Tuesday, May 4, 2010

4 May 1956 “Chicks, The Future of Food, Robots, Chicken Fried Steak, Cream Gravy and Biscuits”

I have been again so into my current projects I have been rather bad blogger. I have even forgot to nominate an Apronite of the Month for this month.

Many things have been going on around here. Working in my garden. My eggs are beginning to hatch today. eggpipping  Here you can see it piping. The little hole that has been made by the chick inside scraping away with the little bump on his beak called the ‘egg tooth’. This will fall off after a day or so.

Being concerned if I would get many eggs to hatch or that they might be all roosters, I found someone locally who had a few chicks that were sexed so I know they will become hens, so I got them yesterday. They will share their life with my new hatching chicks.

I have two Brahmas and two Polish. Here they are.chicks1 Aren’t they adorable. This is what these two breeds will look like as full grown hens. Brahma Hen:light_brahma_hen and the Polish:bearded_golden_laced_polish_hen

Here is a fun vintage film about hatching eggs.


I have been thinking lately about the complexity of food. How I have begun to see it more simply in its component parts. It was very like when in that moment in drawing when I noticed that the shadow and negative space also make up the picture. When all the complex motions and striations of an art piece suddenly breaks itself down to you in daubs of light and dark. It is as if its secret is revealed. 

Recipes and cooking used to seem daunting to me. It was because it was just this endless list of ingredients and cooking temps and really almost hieroglyphs upon ancient stone walls. I could decipher each individual recipe, but I needed some magic decoder ring or a great reference book to refer to. It was as if I was a mad scientist working away at the old texts in the bowels of my ancient castle“Yes, Oh mighty cooking Gods, the baking POWDER and not the SODA today, yes…” crack of thunder “Ah, just the egg WHITE this time, not you wretched YOLK, BACK I SAY” “Set in oven for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out DRY” Lightening illuminates my upturned face “YES!” I cry and cackle “I’ve Got IT!”

But, really it was only very recently that the reality of cooking hit me. Almost all the foods we eat are really just made of a few core ingredients. I had come to that realization towards the end of 1955, but there was still this sort of cooking wall I had not pushed through. It was the other day when I was baking biscuits and later that evening hubby said, “Oh, I’d love some crackers and cheese with our wine” and I knew I had no crackers. I never buy them anymore. So, get out the recipe. When I whipped it up, which it couldn’t be any easier, I realized how it was exactly the recipe for the biscuits only variations in amounts. Then I thought of our bread and tortillas and the chicken fried steak I had made and even the omelets we had for breakfast. They were all linked! They all shared many basic ingredients. It made me realize how easy it is for us to be so distanced and even intimidated by food prep.

Look at all the available things at the market. The endless crackers and chips/crisps and frozen foods and boxed foods and microwavable. We feel we just have this endless array of foodstuffs, but almost all those things share those core ingredients but of course have added bad things such as preservatives and corn syrup etc. I was in the meat dept of our Stop and Shop grocery chain the other day. I shop almost exclusively at our local grocer now, but there are some things I have to still get from the chain. I happened to be pricing meat to see how it compared to my later trip to the local market when I heard two of the workers putting out pre-packaged meat in the bins. One of them was holding up the bags of individually wrapped chicken inside another bag, which she was removing from  a box and saying, “Look at those ingredients”. These two women who were, presumably hired as meat cutters, were reduced to opening boxes of pre-cut and packaged meat and setting it out. They knew what was going on behind the scene behind those floppy black doors with the little plastic windows in.

“See that one” she said, pointing to label, “That preservative is actually just formaldehyde.” That really scared me, not that I had any intention, any way, of buying ‘meat’ that was wrapped into smaller packaged inside a bigger package with the word EASY blazoned across it like it was the holy grail.

