Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Glimpse Into a Texan's Cookbook

Mindy here, and the cookbook I want to share with you today is not mine, but my husband's great-grandmother's. This cherished book was written with love for the recipes within, those who shared them, and those who would partake in the results.

As you can see from the photos, this book has been well-used. Lots of notes and every page filled with, what she thought, were some of the best of the best.

Several years ago, prior to his passing, my father-in-law rewrote much of this book and put it in spiral format, along with his own comments and memories, and gave them to his children and grandchildren. I can't think of a better idea.

Here's some of what he wrote in the preface:

"My Recipes is the name of a book originally with blank pages. Over approximately 50 years, many of the pages were filled with hand-written recipes by my grandmother, Pearle Harcourt Wooten. The recipe book is not an ordinary cookbook, but rather a testimony of what recipes, in her mind, were worth recording. They were not all her original recipes, but special ones obtained from her friends, that she thought deserved recording."

Pearle Wooten was born in 1869, almost a hundred years before yours truly. She was a well-respected member of her community, and apparently a well-respected cook based on something my FIL added to his notes.

"When I was growing up, nearly every Sunday one of the ministers would eat dinner at my Grandmother's house. It was a standing invitation. I remember Reverend Marmion..., and Rev. Arey. Also there was Bishop Quinn from Houston, who came about every three or four months to conduct Sunday services in Columbus and Eagle Lake. Bishop Quinn and his wife always ate at my Grandmother's house after service. It is possible that he arranged it so as to have to Columbus service at 11:00 o'clock."

Of course every good Southern woman must have a recipe for cheese straws. Pearle had two. Here's one of them.

1 1/2 cup dry cheese
1/3 amount of butter
2 scant cups of flour
2 teaspoons of salt
1 yolk of egg
pinch of cayenne

Cold water to make stiff dough, small amount of baking powder. Roll out about 1/4 inch thick. Cut in narrow strips, bake in hot oven.

How's that for a recipe? Do you know what dry cheese is? And just how much is 1/3 amount of butter?

Here's a recipe you're sure to love. You'll be chomping at the bit to serve this one at your next family gathering.

Pickled Tongue
(for two tongues)

1 Tbs. saltpeter
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup salt

Cut slits in tongue, put pieces of garlic. Put in stone pot, held down with weight for one week. Then cook and peal. Keep in ice box, wrapped in paraffin paper.

I'm guessing paraffin paper is our waxed paper, but what exactly is saltpeter?

I thought this was an interesting recipe.

Wartime Delicate Frosting

Heat 1 cup  honey on top of stove until it pours quickly. While this is warming, beat one egg white to which 1/8 tsp of salt has been added. Pour slowly the warm honey into the egg mixture and continue beating. Beat until frosting is stiff. Add flavoring if desired. It is delicious and a pretty cream color.

I totally get this one. Sugar was rationed during the war, so they found other ways to make due. And this one just might not be too bad.

Then, as now, they had their special recipes they'd break out for holidays.

The Best of All Christmas Candy

Take 1 cup of dates (seeded), 1 cup figs or prunes soaked and seeded, but not cooked, 1 cup nuts (any kind). Run all four materials through grinder using medium cutter. Moisten with a little orange juice till all is molted into a paste. Roll into smooth, even balls the size of marbles. Toss each ball on a plate of sugar till coated. Lay in neat rows on a plate till dry. 1 1/2 doz. of these balls neatly arranges on a holly decorated plate and covered with holly paper napkins - nice to take to neighbor friend on Christmas morning.

Pearle's book ended with Rules for Serving.

Informal Dinner

Remove salad plates with left hand, change to right hand, then take the two to the kitchen at one time. Beginning with hostess, next person to right of hostess. Do all around the table. Next place the carving fork left, carving knife and serving spoon at right of host.

Place turkey in front of host. Cranberry molds with service spoon at left of host. The dinner plates are on serving table.

The maid, having two dinner plates in hand, stands behind the host at his left, places one before host, who wills it also placing one cranberry mold. The maid then removes the filled plate with the left hand and places the empty plate before the host with the right hand. The maid carries the filled plate to the hostess - she then takes an empty plate from the service table and proceeds as above.

Maid passes vegetables in serving dishes to each person after she has placed the dinner plates with meat and cranberries on them to everyone. The maid passes bread and relishes and keeps glasses and butter replenished (serve hot rolls when needed).

First remove turkey. Remove dinner plates, dinner plates in left hand, bread and butter in right. Remove salt and pepper and any other unused silver on small tray. Remove crumbs, if necessary with plates and napkins.

Y'all, if this was an informal dinner, I can't imagine the formal dinner.

