Tag Archives: Old-Fashioned Cuisine

My Grandmother’s Swiss Roll – A Scrumptious and Retro Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 19

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye” – why are these lyrics,  foreshadowing the Von Trapp family’s clever escape into Switzerland from Austria – stuck in my head?  It is due to my grandmother Jessie’s retro Swiss roll, the last of the 19 recipes of hers I discovered earlier this year.

While I vaguely recall a jelly roll – or Swiss roll – my grandmother had made, I associate this more with the commercial, sometimes chocolate-covered, individual “pastries”, filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients.  This recipe has just five staple ingredients (one being the jam for filling), so it really does not have much in common with those preservative-laden “treats”.

Being in a Swiss state of mind, I was pleased to have found photos Jessie took while in the Swiss Alps:

Jessie's husband, Louie, (my grandfather) in Switzerland, mid-1950s.

 

 

Jessie's daughter, Natalie (my mother) met her parents in the Alps for a visit.

 

Perhaps Jessie did not take these, but it is odd that she is not in either of them – or any others – and she liked to pose for photos.  My mother was working as a civilian employee of the US army near Stuttgart in the mid-1950s.  On one of their trips to Europe, my grandmother and grandfather decided to check up on my mother, meeting in Switzerland (my grandmother refused to set foot in Germany or Austria after World War II – my last two posts will give you a clue).

However, there is a photo of Jessie dancing in Florida in the 1950s, which I thought went well with this post:

 

Was Jessie (in white jacket) doing her own Swiss rock-and-roll here?

 

While this recipe is simple, with few ingredients, it does require attention and meticulousness in preparing the pan and rolling up the cake.  Jessie was very particular and specific about what she liked, so that fits with this recipe well.

It reminds me of a lunch she and I had, right around 1970, not too long after my grandfather had died.  We were at a restaurant near the University of Chicago’s Law School, and it was summer.  My grandmother ordered iced tea.  When it arrived, she sent it back because there wasn’t enough ice:  “You call this iced tea?  It’s barely got any ice!”  Then she sent it back, as there was too much ice:  “What do you expect me to do?  Remove these ice cubes myself?  Why bother going out to eat?” she said to the patient waiter.  Finally, the third time, she said, “Where’s the lemon?  I can’t have iced tea without lemon!”  The frustrated waiter complied, and Jessie had her tea exactly the way she liked it.

For a description of Jessie’s Swiss roll – and the recipe….

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Jewish Pork Tenderloin: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 18

Pork tenderloin is not a classic Jewish dish, needless to say.  Last’s week’s recipe – from my grandmother Jessie’s lost files – was certainly more British than Yiddish.  However, this week’s easy yet delightful pork recipe is definitely not kosher.

This treatment of pork tenderloin is the penultimate recipe of the 19 of the series. (I would expect Jessie to say, “Penultimate?  We all know what that word means, but can’t you just say ‘next-to-last’?  Come on!”).  I am amused by Jessie’s pork recipe, following close on the heels of the Yorkshire pudding from last week, which was on the reverse of National Council for Jewish Women stationery.  This pair of recipes reveals a good deal about Jessie and her complex personality.

At my parents wedding, pork tenderloin was probably not on the menu (L-R: Jessie, her daughter, her new son-in-law, her step-father, her mother, and her husband, 1957).

For instance, Jessie was neither very religious nor even very observant.  This would have been a result of her family’s immigration to the US from Europe in the 1880s, when assimilation into American culture was the dominant force.  Jessie’s own mother, Faye, was even known to have fried pork chops on the Sabbath – so much for tradition (think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof here…).  The apple really does not fall far from the tree.

(When I think of Sabbath – or Shabbat, in Hebrew – I think of the time the group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys played a gig in Texas on a Friday night. Someone from the audience screamed out, “Shabbat Shazzam!” to welcome them, rather than the correct, “Shabbat Shalom”.  My diversion is a bit off-track, but Jessie’s husband, Louie, had lived in McKinney, Texas, as a young boy, and Kinky Friedman was born in Chicago, as was Jessie, so this all comes back round to her.)

