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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Aunt's recipes a glimpse into another era

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

"I thought you'd like to see these," a friend said, handing me two bright red boxes of recipe cards. They were the legacy of one of his aunts, who is ailing and in a nursing home now.

Having spent a long weekend copying out more than 50 of Auntie's period recipes, I feel as though I know this woman a little. She was a sharing person, who thoughtfully recopied her favorite recipes to give to friends. Someone who loves dates and chutneys and local-kine grinds but doesn't care much for raisins. A person organized enough to have two card boxes: One was a "working" file of crumpled clippings and scribbled notes. The other contained clean copies of recipes that were her own tested specialties, as well as printed recipe cards made available in the 1950s and '60s by the Home Service Department of Hawaiian Electric Co.

Those little boxes with their yellowing cards were a peek into another era, when it was assumed that every woman cooked every day. Evidence of this is how often Auntie didn't bother to write down instructions, just ingredients. She assumed that everyone knew how a homemade cake frosting should be put together, for example. (Already this knowledge is fading; I had to research how to use the egg whites — should they be whipped to soft peaks? stiff peaks?)

It was also an era when people were adjusting to the convenience of electric appliances. Auntie's souvenirs included an instruction booklet, "You and Your Toastmaster Automatics Pop Up Toaster" with a penciled notation that the toaster was purchased on Aug. 13, 1953.

The concern then was making sure your family got enough calories and nutrients. It is apparent from the preponderance of meat recipes, cookies, and desserts that fat was considered A Good Thing. I did get a chuckle out of "Mrs. Cockett's recipe" for a daily tonic to promote good health: equal parts honey and vinegar taken morning and night.

I noted with delight recipes from my childhood: fudge made from canned "cream"; Jean's Molasses Drop Cookies from the C & H brown sugar box; sweet and sour spareribs the way the cafeteria ladies made them.

Some ideas from the past just don't translate, however, such as a recipe for a "sauce" made by browning butter and adding lemon juice — recommended for serving over crisp salad greens!