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Vintage Cookbooks: 1940s cookbook introduced foreign dishes

Thursday, September 07, 2000

By Alice Demetrius Stock

How ya goin' ta keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?

Or tantalize their taste buds after they've experienced international cuisine?

Until the spread of railroads in the mid-1800s, almost 90 percent of the population seldom traveled farther than 10 miles from their homes. That meant most people had no direct experience of any type of cooking other than their own and, therefore, no standard of comparison.

Then, from the 1890s to the 1920s, Americans everywhere got a taste of authentic international cuisine as immigrants, many of whom opened small restaurants, poured into the country, adding culinary diversity to the American dinner plate.

Again, after World War II, multitudes of returning veterans, tired of C-rations and meat substitutes, came back hungry for foods they had sampled in Europe and Asia.

The result was that -- besides creamed chicken on waffles or roast beef and mashed potatoes -- Americans began enjoying chop suey, chow mein, beef stroganoff, goulash, bouillabaisse, vichyssoise, duck a l'orange, chicken cacciatore and minestrone.

Partly in response to the nation's craving for ethnic fare, publishers began producing collections of recipes from around the world, such as Lilla Deeley's "Cosmopolitan Cookery: 440 Recipes from 35 Countries."

Deeley's gathering of national specialties was, in the second half of the 1940s, little-known outside the places of their origin. Many of them were famous national dishes that, according to Deeley, were sometimes imitated here, but not often made correctly.

These once-exotic dishes now seem commonplace:

Mulligatawny, Indian mutton broth soup.
Crepes Suzette Flambees, French pancakes with brandy.
Frittata Spinacci, Italian baked omelet made with grated cheese, spinach and tomato sauce.
Kolbasz, Hungarian sausage.
Arroz Espanola, Spanish rice.
Fondue, Swiss-style cheese sandwich.
Pastizio, macaroni Greek-style.
Sauce Hollandaise, Dutch sauce.
Guacamole, Mexican avocado salad.
Pizza, Italian pie from Naples.

Deeley also included a number of American regional specialties, such as corn mush, succotash, gumbo, stuffed baked potatoes, and apple and pumpkin pies.

A nice addition to Deeley's book is a list of terms, mostly French, that help describe a dish, usually by its garnish or method of cooking. Many of the terms are still used, such as Chantilly (white sauce of mayonnaise with whipped cream, or sauce of whipped cream with cherry brandy); Florentine (using green vegetables, especially spinach, sorrel or green herbs); and Nicoise (with olives, anchovies or sardines).

Petchenaia Kartofel V Smetane
(Russian Potatoes with Sour Cream)

This scalloped casserole dish is quickly and easily prepared.

1 pound onions (about 2 fairly large ones), thinly sliced
Butter for frying (about 4 tablespoons; no substitution for the butter)
2 pounds firm potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (we used three large Idaho bakers)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Fry the onion slices in butter until mostly golden brown, stirring now and then to ensure they don't burn.

Butter a medium-sized (2 1/2- to 3-quart) baking dish or casserole.

Beginning and ending with potatoes, layer potatoes and onions into the dish, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper.

Mix the beaten eggs into the sour cream and pour into the dish.

Cover tightly (use foil under the lid if necessary).

Bake until done or until a tester pushed through the center goes in easily (about 50 minutes).

Remove lid and return to the oven a few minutes to brown the top if you wish.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

-- Adapted from "Cosmopolitan Cookery:
440 Recipes from 35 Countries,"
Lilla Deeley, 1945.

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