This cookbook is from the shelves of my cousin, Colleen. The reference to Whatcom County caught my eye immediately. That’s where my father was born and grew up. As far as I know, he was born in a farmhouse not far outside Laurel, Washington, about five miles south of the US/Canadian border.
The book has quite a few ads for shops specialising in products such as clothing, hardware, pharmaceuticals, coal, ovens, radios, real estate, fish and milk. The book belonged to Colleen’s Aunt Nell.
Nell was an English teacher and wrote many notes in the margin, declaring recipes as being excellent, very good, very fine, super fine, hi-grade (made two times in two weeks), too darn sweet, Bill likes but Reuben don’t (Reuben was her husband and Bill was her nephew), lovely, not so hot, liked very well but Bill don’t, super fine, okay, takes the prize, swell, swellegant, ugh and, lastly, worse than nothing (which was for a George Washington Pie).
I suppose that most of my Washington state relatives owned a copy of this book. I always thought my grandmother didn’t like to cook, but Colleen’s mum, Jo, says Zula (yes, my grandmother’s name was Zula) was a great cook. So maybe she was just too busy to do much of it. My dad used to say that he taught himself to cook when he was seven, so he was sure to get a meal.
Here’s what he might have cooked from page 32. The instructions were in a sort of shorthand, so I expanded a bit for clarity. There was a very fine recipe on this page, but I can’t imagine dad ever made dinner rolls.
1 pint milk
2/3 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
Put milk in double boiler. When boiling, stir in slowly the corn meal until it begins to thicken. Take from fire and stir in well-beaten yolks and whites of eggs. Turn into buttered baking dish. Bake in quick oven for 30 minutes.
by Mrs TG Newman
How it played out
I planned to make this as written, but my effort came undone when I simply could not get the milk to reach boiling point. So after 20 minutes of stirring and staring at a pot that wouldn’t boil, I added the corn meal and carried on with the recipe.
The rest was easy, but I was surprised to see how the mixture rose and fell in the oven. It was as if I’d added baking powder. By the way, I was never sure whether the eggs were to be separated. After wrestling with the milk, I didn’t bother to do that.
First off, I loved cooking from this book. It’s part of my family history, and the comments in the margin are classics. I just wish Aunt Nell had added her two-cents worth on this recipe. Maybe I’ll get Colleen to send me the very fine recipe for dinner rolls.
While spoon bread wasn’t the quick and easy recipe I expected it to be, the result was tasty and went nicely with the quick chilli con carne I made.
That said, I think regular corn bread would be nicer and a lot less hassle.
And here are three bits of trivia. While this recipe appears in a Washington state cookbook, spoon bread is common in the USA south. Berea Kentucky has an annual spoon bread festival. The actual recipe probably has its origin with Native Americans.