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Mother's recipe book and old flour mill cookbooks that have been in the family for many decades, some since prior to WWII.

Flour Mill Cookbooks: the history of Supper in bad times and good

Our family has some old cookbooks published by the flour mills. Two are from the Five Roses flour mill: one from the 1930s, another from the 1970s. There is also a Purity Flour cookbook from the 1960′s. These little books really show how things changed during those years. The recipes in the 1930 book are very minimal and inexpensive to make. They are mainly for baked goods, and the only meat or poultry recipes are for things like savory pies. Even the use of fats in cooking was very sparing compared to modern tastes. This little book probably helped our family through the Great Depression with a table laden with scrumptious home-style fare.

(The hand-written notebook in the photo was my mum’s collection, which she started jotting down when she was first married in 1939.)

Then, as we left that time of austerity and entered a time of — well, let’s call a spade a spade — excess, the little books began to incorporate much more lavish menus. They covered meats, supper dishes, salads and vegetable dishes, and all kinds of fare that did not necessarily call for the flour mill’s products. With the coming of refrigeration, home freezers, cheap transportation and large scale farming practices, the entire nature of our table changed.

Take the humble Baking Powder Biscuit, or Tea Biscuit, as an example. In 1930, the recipe called for one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of lard for each two cups of flour. By the 1960s, the dry ingredients had not changed, but the recipe called for ¼ cup of shortening, i.e., 4 tablespoons, instead of the lesser amount of butter and lard.

I seldom see people making these biscuits today, but they are delicious, easy and a change from yeast breads. They are basically what we call scones, but were traditionally much smaller than the giant scones on today’s shelves. The biscuits are nice for breakfast with jam or spreads, and make a nice supper compliment to a hearty soup. The recipe below is adapted from the 1960s edition of A Guide to Good Cooking from the millers of Five Roses Flour. It calls for shortening, but the biscuits would be tasty using a different fat, such as butter or margarine.

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Baking Powder Biscuits pictured with a choice of Pea Soup or Borscht, which we will talk about another day

The 1930 cookbook has been reprinted in recent times as a nostalgia publication, but mine is an original. It has lost its front cover, but the photos of the food are homely and evoke the fragrance of Grandma’s breads and pies from years gone by. Modern marketers would be appalled, however, at the idea of depicting a rat on the logo of a flour mill. What on earth were they thinking?

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Rhubarb Crisp Pie

Home Style Pies in Unusual Versions

I have never been one for commercially baked cakes and cookies, always preferring the home-style apple crisps and other baking that my Grandma produced. Of course, now that I am a vegan, most of her repertory is out of the question. No more of my Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe that starts out with “break two eggs into a cup and fill with fresh top cream.” Yes, those cookies were to die for, but in these heart-health conscious days, we could consider them to die from.

I try not to use fats that are solid at room temperature, so olive oil and other cooking oils are my stock in trade. No eggs either, so I stick cookies together with corn starch or tapioca starch. Lest you think this makes life terribly boring, I assure you, there are plenty of scrumptious home-style desserts in the vegan corpus, thus producing the vegan corpulent. Oh well.

Rhubarb Crisp Pie

The end of summer is at hand, and we have lots of fresh fruits and berries, as well as rhubarb, which is technically a vegetable but we cook it for dessert or jam. My Grandma used to cook rhubarb down to a sauce that could be served on ice cream.

I like the homely apple crisp and its fruity cousins; they are my favourite desserts. Here I have made a rhubarb crisp but shaped it into a pie to be served in wedges with a congenial cup of coffee or tea. For an apple crisp pie, just peel and chop 4 to 6 large apples and substitute them for the rhubarb in the recipe. Absolutely civilized. If you look closely at the picture, you can see I have already cut into the rhubarb crisp. I was so eager to eat it that I completely forgot I was going to take a picture for you!

4 or so stalks of rhubarb, one-inch diced

¾ cup sugar

1 tbsp. corn starch or tapioca starch

1 ½ cups flour

2 cups quick oats

1 cup brown or yellow sugar, loosely packed

¾ cup oil

Dash of salt

Place the rhubarb and ¾ cup sugar into a saucepan with a small bit of water, and cook until soft. Mix corn/tapioca starch in a bit of water, add to the rhubarb, and allow to thicken. Set aside.

