Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No butter, no sugar, no taste?

I've mentioned rationing during World War II before, the special quality of sugar when it is scarce. Recipes from the early and mid-20th century interest me and I frequently hang out at Foodtimeline.org to get my fix on foods from our past. Beyond just the rationing of sugar, cooks during The Great War, The Great(er) Depression and Dubba Dubba II, found ways to still have their cake and eat it too. Recipes for cakes calling for no milk, no sugar, no eggs came on the scene.

Does it sound unappetizing? Um, yeah, a little. Substituting tomato soup for milk or mayonnaise for eggs does make me a bit squeamish. Heck, I've heard of chocolate cakes that take sauerkraut for moisture. Some of those "make do" kind of recipes belong in the past, quaint but not revived, I think. But others are handy reminders of what you can do with a little ingenuity.

Take that mayonnaise cake, for example. Plenty of people swear that chocolate mayonnaise cakes are deliciously moist. The newer book, America's Best Lost Recipes, put out by those venerable folks at Cook's Country magazine, holds a recipe for this cake (and the sauerkraut cake too.../shudder) so you know at least some folks are still partial to this concept of making do with what you have.

It's funny, at least to a odd duck like me, in this time of celeb chefs and pancultural dishes, that a niche of the lucrative cookbook market is celebrating the recipes that have long thrived in dusty recipe boxes. These unfussy, unpretentious, dowdy recipes never are as glamorous as their TopChef-fusion style cousins, but here they stay. Collected, recorded by various food historians and passed along.

I'm glad to see it. I'd rather see these recipes get more attention, rather than the glitzy stuff that shows up on celeb cooking shows. They are homely and homey, and that's ok. I don't want them every night, but it's nice to have them there when all you have in your pantry is a jar of mayonnaise and a dream for chocolate cake.


Anonymous said...

I've had tomato soup cupcakes before. They were really good and seemed extra chocolatey. Not tomatoey at all. But the sourcrout angle? (shivers)

Sling said...

I've used beer,instead of water in a lot of recipes.Especially pancakes!
I've even substituted eggs with mayo..But as much as love sauerkraut,I think I'll pass.

Heather said...

I love looking through old cookbooks and reading the notes people have lovingly included. I've started writing in my cookbooks too and my next project is to start collecting all those successful recipes into one place rather than in the myriad of books I own.

Lorraine said...

Me too, with the passing on saurkraut in my cake. A chacroute, sure. Cake, no.

I was just reading an article in the NY Times about how fashion is trending toward sheaths and crinolines and other 50's, mid-century fare. The writer opined that in a time of uncertainty people are longing for a return to what they remember as a more stable, civil time.

Maybe mayonnaise cake factors in there somewhere.