Monday, August 28, 2006
Grandma Dwyer's Cookbooks
The ad on the right hand page above for Acme Dairy says,
Milk & Cream
It's dated for your protection
"Safer for Babies"
I have three cookbooks that belonged to my mom, and now I'm sending them to Peggy, who, last time she was in D.C., expressed interest in owning them. My mom acquired these cookbooks from our closest neighbors when I was growing up--families who lived on the south half of our block on 2nd Street North in Fargo, North Dakota. They were mostly either Norwegian or Swedish, and they mostly (with the exceptions I'll mention) belonged to either the First Lutheran Church or the Grace Lutheran Church in Fargo. The Ladies Aid groups of these two churches produced the two major cookbooks in my mom's collection. Then, as now, these kinds of cookbooks were fundraisers.
Starting at the corner of 12th Avenue and 2nd Street N. on the east side of the block, there were the Welches, the Johnsons, the Braseths, the Simonsons, the Carls, the Dwyers (us), the Swansons, and the Roaches, a family with two or three little girls--Patty, Colleen, and I think a baby, whose name I have forgotten if indeed she or he ever existed and had one. I don't remember who-all lived next on the other side of the Roaches, but the Dwyer house was about in the middle of the block.
L to R above: Patty Roach, Bonnie Jean Braseth, Claudia Braseth, and Colleen Roach standing in our driveway next to our green 1947 DeSoto, which replaced the 1936 Plymouth. We had no car at all during WWII, but after my Grandpa Dwyer died, and we got our lake cottage in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Dad bought a car. Every Friday after about Memorial Day (the ice didn't go out of the lake until the first part of May), mom made tuna sandwiches and she and I packed the car. When my dad got home from work at 5:20, he changed into his khaki pants, a t-shirt, and an old pair of shoes, and off we went to Lake Sallie until early Monday morning. This marked what I considered the beginning of my spirchal life...I adored the lake and the woods and the fireflies and the chipmunks and the STARS!!! and Marcia and Michael Maloney, my new playmates who lived at the lake year-round.
On the west side of the street, starting on the corner across from Welches, were the Hammeruds, the Klinkenborgs, the Solbergs (my mother's best friend, Esther, and her husband, Parker, no kids), the Krugers, and the Shaws. I don't really know the name of the older couple who lived next to the Shaws (who lived directly across from us), but next to them were the Smillies (pronounced smileys), the McIntyres, and the Shucks (pronounced shooks). Again, after that, I don't remember who lived in the rest of the houses at the north end of the block.
L to R above: Patty Kreuger and Jene (pronounced jaNAY) Shaw
Denny McIntyre above, about age 6 in this photo. I used to babysit for Denny and his two younger siblings. Bob McIntyre, their dad, worked with my dad at Northwestern Bell Telephone.
My major playmates were Joanie Welch, Roy Smillie, Kay Myhra, Grant Kalbfleisch, Patty Kreuger, and Jerome and Jene Shaw, who lived across the street. Bonnie Braseth and Patty Roach were younger than the rest of us, and Claudia and Colleen, their sisters, younger still, but Mrs. Braseth and Mrs. Roach could be counted on to serve kool aid on hot days and seemed to like us. I was something of an enfant terrible in those days, and I managed to get sent home fairly often for general naughtiness, including smoking at age 8!
Mrs. Klinkenborg was the source of the little cookbook with the red spiral binding--I think it was from the Episcopal or Presbyterian Church. The Welches belonged to the Plymouth Congregational Church, so none of Billie Welch’s recipes are in the books unless my Mom wrote them in by hand. The lines were drawn fairly clearly in our neighborhood. Why my parents moved to the NORTH side of Fargo, which was predominantly Lutheran, and not the SOUTH side, which was predominantly Catholic, I don't know. But I found out what a Catlicker was at an early age. I went to Plymouth Congregational's Christmas program one time with Joanie Welch, my good pal, and pious little Catholic bigot that I was, I did not participate in the service at all. If everyone else stood, I sat, feeling smug and sanctified, belonging to the TRUE church and not contaminated by any whiff of Protestantism!
Billie’s full name, by the way, was Willabeth Eastgate Welch. Her father was the late Senator Jacob Eastgate, who was a state legislator from Larimore, N.D. Joanie's older sister, Jean, had Willa for her middle name. There were lots of girls named Willa in North Dakota then, just as there were lots named Twyla a little later on. Who knows why? Willa was just a very popular name out on the northern prairie grasslands (witness Willa Cather).