In fact, as an adult, she attended synagogue seldom.  Towards the end of her life,  she did find one she liked at Water Tower Place.  Water Tower Place is a vertical urban upscale shopping centre on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  It was the first of its kind in the U.S. to put better stores in a mall in a city’s high-rise building.  Jessie could walk to this “big-deal” of an urban shopping mall from her condo on the Gold Coast, and often did, given her propensity for shopping.  I do remember that she was intrigued by the small synagogue, just above the nine-stories of shops.  My theory was she wanted to rest her feet after shopping excursions as much as exploring her new-found faith, in her seventies and eighties.

My mother poses in front of their Xmas tree in 1933 - was pork tenderloin for dinner?

Besides her strudel-rugelach or mandelbrot, most of her recipes were decidedly New World, in origin, and American, in tone, as she was herself.  But she liked all things British and French, as well.

The pork tenderloin is noteworthy, in my view, as it was the only meat dish I found. I remember her having made very good pork as well as roast beef and other dishes, which I would have avoided during the vegetarian years of my adolescence .  Do I  have to tell you that Jessie really did not approve of this phase?

For the review of the pork tenderloin – and the recipe

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My Grandmother’s Yorkshire Pudding: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 17

When is a pudding a pancake and a pancake a pudding?  Let’s just put on our thinking caps to find out.

Among my grandmother Jessie’s lost recipes file, there was a recipe for Yorkshire pudding.  This is one of the few recipes of Jessie’s, which I distinctly remember.  My grandmother typically served this with prime rib or another beefy roast, in the classic English tradition, accompanied by overcooked mushy peas.  I recall slightly sweet and buttery brown-sugar-glazed carrots on the side, too.

The reverse of the recipe card is quite funny.  Jessie was on the board, I believe, of the Chicago affiliate of the National Council of Jewish Women, an organization which obviously encouraged its members to put on their thinking caps and hats, as the rather oblique invitation from the 1960s seemed to indicate: ”think” is repeatedly superimposed over a variety of stylized – and stylish – hats.

Jessie probably is thinking happily, content in the sun on holiday, in the 1950s.

While I was unable to locate any photos of Jessie on her travel in England, I did find her with a variety of hats and caps, always thinking.

Perhaps Jessie was thinking how elegantly dressed she and Louie are here.

We do not have to guess what Jessie is thinking here in Florida in the late 1940s....

...this is what she wrote on the back of the photo above!

This recipe was timely, as we are in the midst of planning an upcoming trip to England and Scotland, which includes Yorkshire, so I have been putting on my thinking cap about this holiday.  What is also amusing is that a “pudding”, in England, of course, is a generic term for something sweet, as in a dessert.

For the result and the Yorkshire pudding recipe….

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Brown Sugar Cookies – Speedy, Simple, & Superb: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 16

The easiest recipes are often the best.  This four-ingredient recipe, from my grandmother’s recipe files, which I recently discovered, is quick, straightforward, traditional,and toothsome.


I am a big fan of brown sugar, especially dark or demerara, so I was glad to have found this recipe, among my grandmother’s hand-written and typed cards.  While it is not the brown-sugar-beurre-noisette cookie which ranks among my very favourite cookie recipes, this version is much faster and a classic shortbread or sablé.  I remember well my grandmother’s tubular aluminum cookie press, which made fancy beribboned butter cookies.  I can picture only the plain melt-in-your-mouth white butter cookies, which Jessie often adorned with glacé cherries.

In thinking about brown sugar, I thought about “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and jazz, which Jessie liked.  This led me to think I might find a picture of my grandmother Jessie at the Stork Club in New York City (I remember she had matchbooks from there but no such luck in the photo realm).  At various nightclubs, Jessie liked the many-layered and coloured liqueur drink, the “pousse-café” (she unfortunately pronounced this confection-concoction as “pussy café” – I kid you not…) , with layers of brandy, green chartreuse, white crème de cacao, crème de cassis, yellow chartreuse, and grenadine, as Wikipedia describes one variant, though there were many other versions.  This depends on the specific density of each liqueur to float on top of the previous one.  It was all the rage in the early 20th century.

