Getting a taste of the past


It was one of those weekends when I had the urge to cook up something from scratch. A fun activity and an opportunity to put aside to-do tasks temporarily. 
This was a serious pursuit that would involve a Dutch oven and a double boiler and called for pulling down one of those cookbooks passed down in the family. You know the kind. The pages have become brittle or have come loose. The recipes used most often can be identified by the number of blotches of the various ingredients splattered on the pages, sometimes accompanied by hand-written comments in the margins—“cook 10 minutes longer,” “cut sugar in half,” etc. My relatives from the past generations helpfully supplied notes on other recipes; written alongside some of those with only a stain or two: “Not worth it.”
I was searching for a recipe for chicken pot pie and I had my choice of several vintage cookbooks.
There was the thin volume with a woman in crisp shirtwaist and long skirt, one hand holding open the cookbook, the other patting a sack of flour (the producer of the book). She was clearly pleased that she had come to the right source. But did I? Indeed, chicken pot pie was among the listings. The poultry section began, “This meat is not as nutritious as beef and mutton, but its tenderness and flavor render it most agreeable as a change in the usual bill of fare.” Yes, this newly issued cookbook was dated 1904. The advice continued that gave it a touch of today’s perspective—“neither has it as much fat”—but added that “this can be supplied in the way of butter or cream.” The text about poultry went on for a page (on picking out the live fowl and the aftermath) before getting to, well, the meat of the matter—the pot pie recipe. This recipe had the cook cutting the chicken into “nice pieces”—OK—and meanwhile cutting off a pound of bread dough, which we learned to do on a previous page, and then paring an unspecified number of potatoes.  And by the way, sponge balls served with soup could be excellent with pot pie. I needed a little more detail.
Time to turn to a more modern cookbook – the one held together by duct tape that offered guidance for households that either had an icebox or that more recent invention, the automatic refrigerator. 
This, too, had a chicken pot pie recipe and lots of other recipes that, by the many stains, had passed the taste test multiple times.  And, happy days, it included the list of ingredients with amounts.  But the recipe was a page long. Would I have time to accomplish all those steps?
Step one, “Hold the rooster over the flame to remove hairs. Remove pinfeathers, cut out the…” A quick review and a skip over those initial steps and I was off and running—or off and simmering the broth that I created, adding the chicken and later the onions. With the other hand, I whipped up the baking powder biscuit dough per directions, assembled it all, baked, and served.
For good measure as a nod to future recipe readers, I added a pinch of stains to the page.


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