A week ago, Sunday our friends Daniel and Emily dropped off a plate of cookies at our door. Like many others, they’ve apparently been baking a lot during the pandemic. There were some Moravian wafers on the plate and some Swedish almond rusks. I enjoyed one of each greatly with my evening tea, especially the rusk. I Whatsapped Daniel later with compliments and learned that the Moravian wafers were out of a Maida Heatter book but that the rusks were from something called Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV). This, he said, was a book they’d literally found on the street and that it was a trip. He sent me some pictures. I asked if either or both of them might be interested in writing up a review or appreciation of it for the blog at some point. Emily would, he said. And a few emails and a scarily short amount of time later this wonderful essay landed in my inbox.
You may know far more than I did/do about this genre of community cookbooks. Until this weekend I barely knew anything about the American university extension system; all I knew about the University of Minnesota Extension—of which the Rice County Extension is a part—was their very helpful online guidance on home gardening in the tundra. But it turns out that groups of “exension homemakers” were and are a common part of the system all over the country and many of them presumably put out and continue to put out these community cookbooks. I spoke to someone at the U of M extension and she told me that while an informal Rice County homemakers group may still exist, they have not had an official connection for a few years now. She could not tell me how many such cookbooks the Rice County Extension had put out or when the last one was published. This, the fourth volume, came out in 1965; I found a copy of Volume VI being sold on eBay. Were there more? If the series continued into the very recent past—or if it continues today—I would be very interested to see how its contents have or have not changed over time just as Rice County and environs have.
I am hopeful that I may be able to find out more from others at the U of M Extension or from the Rice County Historical Society and if I do I will write in to the comments on this post. In the meanwhile, if you are a long-time Rice County resident or just someone who may have a connection to anyone associated over the years with Rice County Extension Homemakers, please write in below. I’d also be very interested in hearing from you if you know anything about the histories of these organizations and cookbooks more broadly, whether in the Upper Midwest or elsewhere in the country. Someone—I would hope—has doubtless written a book on these books and how they index the changing nature of domesticity and community in the US. If not, someone should.
But for now I am happy enough to read Emily’s wonderful essay on this cookbook—which is really a meditation on a community that has changed significantly in the years between its publication and its discovery by its most recent reader.
A Love Letter to Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV) ~ Emily Carroll
My daughter and I found the Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV) in a box of castoffs outside the home we call the “Republican House”. We live in a liberal enclave in an already progressive college town in a county that reliably votes Republican. Every August, I learn who is running against my own Democratic candidates by walking the dog by the Republican House. Each of the House’s neighbors’ lawns, like my own, offer up the opposing candidates’ signs, race by race. It’s a four-corner argument repeated for as long as I have lived here.
The Favorite Recipes of Rice County Extension Homemakers 1965 (Volume IV) is a slim volume with a bright red cover and hand-lettered titling. The art professors at our two (!) local colleges might describe the design as naif. Certainly, the stylish typesetting and modernism of the 60s had not yet reached Bendickson Printing of Lonsdale, Minnesota. When my family first moved here in 2009, Favorite Recipes would have meant very little to me. I might have leafed through and marvelled at the recipes for Lime Cottage Cheese Salad or a method for turning dill pickles into sweet pIckles (drain brine from jar, cover pickles with hot water, drain again, add hot brine of vinegar and sugar). I would have delighted in finding a recipe for perhaps the ur hot dish, titled simply: “Hot Dish” (beef, onion, stuffed olives, mushroom soup, milk, noodles, cheese, nuts, chow mein noodles). I definitely would have sniggered at the frequency with which the ingredients ginger ale, Karo syrup and marshmallows feature in sections other than “Bars” and “Cookies”. Of course, back then, I wouldn’t have known the difference between a bar and cookie.
