I recently organized family recipes and miscellaneous cookbooks. Recipe cards were full of handwritten notes describing taste ratings, funny observations, and cooking recommendations. Each tattered recipe card became a pensieve (Harry Potter reference), of sorts, for viewing family memories. Surrounded by old cards and newspaper clippings, my mind could faintly hear dinner table laughs as I caught a (re)imagined whiff of freshly baked rolls, from my grandmother’s Sunday dinners.
Sifting through recipe clippings, from the 1940’s to present day, also reminded me of how the growth, harvest, distribution, and preparation of food changes as we progress and/or digress. How we cultivate, disseminate, and consume food is largely a reflection of who we are as a people at a specific moment in time and space. This idea is confirmed by the realization that we cannot study the evolution of food without simultaneously studying our own histories.
How we cultivate, disseminate, and consume food is largely a reflection of who we are as a people at a specific moment in time and space. This idea is confirmed by the realization that we cannot study the evolution of food without simultaneously studying our own histories.
For instance, as hunters and gatherers, we were on the move, in constant search of our next meal. Improved agricultural and animal husbandry practices allowed us to stay in one place; cultivate land; and create homes. Increased free time allowed us to create better tools and technology, which eventually led to the Industrial Revolution. Factory jobs soon led people away from farm life and into cities. Larger urban and suburban populations created the need for packaged grocery store foods. Our growing dependency on grocery stores further removed us from the agricultural process. Soon food became less about survival and more about entertainment and pleasure. Although we’ve seen a resurgence in farm-to-table living, we are still largely separated from the agricultural process. We now depend on “Big Ag” to grow, harvest, and distribute most of the food we consume. In sum: A lot has changed. The way I prepare for a Sunday dinner is completely different than how my great grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, prepared for a Sunday dinner.
Even this limited food history synopsis exemplifies the connection between food, culture, and history.
Forgive me: I digress….
As my organizational process continued, I noticed that many of the recipe clippings listed a brand name ingredient – notated as critical to recipe success. It then occurred to me: What a brilliant marketing strategy. Free recipes, on food boxes and flour bags, help(ed) consumers see the value of turning brand names into pantry staples. This was commercialism, during its infancy.
Early food marketing strategies were not limited to free recipe offerings. Cooking and baking contests were also popularized in the 1940’s. After all, why limit recipe creation to test kitchens when companies could engage the public through baking and cooking contests? Baking and cooking contests created additional sales; spurred brand excitement; and generated award-winning recipes. Genius, right?
Finally, I could see the bottom of my sorting pile. Whew! What a welcome sight! Bonus: At the bottom of my sorting pile, I (re)discovered a family favorite: Sour Cream Apple Squares. These squares have alternating layers of moist and crispy goodness!
According to the Sour Cream Apple Squares recipe clipping, Mrs. Luella E. Maki won $25,000, in a Pillsbury Bake-off®, for her Sour Cream Apple Squares recipe. Further research, on Pillsbury.com, revealed that Mrs. Maki won the baking contest in 1975. Our family has long understood why she won!
Click on the image, below, to view a legible version of the recipe clipping.
Although I enjoy cooking and baking, I’m more of a cook than a baker. Luckily, my mother, who is an excellent cook and baker, recently made a batch of Sour Cream Apple Squares. (My serving is pictured.) It was an absolutely delicious treat! Thanks, Mom!
Note: For obvious reasons (Brown Sugar, Sour Cream, and Butter), I’ve categorized this recipe as a “Happy Food Option” rather than a “Healthy Food Option”.
2 cups Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup chopped nuts
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (2 medium) peeled, finely chopped apples
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off.) In large bowl, combine first (3) three ingredients; blend at low speed until crumbly. Stir in nuts. Press 2 3/4 cups crumb mixture into ungreased 13X9-inch pan. to remaining mixture, add cinnamon, soda, salt, sour cream, vanilla and egg; blend well. Stir in apples. Spoon evenly over base. Bake 25 to 35 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cut into squares; serve with whipped cream, if desired. This recipe yields 12 to 15 squares. *If using Pillsbury’s Best Self-Rising Flour, omit soda and salt.
Closing Comments and Well Wishes
Organizing family recipes is just one way of linking food, culture, and history. Can you think of other ways to connect food, culture, and history?
Many years ago, my mother gifted me a handwritten recipe book full of family favorites. It’s still one of my favorite gifts I’ve received from her. If you’re interested in creating your own family recipe book, for a family member or for yourself, I have linked suggestions, as follows:
I sincerely hope you choose to seek, discover, and protect (record) your own family recipes and food-based traditions. You don’t have to search through decades of clippings and recipe cards. You could simply start documenting your family food favorites today, and continue your efforts as time unfolds. Gifting family recipe books, to younger family members, is also a great way to preserve family food favorites.
I wish you much joy, as you embark upon the preservation of your own family food favorites.