It was 1961, Camelot had ascended to the White House bringing it with the ideals of the Peace Corps and the challenge of The Space Race heating up with the goal of a lunar landing by the end of the decade placed before all Americans. Women wore gloves and hats and, for the most part, did not work outside the home (and if they did it was in a “supporting role”). Americans ate three meals a day from four basic food groups – meat, grain, dairy and fruits/vegetables. And into this era, The Congressional Club (the wives of elected and appointed leaders), published the sixth edition of its charity cookbook.
This past week, I have been exploring my recently acquired treasure, The Congressional Club Cookbook 6th Edition – a thrift store find that was given to Ma’am by a former co-worker which she passed along to me when she was cleaning out books. It was a two-for-one prize for me. Not only is it a cookbook full of homey recipes, it is a glimpse into America’s psyche 50 years ago. I almost wish I was still in school so I could write a report on it. Oh wait, I have a blog. Even better, I can write and not have to stress too much about sentence structure, grammar or word count.
First of all, look at that cover! The ladies are in dresses, heels and lacy aprons. My husband is lucky if my jeans, sweatshirt and athletic shoes aren’t too splattered with food by the time dinner’s done. My grandmother, Mimi, told me she always made sure she was dressed nicely with her hair and make up done when my grandfather came home because he spent all day with those lovely well groomed ladies at the school and she didn’t want him coming home to her in a house coat and rollers.
The fact that the two parties representatives are not trying to shove that cake in each other’s face is not that strange considering the origins and goals of the Congressional Club, per www.thecongressionalclub.com,
“Founded in 1908, the original purpose of The Congressional Club was to provide a non-partisan setting for friendships among the spouses of members of the House and Senate in Washington, D.C. Although the scope of the Club and the breadth of its activities have increased over the years, its purpose remains the same.”
No, the word “spouses” was not used in the 1961 edition. It was “wife”, with a special “men only” recipe section for the contributions of the elected officials themselves.
The foreward, by First Lady Mrs. John F. Kennedy, states:
“Our country is blessed with the greatest abundance and variety of food in the world. Since cooking is certainly one of the fine arts, every woman in the United States has an obligation to the members of her family and the nation to see that their health and physical well-being are maintained by attractive, properly prepared meals. Good cooking can contribute immeasurably to the happiness of our homes.”
An obligation to my family AND the nation to serve attractive, properly prepared meals?! Wow, no pressure there! A statement like this now would be viewed as insulting to the female population. But, 50 years ago, in the middle of the Cold War, it was a challenge most American woman would readily accept. And, I do have to admit the last statement is true, at least in my house. When dinner sucks this home isn’t a very happy one.
Further irony is added to that statement upon perusal of the recipes which contain a plethora of processed foods such as American cheese, canned soups and vegetables, gelatin and other horrors to today’s nutritionists like flour, sugar, white rice and red meat. But, I will save that ridiculous rant for the Anthony Bordain’s of this world. I am sure fifty years from now, when people look at the 2006 edition of the cookbook some will be repulsed that people actually ate THAT, whatever “that” may turn out to be.
Each recipe is labelled with the name and signature of the contributor. And, per the dictums of the times, each woman is referenced as Mrs. Husband First and Last Name, and almost all signed their names the same way. The notable exceptions being First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy and the wife of the former Vice President Patricia Nixon that used their own first names. Oh, Jackie and Pat – you rebels! I don’t think I have ever signed my name as Mrs. Matthew Humaciu. I’d probably giggle if I did.
The recipes themselves deserve at least a little mention since this is a cookbook after all. Like most charity cookbooks, there are plenty of misspellings, mistakes and missing ingredients buried in the directions instead of the ingredient list. Which is why Ma’am always told me to read the entire recipe before attempting it. Some look scrumptious and I plan on trying them soon while others, uh, all I can say is “no thank you”. A few notables:
- Smart politcal wives that contributed recipes promoting ingredients from their state, Hawaii (Mahi Mahi), Maine (lobster), Alaska (king crab), Wisconsin (cheese) and Idaho (potatoes).
- A few “ahead of their times” recipes including Noches Especiales (nachos) and Pho (from the embassay of Viet Nam)
- Campout recipes in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Girl Scouts including Banana Boats and Some-Mores (sic).
- And one from the Portugeuse embassy titled Bacon from Heaven that must have lost something in the translation since it contains almonds, sugar, eggs and lemon and appears to be a custard.
Among those I plan to try at some point are:
- Chicken Spaghetti that is a casserole of diced cooked chicken, spaghetti and a simple sauce.
- Orange Rolls that look like a cinnamon roll that substitutes grated orange peel for the cinnamon.
- Forgotten Cake that is put in a 450 degree oven that is turned off immediately and the cake sits in it overnight.
I have already tried two recipes Dollar Hot Cakes and Root Beer Brownies. The first is a
basic pancake recipe that I whipped up this morning and made the appropriate silver dollar size using my Tovolo Pancake Pen (thanks again for the Christmas gift, Mary!). Aren’t they cute? The little black flecks are due to me cooking the pancakes in the same pan I used for the sausage – yummy.
As for the second recipe, the name is what got me. What on earth would Root Beer Brownies taste like, I thought? The recipe is simple, mix up a box of brownie mix substituting root beer for the liquid and throw in some crushed pepperment candies. Before I could get to the store to get the ingredients, my friend, Carol the Pastry Chef posted a blog on Root Beer Bundt Cake. I kid you not, it was a matter of 2-3 hours after I found my recipe that
she posted it. After reading her rave review I figured root beer is loaded with vanilla and spices so it isn’t going to make the chocolate taste “funky” it would just enhance it. I admit I got lazy and bought a packaged mix (but it was a GOOD dark chocolate mix, not the 99cent store brand special) and I did not get the best root beer I have ever had – Henry Weinhards – but settled for A&W. Carol was right, it made a very intensely chocolate brownie. Definately, a recipe I will make again.
I think I will now be on the look out for more of these old cookbooks as I wander through used bookstores. Even if I don’t find any good recipes they may make an interesting read.
Until next time, happy eating!
~Mrs. Matthew Humaciu (tee hee)