My husband and I moved here from Chicago where I worked as a pediatric nurse. I grew up in Washington D.C., London and Toronto and spent student years in Montreal and New York City. I also spent a year in Baltimore. Baltimore was the smallest town I had lived in before moving to Northfield, Minnesota (population 20,0007 in 2009) with my freshly-minted philosophy professor husband and 6 week old baby. I didn’t know much about Minnesota. I knew our Minnesotan-born friends in Chicago behaved like migrating birds: they might flit about big cities but they all longed to return to Minnesota to have their families. I also knew that Prairie Home Companion bored me to tears and “hot dish” was a punchline.
I was thrown into the deep end of rural Minnesota when I started a family nurse practitioner program at Minnesota State University, Mankato soon after arriving. The program was oriented to students living and working in rural areas. I adored my classmates: they were helpful, fierce and smart and came from all over the state. One day, I watched as they all knowingly smiled and nodded as a classmate talked about the hog barn odor coming from a patient’s tracheostomy. I don’t know much about hogs; I have never even cooked ham. There is a recipe in Favorite Recipes for Glazed Ham Loaf with the outlandishly unkosher combination of ham, hamburger, milk, eggs and bread crumbs. Two columns over, deep in the Casseroles section, there is a brief recipe for Plant Food. I have not made either of these.
I have made Swedish Almond Rusks (p. 94). These are simply outstanding. The recipe asks you to make two long rolls of an almond dough and then bake them for 45 minutes at 300F. This yields two baguette-type loafs which you cut into ½” slices to be toasted at 250F for nearly an hour. The result is a crunchy, quite sophisticated biscotti-like biscuit. And it’s dead simple. Unusually, the recipe for the rusks does not include its author. Most recipes in Favorite Recipes include the name of their authors. My 11-year-old daughter was astonished that all the authors were men. How wonderful! But they’re not men, they’re wives. It’s “Mrs. Marvin Hermel,” “Mrs. Ebert Halverson,” “Mrs. Elmer Covert, Jr.” I point this out to my daughter and explain it was completely normal for women not to have their own name until, well, 1965 at least. The recipe authors also include the name of the author’s local branch or “affiliate” of the Rice County Homemakers Extension. Some of these names are snappy and wonderful and speak of zippy industriousness: the Forest Kitchen Hustlers, Walcott Jolly Jokers, Wednesday Workers, Merrie Matrons. Disappointingly, my affiliate is simply “Northfield City”. I’d very much like to know who was in the Lazy Daisies and if they felt shame about it.
My daughter and I realize we recognize the surnames of many recipe authors. The frontispiece lists members of the Rice County Extension Committee. I recognize the last name of a family practice physician in town, an administrator at public health, three elementary school teachers and a general contractor. Of course, I didn’t know any of these people a decade ago. When we arrived, we knew absolutely no one. Our families were a time zone and 3 Great Lakes away and our Chicago friends, unsurprisingly, remained in Chicago. However, I began working at a community clinic here as a nurse and then nurse practitioner and now the Clinical Director. Until 2012, my clinic was housed in the basement of Little Prairie United Methodist Church in Dundas, Minnesota. The church was literally in a cornfield, nearly half a mile from County Road 3, the road that bisects Rice County and connects Northfield to Faribault, the county seat. The mission of the clinic is to provide care to underserved residents of Rice County. Working there, I met communities the Merrie Matrons wouldn’t have dreamed of: newly arrived Somali refugees, migrant workers who spend half of the year in Texas, Central Americans fleeing violence and a growing, vibrant community of Mexican Americans.
In the summer of 2016, my kids and I (we grew a native-born Minnesotan in 2012) attended a community forum at a local Catholic church advocating for driver’s licenses for undocumented Minnesotans. The Republican House’s candidate for state senate spoke. He understood, he told us, about the plight of immigrants. His own grandfather had arrived from Germany and had trouble learning English. Again, he understood, he told the crowd. He really did. He wished he could do more but he also believed in “the law”. I check: his last name isn’t in Favorite Recipes. There is, however, a recipe for German Potato Salad. Favorite Recipes does go further afield than Germany. There are recipes for Arabian Macaroons and Sukiyaki as well as a recipe for pizza with an improbable milk and shortening-based crust. The recipe for Yap Yap Hot Dish features chow mein noodles. This is not without some regrettable exoticism. The word “Oriental” features heavily.
