What happens when a 1950’s shopping list collides with 2011 reality?
A friend of mine owns a used book store. When he sees an old cookbook cross his counter he may set it aside or give me a call. One day I’m there, wandering around, looking for some out of the ordinary cookbook treasurers. I ask the question, “anything interesting come in?”. With that, out comes The Can-Opener Cookbook. Success!
First published back in 1951 by MacFadden Books, The Can-Opener Cookbook, was too great a find to pass up. Written by Poppy Cannon, this book has recipes for the “quick gourmet meal”. We are talking about “gourmet” food made with ingredients straight out of a can, box or bag. These recipes have some creative and enticing names that roll off your tongue. Eggs Benedict Chasseur, Lobster Bisque De luxe, Chicken Flambé with Black Cherries and Lamb Chops aux Fines Herbs, just to rattle off a few.
This is a pretty bold attempt to upgrade the average “canned macaroni in crème sauce with cheese”. Frankly, it’s a tall order. We’re all used to using some shortcuts in our daily cooking routines, but, recipes that are based on pre-packed food, is something totally different.
The Author, Poppy Cannon, was something of a fifties foodie. She was at times the food editor of Ladies Home Journal and House Beautiful. She was an early adopter of the convenience food movement (aka pre-packaged, ready to eat meals). And, last but not least, she was a cookbook Author.
She created quite a stir back in 1949 when she married Walter Francis White who at the time was the leader of the NAACP. He was black, she wasn’t. In 1949 that’s an issue. Poppy later penned a biography of her husband titled, A Gentle Knight that was published in 1956.
That’s Poppy White. All super interesting stuff. But, what I really wanted to know was, can a recipe created back in the early fifties using these type of ingredients be satisfying and edible using today’s measures. I was going to find out (and so are you!).
Our test, Green Noodles with Meat Sauce
One of the crazy quirks about Poppy’s recipes is that they have no real amounts for most ingredients. I guess she was known for that (what?).
I used some fresh basil (probably a no-no).
To keep this pure, I was thinking about going for one of those little herb packs from the produce section of my grocery store. But, I have an herb garden full of the stuff. I hope this doesn’t screw things up too much.
Here are the rest of the ingredients.
That’s it, honestly. The directions are equally is abbreviated.
Here’s How To Do It
prepared spaghetti sauce (with or without meat)
basil, oregano, Worcestershire sauce or red wine
Cook 2 cups of dried noodles according to package directions. Don’t overcook. When al dente, drain (the recipe mentions rinsing in cold water to separate the strands, I didn’t).
In a medium saucepan heat the spaghetti sauce. Add a little of the basil or oregano or Worcestershire to “perk it up”. I used basil.
Here’s where the garlic comes in. Rub the garlic (I’m assuming you cut the clove) on the serving dish, holding with a piece of waxed paper. Pile noodles in center of platter. Make a well and pour in the sauce. Sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese (not included in ingredients list). Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, red wine and a fruit dessert. This will comprise a “glorious meal”.
OK, all joking aside. It really wasn’t bad. Actually, if you were working a full time job and had to whip up a quick meal for your hungry family, this would be great. And, to be honest unless you’re making your own pasta and spending hours simmering our own Bolognese, this is a suitable substitute with a couple of easy modifications.
I can think of a few 2011 refinements. Obviously, there is no need for the pasta rinsing. If you have a large skillet, heat it with a little olive oil, toss in the cooked pasta with a small amount of the cooking liquid and give it a quick sauté. You can even throw a little minced garlic into that pan. Or, a splash of the sauce. Just a couple of quick fixes would make this dish a lot better.
Here’s another look at my finished product. Would Poppy be proud? I want to say YES.
The Bottom Line
Poppy had a style all her own. You can easily tell that by the way in which she wrote these recipes. It shows her attempt to make “elegant” food more accessible to the masses. This book was written at a time when the term foodie was yet to be uttered and the medium which brings us all of the food TV we can digest was in its infancy. Without too much trouble, I can easily picture her sitting at the Top Chef Judge’s Table, next to Tom Colicchio doling out culinary justice. I think Poppy would have liked that.
Author: Poppy Cannon
Publisher: Macfadden – Paperback (1951)