May, 2012: Something from the Oven by Laura Shapiro

(Book #25) I’m not sure what possessed me to add this book to our list — it was such an odd choice — but I was very taken by it. The gathering was at my house. Melissa loaned me Melmac dishes and fancy jello molds and I whipped up recipes from a variety of 50-60’s cookbooks mentioned in the book. We started with a salmon mousse and tomato aspic* recipe that came from a Sears Coldspot recipe booklet. For the main course, we had a meatloaf ring, made sturdy with Quaker Oats; a macaroni ring from Poppy Cannon’s famous cookbook; a Jello ‘Under the Sea’ mold with lime jello and pears;  a spinach soufflé made with Hellman’s mayonnaise and from the Pillsbury Bake-off Cookbook, Marcia made Herb Stickles and I made Maryland Corn Bread.  For dessert there were three options all made with Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk — a cheese-less cheesecake, magic fudge and macaroons.

The book was loaded with interesting details about the way the food industry had to find a way to push all the food in cans and boxes that had gone into production as part of the war. Somehow, they had to convince housewives that they didn’t want to spend all that time in the kitchen — that it was easier to open a can of this and a can of that and make a casserole or better yet put it into a molded pan!  They also learned they could sell more product if they put a recipe on the label and launched competitions for recipes like the Pillsbury Bake-Off. We discussed recipes from our youth — Rosalie even brought some cookbooks for show and tell. I’d purchased a number of period cookbooks for the evening and let everyone choose one to take home. It was a strange choice of book, but it was every enlightening and entertaining.

(*I will never understand how tomato aspic was ever a thing.)