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.
Cooking with Gr-auntie H!?!? 😉 This is a fabulous and classic recipe, Liz… delicious!
Thanks for the suggestion, Nancy! Much better than my daughter’s thought of Cooking with the Dead. Uggh. You’ll have to whip this one up next time you have an impromptu gathering 🙂 It would go well alongside chips and a tray of devil’s on horseback 😉
I love the idea of this! -M
Thanks for the visit, M 🙂 Fun to check out your site as well! It’s almost like I’m thrifting recipes, yes?
Not sure of a good title for the series, maybe Oldies But Goodies?! I have my grandma’s recipe box and much of it is interesting reads, so many casseroles or jello dishes which I definitely don’t do. The desserts, however, are keepers. Funny how cooking has evolved over the years. Glad you enjoyed this “classic” guacamole!
There are plenty of casseroles in Helen’s boxes, too, but I have promised myself I will make nothing with “cream of” any kind of soup in the ingredient list. Will same the same for jello, haha. She does have a few stir-fries, which would have been progressive at the time. But as you say, it’s the chocolate cakes, whipped frostings, etc that interest me most. Thanks for being here, Gretchen 🙂
I’m really liking Aunt Helen’s recommendation to add sour cream (I already add the onion) – yum!! Thanks Liz!
Would love your guacamole recipe, Mimi. Care to share? I especially love those overloaded with garlic, and I suppose onion adds a bit of the same flavor.
Thinking of you this week as you await your granddaughter. 😀
I wish it was a recipe per se – Ijust use avocado, roasted garlic (just because I love to roast garlic), lemon juice and chopped tomatoes…And thank you for the good wishes – let’s see if this little girl makes her appearance on cue or chooses to improvise her entrance!! 🙂
As far as it is from authentic Mexican guacamole, it’s still amazing she even used avocado back then. She definitely kept an open mind. 🙂
agreed, Tasty. She was definitely progressive, even in the recipes she collected. Part of it was her fascination with other cultures. Folks thought her a bit odd back in the day for making the life choices she did, but no one would bat an eyelash now. She was far far ahead of her time. Appreciate you being here to share Helen’s stories 🙂
I made the same life choices, and even though there’s still a lot of criticism, if definitely far less than what your great-aunt had faced. I am forever grateful for such ladies that paved the way for things that we take for granted today. 🙂
Interesting! You sounds like an extremely cool lady 🙂 Am glad to have met you here in the blogosphere.
Thank you Liz! 🙂
yum, i am a guac fanatic. ‘helen wheels’? (free wheeling through her recipe box)
Liking that, Beth. She wheeled around on city buses for years, but never drove. Wondering if she even had a drivers’ license. And I know she received Meals on Wheels (somewhat begrudgingly) in her last years. Thanks for coming over!
Guac was perfect to pull from Great Aunt Helen’s Mystery Box for Super Bowl Sunday, Liz. Nice. I’d go for the sour cream for added creaminess, yes, but ixnay on the mayo.
So, my name, polishing up slightly from above: Feeding from Aunt Helen’s Great Mystery Files.
What did you dip into your Guac?
Haha, I like Mystery Box, Mark. Reminds me of the Mystery Machine from Scooby Dooby Doo. Good gosh on the mayo–would be curious to at least try it, but don’t dare waste good ingredients. Perfect avocados can be hard to find here in the midwest.
Guac dippees included blue corn tortilla chips and baby carrots–both from Trader Jose’s. And I couldn’t help slather a bit on my chicken wings (which I could not get enough of and are my favorite part on the entire day–you got me so pumped for wings when you wrote about them on your blog that day). How was your Super Duper Bowl Day feast?
I’m glad you like the Mystery Box phrase. Can’t go wrong when thoughts are taken to Scooby Doo, Liz!
Your guac day sounds fantab! Guac on wings is a new wrinkle for me. Hmmmmmm.
Our feast was long and winding. Our Twin Trees Too local joint was so organized that my delivery order of large pizza with peppers and onions, two dozen medium wings and an antipasto salad arrived just 45 minutes after called in … and way before game time.
Of course the great smells coaxed my dear wife Karen and I to tackle the wings and pizza right off the bat. But we ordered so big that meant we had the salad and a second helping of the pizza and wings after halftime! Wowser!! And I had reheated pizza and wings for lunch this week, too. 🙂
I enjoyed leftover wings, too. Somehow have become enamored with wings and want to eat them all the time. Must make another batch soon 🙂 My daughter found me an easy peasy recipe online: 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 cup hot sauce–bathe wings in that, then bake at 450 (or maybe another temp, forgot) until they are done. So simple! And who knew, but boneless wings are really cut-up chicken breast tenders. So it’s pretty much diet food.
