Sunday, 8 March 2009

Another Dip Into the Canadian Farm Cook Book - Vegetables

One tends to look back at the vegetable recipes in old cookbooks with mingled amusement, envy and horror - the envy being very slight, and consisting mainly of the fact that as you read, you realize how many people were pulling fresh vegetables out of their vegetable garden.

The amusement and horror come from the realization of just how few vegetables were generally available, and from the fact that people used to do things like boil asparagus for 20 minutes. This was actually from a chart in a different cookbook on cooking vegetables, and the next cooking time was over 30 minutes, and they went up from there. Grey stringy mush, anyone?

However, the Canadian Farm Cook Book has these wise words about salads:
"The fresh vegetables also include the salad greens or the green vegetables that are eaten raw; for example lettuce, celery, cucumbers, watercress, radishes, etc. These may be used alone for salads or in combination with fresh meat or cooked vegetables. The salad greens should be thoroughly washed and put in cold water to become crisp. After they are crisp they may be folded loosely in a clean, damp towel or put into a covered granite pail and kept in a cool place until needed. In this way they may be prepared some time before using, and with a salad dressing prepared beforehand, a salad for supper can be prepared in a very short time. The oil or cooked dressings may be served with the salad. The dressing adds to the nourishment and flavor of the salad. French dressing is largely used for vegetable salads, but none of the dressingss except the French dressing should be added to the salad until just before serving time. - If added too soon they tend to wilt the crisp vegetables and the dressing becomes watery."
Okay, now I want a granite* pail to keep my salad greens cool in. And an old-fashioned stone cold-room or dairy to keep my granite pail in. (And a maid to scrub it**)... No. Stop. Now.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to spring, and asparagus season. How about asparagus on toast?
"ASPARAGUS ON TOAST. - Cut the tough, hard end from the asparagus, wash carefully, tie in bunches, set the bunches on end in a saucepan of boiling, salted water, having the tender ends above the water; cover and boil gently for 1/2 hour..."
That only takes you 1/3 of the way through the recipe but suddenly I have lost interest for some inexplicable reason. Anyway, asparagus is not here yet, but I do have a cabbage in the fridge.
"CABBAGE, BOILED. - Take off outside leaves, cut in quarters, remove tough stalk, soak in cold salted water, cook in uncovered vessel in boiling water. Change water every 10 minutes; drain. - Mrs. Milton Savage, Elgin Mills, Ont."
Another perplexing one. Just how long did she think it should be boiled, anyway? Myself, I would "change" the water after 10 minutes, by taking the cabbage out and serving it.
"CREAMED CABBAGE. - Boil cabbage in salted water until tender, drain and pour milk enough to almost cover, have flour and cold milk mixed and add just as milk and cabbage boils; cook five minutes, adding butter and nutmeg to taste. An excellent substitute for cauliflower. - Mrs Richard Fleming, Kingston Mills, Ont."
Don't know about that, but it does sound reasonably edible, providing modern definitions of until tender apply. "Cold" Slaw, on the other hand, sounds kind of dull.
"COLD SLAW. - To a small cup vinegar add a well-beaten egg, 1 teaspoon mustard, 1 teaspoon sugar, a small lump butter, season with pepper and salt; let come to a boil and pour over nicely chopped cabbage while hot. - Mrs Ross Pollock, Keswick, Ont."
And of course, this was the start of the long heyday of the jellied salad (which now is so far "out" it's coming back "in").
"JELLIED CABBAGE. - Chop 1 head white cabbage, mix with juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup vinegar and a little salt; dissolve 1 package gelatine in water, mix with cabbage, put in a mould when jellied serve with any salad dressing. - Mrs. C. J. Brodie, Claremont, Ont."
And just to prove that there were other vegetables besides cabbage, how about some baked parsnips?
"Boil parsnips until tender, drain and mash, add a generous lump of butter, pepper and salt to taste; butter a baking dish, cover the bottom with a layer of bread crumbs, put in parsnips, cover with a layer of crumbs and brown in oven. - Mrs. Revd. MacKay, Four Mile Brook, Pictou Co., N.S."
Well, I think that's about enough for this week. I find I am losing my will to live.

*Not actual granite, in case anyone wonders - speckled enamel.

**Who do I think I am kidding? If I had been around 100 years ago, I'd have been the maid, most likely.


Kevin Kossowan said...

Good grief. There must have been a pretty big disparity between those that knew good food, and those that did not back then. I suppose not every pioneer was a foodie..

Ferdzy said...

I've long had the theory that the reason North Americans took to industrialized food so readily is that they went straight from being pioneers and half-starved immigrants into the industrial age - there was very little time to develop any kind of "peasant cuisine"; i.e. rooted in its place of production, before mass-produced mass-marked convenient foods washed it away.

It's a bit late to be developing the idea that more and easier are not equal to better, but better late than never, I guess.

Sheryl said...

You might actually be on to something with that idea of industrialized food. If everything was so hard and nobody really knew how to cook local products to make them taste good, then it makes sense that letting someone else do the hard work would be the way to go.