When I was a college sophomore in my first apartment, I asked my mom for a cookbook. I hadn’t yet mastered cooking rice, and I just wanted some simple instructions. She gave me my great grandmother’s 1932 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, a cloth-bound binder with pages that had aged as gently as Louise, with her beautiful script on the back pages. I looked through it… and at some point returned it to Mom’s shelf. I was moving a lot and didn’t want things I wouldn’t use, and it wasn’t the book I needed at that time. I eventually figured out how to cook rice and a lot of other things, mostly without instructions.
Years later, I became fascinated with old cookbooks, and now that book is on my shelf, along with a half dozen other vintage books, from my family and from yard sales, the thrift store, and the library book sale shelf. I was thrilled to find a copy of the 1945 Joy of Cooking at a neighborhood yard sale; its wartime recipes are simpler and more frugal than any of the editions from the past few decades (and the comments above each recipe never fail to make me smile).
Between the old cookbooks and my great-great-grandmother’s Muffinaire tin, I observe that people used to eat much smaller servings and use a lot less sugar and butter. My grandmother’s 1953 Betty Crocker Cookbook muffin recipes call for ¼ c sugar per 12 muffins. A 1928 cookbook that was obviously much loved by my other grandmother makes biscuits with 2 c flour and a mere 2T butter – and it’s enough. The Vintage Diet – you heard it here first.
Mari and I recently baked a family recipe from the 1970s, a simple butter cookie that my aunt probably found in the German magazine Brigitte. It has a minimal amount of sugar in the butter-rich dough and is topped by a simple dot of meringue. My foodie coworker pronounced them “Perfect.”
In this season of feasting and merriment, my desire to moderate sugar generally marks me as No Fun. I’m as much a sugar addict as the next person, but I think that excess sugar gives most baked goods an overpowering taste of sugar. Less sugar lets the other flavors shine through.
Try these and see what you think.
Tante MaryAnn’s Butter Stars
1 c butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
6 T powdered sugar
3 c flour
1 T sherry, brandy or kirsch
1 large egg white
½ c sugar
1/3 c ground almonds
Cream butter until smooth; gradually beat in sugar until fluffy. Stir in yolk and flavoring, and gradually add flour to form dough. Chill dough at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll dough to ½” thick and cut out with a star-shaped cookie cutter or other moderately small shape (less than 2”). Place 2″ apart on cookie sheets. Beat egg white until stiff (like meringue) and gradually beat in sugar. Put 1 tsp of this in center of each star and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon nuts. Bake 30 minutes or until golden around the edges. (The baking time may seem too long, but in my oven it was perfect.)