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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Cookbooks are links to food history

Green bean casserole is not a relic of your great-great-great-grandmother's era. It was first served in the 1950s, as part of a group of recipes that makers of canned soup came up with to expand sales.

The Cottage Grove Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation is gathering recipes from residents for a cookbook that will debut during this year's Strawberry Fest. During the process of reviewing recipes from my own recipe collection and some of the contributions of others, I lingered on some of my mother's and grandmother's recipes that I keep to recall memories of cooking alongside them, such as a peach pie in which the peaches are covered with custard.

With the Internet, recipes are close at hand, but, in the past, recipes were often tagged with the names of women from whom you got the recipe. If you were in a hurry when you wrote it down at the church supper where you first tasted it, you just called it Karen's pancakes and hoped you'd remember who Karen is. Sadly, I have several recipes with first names and I can't remember who gave them to me.

If you see a recipe in the new cookbook that has someone's name on it who is not the contributor, that's probably how it happened.

"Jean's five soup hot dish"was one of the recipes common in the 1950s. Soup makers were marketing to women who were beginning to work outside their homes.

Before 1950, most homes had ice boxes. It held real ice to keep food chilled. Ice men came once a week to replace the ice before the potato salad went bad. The advent of modern refrigeration dramatically changed American life in two ways. You could keep ice cream frozen and air conditioning became popular.

The hot dish caught on because it could be made ahead of time. Mashed potatoes and roast beef could not. (Psst: this was before instant mashed potatoes.)

Jean's Hot Dish called for browning two pounds of ground beef and one chopped onion. Boil one bag of noodles and add to ground beef mixture along with cans of cream of mushroom, beef barley, cream of chicken, cream of celery and chicken with rice soups. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

From 1930 into the 60s, there were recipes to make 8-by-8 cakes that could be made in a hurry if people dropped in for a visit. Those recipes faded with the dawn of boxed cake mixes.

One example of the last minute cake is Aunt Bess's Cake. There was an actual Aunt Bess. Here's her recipe:

One cup of white sugar

Two tablespoons of butter

One egg

3/4 cup buttermilk (add 1 teaspoon vinegar to regular milk)

One teaspoon baking soda

One heaping cup of flour

One teaspoon cinnamon

Dash of cloves

Cream sugar, butter and egg, add milk and stir. Add flour, soda, cinnamon and cloves and combine until you can't see any flour. Pour into 8-by-8 pan. Sprinkle 2/3 cup raisins on top of batter. Sprinkle two tablespoons of sugar on top of raisins and batter so cake will not need frosting. If you don't put raisins on top of batter, they will settle to the bottom of the cake while baking. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes and serve warm.

It's not too late to submit your recipes. Email them to John Burbank at or drop them off at City Hall, 12800 Ravine Parkway.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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