’ll include that here. That recipe called for a mocha cream icing, but I think it was brilliant to use the coconut and pecan icing recipe from the older German Chocolate Cake.
Perfect for a recipe of new peas and baby potatoes
Little things trigger your memories. Someone passed around a meme titled “Snapchat – the Old-Fashioned Way.” The meme’s picture showed a grandmother on a porch swing with a lap full of string beans. She was snapping the beans into the right size for cooking.
Next to her on the swing sat a grandchild who was also snapping beans. Several more children sat on the nearby steps as they listened to their grandmother tell a story. Their hands were busily snipping the ends off the beans and breaking the green beans into short pieces.
My aunt Cj Garriott commented, “Oh, this brings back great memories! Mother and I also hulled peas, sitting on the back steps. Occasionally, one or more would pop out on the sidewalk. Our dog Tippy would snap them up! Then one day mother caught him getting some off the vine. Daddy had to put a fence around the peas.”
We didn’t need a knife if the bean were fresh and crisp. We also didn’t make the pieces this short.
Putting all hands to work was necessary if the family grew a large garden. Preparing enough beans for canning was quite a bit of hand labor. Over the winter months, we were glad to have Mason jars filled with vegetables for the eight hungry people around our big oak table.
Mama taught us to make fudge, but I don’t remember making it very often. I found this vintage recipe in her stash of miscellaneous papers. I don’t recognize the handwriting so I don’t know where she got this recipe. I’ll transcribe it here to make it easier to read.
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 level tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons syrup
Butter size of walnut
Vanilla to taste
Mix sugar and cocoa together. Add milk and syrup and cook to soft ball stage. Cool until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan without burning it. Add butter and vanilla and nuts if desired. Beat until creamy. Pour on buttered plate.
I do love the lovely old handwriting of this recipe. It was pasted onto a crumbling black background like the pages you see in old photo albums.
The directions are pretty straight forward. The wording on the one sentence really struck me, “Cool until you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan without burning it.” Probably now, they would say use a candy thermometer to a certain temperature.
I had to double-check the “soft ball stage.” That’s when you drop a small amount of the hot fudge into a cup of icy water and it forms into a ball instead of flattening out or spreading.
So, if anyone has the ingredients and wants to make this recipe, please report back with your critique (and pictures would be nice too)!
Here’s another of those vintage recipes from my mother’s stash. It’s a cake made with potatoes as an ingredient. Nope, I’m not talking about potato cakes or potato patties. This is actually for a chocolate cake you can serve as a dessert.
I’ve added in a few clarifications on the soda and chocolate. I’ve also added some details in the notes from similar recipes, but think of yourself as a pioneer on this one. Follow your instincts.
Chocolate Potato Cake
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup walnuts
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sweet milk
4 eggs (beat separately)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon (baking) soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves (presumably ground cloves)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups chocolate (unsweetened baking cocoa)
2 cups flour
Dissolve the soda in just a little water. Just before adding soda, add a teaspoon of vinegar to it. This will prevent the soda from smelling in the cake. Pour in the soda and vinegar while foaming.
NOTES: These are my “best guess” on the way to make this cake since it doesn’t give us the step-by-step directions that we are used to in modern recipes.
Before starting, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. I presume that all the dry ingredients, except the soda, get mixed together first. Then the beaten eggs, milk, and mashed potatoes are stirred into the dry ingredients. At the end, put in the foaming soda and vinegar.
Pour it into 2 cake pans. Bake at maybe 350 temperature for 25 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it as the temperature and time are guesstimates.
Gail and Clyde Martin liked experimenting each year with a new plant in their garden. Okra was one they liked well enough to keep. The plants grew quite tall and sturdy, had lovely flowers similar to a Hibiscus or Rose of Sharon.
The edible part was a green pod, quite seedy and somewhat slimy inside. People use it in soups where that helps with the thickening. At first, Mom tried just cooking the sliced okra for a side vegetable but the texture put us off. Next, she tried it in a coating and fried in a skillet or deep-fried. It was a hit.
