Review: Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Library, part 1 (1978)

Before I begin, I have to say that I have an obsession with recipe card libraries.  At this point, I have 10 different card indexes, and I love looking through all of the pictures of the dishes and reading the recipes.  Most of the card libraries I own are from the 1970s, but I have one from the 1950s and a couple from the 1980s too.  These recipe card libraries are great because they offer a lot of variety for home chefs.  They are all organized thematically.  Some, like Cookindex, are organized by ingredient.  Others, like the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, are organized by occasion (outdoor cooking, just for kids, tea time, etc).  Most of them have a few international dishes, as well as entrees, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.

The card library that I’m reviewing today is the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Library published by the Meredith Corporation in 1978.  Better Homes and Gardens is the fourth best-selling magazine in the United States.  It is the flagship magazine of the Meredith Corporation which was founded in 1922 by Edwin Meredith, US Secretary of Agriculture from 1920-1921 under Woodrow Wilson.  The magazine is a monthly periodical that specializes in information about homes, cooking, gardening, entertaining, and crafts.

There have been at least three recipe card indexes published under the Better Homes and Gardens brand.  The others include a diet recipe card library (I’m working on adding this to my collection) and one dedicated to microwave cooking.  Both were published in the late 1980s.

The 1978 recipe card library came in a large plastic container with a hinged lid that opens lengthwise.  The most common colors for the cases seem to be white and yellow, but I have seen a couple of red and avocado green cases as well.  There are 39 sections to the card library with 17 cards apiece for a whopping total of 663 cards!  Each section is differentiated by a numbered divider card which stands a half inch taller than the recipe cards.  As is standard for this type of card library, the divider cards have cooking tips on the back.  The recipe cards are lettered from A to P and have a color photograph on the front with one or two recipes on the back.  The set also includes a card index and a series of booklets with meal planning suggestions and cooking tips.  The box is absolutely packed.  I’m missing the recipe index and I can’t see how it would fit in the box.

Skillet Enchiladas 2
The recipe calls for fresh or frozen tortillas.  I didn’t know that tortillas were sold in a can at one point.  As it turns out, they were either sold in a short, squat can which allowed the tortillas to lay flat in their natural position or they were sold crammed into an upright can.  El Paso sold canned tortillas in a short, squat can until the mid-1990s.

In many ways, my podcast and blog are a love letter to the creators of recipe card libraries. I was inspired to start this project after I purchased the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library because I wanted some sort of reason to try cooking some of the recipes.

Some of the recipes may seem appalling to modern tastes, but there is a certain charm to them.  These card indexes harken back to a different time.  It was a time when there weren’t Mexican and Chinese restaurants in every town and city, let alone Ethiopian and Venezuelan.  It was also a changing time when more married women were working outside of the home than ever before, but they were still largely expected to do a majority of the cooking and cleaning.  These recipes represent a desire for balance.  Rather than every recipe being cooked from scratch, we see a lot of time-saving shortcuts.  The Skillet Enchiladas call for cream of mushroom soup, canned enchilada sauce, and canned chili peppers rather than fresh tomatoes and chilies.  Canned salmon is used in the place of fresh salmon in many recipes.  At the same time, there’s a surprising amount of care written into these recipes.  The tops of the Harlequin Sandwiches are decorated with sliced pimiento, and the Della Robbia Wreath Salad is lovingly decorated with cream cheese and frosted grapes so that it looks almost too precious to eat even if it is made with canned fruit.

Harlequin Sandwiches 2
Such adorable little sandwiches.  They contain tuna salad, deviled ham salad, or a blended peanut butter-apple filling and are decorated with sliced pimiento, green pepper, and snipped parsley.   I am a bit uncertain how the pimento decorations go with the peanut butter-apple filling.  I can’t imagine that it goes well.

Below are some of the recipe cards from section 1-13.  These represent some of my favorite recipes from the first third of the box. Admittedly, I have not cooked any of these recipes.  They are just some that I found interesting.

Wine Jelly 2
I love this idea.  Sterilized wine glasses are filled with hot wine jelly.  The wine glass is then sealed with paraffin wax.  After the wax has hardened, additional hot paraffin is whipped with an electric mixer and spooned over the hardened paraffin in the glass to give it a snowy appearance.  While it looks super neat, it is inadvisable to actually do this.  First, many wine glasses can’t withstand the heat.  Second, the USDA recommends against sealing jellies with paraffin because there is no guarantee of a perfect seal.  If it’s being stored in a refrigerator, it might be safe for a few weeks, but I wouldn’t recommend saving it for any longer than that.
Upside Down Pineapple Mold 2
It wouldn’t be a recipe card index from the 1970s without at least a few gelatin-based molds.  Above is a really cute pineapple mold made to look like a pineapple upside-down cake.  The base is made with lemon and strawberry flavored gelatins.  Pineapple juice and rhubarb are used to enhance flavor the gelatin.  Below is a Salmon-Avocado Mold which is thankfully made with unflavored gelatin.  Overall, this recipe may seem strange to our modern sensibilities, but overall, there’s nothing about it that seems like it would be overly offensive.  It’s essentially a salmon salad coated in an avocado/sour cream mixture.  While the look of the dish is a bit off-putting, I dare say, it might actually be tasty. (I would probably switch out the olives for capers since I’m not a fan of green olives).

Salmon-Avocado Mold 2

Polynesian Pork Steaks 2
It’s ok, the wormy looking things are just coconut.  I’m including this recipe because I’m unsure if it translates to today.  It calls for strained plum baby food which I couldn’t find during a cursory internet search.  Sure, you could make your own plum baby food to use, but if you’re going to all of the trouble, you could probably find a more authentic Polynesian sauce for the recipe.
Oyster Stew 2
There’s an adage in the food blogging world that soup rarely photographs well.  They tried so hard in this picture.  They chose an attractive tureen to serve it from, and even floated crackers with pimiento stars on top of the soup, but it still just doesn’t look attractive.  The recipe, however, looks quite good.  It doesn’t call for any short-cuts, and it even calls for fresh-shucked oysters.
Jumbo Cornburger 2
This is another recipe that seems like it should be full of canned products, but it’s fairly can-free.  It does call for a can of tomato sauce and canned corn, but that’s about it aside from the ever-so-popular pimiento.  It has far more fresh ingredients than canned, including tomato, sage, green pepper, and onion.  It is a prime example of 70s cooking: simple ingredients, filling, meaty, and starchy with a nice smattering of convenience.  I’m sure this would have been a crowd pleaser back in the day.  Nothing about it is particularly offensive, and it suits a wide-range of tastes.  It seems like it would be a really fun, retro dish to serve at a pot-luck or themed party.
Hawiian Beets 2
Beets and pineapple.  I’m still trying to decide if they would work together.
Easy Sauerkraut Mold 2
I could see this working, if it weren’t for the lemon flavored gelatin.  As I found out in the Jell-O episode, I just can’t handle sweetened Jell-O with things that should be savory.  I do, however, love sauerkraut.  Like many of the recipes on this page, this recipe also calls for pimiento which seems like it was the height of class back in the 1970s.
Della Robbia Wreath Salad 2
This dish is named after della Robbia family.  Luca della Robbia and his nephew Andrea were fifteenth century sculptors. Many of the round pieces that the della Robbias sculpted were bordered with flowers, leaves, and fruits.  These sculptures were emulated by wreath-makers and later people who wished to entertain friends and family with attractive fruit salads.  Come to think of it, the della Robbias might have been imitating the medieval practice of decorating serving dishes with leaves, fruit, and feathers.  This is the sort of chicken and egg debates that keep me up at night.
Buffet Glazed Salmon 2
This is one of those quintessentially 70’s dishes that look so foreign to us today, but would not be out of place if served between two slices of rye bread or as an hors ‘d oeuvre.  It’s just salmon with sliced cucumber, radish, and flavored cream cheese, but this style of presentation is just not in style today.

All of these cards are under the copyright of the Meredith Corporation.  I do not claim to have copyright over these images, but the commentary is my own.  If you’re interested in learning more about these recipes, I recommend finding a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Collection.  I purchased mine from eBay and there are quite a few still available there and on etsy.  The Better Homes and Gardens website and magazines are a great repository of information.  It’s well worth picking up an issue or subscription if you are so inclined.

Review: Kmart Klassics Review (~1986)

With the temperature of my kitchen running in the mid-to-high 90s, I have been taking a hiatus from the podcast for a few weeks.  Until the temperature breaks and it’s cool enough to start up season 2, I decided to start posting reviews of some of my many cookbooks. With the help of my siblings, I have collected over 150 cookbooks/pamphlets/recipe card indexes and my collection continues to grow.  At the current rate, it will take 3-4 years to discuss all of these books, so I figured that I could do reviews of the books between episodes.

I’m going to start with a relatively recent acquisition: Kmart Klassics.  This pamphlet was purchased at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Wisconsin by my sister April for only $1.00.  It is an 80-page pamphlet published by The K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee in the mid-1980s.  The pages are the size of a half-sheet of paper and it is held together with plastic comb binding.  This style of cookbook was popular as a fundraiser because it could be inexpensively assembled in large quantities, and it has the added bonus that it lays flat on a counter or cookbook stand.

Kmart Klassics

As context for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting one, K-Mart is the third largest discount chain store in North America after Walmart and Target.  Its wares include standard household items: small/medium kitchen appliances, some furniture, clothing, baby items, health & beauty, linens, shoes, electronics, packaged food, etc.

The pamphlet Kmart Klassics (which is dangerously close to having too many K’s in its title) was assembled by The K-Mart Good News Committee of Racine, WI in the mid-1980s.  The committee was made up of Deb Stublaski, Michelle Sadowski, Joyce Dockey, Cheryl Langel, and Nancy Smith.  The book describes The K-Mart Good News Committee as “a national organization of volunteer K-Mart employees who are actively involved in year-round out-reach programs in the communities surrounding their K-Mart stores.”  The programs were recognized by Ronald Reagan for their work.  At the time the cookbook was created, each K-Mart had the opportunity to create their own committee which raised funds to help local organizations.  The Good News Committee of Racine, WI fundraised with bake sales, bowl-a-tons, and other activities.  They raised money for the United Way and helped a local family raise money to get a van with a wheelchair lift.  It seems as though these store volunteer groups have mostly died off.  I was able to find a few references to Good News Committees using a Google News search but most were from my mid-1990s.

As is typical for this type of fundraising cookbook, the recipes were submitted by the community and curated by the K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee.  The names of the people who submitted the recipes are included following the individual recipes but no additional information is given.  In other examples of these books, the neighborhood or city of the contributor was included, but in this book they were not, which leads me to believe that they were either people from Racine, WI or (more likely) employees from that K-Mart store.

Appetizers Intro3.jpgThe book is organized into seven sections: appetizers; bread, rolls, pastries; meats, seafood, main dishes; cakes, cookies, desserts; soup, salads, vegetables; candy, jelly, preserves; beverages, miscellaneous.  Each of these sections are divided by a sky blue page with the section name on the front and some tips on the back.  For example, the appetizers section has a list of simple appetizers which don’t need recipes like lobster tail moistened with lemon juice and sardine slices topped with chopped olives.  The meats section divider has a roasting guide on the back, and the candy/jelly/preserves section has a guide for temperature tests for candy making.  The pamphlet also includes a handy index divided by section and organized by page number rather than in alphabetical order.

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The recipes are delightfully 1980s and charmingly Midwestern.  There are 27 different casseroles of various types (some are not called casseroles, but fall into the category by dint of the cooking method and ingredients – slow cooked in an oven and containing starch, vegetable, and protein).  Many of the recipes are also combinations of processed foods.  Canned soup, cake mix, Jello pudding/gelatin desserts, mini-marshmallows, and Cool Whip all make multiple appearances.

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My favorite part of the pamphlet is the “Favorite Recipes” page at the beginning of the book.  On this page, the home cook can list the recipes that they particularly enjoy along with the page number upon which the recipe can be found.  Unlike many of the books that I’ve seen with this feature, each line is lovingly filled with a slightly shaky cursive that reminds me of my grandmother’s writing in her later years.

Kmart Klassics - Favorite Recipes

The previous owner’s favorite recipes were heavy on desserts and sweet salads, including Heavenly fruit salad, grasshopper pie, peanut butter torte, pistachio salad, puppy chow, millionaire’s salad, poppy seed torte, crème de menthe cake, and banana bread.  On the savory side, she liked potato soup, Nancy’s French dressing, cole slaw, baked beans, easy freezer pickles, and bread stuffing.

Heavenly Fruit Salad 2.jpgThe heavenly fruit salad was apparently a special favorite of the cookbook’s previous owner as the page was marked with an old receipt with “Heavenly Fruit Salad” written on the top (none of the ingredients were purchased as part of the transaction on the receipt, unfortunately).  This salad combines lemon Jello pudding, fruit cocktail, pineapple tidbits, mini-marshmallows, and whipped cream or Cool Whip.

Below are some other pages from this cookbook.  You can see the name of the person who submitted each recipe under the individual recipes.  If anyone reading this happens to know any of these people, please feel free to contact me at eatatlus@gmail.com.  I’d love to hear more about the cookbook.

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Episode 12: Spam Upside Down Pie (1945)

In this episode, we explore the history of Spam while making Spam Upside Down Pie. This episode also takes a look into why it’s so popular in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Korea.

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The original recipe was published in Life Magazine during World War II.  The recipe is not only fun to make: it’s also easy to make!
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One layer of sliced Spam and one layer of biscuits.  Ultimately, I used three canisters of mini-biscuits for this recipe.
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Layer number two.  Small pieces of Spam are sprinkled between the layers of biscuit.
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A third layer of biscuits is added, and it goes into a 425 degree oven.
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A little bit over cooked.  The recipe calls for it to be baked 45-50 minutes.  This is about 35 minutes into baking.  I probably should have taken it out of the oven at 30 minutes.
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Served with beer cheese and garlicky peas.

References:

Ty Matejowsky.  SPAM and Fast-food “Glocalization” in the Philippines.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/155280107780154088

CBS News.  As Food Prices Soar, So Do Sales Of Spam.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/as-food-prices-soar-so-do-sales-of-spam/

Erin DeJesus. A Brief History of Spam, an American Meat Icon http://www.eater.com/2014/7/9/6191681/a-brief-history-of-spam-an-american-meat-icon

Gothamist.  Spam is making a comeback at hip NYC restaurants.  http://gothamist.com/2014/04/01/spam_brooklyn_hipsters.php

Lucy Williamson.  Why is Spam a luxury food in South Korea? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24140705

Rachel Laudan The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage https://www.amazon.com/Food-Paradise-Exploring-Culinary-Heritage/dp/0824817788

Spam Website: http://www.spam.com/

The Hormel Website: http://www.hormelfoods.com/

The SPAM Man.  New Yorker Magazine: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1945/08/11/spam-man

Episode 11: The Joys of Jello

In this episode, I cook three savory Jell-O recipes and talk about the rise and decline in the popularity of Jell-O salads through the twentieth century.  The recipes are Gazpacho Salad, Cucumber Sour Cream Salad, and Tuna Salad. It was an interesting experiment.
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Jell-O Classic Recipes (2002) contains the recipes for the Gazpacho Salad and Cucumber Sour Cream Mold from this episode.  It also contains many sweet recipes that look quite lovely.
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Gazpacho Salad from Classic Jell-O Recipes (2002).
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A slice of Gazpacho Salad.
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This is the picture of the Gazpacho Salad from the book.  I think mine looks just as nice.
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The Cucumber Sour Cream Mold from Jell-O Classic Recipes (2002).  The combination of the lime Jell-O, sour cream, and mayonnaise give it a very odd color of green.
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A slice of the Cucumber Sour Cream Mold
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The Tuna Salad Recipe is from Joys of Jell-O (1963)
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Tuna Salad from The Joys of Jello (1963) in the shape of a lobster.
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A tiny slice of Jell-O Tuna Salad.
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The Tuna Salad Recipe from The Joys of Jell-O (1963).
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Jell-O shots make everything better.  These are made with 1 package of sugar-free lemon Jell-O, 1 cup of boiling water, 1/2 cup of whisky, 1/2 cup of unsweetened iced tea, and 8 maraschino cherries.
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A Jell-O banquet fit for a queen: Iced tea Jell-O shots, Cucumber Sour Cream Mold, Gazpacho Salad, and Tuna Salad.
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The back and front cover of Jell-O Brings Dozens of Answers (1928).  It is the oldest Jell-O recipe pamphlet in my collection.
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A special offer for Jell-O molds from Jell-O Brings Dozens of Answers (1928)
Quick, Easy Jello Wonder Dishes
The back and front cover of Quick Easy Jell-O Wonder Dishes (1930).  The second oldest pamphlet in my collection.
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An advertisement for Jell-O dessert flavors and Jell-O for Salads flavors from The Joys of Jello (1963)
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An advertisement for Jello for Salads from Family Circle, May 1965.  Sourced from http://www.midcenturymenu.com/2012/07/jell-0-has-put-salad-flavors-in-gelatin/
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This copy of The New Joys of Jell-O (1973) was a gift from my Secret Santa.  It inspired this episode.
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The Jell-O Gelatin Salad Selector (1980).  This recipe book was created to encourage people to prepare Jell-O salads that would go with meat dishes.
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Each page of the Jell-O Gelatin Salad Selector has one recipe on the main page and a wheel that spins to reveal four additional recipes.  These recipes are supposed to pair well with meats such as ham, pork chops, chicken, and roast.  At the time this recipe book was published, Jell-O was experiencing a decline.  This book was designed to help people re-consider Jell-O as an accompaniment for meat dishes and not just for desserts.

References for this episode:

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747) – Available from Archive.org

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer (1931 facsimile edition) – Amazon.com link

The American Woman’s Cook Book (1939) by Ruth Berolzheimer – Amazon.com link

A Social History of Jell-O Salad: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon by Sarah Grey.  http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/history-of-jell-o-salad.html

Jiggle It: The History of Gelatins, Aspics and Jellies by Nate Barksdale http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/jiggle-it-the-history-of-gelatins-aspics-and-jellies

Episode 10: Bananamole and Banana Daiquiri (1977)

In this episode, I make two recipes from The 2-in-1 International Recipe Card Collection published by Random House in 1977.  On the front side of the cards in this collection, there are recipes for mixed drinks and on the back there are recipes for hors d’oeuvres. I’ll be using recipe card number 208 which is in the rum section.  This card has three recipes, but I’m only going to make two: the banana daiquiri from the front of the card and bananamole from the back.  While preparing my ingredients, I talk about the history of the Cavendish banana and some of the issues with the global demand for this particular variety.

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The 2-in-1 International Recipe Card Collection for Mixed Drinks and Hors D’Oeuvres published by Random House in 1977.

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Preparation
The ingredients for Bananamole in all their glory.
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The 2-in-1 International Recipe Card Collection for Mixed Drinks and Hors D’Oeuvres published by Random House in 1977.
Preparation daiquiri
Ingredients for the Banana Daiquiri.  Needs more banana.
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Banana Daiquiris are scrumptious.