Mix flour, oats and brown sugar into a bowl. Stir in oil and dash of salt. If mixture is dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture sticks together loosely.

Press one half of oatmeal mixture into a lightly oiled pie pan to form bottom pie crust. Pour rhubarb into the pie. Sprinkle the remaining oatmeal mixture over the top lightly. No need to tamp down, it will stick together as it cooks.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

Tofu Chocolate Mousse or Pie

I got this recipe from my friend Pat. I don’t know where she obtained it.

Tofu Chocolate Pie

Tofu Chocolate Pie

2 cups hot water or coffee (I use coffee; decaf is fine)

1 lb. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted.

1 lb. medium tofu.

Put all three ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into parfait dishes or a pre-cooked pie shell. Refrigerate until firm.

If you find this recipe too easy, you can jazz it up by pouring it into a cooked pie shell for Chocolate Pie. I have shown it here prepared in the oil crust recipe I used for the Potato Pie, but I added some toasted walnut crumbs to the piecrust recipe for additional flavour.

By the way, don’t use the firm or extra firm tofu or your family will make very disparaging remarks about it. Also, this time my store did not have the chocolate chips that I normally use, so I tried it with the little round chocolate pieces that are used for fondue. I’ll never do that again. The pie took forever to set, and it was still quite soft. The dark semi-sweet chocolate chips are the best. The pie will set in a couple of hours and will be firm enough for the cut wedges to keep their shape nicely.

Here again is the Oil Pie Crust recipe. Beside Vegan reasons for using sunflower or other oil, I believe that it is healthier to use fats that are not solid at room temperature:

Oil Pie Crust

2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour or 2 to 2 1/4 cup unsifted

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil (chill in freezer beforehand)

1/2 cup milk or soy milk (or just use water if there’s no milk in the house)

1. Mix flour and salt together. Pour milk and oil into one measuring cup, do not stir, and add all at once to flour. Stir until mixed, and shape into 2 flat balls. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or more.

2. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Carefully transfer to an ungreased pie shell.

3. Trim crust to ½ inch or 1 inch outside. Tuck excess underneath and flute the edge, either by pinching the edge, or by pressing lightly with a fork.

4. Save any leftover pastry to make sweet or savoury turnovers for lunches.

5. Bake the pie shell at 350 for about 5 minutes to set it, if using a filling that requires baking. If using for Tofu Chocolate Pie or other pudding type fillings, bake the shell until golden brown before filling; cool, fill, and let set at room temperature.

The Dish Oriental Style made with fresh ginger root

“The Dish”

I have a favourite lunch or supper that I love to make and to eat. I would happily eat it every single day. It is something I make so frequently that I simply call it “The Dish”.

The Dish began as an Oriental stir-fry, then evolved. Basically, it’s just mixed vegetables served over rice or noodles. You saw a version of it in my previous post about the dollar bag with the zucchini and eggplant in it. I have two staple versions of The Dish: the Oriental version and the Mediterranean version. It can also be adapted to make a Thai version, a Chow Mein version, and so on.

Oriental version:

First start your rice or noodles.
Assemble various vegetables that you have on hand..
Chop/prepare whatever vegetables you are using. Doesn’t have to be all of the examples in this recipe, but you do need the garlic, onion and ginger:

2 to 3 tbsp. cooking oil
1 inch or so of ginger root, peeled and grated
4 or more cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, peeled, halved and sliced diagonally
baby bok choy or similar greens, sliced lengthwise
carrots, peeled. sliced diagonally
sliced mushrooms
broccoli crowns, divided into large pieces of floret
snow peas
green, red, yellow pepper
green onion, chopped
spinach or similar leafy green, coarsely cut up
½ cup frozen peas or pre-steamed fresh ones
whatever else you like

tofu, firm: ½ to 1 block, cubed (if using the medium-firm, brown it first to keep it whole)
toasted almonds, if desired
2 or 3 tbsp. soy sauce or other stir-fry sauce
1 tbsp. corn starch or tapioca starch

Heat a bit of oil in the wok or large frypan on medium high heat.
Toss in ginger and garlic, and wok (sauté).
Add chunky veggies and extra firm tofu. Continue to wok.
Add spinach or leafy greens last.
Mix corn starch or tapioca starch in a bit of water and add to wok. Allow to thicken.
Flavour with soy sauce, vegetarian “oyster” sauce or stir-fry sauce.
Finally, add your pre-fried tofu, if you are using that, and toss to coat with sauce.
Garnish with optional almonds.
Serve over rice or noodles.