I wish I could have been a guest at Pearle Wooten's table. That is, so long as she wasn't serving Pickled Tongue. When I look at some of her recipes, I can see how cooking and baking was an all-day affair. But the meals were truly an event. Something I know I would do well to learn from my great grandmother-in-law:-)

I know we often discuss old cookbooks here at the cafe. What is it that makes a cookbook special to you? Do you prefer the ease of today or wish for those time-honored traditions of yesteryear?

I love the fact that my FIL took the time to compile the recipes and his memories for all of us to share with generations to come.

Happy eating, y'all.


  1. What a treasure, Mindy!

    Since I'm the only stay at home mom in my generation (now isn't that amazing?), I inherited the hand written recipe cards and boxes from my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and some of my mother's, along with my mother's cookbooks. I love reading them, deciphering the handwriting, wondering which friend passed the recipe on (I recognize some of the names - school friends, neighbors, ladies from church).

    My goal is to make shadow boxes with some of the cards, the boxes, great-grandma's plate, grandma's apron...

    ...someday, when I find the time!!!

    1. Jan, that's a great idea. Then you'll be able to enjoy those items everyday. I hate having to tuck cherished items away. We should be able to see them and relish the fond memories that go with them.

      Ah, yes...that time thing. Let's not go there:-)

    2. Oh, I love this so much! What a treasure trove of tidbit information!!!!

      Mmmmm....pickled tongue.

      Oh, yum, grab the crackers!!!! And saltpeter is a form of potassium nitrate, here's the wiki definition:

      Major uses of potassium nitrate are in fertilizers, food additive, rocket propellants and fireworks; it is one of the constituents of gunpowder.

      How fun is that, that our preservative can BLOW THINGS UP????? :)

      I love the line from 1776:

      Abigail Adams: "John, you neglected to tell us how saltpeter is made."

      John Adams: "By mixing sodium nitrate with potassium chloride, of course!!!"

      Abigail: "Oh. Of course, John."

      I love old recipes (like the possum one I posted) but to have a family recipe book like this???? Ah.... Bliss!!!

    3. ROFLOL! Now how did I know you'd be able to tell me what saltpeter was, Ruthy? And I'm so glad you did. What a hoot.

  2. "Cut slits in tongue..." Seriously?! Ewwwwwww!!!! I can just hear your great-grandma now chiding her children. "You sass me one more time and I'll be serving your tongue up for supper tonight!"

    Jan's right though, this is a treasure! And I love Jan's shadow box idea. What a clever way to highlight your heritage.

    Sadly, I don't have such wonderful treasures from the past. The closest I get is my mom's Five Roses cookbook. It's really tattered now and I'm sure my great-grandchildren won't be able to read a word of it. I'm kind of hard on cookbooks. But it is filled with memories -- like the first time I ever made pancake batter from scratch.

    I was nursing an orphan kitty at the time and he suddenly found his sea legs and braved a wild jump onto the counter to see what I was doing. Unfortunately he landed in the bowl. Pancake batter flew everywhere and so did Wuggens. The cookbook was saturated but I wiped it up as best I could. I still smile whenever I make pancakes and see that yellowed nearly transparent page.

    1. Poor Wuggens. But that is hysterical. And what a memory, Kav. You've definitely added a few of your own to that old book.

      As for the tongue, I cracked up at how it was written. Sounded like slicing your own tongue. Ouch! I may be a carnivore, but even I have my limits.

    2. The eating of tongues and sweet breads (Kav, DON'T ASK), tripe, oh my stars....

      Head cheese.

      When I read that in Farmer Boy (love that book!!!) the visual of those folks making use of everything....

      They seriously knew how to take care of the planet, didn't they???

    3. They were green before green was cool. Of course, I woulda been green too if i'da had to eat that stuff:-)

    4. LOL!!! I wonder if you'd be used to it, though, if you had it from little up??? Caroline Ingalls made codfish gravy all the time... Can you imagine codfish gravy???

      And Charles said her cornbread needed no sweetening other than the imprint of her hand on the loaf, so she'd press her hand against the fresh loaf once it cooled a little.... My husband would be wondering out loud where the syrup was!!!! Charles' way was much more romantic!

  3. Mindy I love this!! So many cool things to learn about the time period. You should type up all those recipes!

    One of my favorites is a recipe book I got for a wedding gift with note cards with the hostesses' (?sp of plural possessive of hostess!) favorite recipes. It was my mom's bridge club ladies who did it. :)

    1. Missy, I have some recipes like that too. It's still a great idea to share our faves with new brides. Someday it might be a cherished recipe for them.

  4. I am just loving this (except the tongue of course). Thank you for sharing!

    1. Tina, now I thought you would have been all over that tongue recipe :-)

    2. I'm surprised she isn't, Mindy... For a Rocky Mountain chick, she's kind of Eastern, don'cha think????