Tag Archives: WWJD

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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Mystery Dough = Tender Jam-Filled Pastry-Pockets: What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays Week Four

What exactly is “mystery dough”?  I figured the recipe I had from my late grandmother Jessie’s files had just enough information to create something, armed with my years of amateur baking and cookbook reading.

This is all of Jessie's recipe for "mystery dough".

This pursuit of trying to figure out a cryptic recipe brought back a reference to “Biblical exegesis” in an undergraduate literature class years ago.  I wondered why the professor was referring to “ex of Jesus”, when that did not make any sense to me (as far as I knew, He did not have any “exes”).  Later, I discovered that the word meaning a critical interpretation, analysis, or explanation, especially of the Bible.  One must practice exegesis diligently in fleshing out a recipe, too!

A confident, stylish Jessie knows mystery dough's secrets (ca 1935).

So, like a Biblical scholar or literary critic, I had the barebones for resurrecting, or, I should say, recreating the recipe.  Armed with some vague memories of my grandmother’s baking preferences, I also recalled her liking the Czech pastry, kolachkes, as they were known in the western suburbs of Chicago.  The kolachkes (AKA, kolaches, which I have spotted in Vancouver) have a buttery-cream-cheese-based dough, so I wonder if this recipe was for that very rich pastry, often apricot-filled.

The mystery is over, with amazing results – and the recipe: Continue reading

What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 3: Banana Muffins

Of the Jessie recipe file, this week’s banana muffin recipe was fascinating – well, to me – for three reasons:

1.  The “recipe” just listed the ingredients, baking time, and oven temperature, so I had to create the steps, from my knowledge of baking techniques – especially muffins and quick breads.

2.   I do not remember my grandmother Jessie ever having made these, so I could not compare my version to my memory – unlike last week’s brownies.

3.  The recipe was hand-written on the reverse of a sympathy-note form card.

The last item makes me wonder if Jessie wrote this recipe down some time after the late 1960s, when my grandfather died (in his late sixties himself).  He was a very well-known sports writer – he never would have called himself a “sports journalist” in the style today – and publicity man.  Grandpa Lou (or “Gooey”, as we called him, as a childish contraction of “Grandpa Louie”, I think) was a quirky self-educated newspaperman and sports promoter In fact, a character in the play (made into a movie four times!) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur,  The Front Page was based on him, I learned just a few years ago from my mother.

My grandfather "Gooey" is just 17 years old here.

My grandfather worked closely with Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey (I have a pocket watch from Mr. Dempsey engraved with an inscription to my grandfather on Xmas Day 1929, the day of the gift), and other high-profile boxers as well as horse-racers and many other sports figures and teams.

For instance, Joe Louis, who was one of the greatest boxers in history, received considerable yet discrete financial help from my grandfather, after Mr. Louis’s agent misappropriated or mismanaged his money.

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What Would Jessie Dish? Wednesdays – Week 2: Double-Chocolate Gooey Brownies

Of the nearly 20 recipes I recently found in my grandmother’s file, I was most excited about the one for brownies. I recall these brownies from my childhood and often wondered what exactly was the recipe was for Jessie’s version, which she always dusted with powdered sugar.

If the amount of sugar and chocolate chips are an indication in the recipe below (typed neatly on a 3″ x 5″ card), my grandmother definitely had a sweet tooth. For further proof, the majority of recipes I discovered are on the dessert/sweet side. Then there was the hiding place for sweets in Jessie’s living room.

Whenever I went to my grandmother’s apartment, I immediately would head over to a small end table – with a false-front of leather-bound books – which opened to reveal a cache of sweets: spherical chocolate mint candies in pastels (a chocolate centre was surrounded by a thin white fondant layer of mint, with a harder panned coating), jelly fruit slices, various hard candies (the least interesting to me), and boxes of Fannie May Chocolates.  This Fannie May had nothing to do with the mortgage crisis in the US, but rather  was a Chicago institution until recently, when most of its retail stores started to close down, leaving just an online presence. I especially liked their Mint Meltaways, maple walnut fudge, and a thin chocolate mint for summer, in pastel pink or green, with some  crunch peppermint candy bits embedded, which I have just learned, is known as “pink ice” (I saw no reference to the green variety, which I distinctly remember, too).

But back to the brownies. I recall the squares from my childhood as being a little more cakey than the recipe I prepared. The batch I baked were actually a fine example of a gooey-soft-chewy brownie – decidedly not cakey and a bit more delicate than dense fudgey ones. This is a very quick dish to bake, and it would be good to whip up at a moment’s notice for company or a week-night dessert.

More on Jessie’s Double-Chocolate Gooey Brownie – and the recipe

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What Would Jessie Dish? A New Wednesday Feature: Introduction to the Project and the German Pancake

My grandmother is just 16, at her high school graduation in 1920.

She could dish it up, but can I make it?

In helping my mother get ready to move into an assisted living apartment recently, I came across my mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking.  She no longer wanted it, had not used it in many years, and said I should take it.  However, it was not it until I had returned home, when I discovered that the book had a 5” x  7” Manilla envelope containing a number of recipes from my late grandmother, Jessie.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  I cannot imagine that anyone knew whatever happened to these recipes.  So I was excited to have stumbled on this treasure trove.

There were nearly 20 recipes, half typed on 3″ x 5″ cards, with the others were written in her careful handwriting on various pieces of scrap paper (“Waste not, want not!” Jessie would implore, having lived through the Great Depression).  Most of the recipes are for baked goods (hooray!), and I do remember having eaten most of these dishes.  There are a few I am sure she did not make for me, so re-creating other recipes my grandmother made intrigues me as well.

I decided that it would be a fun feature on IslandEAT to prepare each and every one of the recipes, expanding or clarifying the directions, and assessing the results.   Many are in the short-hand of an experienced baker – and cook – who knew her technique well, so the steps are implicit – that is fine if you know the technique, of course, and, fortunately, I have developed a sense for baking over the years and am familiar with many similar recipes.

However, some recipes, especially the handwritten ones,  are completely vague and lacking directions – and even titles.   I will have to experiment to see if I can re-create what I think she had intended. What they all have in common is a no-nonsense, non-fussy simple approach with relatively few ingredients.  The recipes are primarily American or, in a few cases, European.  Some are still current and even in vogue, while others do seem rather vintage, e.g., “apricot mold”, which uses apricot jello and evaporated milk — not the kind of thing I generally make, but I am ready to try it.

From now until I have prepared all 18, I will feature a Wednesday recipe from the past, with a scan of the original recipe (and sometimes, the odd bits I have found on the reverse side), aiming to do this every week until the end of summer.  I expect to include some recollections of her, as she was a bit of a character, with a very good sense of humour, unusual turns of phrases, and quite the sharp tongue; Jessie was not afraid to ask – or ask repeatedly – for what she wanted or to let people know exactly what she thought.  I hope this summer project helps IslandEAT’s readers get a glimpse into her personality.

For more on the German Pancake and the What Would Jessie Dish? Recipe Roster

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