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How Grandma Threw It Down A Recipe from the 1930s Serves Up a Challenge

As a wedding present, my husband and I received a rare and quite interesting book called “Home Management.” Published in 1934 and written by Margaret Garth and a “Mrs. Stanley Wrench,” it is a treasure trove of horrifying recipes and then-useful tips for home repairs, first aid, cleaning, parenting, entertaining, beauty and, of course, engaging servants. Let’s crack it open for a peek.

Getting started
In the early 1930s, America was in the throes of the Great Depression, and those very bad economic times are reflected in this book’s recipes. Let’s just say, the eating was rather grim.

Maybe I should go back to basics. And it’s going to be a long way back. I make bacon by putting a plastic- wrapped package in the microwave, but this book opens its cooking section with a chapter on “the proper method of cutting up a pig.” I’m not going to resort to butchery, but I am going to make a recipe from this book.

How about a pie? Here are my choices: ox cheek, eel, cod fish, calf’s head, sheep’s head, calf’s foot and cow’s heel. Not going to happen. Investigating further, I unwittingly learn a severed head is much more than a pie ingredient. Boil it, hash it, stew it. Or, you know, don’t. Then I came across a recipe called “Pig’s Face (Dressed).” I wondered if this was meant to be a macabre centerpiece or a meal. I stop breathing when I learn it is the latter.

Just like Jell-O
I conclude I cannot cook the meat dishes for practical reasons and not because I’m too much of a wimp to look a sheep’s head in the eye as it floats in a pot of water. You just can’t go around buying animal heads in most urban grocery stores.

How about a nice desert? (No pies!) I close my eyes and open to a page to see what comes up. Flummery! That moist and gelatinous … what, I’m not exactly sure. But here are the ingredients:

1 ounce gelatin
1 lemon
6 yolks of eggs
3 ounces loaf sugar
¼ pint sherry

And here’s how to prepare it:
“Steep an ounce of gelatin in a quart of cold water for one hour, then simmer it for one hour with the peel of a lemon; next, add the beaten yolks of eggs with loaf sugar, the juice of one lemon and sherry. Keep stirring till it has gently cooked, without boiling, a minute or two; strain through a fine sieve, stir again till it is nearly cold and turn into glasses. Serve in the glasses.”

This sounds a lot like lemon-flavored Jell-O, and that is tempting me to cheat.

But I’m supposed to be pioneer woman-ing here. I will find that gelatin, and I will soak that gelatin. I’ll even figure out what loaf sugar is. Per my internet search, Wikipedia says that “loaf sugar is sugar that comes in the form of a solid block. Historically, people used tools known as sugar nips to break chunks of sugar off [to] use it in cooking and baking. Because of the difficulty involved in obtaining precise measurements, loaf sugar was especially irritating for bakers.”

You had me at “especially irritating.” Here we go.

An essential guide to flummery
Step 1: Prepare the kitchen. Gather pans. Go upstairs. Tell my husband, Kevin, who works from home: “It might get loud down there.”

Step 2: Gather ingredients. Oh crud. I left the lemon on the conveyer belt at the self-checkout. I found an orange but can’t vouch for how long it’s been rolling around in the fruit bin. Good substitution, right? Both citrus fruits. Texting my mom. She says fine, but it won’t be as tart. If that is flummery’s biggest problem, I’ll consider this endeavor a raving success.

Also, we don’t have sherry. I’ve never tried it but thought for sure we would have some in the back of the liquor cabinet. What’s a good substitution? When I ask Google, it suggests I listen to “Oh, Sherry” by Steve Perry. I don’t think so.

Kevin says port will do. He has some, but it’s “kind of gross.” He is not kidding. One big swig gave me a full-body shudder.

Step 3: “Steep an ounce of gelatin in a quart of cold water for one hour.” Gelatin soaking! Port isn’t so bad if you sip it.

Step 4: “Then simmer it for one hour with the peel of a lemon.” Grating the orange peel. This is taking a while. Since I’m just boiling it with the gelatin, can’t I just peel the orange and drop the whole peel in? Sipping port and singing along to “Oh, Sherry.” Google was right. This is nice.

Step 5: “Next, add the beaten yolks of eggs with loaf sugar, the juice of one lemon and sherry.” So now I am juicing the orange, beating the eggs, measuring out 3 ounces of sugar (1/3 of a cup-ish?) and … oh, slight problem. I drank all the port. I was thinking of it less as an ingredient and more like a little treat for the cook. White wine? That’ll do.

This is terribly yellow looking. Like runny, radioactive scrambled eggs.

Step 6: “Keep stirring till it has gently cooked, without boiling, a minute or two.” “Oh Sherry, I’m in love! Hold on! Hold on!” Kevin comes downstairs: “What is going on down here?” Flummery is going on, baby.

Oh crap, it’s boiling.

Step 7: “Strain through a fine sieve.” How about a pasta colander? I’ve got one of those. Hmm. That didn’t get rid of the chunks. How about this thing that looks like a fishing net? I text my mom a picture of it. “That’s a sieve,” she says.

Step 8: “Stir again till it is nearly cold.” Cold is such a relative term, and this is beginning to smell weird.

Step 9: “And turn into glasses.” Trying to think of a caption for Pinterest. Summery flummery. Flimflam fun: Flummery is done!

Step 10: “Serve in the glasses” … to your delighted family.

“Is it supposed to have speckles?”

“Why do I have to eat flubbery?”

And now: The dishes.

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