Category Archives: What Would Jessie Dish

Apricot Mould – A Light Summer Retro Jell-o Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 13

When was the last time you gave any thought to apricot Jell-o?  Prior to finding a recipe for “apricot mold” among my late grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered recipes, I associated apricot Jell-o with a dorm-mate from the University of Chicago.

In my orientation week as a first-year student in the College there, a very bright young woman seemed to tell everyone in our “house” immediately that she liked to “take baths in apricot Jell-o!”  Her name will not appear here, as she is now a lawyer and one can only surmise what could happen…. She either had just turned or was about to turn 16 years old – very bright and precocious.  The apricot Jell-o reference was one many of us remembered.  Another friend from our dorm actually wrote into the UChicago alumni magazine with this anecdote recently.

The University of Chicago figured prominently in Jessie’s life, as she lived in Hyde Park, where it is located, for many decades.  Both her children went to the College, as did three of her grandchildren.  As for apricots, Jessie relished apricots in desserts, e.g., her apricot strudel or the “mystery” dough, which I filled with apricot butter in tribute to her.

On Jessie's lap, I pose with my parents, brother, and grandfather in 1968 in Jessie and Louie's Hyde Park apartment.

As for Jell-o, the link is a bit more tenuous.   (Note my usage of the trademarked name with its hyphenated spelling; I really do not use other brands, so I will recognize this classic American dessert by its trademark.)  I remember that Jessie often had boxes of Jell-o in her kitchen cabinets, where I was searching for packaged cookies she always had on hand.  Jessie also had boxes of a whipped topping called “Dromedary,” which made me think of camels (of course!).  But who wants to think of camels in conjunction with dessert?!? I do remember the occasional Jell-o mould at family dinners, though I do not seem to recall apricot.

Apricot Jell-o was not one of the oldest flavours for this dessert, I discovered in my research.  I looked into whether it was still available, after not being able to scrounge up a box on a trip to Sidney, BC on big Vancouver Island yesterday –  it really is an extremely big land mass.  Two supermarkets there stocked many flavours except for this apricot.   Had it been all used up in baths, by young lawyers-to-be, I wondered.  So I decided to substitute its closest fruit substitute, peach, which actually debuted in 1907 – just a few years after Jessie’s birth – making it one of the oldest flavours.

For the dessert itself and the detailed recipe…

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MandelBread or Mandelbrot-Delectable By Any Name: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 12

I have absolutely no recollection of this recipe from my childhood. As part of my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered files, “mandlebread” is a fantastic recipe.   Either I had never eaten this cookie or simply cannot remember it.  For a child, perhaps it is too hard as cookies go? Mandlebrot does not go as well with milk, say, rather than with tea – ugh for most kids – or coffee – double ugh.  It is also devoid of chocolate, so I might not have cared for them, obliterating the memories of one try from my mind.

The recipe is very specific with its directions and was a breeze to follow –  with one odd exception: “nuts”. “Mandel” is “almond”, so I suspect Jessie just knew to use them – rather than other favourites of hers, such as pecans or walnuts. A mandelbrot, or, mandelbrodt, is an middle-European counterpart to biscotti, made typically with almonds (“mandel”, in both German and Yiddish, “brot” meaning “bread”).  Mandelbrot has made a bit of a comeback in cookie-dom, along with the resurgence in world-wide coffee-culture (in this iteration, think Starbucks and free WiFi as opposed to Le Procope in Paris and “philosophers cafes”).

Around age 70, Jessie enjoyed the Mayan ruins in Mexico.

What I found amusing about this recipe is that I could not find a photo which somehow would correspond. So I chose one of my grandmother at the ruins of Uxmal on a winter getaway to Mexico around 1974. Jessie visited Israel right after Egypt a few years before her trip to Mexico (and I have used the one photo I have from that tour already) but never went to middle-European destinations (e.g., Austria, Hungary, or Germany, where mandelbrot once reigned supreme), so the Mayan setting will have to do!

Mandelbrot with flowers from our gardens (courtesy of CJM Floral Engineering, Inc.)

For the cookie’s character and the recipe…

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Cheese Pancakes – Delicate, Distinct, and Chewy: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 11

Who thinks much about cottage cheese these days?  I know that I do not.

This week’s recipe, from my grandmother Jessie’s recently rediscovered recipe files, features cottage cheese as the star ingredient.

Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, cottage cheese was a “diet food”, often combined with iceberg lettuce and flavourless tomato wedges as a standard main course salad in American restaurants.  I think gloppy Thousand Island dressing would have been the most popular accompaniment, hardly a low-calorie option. Another purported health food was a leaf of iceberg on a plate, supporting a perfect pineapple ring (canned), on which sat a neat ice cream scoop of cottage cheese, topped with a maraschino cherry.  Richard Nixon, President of the US until his resignation in disgrace in 1973, stated that he enjoyed ketchup and cottage cheese together – which seems more like a gore-ish prop for a horror film, rather than a favoured food combination.