So, back to the food reality. Before we had all this, before the 1950’s, when packaged foods were new and merely added to a homemakers repertoire in the kitchen, we understood food. The very core base ingredients, Milk, (and of course from Milk, Cream, Butter, Cheese, etc) Flour, Sugar, Baking powder, Baking soda, Corn starch, Salt, Pepper, Eggs. And really, that is the base for almost all the things we eat that are not Meat, Veg, or Fruit. With variations of spices or adding of chocolate (again in chocolate cake, it is just the bitter powder of the cocoa and the sugar and butter you add makes it a lovely chocolate cake). The more we have been removed from our food and our ability to understand how easy it really is to make and have, the more we spend and the more we depend upon prepared, pre-packed foods. Another bit of the consumerism net we are all caught in. The fact that most of us have no idea how to make pancakes without even using Bisquick! It’s just the flour, baking powder, and salt in there. IF it is the complete version, than powdered eggs and milk are in so you are only adding water to reconstitute it. But pancakes could be taught to be made to a 5 year old child. YET, I find out that not only pre-mixed batter exits, which I thought was the epitome of lazy, that the you just open a little jar and pour, but NO they have premade pancakes frozen that you simply heat up! All that packaging and preservative and all the energy in some factory somewhere so we don’t have to mix flour eggs baking powder oil and sugar mix a few strokes and pour onto a hot griddle. “OH, my arms, I can’t lift the egg and measure the cup of flour, I CAN’T!”

And, on top of it, in the ‘pre-made pancake’ world, it’s not even as if we are providing jobs for our fellow humans. Here is the scary world we have let our food and ourselves travel into. I also love how in this video they talk of how this was brought about due to the increase desire to have cleaner and safer working, but really it means they don’t have to have as many employees which mean no healthcare, sick days, complaints etc. In fact, no people.

This brings to mind this video. You can see how good intentions may have brought us where we are. But in this magic kitchen there are tools to help you cook, today we simply don’t cook at all, we just heat it up! We were at that cusp of making the new modern world, but here they figured the homemaker would still be making and preparing dinner and how could it be aided, now it is merely pre-packaged.

Well, back to food. Here is a nice biscuit recipe. I think they turned out rather well.biscuits3 We felt like good ole’ Diner food the other night, so I made Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy and biscuits. later in the day, hubby wanted cheese and crackers, so I made the crackers.cracker Simple recipe and really good too. You could add any extra seasonings to make these all purpose crackers into any flavor: garlic and rosemary, chive, I think coriander would be good with a dash of hot sauce in the dough.

 biscuits4 Yummy Biscuits.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/3 cup cold butter
  • 1 cup cream
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in thebutter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in cream until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
  3. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead 15 to 20 times. Pat or roll dough out to 1 inch thick. Cut biscuits with a large cutter or juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Brush off the excess flour, and place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges begin to brown.

Here is the recipe I used for the Fried Steak

4 tenderized beef cutlets (known in supermarkets as "cube steak") OR 1 round steak, with fat removed, that you've tenderized yourself  (I use wax paper around the meat and one of my wooden rolling pins. Good time to release any stress. I mostly just find it fun to pound the meat and watch it grow. It really does make the meat quality nicer.)

  • 1 egg
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • all-purpose flour
    • cooking oil or melted Crisco®
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper

    Beat together the egg and milk and set aside. Mix together the salt, black pepper, paprika and white pepper and sprinkle on both sides of beef cutlets.
    Dredge the cutlets in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then dip each cutlet in the egg/milk mixture, then back in the flour. (You're going to get your hands messy here, so take your rings off.) Set cutlets aside on a piece of waxed paper.
    Heat the cooking oil in a large cast iron skillet or similar over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Oil should be about a half-inch deep in the pan. Check the temperature with a drop of water; if it pops and spits back at you, it's ready.
    With a long-handled fork, carefully place each cutlet into the hot oil. Fry cutlets on both sides, turning once, until golden brown. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 4 or 5 minutes until cutlets are done through. Drain cutlets on paper towels.

