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Lick the Spoon | The kitchen arts of Aunt Babette

Cruising through antique cookbooks remains one of my favorite pastimes, and one my favorite cruising grounds is Aunt Babette’s Cook Book - Foreign And Domestic Receipts For The Household; A Valuable Collection Of Receipts And Hints For The Housewife; Many Of Which Are Not To Be Found Elsewhere; by “Aunt Babette,” 1889.

It took some sleuthing to learn that “Aunt Babette” was Bertha F. Kramer, but there appears to be little other information available online. As expansive as the Web has become, there are still areas where information is uncovered the old-fashioned way - in a card catalog, but I have not been able to carry out further looking.

Though there is little other information, the personality of “Aunt Babette” comes through in her writing.

From the preface - “I think it is the duty of every woman to be the head of her household, as much as it is the duty of the man to be the head of his place of business or counting room, wherein to rule means to understand his position and duties…”

On dealing with servants – “No one serves from mere choice, therefore we should treat those serving us kindly, and not notice every frown or cloud stamped on their faces; they can not smile at all times…”

Some of her hints are useful:

HOW TO PRESERVE LUNCHES – In preparing a traveler’s or a picnic lunch, lay a damp napkin, wrung out in cold water, at top and bottom of the lunch so as to envelope it entirely. This will keep it quite fresh for a good many hours.

Some instructions might be a little jolting to contemporary sensibilities:

MOCK TURTLE SOUP – Make a rich bouillon from three to four pounds of meat and a calf’s head … Or

CHICKEN SOUP - Take an old fat hen; after cleaning and singeing let it lay in fresh water half an hour. Scald the feet, scrape off the skin, crack them in two…

Some terms in this, and most pre-1900 cookbooks, are now unfamiliar. “Yelk” is easy enough to figure out when used in terms of eggs. But instructions calling for a “spider” might not connect for many – just use a large frying pan.

The recipes are narratives so if any are attemped be sure to read them through a couple times to determine all the ingredients and steps.

Reprints of “Aunt Babette” may be found at several online retailers and sale sites, some offer the original printings.

There are also a number of sites offering free downloads of the book in a number of formats. To find them, search on “Aunt Babette”

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NOODLES.

How to make. Put a large handful of flour into a bowl, sifted of course. Make a hollow in the center of the flour, break in an egg. Take the handle of a knife and stir the egg slowly, always in the same direction, until the dough is so stiff that you can not stir it any more with the knife. Flour a baking board and empty your dough upon it, and knead with the hollow of your hand, work with the hands until quite stiff. Flour your board and roll out as thin as possible. Lay on a clean table near the kitchen fire to dry. Cut into halves, double up, and cut as fine as possible; spread lightly to dry. If in a hurry just cut into little squares. Tastes just as nice, the only difference being in looks.

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DROP DUMPLINGS.

Break into a cup the whites of three eggs, fill the cup with water or milk, put it with a cupful of sifted flour and a tablespoonf ul of butter or drippings, into a spider, and let it boil until it leaves the sides of the spider clean. Then remove from the fire, stir until cold, add the yelks of the eggs. Keep stirring for about five minutes. Season it with salt and nutmeg; then drop with a teaspoon, which has been previously wet with cold water, into the boiling soup. These little dumplings are called in German schwammklaesse. They are very good, and may be used in any clear soup stock.

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OKRA GUMBO SOUP (SOUTHERN).

Take two quarts of nice ripe tomatoes, stewed in a porcelain-lined kettle, with two quarts of okra, cut into small rings. Put this on to boil with about three quarts of water and a nice piece of soup meat (no bone), chop up an onion, a carrot and some parsley and add this to the soup. Fricassee one chicken with some rice, to be dished up with the soup, putting a piece of chicken and a spoonful of rice into each soup plate before adding the soup. Let the soup boil four or five hours, slowly but steadily. Season with salt and pepper. A little corn and Lima beans are an improvement, if you have them; they should be cooked with the soup for several hours. Cut the soup meat up into small squares and leave in the soup to serve.

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TOMATO SOUP.

Take a large soup bone or three pounds of soup meat, the latter preferred, one or two onions, a few potatoes, a few carrots, a turnip, soup greens and a can of tomatoes or a quart of fresh ones, and in season two ears of grated sweet corn. Season with salt and pepper. Thicken with a tablespoonful of flour, dissolved in cold water. A nice addition to this soup is a handful of noodles cut into round disks with a thimble.

