There are many cookbooks in my house, from friends and family specially gifted to me, old ones of my mother’s and grandmother’s, and, cookbooks from neighbors who happened to be getting rid of them. Well, actually we only have cookbooks from one old neighbor, one who was moving and was an avid baker. One certain book was on its twenty-third edition when published in the 40’s. It’s title is, “The Settlement Cookbook-The Way to a Man’s Heart.” Wonderful title, no? Inside, it says that the recipes come from: The Settlement Cooking Classes, The Milwaukee Public School Kitchens, and The School of Trades for Girls and Experienced Housewives.
Some recipes whose names I just have to share include: Irish Moss Lemonade, Rennet Custard, and Dry Toast. Now, these are all easily explained, but for the Irish moss, as I am unsure of what it is. Rennet was like gelatin in the early part of the 20th century, and recipes for things like dry toast and sections like, “The Feeding of Infants and Children,” were probably quite helpful for aspiring housewives. This is not to say that this book has little use but for the housewife of a hundred years ago. It is still very helpful now; filled with charts and diagrams and very precise instructions on how to can things, from nectarines to tomatoes. It is actually invaluable today. Despite having a multitude of cookbooks, I don’t think many of them include such precise canning instructions, or give diagrams of each cut of meat in a cow.
But just consider. This was published around the time of the Depression, probably earlier. There had to be recipes that would make the best of the ingredients you had; there had to be millions of cakes so that you could make a different one each day as you whiled away (ha!) the hours as a stay at home wife.
Let’s face it, cooking was a BIG thing then! People would cook all day, and though they would mind it, they dealt with it, because that was the reality. The options provided to us through preservatives, microwaves, and other such things has made people lazy about cooking. That’s why we have “30 minute meals” and the frozen food aisle takes up a quarter of the supermarket. That’s why, though this cookbook may seem outdated, it is actually something we should, in a way, be trying to work towards. Having McDonald’s every night is bad!! BAD! Perhaps it is inexpensive, but as a society we have to stop being so dependent on such food and take time to learn about what we are eating, which is pretty easy if you cook it yourself.
Okay, now that my talk about my nice little cookbook has turned into a rant against preservatives, let’s return, shall we? I have consulted this book many times when I can’t find recipes for things I am craving. There are so many icings and cakes and any candy imaginable. And they aren’t difficult or expensive like many of the recipes in cookbooks written by acclaimed chefs tend to be. “Cheap Cocoa Cake,” even has its stand in here, along with “Nesselrode Pudding” and a “Frozen Fig Puding.” I love this book, for how it captures American society in the Depression era and before, and how it teaches us that cooking isn’t just for the rich or the people with tons of time on their hands. It’s for everyone, and it needs to be, in at least some way, part of everyone’s lives.
Almost forgot the recipe! Whoops! Now, I made a couple of changes, and have a few things to note as well. First, this Gingerbread is pretty darn amazing. I used blueberries, the full amount listed. They were frozen though, and I think this slowed down the baking time, as I ended up having to cover the pan with tinfoil and cook it an extra 10 minutes. Even then it was still soggy on top. Not that I minded, but some might. Though there is no alcohol in this bread, no fresh ginger or cardamon, it is still quite nice. Blueberries and ginger pair very well, creating a nice quick cake that isn’t too sweet, and goes great with afternoon tea.
From “The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cookbook” -Recipes compiled by Mrs. Simon Kander
(This book was a gift from Mrs. Roslyn Kaprow, formerly of Bangor)
Makes 1-8 by 8 inch cake
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil or butter (I used canola oil because my brothers are lactose-intolerant, but butter is generally preferred for gingerbread)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour (I used the same amount of a gluten-free flour mixture, plus 1/2 tsp. of xantham gum)
1/4 cup currants or
2 cups blueberries (my choice)
Mix soda and sour milk and add to molasses. Cream butter (or add canola oil), add sugar, then the egg; sift together remaining dry ingredients and add to butter. Add molasses mixture. Add currants or blueberries rolled in some of the flour. Pour into a greased 8 by 8 inch pan and bake in a moderately hot oven, 350 degrees, for 30 to 45 minutes. Cover with whipped cream if desired.