A particularly impressive section of Favorite Recipes includes suggested quantities needed to serve 50 people. Depending on your menu, this might include 20 pounds of creamed chicken, 40 pounds of roasted turkey or 12 quarts of tomato aspic. When I read this in December, 2020, while Minnesota is first in the nation for COVID-19 cases, I long to cook for 50 people. I dream of making biscuits for 50 people (3 quarts of flour, ½ cup of baking powder, nearly a cup of shortening). I want nothing more than to sit around a table and enjoy a meal with that many friends.
My clinic’s staff is mostly Latino and Somali. Before the pandemic, we shared delicious lunches together in the kitchen of our brand new clinic in Faribault. Somali sambusas and papa con chorizo may be on the same plate. My coworkers have taught me how to cook with chipotles and how to appreciate a good salsa matcha. I show off and display my big-city tolerance for spice. I learn the verb “enchilarse”. A most beloved volunteer – a retired Spanish professor – is able to continue interpreting for our patient visits via phone. She stress bakes through the pandemic and brings wonderful desserts to my stoop each Sunday for me to share with the clinic staff the following Monday. I tell her about the Swedish Almond Rusks and she makes them, too.
Neither the interpreter nor I attend the funeral of one of my favorite patients, a young man who died of COVID-19 the week after Thanksgiving. I have taken care of the young man and his mother for nearly 8 years. However, we are so close to the vaccine and the pandemic is so prevalent that we do not want to risk the exposure. Some of the contributors of Favorite Recipes likely grew up during the Great Flu Pandemic or were born in its shadow. I wonder if children of the last pandemic are dying in our current one in the nursing home outbreaks across the county. Rice County has had positive COVID-19 cases in patients aged one month to 104 years old.
I don’t know the people who live in the Republican House. I don’t know if their kitchen was run by an actual member of the Northfield City Rice County Extension Homemakers. I asked a locally grown friend if she knows who lives in the house. Of course, she does. It’s a single man, though. Perhaps the homemaker was his mother? She’s not sure. Since picking up my copy of Favorite Recipes, I feel differently about the Republican House. It is a handsome, stuccoed mock Tudor house. And, unlike in 2016, the owner didn’t put up a Trump 2020 sign despite the complement of the usual Republican down ballot candidate signs. The absence of a Trump sign was, in all seriousness, the talk of the neighborhood and (we dared to hope) a harbinger of a good election outcome. Reader, it was.
I look forward to making my way through Favorite Recipes. My husband prefers elaborate cookbooks with multiple steps and lots of advice regarding techniques and ingredients. Recipes in Favorite Recipes rarely have more than 6 to 8 ingredients and a similar number of steps. I’m determined to find more gems like the Swedish Almond Rusks. After over 12 years here, I feel very much part of Rice County and feel affection for its former Homemakers or at least their 99-page legacy. I don’t know what they’d make of my retained maiden name, long work weeks and children who have grown up with a team of babysitters and daycare and after-school programs; I don’t know how they would feel about a Rice County that looks very different now than in 1965. I hope those hard-working hustlers and merrie jokers and I would delight in each other and the county in which I now live. And, at the very least, heed the guidance on the frontispiece of the cookbook: “Be to its virtues very kind! Be to its faults a little blind!”.
Emily Carroll is a Nurse Practitioner whose writing is normally limited to chart notes about breast exams and cervices.
Cookbooks like these (and the similar church cookbooks and fraternal organization auxiliary cookbooks) are both a hoot and a time warp to read.
