Vintage Kitchen: Making Antique Recipes in a Modern Era

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This is what cell phones were supposed to look like! I’m just happy I don’t have to wear those form-fitting jumpsuits.

I’m writing this in the science fiction present – the twenty-first century. The year is 2017, and while we may not have flying cars, personal jetpacks, or portals that instantly pop us out anywhere in the world we want to be, I do have a microwave, digital oven, the world-wide-web on my personal tablet with more memory and processing power than we used to send man to the moon… in my kitchen. I use convenience tools for nearly every step of my cooking these days, but there are still things in my kitchen my great-grandmother and great-great grandmother would have used as young women. Like the cookbooks. 

I can say this with assurance, because my grandmother recently presented me with some old cookbooks, and told me that one of them (the one I’m baking from today for this post) belonged to my great-great-grandmother. The books are treasures, indeed, and not only because they once belonged to my ancestresses. In them I have a window to the past, a glimpse of history when it was still happening and called current events.

I have intended for some time to blog about the antique and vintage cookbooks I own, and the addition to my collection of the family books galvanized me into action. I’ll be devoting Sundays to this series, and I have no idea how long I’ll run it – Eat This While You Read That ran for 72 segments – but it’s a great way to have some fun with cooking, highlight a bit of history, and remember fondly the not-so-distant past when slaving over the oven was a very real thing that took significant time out of every woman’s day.

Cooking from antique cookbooks presents a bit of a challenge at times. I have recipes that call for sifting the flour six times, which is not necessary in the modern era due to advances in milling technology. I have smooth, fine flour fit for a king, if you look back in time a couple hundred years. My baking powder books, published when baking powder was a new and exciting innovation, reference amounts that might be too much, because early baking powder was not double-action. Or that might have been an assumption on my part… Some books don’t include much direction on assembling and cooking the final product, assuming that all cooks knew how it was done. I’m looking at a book published in 1928 that includes only the briefest of instructions. In a few cases, none at all! How many of us modern cooks know what a ‘slow’, ‘moderate’, or ‘fast’ oven is? How many of us have had to wrestle with keeping a wood-fired oven properly hot but not too hot and evenly heated throughout a cook time? I have… and it’s not easy. I have huge respect for the women who developed these recipes I’ll be translating into modern techniques. I’m so very grateful I live in their science-fiction future.

It won’t always be easy. I am going to fail and have inedible food at the end of the day, sometimes. I can afford the time and ingredients – she might not have been able to. But I’m also certain I will learn something, as I reflect on what some of these women would have thought of my kitchen will all the mod-cons, and their recipes living on in a legacy to their daily efforts to keep the family fed.

The Ryzon Baking Book was developed from a cooking contest sponsored by the company that made Ryzon baking powder.

Today I attempted the “Ryzon Western Puffers” from the 1917 book, and my first batch failed badly. Pale hockey pucks are not edible, even if the dog did try one and like it. I changed three variables, tried it again, and then realized that although the recipe is in the book between two recipes for popovers, these are not popovers! They are something between a biscuit and a muffin, and they are very good. We enjoyed them with a bit of butter and jam. The First Reader put cheese, butter, and a dab of jam on his and pronounced it delicious. Of course, that also had the bonus effect of grossing the Ginja Ninja out.

While making this, I preheated the oven to 450 Deg F for the ‘hot oven’, after my first batch failed at 425. I’m not sure the heat helped the failure, but I know when I cranked the heat up, it made me flinch when I opened the oven door, and that’s a good sign of a hot oven!

Weights are given, which is wonderful, as they are more accurate than simple measurement.

I did sift my flour and baking powder together. I first tried 2 teaspoons, thinking RYZON was not DA, and mine is. The second batch I did with the full 4 tsp required.

Tower ‘o Flour on wax paper for easy addition to the stand mixer.

I used my handy-dandy Kitchenaid Stand Mixer for this. Since Hobart started making them in 1919, some of the ladies in these books may have been using one themselves. For the first batch I used the spatula beater my sister introduced me to, for the second I went ahead and used the whisk to introduce more air into the batter. The long beating time recommended activates the gluten nicely and the batter comes off the spoon in smooth ribbons.

Darnit. These are not food. Well, ok, not good food. Time for the second attempt.

The recipe is here in printable format, just click the icon.

now those are more like it! I wound up baking mine for 20 minutes, to be sure of doneness in the center.
Serve warm, almost hot, with butter and blackberry jam. Well, that’s what I had and it was delicious!

I’m also creating an album on Flickr for the photos, since I’m finding I take more than I want to put on the blog posts!


10 responses to “Vintage Kitchen: Making Antique Recipes in a Modern Era”

  1. This will be a fun thing to blog about!

    Your Great-great Grandma, Gladys Gentry Haring, was born in (IIRC) 1894. But she lived long enough to meet you and both of your younger sisters — your Grandma has probably still got some of the five-generation pictures that we got when you were a baby. She died about 1981-2 (she lived long enough to meet Juniper, I know), and while she didn’t have a computer, she did have a microwave oven! And an automatic coffee maker. I think she had a crock pot/slow-cooker, too. So she went from cooking on a wood stove in a house with no electricity or running water, to a fully electric house with modern appliances in her eighty-some-odd years of life.

    1. I think I need to talk to Grandma about some of the family history, and find out if she has some online I can link to.

      1. That would be a good idea, and she’d love to talk to you! I also need to send you the family tree information that I have.

  2. It’s so interesting to dig into old cook books. Mayhap we could start a glossary as meanings for old terms and instructions are winkled out,

    1. That’s a good idea, too. I know we found a chart in the back of one of the books explaining what temps went along with ‘slow’ and so forth. I knew them already, but it was good to confirm.

  3. As you may remember, I’ve written 3 cookbooks, and it’s harder than it looks.. 🙂 Ive been cooking for a _few_ years short of a biblical span, so *some* “translations” come easily, but not all. I learned the “by eye” measuring method, and had to learn how to do “real” measures.Not easy. You do a good job with your recipes.

  4. Tammie Darden Avatar
    Tammie Darden

    For those who don’t know :

    Table of equivalent oven temperatures
    Description °C °F
    Cool oven 90°C 200°F
    Very Slow oven 120°C 250°F
    Slow oven 150–160°C 300–325°F
    Moderately Slow 160–180°C 325–350°F
    Moderate oven 180–190°C 350–375°F
    Moderately Hot 190–200°C 375–400°F
    Hot oven 200–230°C 400–450°F
    Very Hot oven 230–260°C 450–500°F

    1. Thank you! I was planning on putting the chart from a book in another post. But perhaps a glossary page is necessary for this series?

  5. I think that would be a grand idea!

  6. […] to the second week of Vintage Kitchen, where I’m making recipes from old cookbooks. Some of them are family heirlooms, some are not. […]