As a kid I went to more yard sales and antique stores than any child should have to endure. My mother and grandmother were forever on the lookout for Depression glass, the translucent pieces bought inexpensively during the Great Depression. We were searching for that one particular piece they needed to complete a set; a pale pink opaque cake plate perhaps, or a green bowl with scalloped edges. I can picture my grandmother's present collection in the tall hutch in her dining room. It's grouped together like a museum exhibit; pinks, yellows, and greens, sitting underneath the lights. I can't remember a time it was ever used. Much of what she has is from her own mothers' collection. It's one of her most prized possessions. More than just aesthetic glasses and bowls, her collection represents something deeper; the ability to overcome, prevail, and to recover.
I'm always fascinated each time I step foot into an antique shop. I equate it to being transported to a scene in an old black and white movie. I find the clothing and hats irresistible, wondering what it was like when people got dressed, really dressed, before stepping outside. I love the collections of jars, bottles, milk jugs, and vintage spice tins. I love to see how products were marketed, taking in their colorful worn labels and 'modern' promises. It's no surprise that I'm drawn to cookbooks, collections sitting in a cloud of dust. Some of the cookbooks I found dated back as early as the 40's and 50's. I especially love the ones that combine cooking, cleaning, and housewifery. Housewifery. Imagine that. I decided on Marye Dahnke's Salad Book from 1954, which cost me a whopping $1.65. Considering it went for 35 cents at the time of it's publication, it's not such a bad markup.
I told my husband I was planning on choosing a recipe from this book to make for the blog, a fun throwback of sorts. I began reading it as we drove back home. It's absolutely hysterical. Not only could I not find a single salad recipe that didn't involve flavored gelatin or mayonnaise, the combinations are enough to make your stomach turn. Each recipe was more gruesome than the next. It made for an entertaining ride home. Allow me to give you a little taste. There's the 'Hostess Salad,' a lemon gelatin mold, complete with hard-boiled eggs, stuffed olives, and mayonnaise. Tempting, I know. For the more health conscious, there's the 'Slenderella Salad Dressing," made with Worcestershire sauce and corn syrup. Last but not least, the 'Cinnamon Apple Salad,' which requires melting down cinnamon candies with sugar before adding cream cheese and apples. However, all is not lost. There are step-by-step illustrations for making tomato flowers and tomato roses. This might come in handy some day. So, sorry Marye, I'm sure you were a lovely woman, but I won't be making one of your distinctive and delicious salads. I understand you had more than thirty years of experience as a home economist, but I don't do gelatin. I think you'll be happy I passed.
I did however, call my grandmother; first to ask her if she consumed copious amounts of gelatin molds and secondly, to give her a good laugh. While she does remember lots of gelatin showing up at parties and get togethers, she also remembers dishes made from scratch; pie crusts, crumbles, and casseroles. There were no pre-made packages and she was lucky enough to buy the few ingredients she needed for a recipe, most of which she clipped from the Boston Sunday Globe and Ladies Home Journal. In those days, you got a recipe from a friend, a neighbor, or from the spiral bound cookbook the church put out. Times were tough and families were looking for ways to stretch their money and their meals. Yes, gelatin was used, and canned fruit was a treat, but people made do with what they had. We spoke about her Depression glass collection, her mother having received the pieces in her cereal boxes and for purchasing a ten-cent ticket at the local cinema. She talked about her favorite piece, her mother's amber pitcher with a bright blue handle. Mostly, we reminisced, and for that I was grateful. We laughed about the flop of a salad book, and she promised to dig out some old recipes for me; gelatin-free.