Many of the recipes date to a time when people were unafraid of saturated fats, a “can” was a standardized measurement (not a quantity chosen by the producer to maintain a specific price point and profit margin), and no one had a microwave ovens or a cooked rotisserie chicken to hurry cooking along.
At the same time, the passion for flavored gelatin in forms both sweet and savory, the casual inclusion of ingredients like cream of mushroom soup, and (as Emily noted) the now-mildly-racist approach to “foreign” dishes documents a different time though it really was not that long ago.
Fun review; thanks for sponsoring it.
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That was indeed a fine review of housewife-produced cookbook and to offer recent expressions of the Ethnic Revolution, which has improved food in the ‘States since the mid-80s.
“Old” books like that certainly offer a snapshot for old cultural sensibilities – and now I regret that I did not salvage my mother’s well-used Betty Crocker – certainly from the sixties – possibly earlier
(all that survives is a looseleaf version she gifted me in 1978).
1965 was certainly a different time. My mother abandoned (for Alaska) the adjacent Upper Peninsula in 1956, which is surely culturally much closer to this book than the Rice County book is to 2020.
I will be sure to check my mother’s old mail to see if she signed with my father’s name instead of her “Christian name” (to use an out-of-style adjective).
(I suspect not – as she was fond of reminding my father that she out-earned him – her version of “fighting words”)
Steve D got my attention when he made “mild reference” to the R-word, which seemingly calls to Ms. Carroll’s “regrettable” “exotic” use of “the O-word”.
Mom, born 1924, was quite familar with the term as I (born 1958) understood it – which was to refer to those of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean extraction – but NOT those from (or in) India.
(and, I believe, that in 1965 the “O-word” was also commonly used in a broader sense to include the Mid-East and Far-East)
Given that Mom was not a mean woman (and not “an academic”) she used the term to denote that narrower set of folks that I used above and not to derogate.
(nor did, I am sure, Mrs. Marvin, Ebert, or Elmer)
My mother was not “adventurous” – though I recall clippings from glossies and newsprint that graced her cooking library (many of the books crackled when I opened them). For her, oregano-seasoned meatballs, were a stretch (and delicious).
WOuld it not be interesting to find a dusty, still legible copy of a more-urban, “national” Betty Crocker from the fifties and sixties (?)- if only to see which (if any) forms of “exotica” are offered therein.
PS – Sometime in the last decade I asked a colleague from Burm- uh – Mymanmar (and who met his Iowan wife around the turn-of-the-Century) whether it is now improper to use that O-word. He assured that it IS.
Still, I wonder if it’s use in a 1965 cookbook would raise his eyebrows, if not hackles.
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I have my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook, circa 1957. If there’s interest here, I’d be willing to leaf through it and identify some of the more “interesting” examples of then-exotic fare.
My wife, who grew up in SE Minnesota in the 60s, tells of visiting grandparents who decided to thrill their grandchildren by serving them that new-fangled “Eye-talian” “pie-tza”. I (having grown up in the northeastern U.S. where you can look in any direction and gaze upon a good pizza) can only shudder and imagine which box that preparation came from. Ditto for the La Choy canned chow mein. *shudder*
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@ Steve D:
I’d be interested in a “field report” of the ’57 Crocker – which may be the same as my mother’s.
Not so long ago I had a hankering for “Irish Coffee” – checked “Betty”, and found it. She left nothing to chance – included a nice recipe for suitably strong coffee.
I also remember opening a can of chow mein as a child – thought it was odd tasting.
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Thanks for writing in and sharing your family’s stories. I think Emily is not suggesting that the use of “Oriental” was intended derogatorily in the book; merely that to contemporary ears and eyes it seems off.
And, yes, I think it would be very interesting to see how “exotic” recipes entered the mainstream of such cookbooks over the decades, and which the recipes and cuisines were that made the most inroads in different parts of the country.