Now I have to admit, I just add the cooked, drained noodles right into the mix and serve it that way. My favourite noodle is linguine, but anything goes: penne, rotini, fettucine, whatever. You can also use Chow Mein noodles. If so, leave out the extra water and reduce corn starch to about a half teaspoon, just enough to make it shiny. Bean sprouts are nice in the Chow Mein version.

I also have started just sprinkling the corn/tapioca starch right over this mixture and sautéing it in. Correct with a sprinkle of water, if needed.

Using Dried Chinese Mushrooms

To use the dried Chinese mushrooms successfully, it’s best to start a day or two before. I wash off the dried mushrooms, put them into a 2-cup Tupperware container, and fill it with warm water from the tap. Cover the container and put it into the fridge. Dump out the water each day and add new warm water. This soaks out the aura of sulphur, but it does take a few days to do that. When the mushrooms are soft and unsulphured, cut off the stems, slice them, and use them in The Dish. You add them in the first lot, along with the garlic.

Mediterranean Style “The Dish”
Most veggie combinations will work.
This is the same quick prep idea as the Oriental one, but flavoured without ginger root. Instead you use sun-dried tomato, basil and oregano. If you have basil in the garden, that’s the best, but the dried herb is also very nice.
Basil, oregano and sun-dried tomatoes give this Dish its character.
4 or more cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, peeled, halved and sliced diagonally
2 tbsp. sun-dried tomato, chopped
1 to 2 tsp. dried basil, or the chopped leaves from a fresh stalk
1 tsp oregano
Black pepper to taste
½ to 1 small zucchini, sliced or cubed
½ to 1 carrot, peeled, sliced diagonally
sliced mushrooms
½ cup broccoli crowns, divided into large pieces of floret
½ cup eggplant, cubed
green, red, yellow pepper
Swiss chard, spinach or similar greens, coarsely cut up
2 or more tomatoes, cubed
1 tsp. corn starch or tapioca starch
salt
1 cup cooked, drained chick peas or other beans, e.g., Romano
½ packet firm tofu, cubed
Grated cheese or soy cheese for garnich

Heat a bit of oil in the wok or large frypan on medium high heat.
Toss in garlic, onion, sun-dried tomato and herbs. Sauté for few seconds.
Add chunky veggies and optional extra firm tofu. Keep sautéing.
Add spinach or chard.
Add cubed tomatoes last. Allow to cook until tomatoes and eggplant are cooked down. Sauté occasionally.
Mix corn starch or tapioca starch in a bit of water and add to mixture. Sauté and allow to thicken.
Add salt to taste.
Finally, add your optional chick peas and toss to coat with sauce.

At this point, I toss in the drained pasta, preferably linguine or fettuccine, and coat it with the sauce. Or serve separately if you prefer. Garnish with optional grated cheese or soy cheese.

Time and Money Saver Using Beans or Meat

An easy way to use those daunting looking bags of dried beans is to prepare them ahead of time and freeze them in baggies. Just soak a few cups of the beans in water overnight. The next day, discard the soaking water, place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with water and boil them until they are soft but still intact.

Drain the cooked beans and divide them up into freezer baggies. This way, you can use part or all of a baggie full in recipes, or add to stews, pasta sauce etc.
Navy beans: still so warm they're fogging the packets!
Meat eaters can do the same thing with ground beef. I learned this from my sister. She pre-sautés the ground beef, drains and cools it, and divides the “crumbs” into freezer baggies. The family then uses the beef crumbs as a topping or addition to their supper dishes. You can also freeze bits of leftover chicken this way. Remove it from the bones and freeze the small bits in freezer baggies to add flavour and protein to chow mein, soups and stews, and so on. It’s thrifty!