Always fashionable, Jessie is hip (circa 1970) even while visiting at a state park - with my father, youngest cousin, yours truly (as a hippy), and my brother.

Around 1970, Jessie was recently widowed, and she seemed to enjoy shocking people a bit.  My uncle (Jessie’s son) had given the recording of the Broadway musical Two Gentleman of Verona to my youngest cousin, who was a teen at that time, shocking my  grandmother because of its strong language.  To prove that she was “with it” or just that she could shock our family even better, Jessie gave me the album from the Broadway musical  Hair,  lyrics of which I still can recall almost verbatim.  I cannot remember if I asked for it (it was my first record album, when they were long-playing black discs, with nothing compact about them).  The language, however, was a bit much for a child of seven or eight – even I have to admit.

More than Hair – with all its revivals – cottage cheese just is off the radar these days.  Perhaps ricotta and artisan curd cheese have eclipsed cottage cheese in the realm of culinary trends:  category curds and whey.

Jessie, however, always seemed to have cottage cheese in her fridge.  Perhaps it was for  salads or to make this cottage cheese pancake.  After making this dish, I finally remembered having these pancakes at her place, when I stayed over for the weekend.

The pancake is almost like a mélange of a Swedish pancake or a French crepe with a more fashionable lemon-ricotta pancake.  (I have recipes from different versions at one west coast and one east coast B & B at which I have stayed – perhaps these are future blog fodder?)

For the pancake analysis – and the recipe…

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Apricot Strudel-Rugelach – A Rich Old-World Treat: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 10

On Jessie's wedding china, the apricot strudel awaits....

I had some trepidation about the “strudel” part of this week’s recipe.  When I found my grandmother Jessie’s lost files, I noticed the “apricot strudel” recipe but did not pay close attention, which turned out to be par for the course for me with this recipe.

The rolling of this strudel into a log is very easy.

The reason for my fear-of-strudel dates back to a cruise we had taken a few years back with my mother, from San Francisco to various Pacific ports in Mexico.  On this sailing, an Austrian chef demonstrated making apple strudel.  A traditional strudel includes stretching, more stretching, and, when you think you have stretched the dough enough, stretching yet again.  So I thought I would have to do all this stretching and was a bit worried about this technique.

However, this recipe has no stretching.   The dough is very easy to make.  This pastry is more akin to a rugelach than a strudel, as the dough for the former usually features either sour cream (as does this) or cream cheese in addition to nuts and cinnamon in the filling.  Rugelach often has raisins, but I used dried apricots in this version.  Either way Jessie’s apricot strudel is very mittel-European and very Old World in its sour-cream-butter dough, with an apricot-nut-coconut filling.

I vaguely remember Jessie making a cookie similar to this.  Perhaps I do not recall it very well, given that it is not a terribly sweet cookie – and without chocolate.  Hence,  I would not have been too interested in it as child.  Though Jessie loved eating traditional flaky apple strudel, she also liked rugelach.  For Sacher torte or other rich desserts, Jessie always liked her café mit schlag (coffee with whipped cream), as she called it, to ensure the most extravagant dessert experience possible.

In 1923, Jessie is very stylish in an Old-World way, while on honeymoon at a resort in French Lick, Indiana.

My challenge with this recipe was that Jessie called for “Ma Brown apricot jam”.  I do not know if this exists any more, but I prefer to use my own preserves, whenever possible, regardless.  I had only one small jar of apricot butter left from the small batch I made last year, but this amount would not have sufficed.

For more on the strudel development and the recipe…

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Soufflé Sandwiches – a Simple, Quick, Retro Brunch: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 9

My first impression of the title on the 3” x 5” recipe card was bewilderment.  Soufflé sandwiches?  I could not recall my grandmother, Jessie, ever making such a thing or trucking with soufflés.   Among the recipes of hers, which I had come across, this one really stood out.

First, there is the question of American cheese.  I do admit to being a tiny bit of a food snob.  American cheese processed food product?!?  Are you crazy?  I could only recall having purchased this once, at the behest of my aunt who was going to be in Vancouver, when we still had our house there,  en route to a cruise to Alaska.  My aunt demanded that I stock the American cheese – for calcium, she claimed, to prevent osteoporosis – and a bag of frozen peas, the latter of which were to be applied to her bad knee.

However, I do embrace certain very artificial candies, as childhood favourites, generally seasonal ones:  Peeps at Easter time, candy corn at Halloween, spearmint leaves and cherry sour candies often in December – you get the idea.  Many people I know are appalled by my weakness for this stuff.   Hence, I am not a major food snob.  But do I feel guilty about these things?  Not really.

As for guilt, Jessie was very adept at its practice.  Jessie’s oldest granddaughter, my cousin, sent me a recipe she had received with a letter from our grandmother.  At the time, my cousin was living in Paris:

How can you beat that last line, “Yankee, enough already, COME HOME!” for guilt?  Good thing a decade later, I lived for only a year in Paris or else I might have gotten such strongly worded epistles, too.  In case you were wondering, Jessie lived nearly 19 years after she wrote the piece above.

