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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