Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween!

From the Library of Congress 'Prints and Photographs Online' collection.

"Halloween Party at Shafter Migrant Camp, California." Dorthea Lange, Photographer. 1938

Halloween is upon us! Even though they lived in a migrant camp, the children in this WPA photograph were eager for what festivities awaited them.

Hope you have a safe and fabulous Halloween!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickles

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickles
Cucumbers My Grandmother sliced them lengthwise into quarters, but you can slice them into 'coins' if you prefer smaller pickles.
Pickling Salt - Yes, there really is a product called pickling salt. Don't use table salt as it contains iodine. Iodine has a tendency to darken pickles. Kosher salt is a suitable alternative as it contains no iodine. But if you can, use pickling salt. It can be hard to find, but worth the effort.
Alum - Used to strengthen cucumber pectin. It's what gives pickles their 'crunch'.
Pickling Spices - My grandmother had several spice combinations scratched across her recipes. I imagine it was quite common to experiment with the recipe; after all, the pickling spices are what give the pickles their flavor. Today, pickling spices can be bought commercially. Find them in the spice section.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Day 1
Wash the cucumber rinds thoroughly. Slice into coins or lengthwise into quarters. Place slices in a large container. I used a large glass jar with glass lid. Fill the container with boiling water until all cucumbers are submerged. Leave uncover until the water comes to room temperature. When cool, cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.
Day 2
Drain a discard liquid. Boil enough water to cover the cucumbers. Add 1 1/2 C pickling salt to 1 gal. water. Pour salted, boiling water over cucumbers covering them completely. When cooled, cover. Let rest at room temperature overnight.
Day 3
Drain, discard liquid. Boil enough water to cover the cucumbers. Add 2 1/2 T. Alum to 1 gal. water. Pour over cucumbers covering them completely. When cooled, cover. Let rest at room temperature overnight.
Day 4
Drain and discard liquid. Boil apple cider vinegar, enough to cover. Add 3 T. pickling spices to 1 gal. apple cider vinegar. I'm sure my grandmother just sprinkled the spices in the vinegar before she poured it over the cucumbers as I remember spice flakes on her pickles. I chose to tie the flakes into a cheese cloth bag that I tucked into the cucumbers. You can also steep a a cheesecloth bundle into the boiling cider, discarding the bag before pouring the cider over the cucumbers. All three methods will work.
Day 5-7
Let cucumber/cider mixture rest at room temperature for three days - covered or uncovered. I suggest using a cover. The cider scent gets pretty strong by the third day.
Day 8
Drain and discard liquid and spices. Fill large bowl with sugar. One by one, dredge each cucumber in sugar, covering thoroughly. Pack tightly into jars. Sprinkle additional sugar in the jar. The result will be about one more cup of sugar in addition to the sugar coating the cucumbers. The goal is to have all air space in the jar filled with sugar. Seal jars and let the magic begin. As the sugar dissolves, it pulls moisture from the cucumbers that combines with the sugar to make a sweet syrup. It takes a few hours, but after all the sugar has 'melted' there should be enough syrup to cover the cucumbers. If not, add more sugar. Cure in a cool, dry place for several days or weeks. Chill before serving.

Hollyhock dolls, clothes on the line and gardens

My grandmother was a young woman during the depression. The 'making do' ways she learned never left her. She still used a big kettle washing machine when I was a girl, letting me crank the soggy clothes through its rubber rollers, expressing water, until they fell, stiff and flatten into the wooden basket.

Together, her with one handle, me the other, we carried the basket to the clothes line. It ran north and south - the width of her yard, just like her garden. All summer we'd weed radishes and carrots, dig potatoes, and as the corn grew, hung clothes on her line.

At summer's end, I sat in her steamy kitchen, molding holly hocks into dolls as she canned Mason jars of tomatoes and corn, peaches and relish. She's been gone for years, but every now and then, in the way we all walk a moment in the past, I remember and long to touch a crisp breeze-dried pillowcase or crunch a carrot fresh from the garden.
More than anything, I find I long for my grandmother's sweet pickles. So last summer I set out to replicate her recipe and was met with wonderful success! I'll share the recipe in my next post, but until then, check out the youtube video for making hollyhock dolls!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Apricot Nut Bread

A recipe for Apricot Nut Bread was published in the October 18, 1930 Homemaking Department section of the Wallaces' Farmer newspaper. Curious, not once was the type or quantity of nut mentioned in the entire recipe. As the newspaper was regional to the midwest, perhaps it was a given walnuts were the obvious choice - or chestnuts.

Personally, I prefer pecans. Whatever your choice, I've copied the recipe as printed eighty years ago. Enjoy!
Photogragher : Bill Longshaw

Apricot Nut Bread

Apricot nut bread makes delicious sandwiches spread with

butter or spread the last minute with a tart jam or jelly.

1 1/2 cups of dried apricots

1/2 cup of sugar

2 tablespoons of fat

1 egg

1 cup of sour milk

1 cup of bran

2 cups of white flour

5 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of soda

1/2 teaspoon of salt

Wash the apricots, boil five minutes, drain and chop. Cream the sugar with the shortening, add the well beaten egg and the milk. Combine the bran, the apricots and the nuts with the first mixture and beat thoroly (sic). Add the flour sefted with the baking powder, soda and salt, and mix well. Pour into a well greased bread pan and bake one hour in a slow oven (275 degrees Fahrenheit).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

Eleven year old Jack is as broken by the Depression as the land is. At first glance, it seems the monster drought has weakened him. He's bullied by kids. His father - from whom he longs for connection and approval - is distant and disdainful and his sister, who he clearly loves and wants to save, suffers from dust pneumonia - her cure outside his control.