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One last soup recipe, perhaps even one to give a try

BEER SOUP WITH MILK.

Boil separately a quart each of beer and milk; sweeten the beer, add cinnamon, the crust of a rye loaf and the grated rind of a lemon; beat up the yelks of two eggs, add the milk gradually to the eggs, then the beer. Serve in small bowls.

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This is a nice potluck-type dish. Although celery root might not be commonly found in stores, use what can be found. This turns out pretty well…

NEAPOLITAN SALAD.

Take some white meat of a turkey, cut up fine, cut up a few pickles the same way, also a few beets, one or two carrots, a few potatoes (the carrots and potatoes must be parboiled, say in the soup for dinner), also a few stalks of asparagus; chop up a bunch of nice, crisp, white celery; also a whole celery root (parboiled) and sprinkle all with fine salt and pour a mayonnaise dressing over it. Then line the salad bowl with lettuce leaves or nice white cabbage leaves. Add a few hard-boiled eggs and capers; garnish very prettily, also sprigs of fresh parsley.

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UNIQUE POTATO SALAD.

Boil potatoes in their jackets. When done, peel and cut them in squares. While still hot put on a tablespoonful of butter or drippings of poultry, and add two or more hard-boiled eggs, cut into squares; sprinkle salt and pepper over potatoes and eggs. You may add an onion if you like the flavor. Boil enough vinegar to just cover the salad and add two teaspoonf uls of prepared mustard; beat up the yelks of one or two eggs light, and add the boiling vinegar to the beaten eggs gradually. When thorougly mixed pour over the potatoes. Serve in a salad bowl; garnish with chopped parsley. Eat cold.

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This is one of the things I have wanted to try since first seeing such a dish, but have not yet found my “round tuit:”

VINEGAR PIE.

Line a pie-plate with a rich crust and fill with the following mixture: One cup of vinegar, two of water and two cups of sugar, boil; add a lump of butter and enough cornstarch to thicken; flavor with lemon essence and put in a shell and bake.

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Another “round tuit” recipe, but not sure what is “Dutch Cheese.” My surmise is that cottage cheese is likely a suitable substitute:

CHEESE PIE.

Take a quart of Dutch cheese, rub smooth with a silver or wooden spoon, then rub a piece of butter the size of an egg to a cream, add half a cup of sugar and the yelks of four eggs gradually, a pinch of salt, grate in the peel of a lemon, wash half a cupful of currants, and add also a little citron, cut up very fine. Line two pieplates with some rich pie-crust, and fill with above mixture, not forgetting to add the beaten whites.

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Considering the seedless grapes now available, the steps of separating the skins and pressing the grapes through a colander could be skipped. Maybe lightly mash the grapes to break them up if the cooking has not already done that…

GRAPE PIE.

Squeeze out the pulps and put them in one vessel, the skins into another. Then simmer the pulp a little and press it through a collander to separate the seeds. Then put the skins and pulps together and they are ready for the pies. To make these pies truly delicious, beat up two eggs with half a cup of sugar for each pie; pour over the grapes and bake without a cover.

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This column is for readers to share their recipes. The recipes need not be fancy or original; just good cooking that you and your family enjoy -a few sentences of history behind a recipe would be great.

Civic organizations, non-profit organizations, churches, school classes, EHC, 4-H, etc. can also take part. Collect six or seven recipes from members, include their names; tell about the purpose of the organization, maybe a little history; include when and where the group meets, and how to join. Keep it to 500 - 600 words.

When submitting recipes, include all ingredients and instructions. Give amounts and measures as well as sizes of cans and packages. It is also helpful to know sizes of dishes or pans used. Include a contact name, city of residence and phone number; the phone number will not be published but is needed should questions arise while preparing for print.

Please print if handwritten. Original photos of the recipe results are invited, but subject to space limitations; attach pictures to the email in jpeg format. Photos must not be copyrighted.

1- e-mail - send to news@cabotstarherald.com, with “Lick the Spoon” in the subject line

2 - U.S Postal Service: mail to Cabot Star-Herald, P.O. Box 1058, Cabot, AR 72023

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