A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my grandmother’s cook book I have. You can see that post here. It actually belonged to my maternal great grandmother whom I’ve never met. She passed it on to her daughter in law, my maternal grandmother. Somehow my paternal grandmother ended up writing a recipe or two in it and then my father’s sister (my Aunt Bea) gave the book to me. I have no idea of how it transferred between all of these women on both sides of the family but I am happy to have it.
In the back was a hand written recipe from my mother’s mother, my Grandma Schavey. (Schavey is a German name. She had Scandinavian blood in her as she was a Petersen but her husband was German.)
I have been curious about this recipe for some time. So I decided it is just too windy and rainy to go outdoors this week and I am tired of sitting still reading. Not in the mood for much else so I decided to make the prune cake.
I am not a baker (from scratch). Growing up in America most people just use mixes in a box. Also this recipe only has the ingredients listed and no directions. However I have watched a zillion episodes of the Great British Bake Off which I love and I thought I could figure out a cake. No temperatures are given for anything either so I guess I had my own Great Tasmanian Bake Off.
Note: should read baking SODA.
I cooked the prunes on the stove top in a little bit of water until they were really soft and falling apart. Use pitted prunes as you don’t want to be messing around with pits.
I put all the wet ingredients in one bowl and stirred them up well. Then I put all the dry ingredients in another bowl. I then got the mixer out and slowly added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients while mixing them all together. I greased the pans with Crisco which I get from USA Foods.com as I will never get used to baking paper but you can decide how you do that.
I baked it for 20 minutes in a fan forced oven at 170. I should probably have lowered the temperature a bit, maybe to 160 and taken longer but it did come out pretty good. One side of it was slightly darker on top than the other but I’m sure that is my fan oven. I will never get used to a fan forced oven but not much I can do about it.
I had Mr. Penguin taste it with his afternoon cup of coffee and he thought it was really good. However I could give him slop and he would tell me it was very good so I tasted it myself. I LOVED it. It has a. nice taste of prune and if you enjoy prunes you will like it. However I have no idea how I am going to go tomorrow after eating all of those prunes so I think I shall start out slowly with a smaller piece.
It would be lovely with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream with it, neither of which I have. So it will be a plain old prune cake for today.
Let me know if you try this but I would certainly recommend it and it really was easy as.
Well Christmas day is truly over here in Tasmania until next year. I have spent the morning having a couple of boiled eggs, toast and watching an old series of The Great British Bake Off. I haven’t seen all of them so nice to watch them and the old ones I have seen my memory is such I don’t remember who won so it is all new again.
Today they were featuring recipes from the Victorian Era. Series 5 or 6, can’t remember. They did a quick historical segment on Mrs Beeton and her cookbooks from the 1800s (of which she only ever cooked one recipe) that has been in print for more than 150 years. Evidently (which I did not know) she was brought into her husband’s publishing arena as a new 21 year old bride and was asked to do a column. She could not bake but she did publish a column on how to make a particular type of cake (sponge I think) and she forgot the flour so of course it was a flop. She did print a recipe of hers, the one and only accordng to Mrs Beeton’s biographer on this program, called Mrs Beeton’s Useful Soup for Benevolent Times. Recipe here. Evidently she was very good at editing so instead of creating recipes she researched old recipes she could find previously to her lifetime and published them. A quite resourceful woman it seems.
That got me thinking about an old cookbook my aunt gave me years ago before she died. It was a cookbook she got from her mother (my father’s mother) and it actually belonged to my mother’s grandmother (my great grandmother). There are recipes in it handwritten in the margins and inside covers from both paternal and maternal grandmothers. The book is a first edition published in 1913. It is called Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners by Mrs. Elizabeth O. Hiller. The price was $1.00 US and was marketed by the Cottelene company. Cottolene was a shortening or lard substitute.
Mrs. Hiller actually has a Wikipedia page and it states, Elizabeth O. Hiller (circa 1856 – August 14, 1941) was a prominent early twentieth-century American author of cookbooks and a professor of culinary arts. You can see all of her published books here.
The introduction of the book states: “Years ago nothing but butter or lard were used for shortening and frying: today the visible supply of these two products is insufficient to supply the demand, taking into consideration the amount of butter required for table use. Furthermore, as the demand increased it out grew the supply of butter and lard, with the result that prices were materially advanced; and, incidentally, the quality has been lowered. Naturally, under such conditions scores of substitutes have been offered as shortening and frying mediums- some meritorious, but mostly inferior” (introduction, 1913).
It continues on, discussing the merits of this product. Americans now use the vegetable shortening Crisco quite a bit while baking or frying. When I moved to Australia in 1988, I had a difficult time not having access to Crisco as Americans regularly used. Southern Fried Chicken is ONLY excellent when fried in Crisco which is a vegetable shortening with the more solid consistency of lard. It is also used to rub onto baking pans of cakes and pies so the batter doesn’t stick. Everyone here seems to use a baking paper. I was not used to that. They also used a slab of butter or margarine to grease their pans.
Anyway- I digress. I don’t have many items from my grandmothers, both of whom I loved dearly and I never knew my great grandmother. I do treasure this book though I am unlikely to ever cook one of these full recipes for Sunday dinner as they are loaded with lard (or Cottolene) and salt, and the recipes are pages long. I thought I would share this today in view of holiday spirit and a coming new year. I could do a Julie and Julia project such as was the film when a character named Julie spends one year cooking her way through Julia Child’s French Cookbook. This also gives me a way here to document this lovely old book in our current times. I do love looking through it and perhaps could try one or two vegetable dishes or cakes or pies. (By the way I now have a small can of Crisco I get from USA Foods.com in Melbourne and I also have baking paper).
I will caption the photos of what this book contains and share a couple of the hum drum Sunday dinner menus with you. Such a gift it was from my aunt (my father’s sister.) Everyone now is gone on both sides of the family so it is even more valuable for nostalgic perusing.
I hope you have enjoyed this little historical journey into a small part of my family history. I think for 2021 I will make an effort to cook and share some of the recipes with you.
Read on for a list of a couple of the Sunday menus. Remember, these recipes are just for a non-event Sunday, not a special occasion or holiday. (So much work!!!). I picked a couple of menus at random.
NB: As this book was published in 1913, before WWI and the great depression of the 1930s, people must have been quite well off if there were to cook these menus or they had staff to do it. Families were bigger in those days than they are now and the resources used to go into these meals must have been many. I think members in my family back then would have simply picked and chosen what they wanted to cook individually as I might do in 2021 to carry on a tradition.