One of my oldest and most interesting cookbooks is one that my Grandmother received as a wedding gift in 1921. The title is “A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes” by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, and it was published in 1917. The subtitle is “The Romance of Cookery and Housekeeping”. While the title may sound titillating to our modern-day sensibilities, it could not be more prim or proper. It is part cook book and part journal of a newly wed couple- Bettina and Bob. I enjoy getting a glimpse into the lives of this “modern” 1920s couple, and imagining what my grandmother’s early life may have been like.
The first chapter introduces the readers to Bettina and Bob arriving home from their honeymoon. Their dear friends have surprised them by leaving some ingredients for their first supper at home. These surprise ingredients along with Bettina’s “emergency shelf” of canned goods such as “6 cans of pimento” and 3 bags of marshmallows, allow Bettina to put together a quick, and of course, economical, meal.
The chapters continue throughout the couple’s first year of marriage with each chapter featuring a situation to challenge Bettina’s ability to provide a fitting repast. Bettina always comes through, and once in a while Bob even helps. Each chapter ends with a menu for the situation along with the recipes. Some of the most intriguing chapter titles are: “A Motor Picnic”, “A Handkerchief Shower”, and a “Rainbow Announcement Luncheon”. Their lives are charming and perfect. The most chaotic thing that happens is an unexpected guest. But, of course that proves not be upsetting either thanks to Bettina’s amazing homemaking skills!
Being a teacher myself, one chapter that caught my eye is entitled “During the Teachers’ Convention”. In this episode, Bob and Bettina host 2 friends who are in town for a teachers’ convention. One of the ladies is very excited about the talks that they are to attend, while the other teases about going hat shopping instead. Sounds about right. The teachers request pork loin and sweet potatoes for dinner, complaining that their landlady never provides that meal. Naturally, Bettina complies. She’s not only a great and frugal homemaker, but is also unflinchingly cheerful.
I was drawn to one of Bettina’s recipes called “Nut Cookies” because of its use of mace. It is a spice that I was not familiar with, but is related to nutmeg, and has a similar, but more pungent aroma. If I were to make these cookies again, I would double or triple up on the mace. The cookies were less sweet and less rich than what we think of as cookies, but they were good in their own way. They have a biscuit-like texture with a delicately spicy flavor. The recipe recommends black walnuts, but I only had regular walnuts on hand, so that may account for their rather bland flavor. Black walnuts have a much stronger and sweeter flavor. The recipe was supposed to make 3 dozen cookies, but even though I rolled the dough thin, I didn’t have a cookie cutter small enough to make 36 cookies.
History: This recipe is from a cook book from 1917. It is featured in a chapter called “Surprising Alice and Harry” in which Bettina and Bob surprise their engaged friends with some sweet snacks and an unexpected visit.
Time and Effort: The dough is easy to make and rolls out easily. The only difficulty was trying to get 36 cookies.
Worth Reviving: Perhaps, if you’re looking for a not-too-sweet treat or something to do with your black walnuts.
1/3 C butter and lard mixed 1/3 C chopped nuts (preferably black walnuts)
2/3 C confectioners sugar 1 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbls. milk 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 C flour 1/4 tsp. mace
2 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Cream the butter, add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg and milk and then the flour, nuts, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg and baking powder. Place the dough on a floured board. Roll it out one-fourth of an inch thick and cut with a cooky cutter. Place on a well-buttered and floured baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes in a moderate oven.