Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: Lucinda's Party Foods

Title: Lucinda’s Party Foods

Author: Lucinda Christenson Larsen

Date: 1946

Publisher: Caxton

ISBN: none

Length: 315 pages plus 6-page index

Illustrations: several black and white photos, full-color frontispiece

Quote: “The contents of this book on Party Foods consists of cakes of all kinds and frostings…every type of candies, both homemade and commercial…plain and fancy cookies, rolls, sweet rolls, coffeecakes, doughnuts, pastries, pies, frozen desserts, puddings and Danish pastries.”

That’s what you’ll like and what you’ll not like about this book. Lots of desserts…but it’s all desserts. If you’re looking for savory as well as sugary recipes, you’ll have to find another cookbook.

Actually, I found other things not to like about Lucinda’s Party Foods. One is that the author fell short of her own goal. She claimed to be offering these recipes to “the newest cook” but she frequently expects the cook to know which type of pan to use. Actually most baked goods can be baked in almost any pan, in almost any oven, but the time they take to bake and the texture of the finished product will vary accordingly. You don’t get the same cake someone else made if you bake the same batter in 8” or 10” instead of 9” round pans.

Another thing I’m not wild about in this book, despite its historical interest, is that as a professional chef Mrs. Larsen used several “industrial” ingredients that were never available in ordinary grocery stores. Some of them are no longer used, or, if the same chemicals are being manufactured, they’re not sold under the same names. Of course industrially prepared processed desserts contain even more chemicals than Mrs. Larsen’s confections…in any case, some of these recipes are the kind of thing our grandmothers used to make, and some of them are the kind of thing our grandmothers used to warn people off buying in stores.

And then, of course, in 1946 nobody knew anything about food intolerance. People had food intolerance diseases, and oh how they suffered, because they didn’t realize that conforming to the idea that all people ought to be able to eat anything any person could eat was what was making them sick. A few of Mrs. Larsen’s recipes don’t contain milk, egg, or wheat products, but that’s strictly by accident. (Between 1940 and 1945, planned shortages of popular food items had inspired cooks to develop dessert recipes that relied less on sugar, eggs, wheat, and dairy products. Some of the resulting “War Cakes” and similar treats were quite palatable, and remained popular after the war.)  All of them are loaded with simple carbs; if they don’t call for sugar as such, they call for some alternate form of sugar like corn syrup, molasses, or honey, and since those were often more expensive and harder to find than sugar, the alternative sweeteners are usually combined with sugar anyway. Most are high in saturated fat, as well.

Does that leave anything to like about this book? Much. If you want to make your own candies that are “free” from some additive or other while being based on sugar and corn syrup processed the same way they’re processed in the big factories, here are explanations of (usually several different ways) to make fondants, cremes, marshmallows, nougats, caramels, toffees, and hard candies.

Mrs. Larsen was Danish-American, and her “Danish pastries” collection goes beyond a few recipes for the flat sweet rolls we all know so well. There are six different recipes for aebleskiver, the apple-stuffed pancakes (although only the first recipe explains that what makes these things aebleskiver is the apples tucked in between the two dollops of batter before cooking). There’s also a recipe for pebernodder that illustrates how, although the general term in several European countries literally translates as something like “pepper cookies,” the actual spices used in these spice cookies were more often cinnamon and ginger rather than pepper.

If your family like to bake a different cake or batch of cookies every weekend and eat your way through it all week, Lucinda’s Party Foods offers new treats to last you…more than a year, especially since several of the recipes are basic ones that leave room for a few dozen variations. When Mrs. Larson said “flavoring,” she meant “Experiment with all the different ones a well-stocked supermarket offers! Not just vanilla and almond extracts…try banana, mint, hazelnut, pineapple, brandy…” She was well paid for helping grocers move the less popular spices and extracts, and some of them actually taste good in cakes and cookies. “Make several batches using different nuts and flavorings,” she urges.

If your family can’t make one cake or batch of cookies last a week…and that’s not because you’re talking about an extended family…then fewer recipes for sweet treats, and more creative suggestions for using more vegetables, may be what you need.

The general purpose of this book is to ensure that you’ll always have something “homemade,” not merely chips or drinks, to take to a party. Cherry cake? Pumpkin cake? Chocolate eclairs? Not all of these recipes are foolproof enough for “the newest cook,” and some (like angel food cake and divinity candy) depend on conditions that may be beyond the cook’s control, but most should yield reasonably satisfactory results. There are certainly enough recipes here that any non-diabetic reader has to be able to find some that s/he likes.

Mrs. Larsen no longer needs the dollar she'd get if this were a Fair Trade Book but, as usual, it can be purchased together with one or more Fair Trade Books: $5 per copy of Lucinda's Party Foods + $5 per package (for shipping) + $1 per online payment (Paypal takes its bite) to the e-mail address you receive from salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, or $5 per copy + $5 per package via U.S. postal order to P.O. Box 322.