Tag Archives: Vintage Recipes

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

Advertisements

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…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

No-Bake Icebox Whipped Cream Zebra Mocha Cake: Cool, Quick, No-Need-for-heat Summer Indulgence

Have you ever heard of zebra pie?  I am not sure what the name is for this fantastic fast dessert.  A close friend of mine, MHS, always referred to it as such back in university days.  MHS loved her mocha desserts, so I thought of the variation in today’s post while recalling her appreciation for cookies and coffee.  While MHS – who is very smart and knowledgeable about desserts – called it “zebra pie”, I really think it more appropriately falls into the icebox-cake category.  So I have renamed it.

At its most basic, there are just two ingredients:  store-bought chocolate wafers (for an unpaid plug, Mr. Christie in Canada or Nabisco in the US) and either non-dairy whipped topping – to which I say, “No, thank you” – or whipped cream – yes, please!   Usually, I whip heavy cream with vanilla extract and a bit of sugar.  However, I had just read about a mocha-whipped cream topping a molten chocolate cake in a recipe somewhere lately (who can recall? – so many blogs, so many cookbooks, so little time).

The “zebra” comes from the vertical stripes of the cake.  I guess one should not really have a tan-coloured whipped cream for a true zebra, but this cake is so delectable that one can overlook the zebra-who-has-been-running-around-grazing-on-the-dust-on-the-veldt look from the coffee-infused whipped cream.

Sometimes I have no idea what these cats are up to....

A fawn and doe are the attraction.

About as close to a zebra as one can get on this island....

So much for observing the zebra- substitute (Jinja's dirty paws almost make her a mocha zebra).

Besides some old horses on the island, the closest to a zebra around here is a young spotted fawn wandering around our property.  George and Jinja seemed to be monitoring it for suspicious behaviour, so I had to include the GKPs (“gratuitous kitty pictures”) in this post.

For the simple directions and the recipe…

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading