How to Use Recipes from ari Antique Cookbook

I wrote this section in February 1971. It was the first writing I did on this book.

I read about 50 antique recipe books before I started writing this section. That's how I figured these things out. It was sleuthing, and I really enjoyed it. Antique recipe books can work for you, if you know how to use them. They can be a functional part of your kitchen library, not merely sentimental curiosities on the shelf.

leavening: This is invariably a problem in using old-time recipes. See "Acid-Base Leavenings" for lots more on old-time leavenings. If the recipe calls for yeast by the "teacup" or some such strong amount, it means liquid yeast; use any sourdough starter or homemade yeast recipe. Or, easier yet, substitute dry yeast. How much? For less than 6 c. flour, use 1 T. dry yeast. From 6 to 11 c. flour, use 2 T. From 11 to 26 c., use 3 T. Then fill the "teacup," or whatever, with water to match the desired liquid quantity. If the recipe calls for a yeast "cake," that means compressed yeast. Those pressed cakes of combined moist yeast and filler material rapidly disappeared from the marketplace after the introduction of dry yeast. For each "cake of yeast," substitute 1 T. dry yeast.

Temperatures: In the old days it was assumed that everyone knew how to cook, so instructions for baking and cooking were vague. Anyway, there were no temperature controls on campfires, fireplaces, or early day ranges. measures: "Teaspoon" may not mean what you think. "Teaspoon" has changed from the old-time ratio of 4 t. per tablespoon to our present 3 t. per tablespoon. Worse yet, in some old books "teaspoon" and "tablespoon," when applied to dry materials, were understood to be a "rounded" quantity—meaning as much heaped above the rim of the spoon as below. "Heaping" meant as much of a dry ingredient as could be piled on the spoon without falling off. A "dessertspoon" was half a tablespoon. That means it was the equivalent of 2 t. when 4 t. equaled 1 tablespoon. A "saltspoon" contained Vs teaspoon. A "dash" meant one shake of the shaker. A "pinch" then and now was as much as can be taken between the top of your finger and thumb. If you're not comfortable with "salt to taste," add 'A t. salt per 2 c. flour.

"Cup" in old recipe books meant about one-fifth less than our present 8-oz. cup. "Teacup" meant what we would call a half-cup. "Wineglass" was the equivalent of our lA cup. When a recipe calls for "bowls," as some old mincemeat recipes do, use the same bowl consistently and guess from the quantity of ingredients how large a bowl is needed. (A 3-cup capacity is a good average guess.) There were 12 fluid oz. but 16 dry oz. per pound. Thus, a "pound" of molasses was 12 fluid oz., about IV2 cups. Recipe amounts were often given by weight rather than volume. You can buy an adequate kitchen scale in most hardware stores. A "hen's egg of butter" is 3 to 4 tablespoons. A "walnut-sized lump of butter" is 2 tablespoons. For "tumbler," "large coffee cup," and "glassful," you can substitute 1 cup. flour: Flour consistencies have varied over the years and with the brand. (For amounts to add, see "Yeast Bread Ingredients" a bit later on). Whole wheat flour was formerly sold in 2 grades. "Graham" flour was the heavier, containing more bran and coarse particles, and was considered the lowest class of brown flour. "Entire wheat flour" was the other grade. The entire wheat flour was usually intended when whole wheat flour was mentioned in a recipe, unless graham flour was specifically named. In old recipe books, "1 cup flour" means unsifted flour unless the recipe directs you to sift it. You can freely substitute one kind of wheat flour for another. It changes the color and the taste a little, but that's all.

sugar: "Loaf sugar" was sugar purchased in hard loaves or cones that averaged about 9 to 10 lb. apiece in weight. That's way back when. One cone would last thrifty people a year. The sugar cone was cut into lumps of equal size and regular shape with special "sugar shears." For "1 lump loaf sugar," substitute a modern sugar cube. For loaf sugar "crushed," substitute granulated sugar. Loaf sugar "ground in a mortar" meant loaf sugar crushed only to a particle size, similar to sand or fine gravel. "Powdered sugar" in the old recipe books meant a grade of fineness between granulated and confectioners' sugar. Granulated sugar had a weight of 2 c. per pound, powdered sugar a weight of 2% c. per pound.

flavoring: You are safest if you learn to use judgment in flavoring. Lemons and eggs are not always of the same size anyway; nor are fruits always of the same degree of sweetness or acidity. When your old-time cookbook was written, flavorings were commonly adulterated, so you may need to reduce the suggested quantity of spices. If the recipe calls for ginger and the amount seems large, it meant ginger root, which was purchased whole and ground at home as needed. Home-ground ginger is not as strong as the powdered commercial product. To substitute store-ground ginger for ground root, reduce the amount to one-fourth of the quantity given. For "1 grated nutmeg," substitute 23A T. store-ground.

Get in the habit of tasting a pinch of mixture now and then, and you'll learn what to expect and be forewarned when all is not well. Be prepared to try an old recipe several times before getting all the kinks out of it. If the recipe is for a large amount, scale it down until your experimenting is done. After each trial, think about which measures may have been wrong and write down your guesses of what they should be. To be a real old-time cook, get to know what a teaspoon and tablespoon of a dry ingredient look like in the palm of your hand. Know how stiff or runny and how sweet, sour, or spicy you want your dish to be, and then trust your taste buds!

Fruits and Vegetables: Our great-grandmothers used some vegetables that are now usually sold in grocery stores. You can look for the names in your garden seed catalog and plant your own salsify, sorrel, leeks, and the like. In some cases, the plant is the same but over the years the name has changed. "Pieplant" means rhubarb; "vegetable marrow" means summer squash; "oyster plant" is salsify.

Continue reading here: Bread Making Equipment

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