That sounds delish enough, Liz, even the boneless faux wings part. 🙂 Enjoy your latest craving often.
My first thought is the date, only days after Elvis passed. The world was in mourning, and what better way to comfort eat than to stuff oneself with the healthy fat and buttery goodness of avocados? When I think of the 70s, I think of appliances the color of avocado, so it seems very consistent to me. However, I live in Texas, where guac is in abundance. Holy guacamole, as we say. And though I have ne’er used sour cream in my guac, I did use two tablespoons on my chili last night, and it never ceases to amaze me with its perfection. So more power to her!
In the early 90s I worked at El Torito, and we had to prepare tableside guacamole. I deplored it! I cringed when clients ordered it. I’d have to go back and grab the prep ingredients, the molcajete (mortar and pestle) and grind the ingredients into fresh avocado. Not worth the buck or two tip. We did have to include cilantro. This is going to sound very weird/hippie/unconventional, but that’s Austin, so in the early 80s, a friend of my mom’s needed a place to live with his newlywed wife and for some reason they chose our attic, which gets to 120 degrees in August with windows open. He often made homeade salsa, so I would wake up to the smell of chopped cilantro wafting through the house and I hated it. Now, I can eat heaping handfuls. But at the time, ugh.
Now if Helen has some Jell-o recipes, you could be Gellin’ with Aunt Helen. There’s no tellin’ what you’re smellin’ from Great Aunt Helen. And like you, I don’t let my son walk further than two blocks from our home, for fear of kidnapping. It’s an awful world we live in with such justified fears, but a great world we live in with sour cream and guacamole.
Hadn’t known the Elvis connection. Thinking Great-aunt Helen was not an Elvis fan. Too sensible to be swayed by hip swivels and blue suede shoes.
Wow, you have some stories, Kerbey! Salsa-making (dancing, too? They were newlyweds after all) in 120F heat. ¡Ay, caramba! And I am sorry for your El Torito experiences. Is that also where you became so ‘rita/f’rita savvy? Tableside guac prep sounds horrible.
Am more afraid my kids will get hit by a car than being kidnapped, at least in our immediate neighborhood. But no kidding it’s a scary world. Definitely need to celebrate the good things like guac and sour cream and even cilantro. And bloggy friends.
🙂 Yes, crazy drivers are scary, too! I can’t recall whereabouts we had to write Rita or Frita on our tablets, which was not a tablet like today, but more of a pad with carbon paper. We’d rip it off and clip it to a spinning wheel for the cooks, like Mel in “Alice.”
I could eat chips and guac for dinner on many nights…this is a different twist for sure. I surely could not do that on a regular basis with that sour cream however. I am with you on the cilantro, just seems like it should be there! What a fun thing to be cooking with Aunt Helen!
Bonnie!!!!!! Am so happy to see you here. Please help yourself to all of the (Trader Joe’s) blue corn chips and DIY groovy guacamole that you would like 🙂
Guess where I got the cooking-from-Aunt-Helen’s-recipe box idea? From you! You talked about doing that with your mom’s recipes, so I stole the idea. All royalties will go to you, of course.
Miss you, dear Bonnie. Hope things go tremendously well for you in your world 😀
I’ll have to try your Great Aunt Helen’s recipe. And this is a great idea for a series! No suggestions for a name, but I’ll keep an eye out for her recipes.
Thanks for your kind words. Would love to have you along for the ride.
What a great find. Love guac.
How about the “Helen and Liz Project”? It worked for Julie and Julia. 😉
Somehow Helen and Liz doesn’t sound as snazzy as Julie and Julia. Keep thinking, my linguistic word-geek friend. Was thinking that guacamole is a food you can actually eat, yes?
Gosh, it’s only breakfast and my mouth is already watering. I am so trying this! And love the handwritten recipe ❤
Would be good on eggs at breakfast 🙂 Glad you like the recipe card. That’s at least half of the thrill–having her handwriting, notes in the margins, etc. Feel like I’m connected to her. Which you totally get. So glad you saw this post 🙂
My gmail segregates categories of feeds into separate tabs. Luckily, I saw this on FB! Looks SO good. I would probably eat it with eggs even for dinner 😀 And I have a whole box of my great-aunt’s recipes as well. You really and physically feel like you’re carrying on a tradition ❤
I make guaco all the time but have never considered adding sour cream – I wonder whether plain natural yoghurt would work also?
