As I may have mentioned a time or two before, I love books, and cookbooks are no exception. I have the standards like the "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook" and "The Joy of Cooking," as well as several of Rachael Ray's cookbooks and others too numerous to mention.
The ones I especially like are those compiled by churches or organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. Before we lost our home in a fire several years ago, I had a bookshelf full of them. I've found a few along the way, but the loss of the others is deeply felt, like the one from the former Our Lady of the Incarnation Church that included recipes from my mother-in-law and aunts-in-law, and another from The Blackinton Union Church, where my mom was the organist for decades.
I love these cookbooks because the recipes are ones the contributors considered their best dishes. Well, maybe not their very best -- the dish they were noted for, that showed up at church potluck dinners and everyone raved about -- that one was usually a closely guarded secret.
Part of the fun in reading these cookbooks are the space fillers. They may include spice and herb guides, charts of how much you'll need to feed 25, 50 or 100 people, substitutions for an ingredient you might not have on hand.
Here are some of those helpful hints ...
(Keep in mind some of these are from the 1950s and ‘60s. Another note: I've never tried any of them!)
n When emptying a vacuum cleaner bag, place several sheets of newspaper on the floor and wet the top sheet. This will prevent the dust from flying.
n A jar lid or a couple of marbles in the bottom half of a double boiler will rattle when the water gets low and warn you to add more before the pan scorches or burns.
n When ironing shirts and blouses and there is no available place to hang garments, place a broomstick across two chairs to serve as a clothes pole.
n The glass tubes that cigars come in make attractive bud vases when inserted in candle holders. When not in use, they require little storage space.
n Copy or paste new recipes in a stenographer's notebook. The pages flip easily and when the notebook is opened it will stand upright, making reading easy, and both sides of the page may be used.
n You'll shed fewer tears if you cut the root end of the onion last.
n A few drops of lemon juice added to simmering rice will keep the grains separate.
n For a never-fail, never weep meringue, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sugar before beating it into the egg whites.
n To prevent bacon from curling, dip it into cold water before frying.
And last but not least, my favorite:
n Pin a paper bag to your apron to save steps when tidying up after a party. This will serve as a catch-all for ashes, etc., and both hands will be free to put things in order. (Could be a problem since I have no aprons, no ashtrays and very few parties!)
A friend gave me one of the largest zucchinis I've ever seen. I sautéed some of it with diced tomatoes, onions and garlic the other night, but I still have enough to feed an Army battalion. This weekend, I plan to use more of it in a zucchini bread. The recipe I have in mind comes from the "Sprague Specialties" cookbook, which is "A collection of the favorite recipes of Sprague Electric Company's North Adams employees."
Chocolate Zucchini Bread
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Sift dry ingredients together. Mix in order given. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Makes two to three loaves.
Susan Segala, sales
The recent cold nights have me thinking about hot soup for supper on the weekends. From St. Anthony of Padua Church's "Heavenly Delights" comes this recipe for Pasta Fagioli from Chef Bobby Fachini. A footnote says it was developed through the years in the kitchen of the church with the chef, who kept it traditional for the bazaars and carnevale. Although it doesn't mention it in the recipe, I dice the bacon and slice and then dice the salt pork.
1/2 pound bacon
1/2 pound salt pork
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped parsley
4 24-ounce cans tomato sauce
24 ounces chicken broth
24 ounces beef broth
3 16-ounce cans chick peas
6 16-ounce cans red kidney beans
3 16-ounce cans cantenelle white beans
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (or more)
1/2 cup grated cheese
1 cup burgundy wine
1 pound detelini pasta
1 pound tiny shells
In a large pot, sauté bacon and salt pork until transparent. Add onions, garlic and parsley and sauté 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients together except the pasta. Cook the pasta separately until al dente and cool under cold water, then drain. After the pot had come to a slow boil for 20 minutes, add the pasta and blend in. Once the pot reaches the boiling point again, it's done. Serves 8.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.