We’re back to flipping through Great-aunt Helen’s recipe box, but this time we look outside of that box. Turns out there are two smaller recipe books in her collection as well and while they contain fewer recipes than the boxes, they have charm and personality. The first has a slightly puzzling (and beautiful) inscription on the inside cover.This was a “wow” discovery for me. I knew Great-aunt Helen as an older lady and she’d never had a man in her life as long as I’d known her. So this comment about “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” floored me. It spoke of an era I knew nothing of. Who drew the lovely sketch, I’ve no idea. (The pencilled-in lines sandwiched between the photo and quote are hard to decipher.) This priceless doodling is, in my mind, where the written word far surpasses anything we do digitally.
But this week’s recipes came from an old-school wood-covered book.At first glance, I thought I’d be making graham crackers, but containing only milk, cream, and flour, they would not be sweet. Much of this “recipe” was left to the imagination, but I figured I had enough to go on to at least try.
My attempt to translate:
Crackers – graham cream 1979
1 part cream to 4 parts milk; mix with flour; as soft as can be handled; knead 20 minutes; roll very thin; cut square and bake quickly. Handle carefully white hot; pack away in a stone jar when cool.
p 318 – Kate Field’s Cookbook (mother’s) 1910 or so
delicious – like Peek Frean biscuits – good with salad & cheese
4-7-84 if using whole wheat flour, make with some white flour. Bake about 10 minutes in 350 or 375° oven – break in pieces to store in tightly covered tins. (Norwegian class)
Though I was unable to dig up anything about this “Kate Field’s cookbook” online, I did find mention of Peek Frean biscuits. Their history intrigued me.
As for the recipe itself, there was a lot of guesswork, but in the end it looked something like this:
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cream
Heat oven to 375°F. In bowl, stir together 2 1/4 cups flour, the milk and cream until dough forms. Turn out onto work surface. Knead, working in as much of the 1/4 cup extra flour as needed, 10 minutes (20 was more than I could manage) or until smooth dough forms. Roll until very thin (Helen was master of this – her sugar cookies were paper thin.); transfer to baking sheet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
The verdict? Helen’s suggestion to serve with salad and crackers seemed the best bet as these were plain (dare I say boring?) crackers. A touch of salt in the dough would have improved the flavor ten-fold.
But then I tried the crackers with a touch of butter and jam. And then hummus. Guacamole. Creamed honey. Now I love these crispy, sturdy crackers. (That said, I’d still try a bit of salt just because I can.)
Better yet, they are truly reflective of who great-Aunt Helen was. On the surface, she was plain. Her shag haircut was sensible as was the salt-and-pepper graying of her hair; her sturdy shoes were sensible; her plaid polyester pants, navy blue turtleneck, and navy socks were eminently sensible.
Yet Helen was a classic and had staying power, just like these crackers. Consider: it’s been nearly 40 years since this cracker recipe was “published” in her treasured recipe book and they’re still being made. As well, these crackers are hard-working, forming foundation for any number of sweet and savory toppings. Helen was an incredibly hard worker, dedicating much of her life to social work with the University of Minnesota. If one were to personify food (and I am one that will), these crackers are pure Helen.
This post will finish as do the others in Helen’s Recipe Box series, with an invitation to return next week to see what adult beverage we’ll be sipping with these basic but classic crackers.