I’m sure yoghurt would work perfectly here–would give it a nice richness as opposed to the tang that comes from sour cream. Appreciate you coming by 🙂
Thanks for the tip!
Sounds good Liz, I have everything at home I just may try this with the sour cream 🙂
Love that we’re spreading Helen’s legacy through recipes! Seems more of a guac dip than “guac” with the sour cream, but just shows how dishes evolve. Hope you like. Thanks for the visit, Amy 🙂
This is not unlike the one I make, didn’t realize it was vintage!
Love that you already have this classic recipe! If it’s good, it doesn’t go away 🙂 Thanks for the visit, Jay.
I think you came up with your own title–“Helen Cooked!” But, really? No recipes with condensed soup and no Jello salads? That would’ve wiped out my grandmother’s whole repertoire!
Love your comment, Kerry 🙂 Plenty of the condensed soup, etc, but lots that I’d be willing to try. Funny how cooking styles change. I wonder what we’re doing now that our great-grandchildren will scoff at. ??
Any warmer on your end? -21 is brutal. We jumped to above zero this week and promising to go over the freezing mark soon. Yay!
Classic recipe Re always best
absolutely–completely agree. Thanks for coming over 🙂
Hi, Liz! I have a bunch of avocados destined for guacamole in my kitchen right now. I’m going to have to try stirring in sour cream and see how I like it. As a sour cream fan, I can’t imagine it being anything but great!
Andi! Good to see you again 🙂 You’re the Dip Queen (not meaning it like it sounds, haha) so I’m hoping you do make this. Would love to know how you and your gorgeous are doing!! Thanks for coming by.
Was about to look up what to do with my avo’s and checked out your website. And hey presto I know what i’m making with them this weekend. Loved looking at your GR- Aunt Helen’s handwriting and the date on it. Was a totally awesome experience! So cool! My grandma didn’t have a recipe book. I sat down with her for a couple of weeks and wrote down what we could when I saw her last. I’m so glad I did that!
Hope you enjoyed your avo dip 🙂 Definitely cool to have Helen’s handwriting and personal notes. Wondering who Jeff Strowbridge is and if he had other fun recipes. Very cool that you sat down with your grandma for recipes. Great way to carry on tradition.
This sounds super tasty, albeit significantly less healthy than most guacamoles we come across these days. 😉 I’m lovin’ the Aunt Helen series (hey, couldn’t you just cut it down to that?). Also love that no one knew she cooked. When I saw this I wondered if there might be a margarita in our future! Yay!
ah ha, but I used low-fat sour cream, so it’s as healthy as can be 🙂 A margarita sounds good right about now. Yes please 😉 thanks for coming over, friend!
What a lovely tribute, Liz. I love the beautiful handwritten cards. It’s funny, but this is a total 70s recipe. We’ve definitely gone for the less is more thing lately and you’re right, cilantro probably wasn’t main stream yet. How cool that you got to learn more about her in talking with your family and then cooking from her cards, boxes of them! So funny. I told you I thought she was awesome. I love that everyone thought she was so busy traveling to cook, but i think someone with that kind of curious spirit would cook and travel. I’m intrigued.
Thank you, Amanda 🙂 Yes, avocado green ’70s recipe–perfect. Helen definitely was curious. Wish I had known her better, but by the time I was older, her health was failing. My mom will have the best stories, so am looking forward to those. She cooked mostly out of practicality, I’m sure. Mom told about tailgating Helen would do with friends for Gopher’s (University of Minnesota teams) games and they would each bring a dish potluck-style. Doesn’t that sound like fun? And I know she liked her sherry 🙂
Tailgating and sherry? She was ahead of her time!
I just had cereal for breakfast. Ugh. How friggin boring right? Time for me to up my breakfast game with a breakfast burrito. Featuring your guacamole 😀
Choc Chip Uru
Cereal works, too, Uru, though I’d have a slice of your tart if I were you 😉 Breakfast burrito works. You’re making me hungry. Again.
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I made it & loved it too! It was very creamy & yummy too!
you’ve been busy, Sophie! Thanks so much–am honored that you’re making Helen’s recipes 🙂
I really enjoy your posts! What a great series cooking all those old recipes! Very exciting to see how things were back then 🙂 I’ve just been given an old cookery school book from 1915 from a great aunt, am thinking of doing the same!
Thank you so much 🙂 Appreciate you stopping by and commenting very much. It’s been fun to flip through Helen’s recipes, but how crazy that it took me nearly 10 years to get around to it. Definitely see what you find in your great-aunt’s book. What history!