Two weeks ago, food for fun kicked off its Cooking with Great-aunt Helen series. (Please suggest another title–this one isn’t doing it for me.) My mom’s Aunt Helen was a fierce and independent spirit, passing away at 92. She never married or had children, instead focusing on travel to England as a Fulbright scholar, her career as a social worker, and a love of camping, birdwatching, backpacking, and the great outdoors in general.
In tribute to and memory of Great-aunt Helen, I’ve pledged to cook from Helen’s recipe boxes. Alternating weeks will feature a classic cocktail to accompany whatever dish I’ve made the week before.
Chatting with my mom about her aunt made the Helen project even more fun for me. Mom told me about Greyhound bus trips from her small, rural town in southern Minnesota to Helen’s house in the big city of Minneapolis, where Helen would take my mom and her younger sister downtown for shopping and lunch. (Living in an era when I don’t let my daughters cross the busy township highway at the end of our block, I can’t even imagine such a situation.) Mom has lovely memories of her Aunt Helen, and I look forward to uncovering more of them in future conversations.
For now, let’s consider that, despite recipe boxes jam-packed with those little white cards, Helen was not known as a cook. Neither my mom nor her sister have ever thought of Helen as spending much time in the kitchen. (She was too busy working and camping and backpacking and whatnot.) But she had recipe boxes and they were full. Helen cooked.
The beauty of her recipe boxes are that they contain simple, sturdy, practical recipes. Recipes for folks who cooked because they had to eat. Helen’s recipes–circa 1950s up to the late 1980s–illustrate an era where people didn’t have access to the processed and prepared foods we do now. If you wanted to eat, you had to cook (or at least live with someone who cooked for you).
Take Great-aunt Helen’s guacamole.This traditional Mexican avocado dip is everywhere today, but back then it had to have been more of a niche dish. No guesses on why it was in Helen’s recipe box, but it seemed a good recipe for the All-American Super Bowl and was my pick for the week.
Two things set the recipe apart for me: No cilantro, which probably wasn’t on mainstream grocery’s radar for at least another decade. As well, sour cream (or mayonnaise!) is included in the dip. Maybe not strange in 1977, but today’s guacamole is more basic: avocado, cilantro, garlic (lacking in this recipe), and lime juice. Sometimes red onion and just maybe a bit of tomato. Sour cream may be served alongside guac, but it’s most certainly not a stir-in.
Just the same, I followed Helen’s recipe to the letter (though I did add a few cloves garlic as guacamole must have garlic) and loved it.The guacamole was especially creamy (thank you, sour cream) and the onion gave it bite. The tomatoes offered a bit more moisture and while cilantro would have been a lovely addition, this guac was good without. I enjoyed how the ingredients played off each other in flavor, texture, and color and I would definitely make it again.Great-aunt Helen’s Guacamole
- 4 soft avocados, peeled and pitted
- Juice from 1/2 lime
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream or mayonnaise
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
In bowl, mash together avocados, lime juice, and salt. Stir in onion, sour cream, tomato, and garlic. Makes about 4 cups.
Next week we’ll accompany Great-aunt Helen’s Guacamole with the Paloma–a margarita-like cocktail worthy of this 1977 recipe.