As this graphic novel unfolds, we witness escalating distress. He's scared by dead snakes nailed to fence posts - an old world charm to scare off agrarian disaster. The drought demon rages; looming large and hateful in the neighbor's barn. The aggression of poor Jack's world comes to a head with a sad killing scene when men set out ot tame the ravages of the land, but instead, ravage the tame.

The significant message in this book is how tragic circumstances, such as the drought, affect not only day to day living, but also family dynamics. The muted drawings capture the bleak emotion of the story. This book is a multiple award winner including the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction. Grades 5 and up.
A link to the publisher, Candlewick Press:

Check out the author, Matt Phelan's website:

Phelan, Matt, The Storm in the Barn. Graphic novel illustrated by the author. Somerville, MA : Candlewick Press, 2009. (970-0-763-63618-0)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Cooking with St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas Magazine advertisement illustration, October 1933.

In the October, 1933 issue of St. Nicholas magazine, there is an advertisement for Baby Ruth candy bars. In the ad, the candy bar is positioned next to a glass of milk and a sandwich. The tag line reads, "Here's a Lunch...Good Candy Anytime." The important thing to note in this ad is that along with the image of a sandwich, glass of milk and candy bar, there is an endorsement emblem from the American Medical Association's Committee on Food. Apparently, back in 1933, a satisfying candy bar, rich in nougat and nuts, met a nutritional standard folks,including the AMA, could sign on to.

This ad got me thinking about our current dietary culture. We live in an age of 'super-sizing' meals. Obesity is at an all-time high. In an effort to offer more nutritionally balanced meals, fast food vendors now offer fruit, parfaits and raisons as substitutes for the more fatty fries and onion rings.

Very similar to the meal suggested in the candy bar ad, pre-packaged, lunch-time meals can be purchased in the grocery store. They offer very similar menus. Crackers paired with ham and cheese. Pizza with toppings paired with a cookie or candy bar.

I don't know about you, but I love them. I search the different options, trying to find the right combination of cookie, juice, turkey (my favorite) and cheese. And then I wonder, what made that 1933 AMA endorsed lunch suggestion that included a candy bar,so different from a lunch I choose for myself or my children - or for any of us?

Perhaps they aren't different. Perhaps, back in 1933, a candy bar was simply a way to make a lunch more inviting to the eater. Much like the offerings of cookies, candy bars and juice boxes are for pre-packaged lunches, today.

The difference between the lunch options of the 1930's and today, is that, back then, there were no pre-packaged lunches. The advertisement offered a suggested menu that would be created at home. The sandwiches, fruits and drinks would come from the kitchen of the mothers who packed them, not a factory.

We might learn something from that example. Instead of letting manufacturers choose our food for us, we could follow the teachings of St. Nicholas writers and put together lunches on our own. Lunches that are every bit as nutritious as those offered today, but with a more focused eye on nutrition combined with treats that we love to eat!
From the August, 1933 issue, sandwich suggestions include thinly sliced ham with mustard, turkey with cranberry jelly and simple peanut butter sandwiches.

Add an apple or peach or whatever fruit is in season, a mini bag of trail mix or nuts and your favorite juicebox (be sure it's pure juice)or milk. And then, for good measure, toss in a Baby Ruth ( or a candy bar of your choice). It's sweet, nutty and delicious. The perfect dessert to a wholesome lunch anyone can create in their own kitchen, just like moms and kids did during the depression.



Friday, May 2, 2008

St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls

During the thirties, boys and girls loved to read St. Nicholas.
It was a magazine much like today's Highlights magazine. It was filled with an assortment of stories by popular writers, true life essays, regular features like "The Mixing Bowl" which offered recipes, and glorious illustrations by reknown artists. Young readers were encouraged to contribute and many poems, stories, letters and recipes were printed. It even held contests where readers could win prize money for their contributions.
In the next few entries, we'll explore St. Nicholas. It was published years before computers, television and the internet; a time that seems static by today's standards. And yet, in it's own way, it fullfilled a similar purpose for readers. It offered an avenue for dialog (letters), publication (stories, poems, etc.) and media (photograph contributions).
Today, St. Nicholas contributors, like Mary Owens Sallee (age 10), whose work I've chosen to open this discussion with, might have sent her poem to Highlights in hopes to see her poem in print. Or she might have configured her narrative into a visual message and posted it on You Tube. Or maybe, she might have blogged!
But these were not options for her back in the early months of 1933. She sent her poem to St. Nicholas Magazine. And it was not only accepted, but it earned a Silver Badge in the magazine's
"League' of readers. Mary Owens Sallee did very well, for herself!
From the February, 1933 issue of St. Nicholas, here's Mary's poem. Happy Spring, everyone!
Springtime in the Country
by. Mary Owens Salee (age 10)
(Silver Badge)
Oh,it's Springtime in the country!
And wild flowers are in bloom;
All the honey bees are humming,
And the birds are finding room
For their nests in lofty tree-tops
Where their birdlings will be saved
From stray cats that might be hungry,
And are not so well-behaved.
Oh, it's Springtime in the country!
And the children laugh and shout,
For they love the bright, fresh Springtime
With the apple blossoms out.
There are scores of crowded cities
With enchanting things to see,
But when it comes to living--
'Tis the country life for me!