Today, I order it for a side vegetable in country-style restaurants where they fry it that way. Brings back memories of Mom’s home cooking. I don’t fry food at home, so we don’t have it there. My husband started making gumbo and using it for that spicy concoction. We buy the okra fresh at the farmers market or get the frozen gumbo-vegetable combination at the supermarket for convenience.
If left on the plant, the pods get quite large and eventually dry. You can save the seeds. Mom liked the seed pods to create striking accents in mixed bouquets of dried, autumn wild plants like the one below. The subtle browns, tans, and silver colors of the dried arrangement were quite pleasing.
Sometimes with emails, the intent gets lost in transmission. With a phone call or face-to-face, a misunderstanding can be corrected on the spot.
From: Gail Lee Martin
To: Ginger Allain
One of the granddaughters wanted to know if Dad would maybe show them how to make bread from scratch.
So I started out by telling her why you can’t make bread like Clyde’s Mom did from scratch anymore because the ingredients aren’t the same anymore. Not even sure lard isn’t a different texture. The flour is too refined and the yeast is not like the ‘starter’ that Mom kept on the back of the stove where it was always warm. Even salt is different and even some brands are different than other brands.
Clyde’s sister Helen said one time that when she tried to make homemade bread, she decided she needed her Mother’s hands to knead it properly! She also said she couldn’t even make macaroni and cheese like Mom did.
Kristy emailed back that she had meant the machine bread that Dad made, not thinking about how it was done before that. Mom said she had to laugh when she realized how at cross-purposes their messages had been.
Clyde Martin slicing the homemade bread.
Clyde Martin making bread in his bread machines for the farmer’s market
Kristy’s grandfather made bread with his specially adjusted recipes in seven machines on their enclosed back porch. These sold well at the local farmer’s market and to customers who dropped by their home to buy freshly made bread.
I don’t know if this stash of vintage recipes came from someone in our extended family or if Mom found them at a yard sale. It isn’t in Gail’s handwriting and at the bottom, it says Aunt Allie. Now, there were six Allies on the family tree but there were quite distant (mother-in-law of a third cousin, etc.). Anyway, here’s the cake recipe if you want to give it a try.
The Walnut Cake recipe.
Our Favorite Walnut Cake
1/2 cup shortening – half lard half butter is best
1 cup sour milk
1/2 teaspoon soda
2 cups light brown sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder sifted into flour
1 cup walnut meats chopped fine by hand
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon (leveled) allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
a little grated nutmeg
Cream the sugar and butter or shortening. Add well-beaten eggs and stir in. Dissolve the soda in the milk and add to sugar and butter but do not stir.
Stir the walnut meats into flour – also the spices. Put the vanilla in the other mixture then stir in the flour etc.
Bake in a loaf in slow oven till done.
Make icing with two or three tablespoons of cream or heavy condensed milk and powdered sugar – just thin enough to spread with a knife.
Eggs in a bowl – photo from Pixabay
I don’t have all the ingredients on hand to try this out. If anyone is in a baking mood, let me know how the recipe turned out for you.
Among Mom’s papers, I uncovered a small stack of recipes glued onto old black scrapbook pages. The handwriting was not Mom’s and the paper looked vintage. They were yellowed and the ink was faded on some. Spots and streaks showed that a busy cook had used the recipes a number of times.
Puzzling. If these weren’t Gail Lee Martin’s recipes, who could they belong to? I felt sure that if they were a grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s, she would have noted that on them. So, it seems likely that they are strays that she found at a yard sale and couldn’t resist bringing them home.
Here’s one for you to try out: Oh-So-Good Pie
I’ll transcribe it below and add some notes.
4 whole eggs
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, allspice
1 cup ground raisins
Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten egg yolks and vinegar, then spices and raisins.
Beat well, fold in beaten egg whites. Pour in unbaked pie shell. Cook slowly until thoroughly set.
This pie forms its own meringue.
I checked some other raisin pie recipes to get an idea of the oven temperature and time. Try 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Some recipes used brown sugar, some used regular sugar. A few recipes plumped up the raisins in boiling water first.
This recipe calls for ground raisins. Perhaps putting them in the blender would serve if you don’t have a food grinder.