Episode 9: Shakespeare’s Birthday Meal (1596-1597)

800px-ShakespeareTo celebrate Shakespeare’s 452nd birthday and the 400th anniversary since his death, I cook up two dishes from his era and talk about the food eaten during the Elizabethan/Jacobean periods. The recipes from this episode come from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson, originally published in 1596.

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Shakespeare’s Birthplace from my 2006 trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.

The recipes I made are pease pottage and chicken in a caudle.  The foundation of both recipes came from Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewel, but I did make alterations.  The recipes in the book were very vague so I was mostly winging measurements.  Below are the closest approximations that I was able to manage.  You may need to adjust the recipe to suit your needs.

 The Good Housewife's Jewel

Pease pottage
Pease Pottage

Pease Pottage

1/2 cup dried split yellow peas
1 1/2 cup water
2 carrots (sliced)
1/4 head of cabbage (cut into bite sized pieces)
1 leek (white parts only, diced)
2 tablespoons tart kombucha
pinch of ginger
pinch of cinnamon
pepper to taste
1/2 cup ham (diced)

Put the peas and water in a slowcooker on high/medium high.  Let cook for 5 hours.  Add the other ingredients.  Cook for an additional hour or two.  Serve with malt vinegar.

Chicken in a caudle 1
Chicken in a Caudle.  I had some trouble the the caudle.

Chicken in a Caudle
Filling:
2 tablespoons dried barberries
2 tablespoons dried currants
4 prunes quartered
4 ounces wine (or a little more since my pie was dry)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or more to taste)
1/2 egg yolk
1/2 cup cooked chicken
Red wine vinegar

Crust:
1/2 cup rye flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
enough water to bring everything together (probably around 4 tablespoons)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Simmer the barberries, currants, prunes, wine, and spices in a small sauce pan until the fruits are softened and some of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat. Slowly whisk in the egg yolk so it doesn’t curdle. Add chicken and let sit.

While the fruits are cooking, prepare the crust. Combine the flour and butter. Slowly add the water one teaspoon at a time until the crust holds together without crumbling. Separate the dough into two balls – one consisting of 2/3 of the mixture and the other 1/3 of the mixture. Roll out the larger ball until it is about 7″ in diameter. This will be the bottom crust. Roll out the remaining dough until it is about 3″ in diameter. This is the top crust.

Take a drinking glass or tumbler that is about 3″ in diameter and cover the outside of the class with plastic wrap. Place the glass, bottom down, in the center of the bottom crust. Carefully shape the dough around the bottom of the glass working the dough about 2 inches up the sides of the glass.

Fill the bottom crust with the filling and place the top crust on the pie. Crimp the edges so a seal is formed between the top and bottom crust. Poke a 1/2″ hole in the center of the top pie crust.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Drizzle red wine vinegar into the hole until it is full. Bake for an additional 30 minutes.

This is best served cold.

Chicken in a caudle 2
Caudlicious!
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Shakespeare’s Birthplace from my 2006 trip to Stratford-upon-Avon.  This is the back entrance.  If I’m remembering correctly, this is the entrance to the gift shop.
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Shakespeare’s birthplace from my 2006 trip to Stratford-upon-Avon
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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (Shakespeare’s wife’s family home) from my 2006 trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. This is the front entrance.
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This is the back entrance to Anne Hathaway’s cottage.

Episode 8: Ham and Bananas Hollandaise (1973)

In this episode, I make a recipe from the McCall’s Recipe Card Index called “Ham and Bananas Hollandaise” and talk about the history and science of hollandaise.  You can probably predict how the recipe turned out.  This episode is a cautionary tale about the follies of recipe card authors.

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Learn from my mistakes: do not make this recipe.
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But if you do make the recipe, please share your experience on my Facebook page.
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They look so innocent sitting there in their baking dish.
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After 15 minutes in the oven, there is little hint of what a monstrosity this dish actually is.
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A puddle of banana flavored water started to form under the banana.  It was the banana weeping about what became of its life.