    Cream Gravy
    After the cutlets are removed from the pan, pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of oil, keeping as many as possible of the browned bits in the pan. Heat the oil over medium heat until hot.
    Sprinkle 3 tablespoons flour (use the left-over flour from the chicken fried steak recipe) in the hot oil. Stir with a wooden spoon, quickly, to brown the flour.
    Gradually stir in 3/4 cup milk ( I used 1/2 milk 1/2 cream) and 3/4 cup water, mixed together, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon and mashing out any lumps. Lower heat, and gravy will begin to thicken. Continue cooking and stirring a few minutes until gravy reaches desired thickness. Check seasonings and add more salt and pepper according to your taste. This leftover gravy can be stored in a jar in the fridge and simply heat it up when you want to use it again. Very good. Also good next morning cooked with crumbled sausage and served over the biscuits with poached eggs.

  • The more I realize the complexity I thought once there in food is really just the perception, the more I realize core ingredients are all we need. And, if I can slowly move to having more direct access to those core ingredients: my own eggs from my chickens, my fruit and veg canned and preserved. Local shops for as much meat and veg as I cannot make. Even, maybe one day, my own milk goat for butter, cheese, milk, cream. Who knows? I know it is all so very exciting and every day I am drawn further and further into LIVING and therefore that is why my blog has been suffering. There has been less simple discovery of the old homemaker and more of the practical application of the new who is continually learning the old skills and even trying to harness the power of the self-sufficient homemaker that would have been the grandmother to my 1950’s homemaker.

    I shall endeavor to maybe do shorter daily or every other day posts just listing what craziness I am up to. That way you can follow along more on my endeavors. But, now my chicks are peeping from their eggs and I cannot miss the miracle of birth. I have a chicken house to plan and start building and more garden to prepare, as my indoor seedlings attempt to take over the house, they are so big!

    Have a wonderful day all and happy homemaking and happy gardening!


    1. Congratulations on your new motherhood! :)

      Yes, we only need a few basic ingredients to be able to make a lot of different things. I have collection of basics so I always can whip up some sort of cake or cookies. We always have eggs, flour, sugar, butter – so add things like e.g. nuts, cocoa, dried berries or raisins, and voila - you can make a cake.

      I have a few US recipe books, but some of the recipes I simply don’t understand – since the ingredients are not basic and unknown to the Danes.

      I got very outraged the other day at our local supermarket – I found litre bottles with fluid pancake mix!!! How difficult is it to stir flour, water and eggs together??? Aaah, come on! A child can do it, and it takes absolutely NO time!

      I love the magic-push-button-kitchen ad! :)

    2. Sanne-did you see, I was outraged by that but then found out that they have PRE-MADE pancakes frozen that you just heat up! That is the video of the robot packing them up to be shipped to stores. How scary is that!

    3. In the last couple of months I've started a new tradition of making a pancake breakfast for Husband and I (usually we just "do our own thing" for breakfast) on Sunday mornings and I realized how easy it is to make my own pancakes. I'm not too happy with the plain jane basic pancake recipe that I've been using from my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (it's fairly tasteless) so I'm always on the lookout for variations. I've even learned to make my own berry "syrup" using frozen mixed berries, lemon juice and a little sugar....it looks like something you'd get in a restaurant and it's easier than I'd ever thought it would be.

      I do admit to sometimes using bags of precut veggies, like broccoli and green beans, telling myself that it makes things go faster; when I get home from work a little after 5:00 pm, the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time in meal prep. As it is I rarely am done in the kitchen, after eating and cleaning up, before 7:00 pm. Maybe I'm just extraordinarily slow, lol.

    4. I saw that video on your hubby's blog, and was appalled. Robots. I am shaking my head just thinking about it.

      I have been suffering through food h*ll right now. My stove (which I hated) fried out yesterday. I went to turn on the timer so I could bake a cake and SNAP, FLASH! Little flames and whisps of smoke. Dead stove.

      Me, I was thrilled, because now I could get a GAS stove like I have wanted for the last five years. But, we have been having to eat out because no stove, no cooking. I don't have a microwave, nor a toaster oven. I dug out my old electic skillet and borrowed a hotplate from my mother so I could cook something tonight without having to eat out. I cannot stand it. The food is lousy, the prices are insane, Lord knows what's in it.

      New stove arrived today, but hubby still needs to run the gas line over and hook it up. Most likely wont have it up and running unil late tonight or even tomorrow. But I am patient. It will happen, and I will be back and banging pans again.

    5. Gingerlla-I am always adding and tweaking my pancake recipes as well. Right now my favorite way is
      1 cup flour
      2TBS baking powder
      2TBS sugar
      1Tsp vanilla
      dash of cinnamon
      2Tbs oil (or bacon fat)
      one egg
      one cup milk
      and then I swirl a little syrup in the batter. Let it sit for a minute while the griddle heats and then beat it again. They alwasy say don't overmix pancake batter, but I find this recipe works well when you really mix out all the lumps, let it sit, mix again and pour. The last time I had pancakes at a restaurant I thouht, "Well, these aren't as good as mine!" That happens more and more as you begin making your own, don't you think? I will be freezing some of my own veg this fall as well as canning, so I will also be using frozen veg. But, our local farm stand opened in April and I am so happy!
      LoriB-Lucky you! I am still on our old electric stove and I loathe it, except for its built in skillet, which I do use quite a bit. I will be switching to propane stove as soon as I decide how and when to redo my kitchen and when I find my vintage stove available somewhere to buy!

    6. A child can absolutely make pancakes, my four year old does all the time! Actually he's in charge of dinner tonight, his choice. He announced that he would make dinner so I told him to pick a dish figuring he'd choose something from his usual repertoire but he grabbed one of my magazines (Women's Day maybe?) and planned a menu. We're having falafel (he's using a box mix for that) with pita bread, tahini sauce, and salad along with strawberry lemonade (made from scratch) and strawberry shortcake for dessert. He makes a great shortcake because he tends to still be a little cautious while cooking which leads to a very gentle touch with the dough and lovely light biscuits.

      He just asked what I'm doing and I told him I was boasting about his cooking skills to a friend. He said "Well tell her she can come for dinner, I'll make plenty for friends." He'd make such a good housewife; maybe he'll marry a high powered business woman and be a SAHD when he grows up ;-)

    7. Rhonda-I love that! I like that you are a great example of why it is important for ALL to learn homemaking skills. It is very true, that he might find himself with a wife who prefers to work and have meals on the table and why not. What is so good about the system of one work one at home, is it is just sound in the long run for savings and happiness. And won't it be easy for him if he goes to college. No cup a soup for him!
      I adore strawberry shortcake so I shall have a virtual helping, you may tell him your friend is VERY impressed!

    8. Rhonda:

      Oh my goodness!! Four years old...that is awesome!

      Maybe he'll be a famous chef one day and you'll be able to say, "he's been able to make a variety of dinners since he was four."


      I've been noticing that, too...that just a few ingredients, combined this way or that, create just about anything we could ever want.

      Do you lately feel like you are just waking up from a brainwashing? I do.


    9. I got a kick out of the "Kitchen of the Future" where the refrigerator and freezer magically descend with the touch of a well-manicured hand on a button...only problem would be if it went on the blink and they had to tear out your lovely wall to repair said magical refrigerator..lol. Let's hope plastic wall panels are cheap and easy to replace! In one of my old mid-century magazines, there is an ad for a refrigerator that is horizontal rather than vertical, and attaches where one would normally have upper cabinetry. I had to do a double-take when I saw that one!

      Can't wait to see your hatchlings. I need to check to see if my neighborhood is zoned for poultry. That's been on my "to do" list for about a month now. It's really interesting to see how chicken keeping has become so popular so quickly, and in urban areas as well. Since I've always had a soft spot in my heart for chickens, I'm glad to see their popularity rising. People have even resorted in some cases, to using "stealth" coops which look like anything from water barrels to dog houses..not particularly good for the chickens however because of cramping issues.

      I'm also really glad to see people finally questioning what's in their food, and hopefully supporting their local farmers if not growing their food themselves. Our farms and countryside are such a precious resource. I'm hoping people will wake up to that fact as this country looks for ways to become more self sustaining as far as the food chain goes.

    10. I agree with you so much. People are growing up whole generations with no idea how to cook. I can't tell you how many women I know that say things like I don't cook or I've never made... I just don't understand. But then my mom was born in the depression and wasting and going out to eat all the time was not an option. If you're that short on time why not make your own mix and store it for later use. I wish I could say we don't buy any processed food but I try to buy a minimal amount.


    11. Great post! How exciting that your chicks are hatching! I can't wait to see them.

      Wow, Rhonda, I'm impressed! I can't even imagine a 4 year old doing all of that. I guess we underestimate kids more than we realize. Maybe some of this thinking comes from the fact that the adults don't think they can do these things themselves, so it's just assumed that a child couldn't, when in fact, both have the ability.

    12. amp-I know. I hear that a lot and I used to be one of those that said it. I sometimes forget the pre-1955 me, so I am definitely an example that its 'never too late'.
      PL-children used to be reading latin at 4 once upon a time. I think so much of the early possibilites of children and new brains (especially with language and math) is lost. We are more concerned with kids playing. No wonder we are so easily lead into a life of boring staring at screens we are never pushed nor given real stimulus. We raise ourselves up to be easily amused and to revel in ignorance.

    13. Sorry to be off topic, i am still catching up on your blog (I am in 1955 still). But do you go by the 1950s style mrs. John Doe or Mrs. Jane Doe? So many of our elderly ladies still go by Mrs. John Doe. I was watching Tender Comrades with Ginger Rogers (1943) and the ladies all introduced themselves in such a way before giving their first names.

    14. Congratulations on your baby chicks. Life is such a miracle.

      Michelle in Canada

    15. Anon-on letters and things I style myself Mrs. John Doe. I find it rather nice, and I like my hubby's first name as well, so that helps.
      I have hatched chicks before and it just never gets old! It is always exciting.

    16. I learn so much from you every time I read your posts. It's true, cooking is all about core ingredients. You explain it so well. My pantry is not stocked for this correctly but now I know, so thanks!

    17. Stephanie-first off, thank you so much. I love learning and am always asking why and how can I do it, so when I feel I have ever shown anyone anything, I get a little happy glow.I learned more and more as I went through 1955 that at first I felt I was buying all these odd things, like corn starch and baking soda but as I have learned to cook and bake, I begin to see it all bare down to very core basics and the best and tastiest and healthiest food seems to be well made by simple core ingredients. Diary, Protein, Grain, Veg and Fruit. It is all there, waiting for us to combine and eat in a symphony of intricate simplicity.

    18. I too have been thinking about food a lot lately. I have had a strong love for cooking for many, many years, but up until recently I feel like I was still thinking inside the box when it comes to food. About two weeks ago I made homemade crackers for the first time, I was shocked at how easy they were....and obviously how much better tasting and healthy they were. I ate nearly the whole batch in one sitting (oops!). The benefits of things like homemade crackers are so vast, the taste, the health, the PRICE....I can't imagine ever buying them again. I didn't really before unless I was entertaining guests because they can be quite costly. I just love cracking them too, and letting them look rustic and pretty.

      Your chicks are so cute, I can't wait until I can move to the country and have chickens of my own.

    19. Cedar-you should check your ordinances and see, you might be allowed a few hens. I know you have a balcony situation, but sometimes they allow you access to a yard of property. The chicken movement is really growing and many cities are changing. If not, you could always convince a well meaning relative who lives close buy and has some small bit of yard. Just a suggestion, because keeping chickens is So rewarding.

    20. Texas Accent In SydneyMay 6, 2010 at 4:50 AM

      The pancake robot was a little fascinating but mostly scary ... I disliked seeing thousands of identical pancakes on the conveyer belt ... that might be ok for Oreo cookies but I think pancakes are meant to come out of a frying pan at home and they will not/should not all be the same size or shape ... years ago I used to use Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix ... for a while overseas I could mail order it, when unavailable didn't like replacement ... got and fine tuned a recipe, not too sweet for husband, was amazed at how simple it was, embarrassed how many years I let Aunt Jemima do it for me ... waffles are a variation on that recipe, a bit more trouble but nice and I have a vintage waffle iron ... easy enough when measuring out the ingredients to make up more, put in ziplock bags, write on them how much buttermilk and oil to add, how many eggs ... I'd never go back to boxed pancake mix and even when I cooked pancakes for thirty people recently, I wasn't tempted to use the mix in a bottle, shake shake ... what a waste of a plastic bottle and what a mark-up on a cup of flour! ... bottom line: identical pancakes have no personality, homemade is so easy and inexpensive ... embarrassed it took me so long to put my apron on and figure it out.