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I have to say that while—thanks to the pandemic—I have not yet been able to look at this book myself, my first inclination is to look upon the inclusion of these “exotic”, “Oriental” recipes with a somewhat generous eye. What I mean is that to me it suggests a desire to be cosmopolitan, to open out—howsoever limitedly—to new ingredients and flavours. I don’t want to overstate that, of course, but it seems better than if these community cookbooks were not registering in any way the larger cultural/culinary shifts happening in the US. And of course this interest in new flavours doesn’t say anything about the politics of these cooks outside their kitchens!
From a different end of the spectrum: in my basement I have a huge stack of issues of Gourmet from the 1970s and 1980s that I acquired from a retired colleague who was clearing space. One of these years I will actually do what I planned to when I got them from her: parse them to see when/how recipes for Indian dishes first appear and so forth.
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Enjoyed the post very much! I will make the almond rusks at some point.
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Loved the post! The personal narrative is beautifully integrated into the discussion of the cookbook and it feels heartfelt and generous.
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I must say that I miss Prairie Home Companion – not the least the gentle gibes at English majors and those Norwegian bachelor farmers (the latter confirmed by a Minnesotan “ex-patriot”).
My Finnish-American mother and many at Lutheran Church Potlucks in Anchorage served up “hot dish” – we called them casseroles.
FWIW – I hear you can still get Pasties at Upper Peninsula roadside huts.
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A “field report” of Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book, circa 1957.
In 430 pages of recipes and cooking techniques, there are few recipes for dishes with an Asian influence. Four are labeled “Indian”: two “curries” that differ only in the protein that’s added, a pilaf, and an “Indian pudding,” which is a different beast altogether. Lest you think that the book slants heavily in the direction of European recipes, there are only slightly more recipes for Scandinavian or German dishes (though there are almost 30 recipes for “French” dishes).
The “curries” start with onion and curry powder sauteed in butter, to which (bleached white) flour is added along with salt, sugar, (dried) ginger, chicken broth, and milk. Protein choices are diced cooked chicken or canned shrimp. Suggested accompaniments include chutney, raisins, salted almonds, onion rings, pineapple, bacon bits, sweet or sour pickles, currant jelly, and India relish (which I suspect has a misplaced geography in common with “French dressing”).
The pilaf, billed as adapted from “a famous dish of exotic India,” combines one clove of garlic and a third of a cup of butter with raw rice, which is then doused in several cups of beef bouillon — and cooked for 45 minutes. Maybe rice was processed differently back in the 50s; if I tried to cook long grain rice today for 45 minutes I’d be able to put up wallpaper with it. Toss some raisins and slivered almonds on top and you’re there.
It’s odd to look now at a cook book that shows a healthy disregard for today’s nutritional advice on dairy fat; one that does not mention foods now available at almost any grocery store in America bigger than a mini-mart (like fresh ginger and hot peppers) or microwave ovens (or barbecue grills, for that matter). One wonders if there were discussions in the editing offices about listing curry powder and chutney as possible additions to dishes given the likelihood of finding such items at the local grocery store in Pipestone, Minnesota, or Sedalia, Missouri, or Luckenbach, Texas, where Betty’s reach extended. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from there.
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Thanks for that. People have also drawn my attention to an edition of the Betty Crocker book that focuses on “international” cuisine. And I think I also recently saw a reference to a specific one on Indian food. I should look for those.
Thanks to steveinmn for his field report.
I’ll comment later, but first I hope our Host will comment on a basic curry recipe, bestowed upon my wife by her fellow Purdue graduate students circa 1988.
Peel and chop onion, garlic, and ginger – puree in blender.
Toast cumin and mustard (seeds) in a pan.
Combine all the above in a large pot, season with garam masala, add flesh as you will, simmer until the meat is cooked (and perhaps simmer the gravy first?)
Not sure if one should finish with lime – I would probably try it.
Note that I’m hazy about process – but this strikes me as similar to a western stew – precision not much required.
