Friday, September 23, 2011

Housewife Cookery

Growing up, I learned to cook by following the recipes in my mother’s red and white checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. That’s not to say I didn’t deviate from the written directions from time to time and experiment, which often ended in disaster, but for the most part, I did learn to cook basic dishes. After my husband and I got  engaged in the cafeteria  at Venture's while I was on break from my cashier’s job (romantic, huh? At least it wasn't in a laundry mat like my sister or next to an irrigation well pump like my parents! 😉), I asked for and received an updated version of mom’s cookbook the Christmas before our wedding day.

When my sisters and I were still in the learning stage, mom bought us a 1963 version of the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cook Book which I still have. It had cool recipes like floats, cinnamon toast, party sandwiches, picnic some-mores, red hot applesauce, candy-topped cake, macaroni and cheese, Peter Rabbit salad, and many other yummies popular at that time.

In my high school years, both my grandmothers turned me onto family history. As my grandparents relayed the stories of their families, I became very interested in their stories, not just the facts of their births, deaths, and marriages, but how they lived their lives. It reminded me much of the stories of “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder which I read as a child. I learned that my maternal great-grandmother, Tacy BERRY cooked for my great-grandfather Alfred ULLOM’s café & Farmer’s Home Motel in Coffeyville, Kansas and that he married her two weeks before the Dalton Raid on the Banks there in 1892. This was Alfred’s second marriage and Tacy shouldered the responsibilities of his first family of seven children plus they went on to have seven more. The youngest of this second family, Laura, purchased a 1928 cookbook called Anyone Can Bake by the Royal Baking Powder Co, NY on November 19th from Miss R. H. RUSSELL in her junior year of high school. She went on to institutional cooking.

My maternal grandmother married the youngest son of Alford and Tacy  during the American depression. Cash was scarce and when a magazine salesman came through their neighborhood selling subscriptions to the Household Magazine with a cookbook as a premium, she traded a chicken for The Household Searchlight Recipe Book (1939) which she used for many years. They lived in a two room house on a Oklahoma farm. She cooked on a huge gas range and borrowed a three-legged table which she stood in a corner for them to eat at. My mother was born during the thirties and she said she can remember the dirt storms which blew through. My grandmother would put damp sheets over her bed at night and stuff rags in all the cracks to keep the dust at bay, but still it sifted in. Like the people in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, my grandparents left the farm for awhile and traveled to Washington State to pick cherries, living with relatives for a time until the rains came to settle the dust.

My paternal grandmother, Grandma Gladys, was in service in a household when she met my grandfather. She was a Sunday School teacher for many years and loved to give to missions. In order to give, she raised money by making wedding cakes, adorning her cakes with molded ceramic decorations she made herself. Later, having slip, molds, the paints, and a kiln came in handy as Vacation Bible School craft-time rolled around each summer and for Christmas gifts. She taught my mother ceramics and in turn, my mother taught the craft for many years. My dad’s youngest sister taught home economic classes.

This grandmother, for my sweet sixteenth birthday, began my hope chest (barrel of despair) with gold-banded china. She also, for several Christmas’ thereafter, gave me three cookbooks = Heart of the Home Recipes: Favorites from Capper’s Weekly (1980); Country Cooking from the Women of the Pleasant Prairie Church of God (1986); and Country Cookin’, Vol. II, also from the Pleasant Prairie Church of God (1995) as her legacy. Many of her favorite recipes are enclosed in these cookbooks, especially the latter two.

When David and I married, my dad gave us our first set of stainless steel pots and pans; my mother, our first set of stainless steel mixing bowls and David’s grandmother, Marie RUSH, gave us a rolling pin and a cast-iron skillet. She said when they married, she didn’t know how to boil water, much less cook a whole meal. Grandpa must have had a cast-iron stomach to endure her cooking until she got better. I’m going to share many of her handwritten recipes in this blog. Their oldest son, David’s dad, upon joining the Army, was assigned the job of cook. His maternal great-grandfather, James RUSH, also cooked in the field hospital at Springfield during the Civil War.

David's maternal Grandmother, Bertha CARRENDER, crocheted a beautiful lacy tablecloth for our wedding gift. After she passed away, we received her stoneware cookie jar when the family divided up her possessions.I nostalgically treasure my inheritance of housewife cookery.

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  1. A fascinating post about the treasures from your relatives, both in the sharing of their lives and their personal possessions. I enjoyed this very much and am on my way to see the recipes now. Hope you have a nice weekend.

  2. What fun stories. I always enjoy history, the more detailed the better. Thanks for sharing.


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