Monday, January 16, 2012

Potato Soup from the 1950s

I was fortunate to inherit my grandmother's copy of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book.  I think it is a second edition but I can't tell because some of the front pages are missing.  I know it is not the first edition because I purchased a replica reprint on its 50th anniversary, in 2000.

The two editions look about the same (the picture is of my grandmother's book) but the first edition has an alphabetical index by chapter and my grandmother's book has a standard index.  I find the standard index much more convenient; I can look up all recipes for say, potatoes, at once instead of having to check each chapter.

Speaking of which, I had a bag of potatoes in my pantry that needed to be used.  This, my friends, is how women used to cook all the time -- What do I have and how can I use it?  What is in season?  There was not a lot of running to the store to get the latest trendy ingredient or deciding what to cook based on how you felt on the spur of the moment.  So in this spirit, I decided to try Betty C's simple recipe for potato soup (it being a wet and blustery day).


Potato Soup (page 371)

"The homey, old-fashioned kind."

Saute' gently in 2 tbsp. butter...

   1 tbsp. grated carrot
   1 tbsp. scraped onion

Stir in ...
   1 tsp. salt
   1/4 tsp. celery salt
   1/8 tsp. pepper
   2 cups hot milk
  1 cup mashed or boiled potatoes put through a coarse sieve

Cook 20 min., stirring occasionally.

Amount:  6 servings.


I used the fine holes on the grater for the carrots and, instead of scraping the onion (which I find messy), I finely chopped them.  It seemed like a lot of butter for my tastes but, when I considered that I'd be using non-fat milk, I was fine with it.

I boiled the potatoes unpeeled for about 20 minutes, until they were tender all the way through.  I pierced them with a cooking fork to check.  They were drained and cooled for a while and then I peeled them.

The recipe called for 1 cup of mashed potatoes.  I cooked four potatoes knowing that it was too much.  No problem!  I can always use the remainder for some other dish, like a gratin. I ended up using two. (They were all pretty small potatoes.)

I admit to not using a sieve but I stirred it for awhile to break up the potato bits.  When I cooked it for 20 minutes, I kept the fire as low as possible and stirred it more often once the soup started steaming.  This got the soup nice and hot and also blended the flavors.

The Verdict:  Yum!  It smelled good, making me want to taste it.  It was interesting to look at, with the carrot and onion bits, the pepper, the small lumps of potato, and the butter floating on top.  It was tasty and a little bit creamy -- would be more so if I had used whole milk as they would have in the '50s, I think.  I'm not a fan of celery salt but I used it anyway and was pleasantly surprised at the flavor.  I think it is just right.

By the way, "6 servings" would work if this was a soup course before a bigger meal.  I don't think I would get more than 2 servings if soup was the main focus of the meal.  If you like chunky potato soup, you could use some of the extra cooked potato, cut into small dice, to make it that way.  I think it would also be good with some cheddar cheese melted into it. I had it "as is" for lunch with some saltine crackers and a sliced apple.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More on Meatose

Today I took about 1/2 cup of the meatose, mashed it with a fork, then mixed in a few teaspoons of mayonnaise.  I mixed it until it was spreadable and moist.  Then I added some finely chopped dill pickles.  This made a great spread on crackers!  I think it would be a good sandwich spread, too.

Now that the meatose has been chilled, it comes across as a bit dry.  I think if I did a half recipe again, I would pull it out of the steamer after about 1 hr and 30 minutes, instead of 2 hours.  Or as soon as it seemed firm.

I wonder what else I can do with this?  : )

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Peanut Meatose

Last year (an easy thing to say in January!), I visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento (  In their museum store I discovered and purchased this book:  Rufus Estes' Good Things to Eat(Dover Publications)

Mr. Estes was born a slave in 1857, was employed by a restaurant-keeper at the age of 16, and then became a cook for the railroads at age 26, where he continued for most of the rest of his life.  His culinary skills were so valued that he was assigned to cook in a special car that catered to celebrities.  Mr. Estes prepared food for presidents, princesses, famous actors and singers, and more.  He was trusted to provide them with a good meal and, upon viewing his recipes, I can see that that trust was not misplaced. 

His book offers nearly 600 recipes and they made my mouth water when I read them.  Well, all but one.  It is called Peanut Meatose, found on page 47 in the Lunch section.

Here it is:
"Dissolve one cup of cornstarch in two cups of tomato juice, add two cups of peanut butter and two teaspoons of salt.  Stir for five minutes, the pour into cans and steam for four or five hours."

Peanut butter, tomato juice, salt, and cornstarch?

It sounded pretty icky to me, to be honest.  But after trying some tomato bread toasted and spread with peanut butter, I realized that the combination of tomato and peanut butter might just be fine.  At this point, I had to try it!

So here goes.  I decided to make a half recipe.  I gathered the ingredients, mixed as directed, and placed it into a ceramic container for steaming.

A quick double-check with The Joy of Cooking confirmed my thoughts that the container needed to sit on a rack over water.  The lid fit tightly so high heat got the water boiling and then a low heat kept the steam going.  I wasn't sure how fast the water would boil off or how quickly a half recipe would cook, so I checked in on it every 30 minutes.

The water never got low enough for me to refill the container.  After about an hour, the mixture looked puffy.  After two hours, it was solid and was pulling away from the sides of the container.  I deemed it "done."

I removed it from the hot water and let it cool for about an hour.  The mixture settled a bit when cooled.

The result?  It was firm and had a nice crumb and texture.  I spread it on crackers and ... and ... and it tasted pretty good!  The flavor was nutty with a light tomato undertaste.  I think it would be good spread on bread with a little mayonnaise and lettuce.

My curiosity was aroused:  Why "meatose"?  A Google search of the name reveals that it was a brand name in the late 19th century.  Basically this recipe provided a meat substitute based on nut proteins.  This was popular during the Victorian era, during a period called "Reform Cookery" where choosing foods to be more healthy was all in vogue.  You can think of this as Victorian tofu!

I think if I had steamed this in cans as Mr. Estes suggests, I could have pushed it out as a whole cylinder and then sliced it for serving.

The Verdict:  I would do this recipe again, especially to serve to unsuspecting victims, uh, cheerful guests, to surprise them with something new and unique. 

Adventures in Historical Food!

Welcome to my adventures in cooking. I'm Tracy, and I'm a historical foodie. I own over 300 cookbooks, which have recipes spanning from the Roman Empire to modern day. Many of them focus on Colonial America, the medieval era, and the Renaissance.

I've been interested in historical recipes for a long time. In 2007, I started cooking historical recipes with a historical society that uses re-enactments as a way to engage the public. I've volunteered at jousts, Renaissance faires, and school events, using food and recipes as my teaching window to the past.

This blog is for food adventures: trying new recipes, new techniques, new tools, and new books. I hope you have as much fun reading about it as I do creating it!

Disclaimer:  I have no sponsors nor do I receive income of any sort related to this blog.  It is just for fun!