    21. Texas Accent In SydneyMay 6, 2010 at 4:52 AM

      Rhonda, I'm impressed with your little chef ... you must be so proud ... hope you are taking pictures for posterity ... or filming him doing a "cooking show" ... hurrah for him!

    22. Those biscuits look yummy. I can't wait to try the recipe. I love the video's you posted. FANTASTIC post!!!

      Have a wonderful weekend!

    23. I grew up with homemade pancakes and waffles and have never liked Bisquik anything. The flavor and texture is all wrong. I do love the pancakes at IHOP though...

      I found my perfect waffle recipe in the instruction/recipe book that came with my Kitchen Aid mixer. Pancakes are just self-rising flour, eggs and buttermilk. A 1-1 ratio and so easy to double, triple, quadruple, etc.

    24. there's this annoying "phenomenon" where these ladies have come out with a book - 4 Ingredients, which has recipes that only have 4 ingredients in them... which sounds like a great idea, except when the 'ingredients' are something like prepared pasta sauce, in which case - wow, big surprise it only has 4 ingredients in it, because the pre-made sauce has about 20.

      I worry when a 'revolutionary' cookbook comes out telling to use all these pre-packedged ingredients it can scarcely be a cookbook, and is rather an instruction manual.

      No wonder people have no real idea about how to cook nowadays

    25. I was just thinking about all this, cooking from scratch, because of the lettuce recall. Luckily we get out produce from a local resource- not from the other side of the country and then processed in another state and then trucked in to the big supermarket. I have a nice recipe for pancake mix that is simple and convenient. I'd bet most of you have the ingredients in your pantries right now!

    26. I had a similar revelation when I read Julia Child’s books “The Art of French Cooking, I and II”. She chose to organize the books by the commonalities; once you learn the basic recipe she takes you through a few variations and then you are free to experiment. The idea of 5 “mother” sauces as the basis of all French cooking was a revelation to me! And now I can cook just about anything I can think up. Simple, fresh, and homemade is ALWAYS better.

      Love the chicks too!

    27. What a great blog, I've just discovered you, and am now another of your followers. I relate to the 50's so well (born in 1952). I really dislike how the world is now in many ways, yet, we have to live in the here and now! How does the relationship work, with your husband may I ask? Do you have a 50's type of marriage too, where the man is the boss? Again there's much to be said for such a relationship, as long as the female is listened to, and participates fully, and is cherished. John

    28. We have the 50's style relationship my parents had, in that my hubby works, but I actually manage the money and bills. We have mutual respect and also respect one anothers jobs as being important to the dichotemy of our marriage. There are no 'bosses' in our marriage. We consider it a joint venture. Though there may have been 'bosses' in 50's marriages and there certainly are now, many of the films and things I saw on educating for marriage in the 1950's often show both partners making decisions together. So, not sure where the 'man=boss' in 1950's really came from. That was part of the myth I was trying to discover. I think things like I love lucy (which I loved and still love) sort of played up that false role of hubby being the boss and wife having to act childlike and sneek around, yet their very REAL 1950's marriage was Lucy more the boss than Desi.

    29. Last week I read the "Egg and I " by Betty MacDonald I think you will like it. ( I was surprised once in a while by Her language in an old book, my copy was 1946) but I enjoyed the book. Happy Hen's to ya .

    30. The other day I was sitting at the computer reading your blog. My husband walked by and said "you better try that recipe " He was talking about your biscuits. ummmmm that's something to think about...I fix him biscuits a lot. oh well Lol

    31. That recipe is really very good, I thought. It is going to be my new 'go to' for biscuits. I might try and modify it for scones. I shall have to get a copy of Egg and I.

    32. If you're interested, they made "The Egg & I" into a movie in 1947 and a TV show in early 50s.


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