Guilt works, as Jessie and I attended my cousin's wedding in Chicago three years after the letter.

A guilty pleasure could be the soufflé sandwiches, when made with white bread and American cheese.  My first inclination was to substitute fontina or provolone, or the wonderful Canadian Oka cheese; they would melt well with some aged cheddar.  This would have made a creamy yet full-flavoured sandwich.  I also thought about doing a whole-grain bread.  However, I wanted to remain true to the spirit of Jessie’s recipe and avoid guilt.  I could imagine the kind of remark she might have made, e.g., “What?  You’re too good for American cheese now, Mr. Fancy-Pants?” (Jessie might never have used “fancy-pants”, but you get the idea).  Here is a link I discovered for a tempting fancy-pants version of this, if you prefer, from the always reliable and charming Sara Moulton.

Jessie enjoying a cigarette, guilt-free, on Rome's Via Veneto, in the mid-1950s.

For the soufflé sandwich critique and the recipe…

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Madeleines – What Would Jessie Dish? Week Eight: Remembrances of Things Past in a Classic Cookie

Madeleines with Rainier cherries make a light summer dessert.

How apropros is it that my grandmother Jessie’s recently discovered recipe files included a recipe for madeleines?!  I did not make the Proustian connection until I started to write the post, after just having made the cookies.

If you do not recall or might not be into classic French literature, Marcel Proust created A la recherche du temps perdu, inspired by a madeleine he had eaten, dipped in tea.  Memories of his childhood came flooding back – profusely, in his very lengthy remembrance.  Who among us does not have a favourite childhood cookie memory – or seven?

What I liked about this week’s recipe is that I definitely do remember having these cookies at my grandmother’s place.  The madeleines I made turned out to be just as I remember them.  What I cannot figure out, however, is what happened to Jessie’s madeleine pan.  I know I do not have it, nor did my mother (LN D-W, do you?).  Her pan was a very old tin one, without nonstick coating.  My miniature madeleine pan is nonstick and comes from France (via West Vancouver, BC) .  The mini-madeleines (“mini-Maddies”??) stick, though,  far more than the much cheaper large nonstick version.   The large one I picked up – brand new – at a small-town flea market between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, a few years ago.

The recipe itself included a twist, as the madeleine is close enough to a basic génoise to double as a “jelly-roll” cake, which Jessie indicated on the reverse of the recipe.  One other aspect of the letterhead that is interesting (to me) is the bank’s logo with a very 1970s typeface and look; this is when Jessie had moved to the north side of Chicago from the south side and opened an account at this bank.  Yet I do know that she made these cookies decades prior to the 1970s.  Jessie’s pan probably was from the 1940s.

Always in fashion, Jessie and her family (ca. 1940) liked their desserts a la mode, too.

I also like the fact that the madeleine is a classic French cookie, and my grandmother was a bit of a Francophile.   Jessie loved to shop and thought Paris was a great city for women’s shopping, she wrote to tell me when I lived in France’s capital.  In the same aerogram, she indicated that London was better for men, when it came to shopping – my grandfather had suits and shoes made there – while Paris was superior for women’s wear.  I myself never had any trouble in either city shopping for men’s wear! (I devoted far more attention to bakeries in Paris than pursuing fashion).

Jessie's precise directions result in a ribbon of the egg-sugar mixture.

What I liked about Jessie’s recipe is that it is accurate (the time for beating the eggs and sugar alone was a great guide to achieving the ribbon stage, in my preparation), versatile (big and small madeleines as well as the jellyroll option), and yields a good number:  I made two dozen large cookies and 40 miniatures.

For the madeline recipe with updates…

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Retro Rice Pudding: What Would Jessie Dish? Week Seven

Is rice pudding part of the comfort-food craze?  I have not noticed rice pudding nearly as often on menus, in cookbooks, or in the blogosphere as bread pudding.  Perhaps it is the snob appeal of using brioche, quality challah, or other artisan breads  in bread pudding.  The rice pudding from my late grandmother’s recently discovered files, however, is a classic dish of comfort fare.

I distinctly remember my grandmother’s rice pudding, so I was looking forward to making this recipe.  Rice pudding is a dessert I enjoy and will make, depending on leftover rice, mood,  and other competing dessert priorities.

In 1931 Jessie (with my mother Nat) might have made rice pudding as a Depression-era dessert.

Last time I had made rice pudding, I followed Rick Bayless’s recipe for his Mexican version with cinnamon and lime, Arroz Con Leche, for my Olympic kick-off party (my theme was dishes from Olympic hosts of the past 50 years – Mexico had hosted the 1968 summer  Olympics, and I needed to do something with the four egg yolks leftover from my lemon meringue cookies – a nod to Grenoble, host of the 1968 Winter Olympics).  The Bayless recipe is worth a try for a softer, very cinnamony, lime-zesty pudding.

For the detailed recipe and a critique… Continue reading