Three sisters, all wiry middle-aged spinsters, cooked and cleaned for the neighbor ladies on 2nd Street North: Olga cooked for the Myhras, who lived way down at the end of the next block to the north across from El Zagal (Shriners) golf course; Hilma cooked for the Welches; and Henrietta cooked for Mrs. Hammerud and Mrs. Johnson (I think). If you see a recipe from “Mrs. I.A. Myhra,” it's likely Olga’s recipe, although Mrs. Myhra was a dandy cook, too. Likewise, if you see one from “Mrs. Hammerud,” it’s probably Henrietta’s. I don't know who else these sisters cooked and cleaned for, but they had steady employment.
You can see that cooking instructions are pretty scarce in these recipes. You had to know what you were doing to make them work, and the recipe writers just assumed everyone did.
Olga and Hilma were tall, with Henrietta being shorter (regular size), and they all had soft brown hair and lilting Scandinavian accents. (In the movie, "Fargo," when Frances McDormand's character says "Ya," she nails the Scandinavian accent perfectly--it has a little music in it.) Olga was a bit abrupt, and she scared the crap out of me. Hilma was sweet and gentle and very generous with her cookies on baking days. Henrietta I didn’t know too well because none of the people she cooked for had kids my age, but she was considered the “pretty” one, and I think my mother told me she got married after WWII was over. Personally, I liked Hilma best and thought she was if not beautiful, at least very welcoming and friendly.
What I remember most about Hilma’s baking day was the sour cream set out on the counter: a quart canning jar filled with big clots of cream floating in pale yellowish whey. Joanie would dip her finger in the jar and lick off the white stuff with great enjoyment--"Mmmmm, want some?"--while I looked on in horror--"Ick, no!" This was the real McCoy. Hilma made her own. Sour cream now is mostly cultured, and if it goes bad, you can't use it. Not so then.
A section header in one of the cookbooks. It is followed by precisely TWO recipes. The obesity epidemic had not yet hit, and if you ate like that in those days, you'd freeze to death.
Cream, by the way, came both in little bottles of the pure stuff and also with the milk itself at the top of each bottle. If you didn't shake your milk, the cream would rise to the top. It was thick enough to whip, and I think my brother Gene and I effectively drank skim milk because Mom used the cream for baking and occasionally to flavor her green tea but never her coffee. (My dad used to tease her about the unappetizing appearance of her green tea with cream.) Most of the people in North Dakota that I grew up with drank their coffee BLACK. I was quite surprised when Don and I moved to Massachusetts after we were married to discover that if you ordered a simple "cup of coffee" in Boston, it would come with cream and sugar! You had to ask for "black coffee" if you didn't want the extras. It was just the opposite in Fargo.
Miscellaneous photos from the archives:
Our house. Francis T. Dwyer, my dad, could not be bothered to spend a dime on landscaping, though my mother grew beautiful flowers. This must have been taken in May, when the trees were just leafing out and before any flowers were up. I don't remember many tulips or things like that in Fargo then. It was just the wrong zone. i.e., too cold.
The 1932 Chevy that my brother Gene got to drive one summer. A family that he worked for (mowing their lawn, raking, etc.) lent it to him out of the goodness of their hearts when they went away for a month or so. You had to take at least one shoe off to drive it--the accelerator stuck, and you had to hook your toes under it to pull it up if you wanted to slow down. Gene had taught me how to drive in our first car after WWII, a 1936 Plymouth, so when he drove this one into the alley and parked in front of our garage, I said, "Betcha I can drive that!" He said, "Betcha can't." I got in the car, started it, backed it out of the driveway, and drove off down the alley and around the block, waving to several astonished neighbors as I rolled past. When I came back down the alley and pulled into our driveway, I slowed down very nicely and pushed in the clutch, but the car didn't stop! I completely forgot about the brakes!! The car smashed into our garbage can, which was sitting beside the garage door, and broke the door frame on one side, bending the metal track for the overhead door. Gene was a bit pale as he went in the house to tell Dad. "Here it comes," I thought, as Dad and Gene came out of the back door. But Dad just told Gene to unrumple the lid of the garbage can as best he could, and to help him straighten the metal track so the garage door would glide up and down. He didn't say a word to me, although I heard him chuckle once or twice. I was pretty young...maybe 11 or 12.
The title of this recipe, written in my mother's beautiful school-teacherly script, says "Grasshopper Pie, Mary Barnes." Aunt Mary Barnes was my Dad's youngest sister, and my mom's favorite of Dad's relatives. Mom and Dad went to visit them sometime after I left home, and I remember Mom raving about Aunt Mary's Grasshopper Pie. It's just the like the drink (creme de methe and creme de cacao and cream), but solid and in a pie crust.
Here's one in my own handwriting: Grandma Carew's chocolate chip cookie recipe (I think). Her chocolate chip cookies were fatter than most, and quite delicious. I think Mary Ellen Sill sent me this, but who knows?