My Mother’s Cookbook
Old-Fashioned Recipes: Rice and Lima Bean Casseroles, Buddy’s Baked Beans, Aunt Rickie’s New Year’s Cakes
Most of the recipes that captured my mother’s interest reflected the influences of the mid-twentieth century middle America where she lived. But she didn’t adapt some new shortcuts like canned soups used in quick casseroles or cakes or waffles made from boxed mixes. Instead, she continued to rely on recipes that had been handed down through our family for generations.
Up until the mid-1950’s, my father came home most days for lunch. His mother, my Grandmother Buddy was still alive and living with us. So Mom served lunch daily to at least six people and, in winter she knew we needed something hot.
Combining complementary foods into one-dish meals goes way back to more primitive times, and casseroles evolved from this tradition in the 19th Century. The new lighter-weight glass and metal dishes manufactured around 1950 sparked greater interest among busy homemakers serving these easy meals.
We had our favorites, one being Mom’s adaptation of an old recipe from her mother for rice and meat mixed with onion and served with a tomato sauce. The 1896 printing of Fannie Meritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book included a similar recipe. Mom depended on the Fannie Farmer cookbook as a primary cooking reference and gave me a copy when I first started cooking. Now I refer to Marian Cunningham’s excellent Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
Cook 1 cup of long-grain rice, per package directions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
Melt butter in sauce pan until bubbling, blend in flour until smooth. Stir while adding milk gradually to prevent lumps. Put one third of rice in bottom of casserole, spread in one third of sauce. Repeat layers, ending with tomato sauce on top; salt and pepper to taste. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until heated through; serves four. A salad or vegetable complement this dish.
Mom’s Note: This evolved from a dish Mother made. She would line a casserole with cooked rice; fill the center with leftover meat ground with onion, salt and pepper. Heat through and serve with tomato sauce.
In winter when the temperatures hovered near zero and snow covered the ground, I walked the six blocks home from elementary school. My usual walking companion, my friend Twyla, lived two blocks beyond our house. Her father drove a Standard Oil truck and, in rainy or cold weather, we’d often find his big red rig waiting for us at the curb across from the school.
He kept the engine running, so the cab of his truck felt invitingly warm when we climbed up from running board to the crackly leather seat. He would let me off at the corner where my street intersected with Baldwin Street, which continued on to their house. As a main thoroughfare from the downtown square to outlying homes and countryside, Baldwin was busy at lunch time. Business people came home for lunch instead of going out to restaurants in those days.
One typically cold and snowy January day of my 4th grade year, I jumped down from the cab and ran behind the truck as I always did. But I forgot to look to the right as I started to cross the street. Half way across a tan-colored car loomed before me. The car’s front fender grazed me, whirling me around to land on my bottom by the back wheel cap, which by then had stopped.
I stood up, surprised but unhurt, having learned in that instant how fast accidents happen. The driver looked concerned and asked if I was alright. I said yes and continued across the street, safe because the car hadn’t been going fast and the snow-packed street and the snow pants I wore cushioned my fall.
I reached home just as my parents, brothers and grandmother were starting lunch. Listening to them talk as I ate, I couldn’t find the words to tell them what had just happened to me.