Ha! This is a classic Indian grad student recipe of the era (I myself arrived in that condition in 1993). Have to say that it is not a million miles away from a way in which I still make chicken curry, and indeed from a classic recipe from one of my aunts that became very famous in some corners of the Indian food internet about 15 years ago. The only thing that is a bit arbit—to use Delhi University slang of the late ’80s—is the cumin and mustard seeds.
Here is how I would suggest you adapt this recipe for now:
1. Peel, chop and puree onion (1 medium), garlic (2 big cloves), ginger (equiv amount as garlic).
2. Heat oil and add whole garam masala (a few pods cardamom, a few cloves, a large piece of cinnamon).
3. When the spices are fragrant add the puree and chicken (either one chicken separated into 8 pieces or 2 lbs cubed boneless breast).
4. Add salt, stir, cover and let it cook in the pureee and its own juices over medium-low heat till done.
5. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro.
I LIKE the SIMPLICITY of that garam masala – which seems to have as many executions as households (I suppose this is like mole by various Mexican mamas, aunties, grandmothers).
And the frugality of cutting up ones own chicken.
I believe we typically make a LOT more gravy – and add some heat.
Well, more than the frugality, by cutting up your own chicken you can get two drumsticks, two thighs and four large breast pieces—all bone-in for extra flavour. (I save the back and wings for soup, usually.) Otherwise you’d have to buy 6-pks of thighs and drumsticks and good luck finding bone-in breast.
RE: Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book, circa 1957
As steveinmn pointed out, fresh ginger may not have been commonly available in 1957 America (and I’m not sure when that became available up here in Alaska – certainly by the early 90s when we started cooking “indian food”).
Flour as thickener and sugar in a “curry”??
“India relish” – wonder if that was what we now call “indian pickle” – which is more expensive than kim chee in those small sad 8-oz jars.
(reminds me to attempt my own “pickle” – and to make more kim chee – though of late I’ve found a Korean grocery that makes 2-gallon buckets of various types of kim chee)
I imagine late-50s cooks figured out a more-standard 20-30-minute covered simmer for milled rice (45 is more like it for “brown rice”). Except for that, that seems like a passable “exotic” rice dish. And a big batch to soak up all that bullion.
I had to look up “India relish” because I was not familiar with it. Apparently it is similar to the sweet relish served with hot dogs. One company that still makes it (B&G) adds a bit of curry powder; the last ingredient after FD&C Yellow 5. Heinz dispenses with the curry powder, so it’s hard to know how it’s different from their regular sweet relish, but there you are. Is that “Indian pickle” Jim?
My favorite is “garlic pickle” – Patak’s:
Others include mango pickle and lime pickle – the latter includes a well marinated rind.
This should be available at an “Indian grocery” – and often at “Asian groceries”.
There is at least one “brand x” – don’t recall the name – which did not please when I tried it.
As for “india relish” – that begs some experimentation – or at least finding a recipe. Add masala powder to sweet relish – might actually be an acceptable variation – on a hot dog roll and a polish sausage or one of those kosher beef dogs. A Ballpark Frank is a sad wannabe compared to those.
Ah, yes, I’m familiar with that Indian pickle. I’ve enjoyed them when I’ve gone to Indian restaurants and I’ve seen it on the shelves at larger Asian markets. Sometimes I even think about making my own. As I’m the only one who’ll eat it, though, sometimes I think twice about that. Thanks for the warning on “Brand X”.
Your mention of India relish on a sausage reminds me of German currywurst — a milder-flavored sausage sprinkled with curry powder and then anointed with ketchup. I might meander toward an understanding of how that combination happened…
As I’m the only one who’ll eat it, though, sometimes I think twice about (making Indian pickle)
If you mean wife and/or kids and/or roommates, all the more reason. Make a small batch and eat it all your own self (like the Little Red Hen).
If that suits make more!
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