Jessie and Louie - cocktails at a race track press club, 1950s

For the description of the cookie and the recipe …

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My Grandmother’s “Pan Cakes” Failure & Success: Neither Pancakes nor “Pan Cakes” – What Would Jessie Dish? Week 15

What are “pan cakes” exactly?  My late Grandmother Jessie’s recipe – from her files I discovered this spring – was truly perplexing.  This dish is one I certainly cannot recall ever having eaten.

Like some of my grandmother’s other recipes, this one is not much more than a list of ingredients.  Most confounding for me was the lack of pan size, which might have revealed a bit more, e.g., round versus square or rectangular.  The notes also have provisions for double the recipe.

However, what I found amusing was on reverse of the paper.  It is a recipe from a downtown Los Angeles address.  From a bit of Google-research, I could not find out what was at this address – a newspaper?  Magazine?  Television station?  Initially, I figured it might have been the Los Angeles Times, as my late uncle (Jessie’s son) and my aunt were close friends with the publisher and his wife, which leads me to think that Jessie would have been reading it on a trip to California, perhaps in the 1970s from the typeface used.  The recipe is a confusing one (read the “preparation” section) for some sort of seabass-asparagus terrine.  I think I shall skip trying this recipe, however….

Given the citrus in this recipe, I thought of Jessie and her time spent in Florida, which was far more than her trips to California.  My late grandfather was a sports writer and public relations specialist for sporting events, as I had described in an earlier post, and he covered the dog-racing season in Miami.

In this photo in Florida in the late 1940s, I suspect my grandfather might have taken the shot of my grandmother, mother, uncle, and my aunt (who had gotten a terrible sunburn and all was covered up here with a jacket and cap, on this visit which was right around the time they had gotten married).

For the cake failure then triumph and the recipe… Continue reading

My Grandmother’s Sponge Cake – So Last Century yet So Versatile: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 14

What is your association with sponge cake?  I really do not mean to ask such a  personal question right off the bat, but I had not given much reflection to the whole sponge-cake question.  Then I tried to re-create my grandmother Jessie’s cryptic recipe for sponge cake, from her recently discovered files.

Sponge cake falls into two broad categories:  the European génoise and Victoria sponge categories or the North American equivalent, which is a bit archaic now.  The génoise is a classic base for Italian and French cakes, not to mention other fine pastries of European pedigree, while the Victoria sponge is a traditional British base for birthday cakes and other celebratory desserts.  However, crossing the Atlantic, I am convinced that something was lost when this elegant cake made its way to the New World.  In the mid-20th century, industrial production did no favours for the cake’s taste and texture.

While I do remember Jessie’s sponge cake from a few family meals, its memory has been eclipsed by all the store-bought versions my parents would serve, invariably with chocolate ice cream.  These were 10” or 12’ square flavourless blocks, which looked as if they were uniform pieces of upholstery foam, just spray-painted golden-brown.  Does that sound appealing? They were, indeed, fluffy and light but devoid of any other distinguishing character.

Now Jessie’s version is filled with character – just like she was.  The photos below appear to be from the same spring-time holiday to the “northwoods” (Wisconsin? Minnesota? Northern Michigan?), in the 1950s, as my mother had written on the back of one of the photos.

As a cake made by someone of complex character, there is more to this sponge cake than meets the eye.  It can be a very light accompaniment to tea in the afternoon when served plain, complementing a green tea, orange pekoe, or mint tisane, for instance, for a more proper mood:

Or the cake would work well with fresh berries and syrup made from those berries (think blueberry, raspberry, or blackberry), for a more swinging outdoorsy combination:

It can also work well with ice cream and a liqueur for a more naughty treat:

For the review of the cake and the recipe… Continue reading

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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