Good Eating

written February 4, 1965

Dear Nephew Ray,

Black early morning windows reflect an image of the kitchen stove as I write. The green-faced electric chanticleer roused me insistantly at five AM, for bread set early rises lighter which is more than can be said for its baker.

The cookie jar, as usual, was empty so I have filled the rising time by whacking up a batch of Jumbles. There are many delicious cookies, but few are as easy to make as these. They are called Jumbles because you just jumble together a few ingredients you always have on hand. The recipe is as follows:

Cream together one half cup of sugar and one half cup of shortening (use oleo or butter for the best flavor), add one large egg, a dash of vanilla, and a bit of lemon or almond if you like. Sift together one and an eighth cups of flour, one quarter teaspoon of soda and one half teaspoon of salt. Beat the flour into the first mixture and drop by teaspoonfulls onto a greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Let them cool on the sheet before putting them on racks. NO, there's no milk involved unless you want a glass full to wash down the cookies.

Jumbles can be fancied up with a bit of plain or coloured sugar, raisins, nuts, cinnamon candies, or whatever you like, before baking. It is a small batch and probably won't last long, or even make it to the cookie jar, for they are delicious with hot cocoa, cold milk, fruit juice or just by themselves.

From the library the other day Martha brought home the American Heritage "COOKBOOK and Illustrated History of American Eating and Drinking", which I have found most interesting. The first section of the book is devoted to the development of cookery in our country starting with our founding mothers and fathers. There are quantities of pictures and several biographical sketches of such people as Sylvester Graham, developer of the graham cracker, and famous cookbook authors Fanny Farmer and Catherine Beecher.

Next follows a collection of menus for many occasions over the years. If you had breakfasted with Thomas Jefferson, for example, you might have been offered: "Braised Partridges, Capitolade of fowl on toast, eggs, bacon, fried apples, cold meats, tansy pudding, hot bread and batter cake". I have no idea what a 'Capitolade' might be, nor tansy pudding for that matter. A far cry from our juice, coffee, toast and the infamous cold cereal of today (or to up-date to the 2000s, Starbucks and a bagel).

Perhaps you would prefer joining the Autocat of the Breakfast table, Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes. His table might be graced with: "little neck clams, grilled trout, sauteed cucumbers, omelette with mushrooms in cream, grilled plover, filet mignon, potatoes, asparagus in Hollandaise sauce, lettuce salad, ice cream, strawberries, cakes and coffee". It hardly seems that anyone giving his full attention to such a meal could be much of a conversationalist but we all know of the good doctor's reputation. Perhaps he used a sumptuous meal to hold his audience captive to his oratory.

Abraham Lincoln was notably disinterested in food, eating whatever was laid before him. He had often to be reminded to eat during the stressful war years. The menu of his inaugural dinner, reportedly chosen by Mr Lincoln, survives. It is an odd contrast to the steak and avocado salad President Johnson had served. The luncheon at the Willard House, was: "Mock Turtle Soup, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Parsley Potatoes, Blackberry Pie and Coffee". Hardly a Presidential meal, would you say?

Next follows the recipe section. There are several soups made from such exotic ingredients as peanuts, pumpkin, or sorrel as well as the more conventional onion. One, called the King's Soup, is adapted from a cookbook published in 1753 and owned by Martha Washington. It is made with Bermuda onions, milk, egg yolk, and butter with seasonings of parsley and mace.

Surely everyone at sometime has happened on mention of beaten biscuit. "In 1885 Mary Stuart Smith in her "Virginia Cookery-Book", replied (to a detractor of beaten biscuit) 'In the Virginia of the olden time, no breakfast or tea-table was thought to be properly furnished without a plate of these indespensable biscuits. Let one spend the night at some gentleman-farmer's home, and the first sound heard in the morning, after the crowing of the cock, was the heavy, regular fall of the cook's axe as she beat and beat her biscuit dough.'" The ingredients are much the same as we are used to putting in our biscuit. The main difference being that the dough is kneaded thoroughly and then beaten with a heavy mallet for half an hour. Now we pull a tab on a pasteboard tube, put blobs of prepared dough on a pan and pop them in the oven in half a minute.

Opinions on foods change over the years. Tomatoes, called love-apples, were once grown for their beauty and thought too poisonous to eat. The humble potato also had its detractor in William Corbbett who is quoted thus:

"Nor do I say that it is filthy to eat potatoes. I do not ridicule the eating of them as sauce. What I laugh at is the idea of the use of them being a saving; of their going farther than bread; and therefore I now dismiss the potatoe with the hope that I shall never again have to write the word or see the thing."

Apples have served as a staple in the American diet over the years. In 1758 Dr Aerelius, a Swedish parson, wrote:"Apple-pie is used through the whole year...It is the evening meal of children. House-pie in country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it." One wonders where that unfortunate parson chanced to be served apple pie when on his tour of America.

Louisa May Alcott prefered her apples in the form of a dessert called Apple Slump. It consisted of a biscuit-like dough dropped on top of applesauce and cooked on top of the stove for half an hour. It sounds so good I think I'll try it one of these cold winter days.

Toward the very end of the book, tucked amidst more sophisticated and potent beverages, is the formula for Haymaker's Switchel. Perhaps you'd like to try it when the coke runs out some hot day.

"To make Haymaker's Switchel, Combine 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 cup molasses, 3/4 cup vinegar, and 2 quarts of water. Mix together, add ice and chill."

Good eating is an old family habit in both the Eldwood family and the American Family.

Uncle Jos sends regards as do I
Your Aunt Katy