Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham

8. Lost Recipes
Meals To Share With Friends and Family
by Marion Cunningham
nonfiction, 2003
second book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge
finished, 1/23/11

I thank my friend, Les for this great cookbook. She knows how much home cooking means to me. This is my second book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge.

Marion Cunningham is concerned about how little cooking goes on in our own kitchens anymore. This book was published in 2003 and in the eight years since, things have only gotten worse. In her introduction, she writes:
Why are fewer people cooking at home? There are, of course, a multitude of reasons - with pressures of time and of conflicting schedules, football practice and PTA meetings, all usurping the dinner hour. But there is one reason that is paramount, I think: Home cooking in America has long been considered menial drudgery. ...
It was easy, then, for big commercial food companies to sell their goods with the promise that their boxes, cans, and bags of food could be ready to eat in minutes. Later, microwave ovens promised even quicker results, with little or no cleanup necessary.
There's been almost no counterargument. We home cooks have never gathered in force to speak out in defense of home cooking. So the image of cookery as drudgery lives on. ...
So this book is addressed to all of you who are tempted to give home cooking a second chance. The recipes I have gathered here were lost primarily because people were no longer cooking in the same kind of home rhythm. But I hope to lure you back into the kitchen with them. Maybe these dishes will bring back the past, providing for some of you a little nostalgia and for others an introduction to good, clean, pure flavors that you never get in take-out food.
I've never understood why mixes are used. It is so, so easy to whip up some flour and eggs and sugar and butter to make brownies or cookies or cake. But oftentimes a child grows up and cooks as he or she saw in the childhood kitchen. The unfortunate thing to me is that there is a whole generation (or maybe two) who have grown up with those 'boxes, cans. and bags' of food. The eating revolution which I wrote about has mostly passed away. A few years ago I was in a homemaking yahoo discussion group, and I remember a woman saying that her son's friend had never had a homemade pie. He was amazed at how wonderful her pie tasted. That in itself is sad, but what is even sadder to me, is that there are lots of people who've never tasted anything homemade, and the muffin they know is from a quick-stop store. And I fear they wouldn't even care for a homemade one because their taste buds tell them this isn't how a muffin should taste. It breaks my heart. Even my own children who were brought up with everything from scratch, use mixes and shortcuts in their own households. I'm so thrilled when I come upon a young person who is into home cooking. There are many bloggers out there who are doing this and sharing their pleasure in real food.

Marion Cunningham presents recipes that are easy to understand and follow. There are interesting quotes and old pictures interspersed throughout the book.
Cooking something delicious is really more satisfactory than painting pictures or making pottery. At least for most of us. Food has the tact to disappear, leaving room and opportunity for masterpieces to come. The mistakes don't hang on the walls or stand on shelves to reproach you forever. It follows from this that the kitchen should be thought of as the center of the house. It needs above all space for talking, playing, bringing up children, sewing, having a meal, reading, sitting, and thinking. ... It's in this kind of place that good food has flourished. It's from this secure retreat that the exploration of man's curious relationship with food, beyond the point of nourishment, can start.
Jane Grigson, Good Things
If you read house design sorts of magazines, you'll see that kitchens are getting bigger and more extravagant, but regretfully I don't think much cooking goes on in them. I have a friend whose relative has a kitchen practically bigger than my house and the owner never cooks. I think of Julia Child in that tiny, inconvenient kitchen in France and all the wonders that came from it.

I've noted several recipes I want to make from this cookbook. The one I'll share this day is a delicious dessert. First I'll write out the author's words, and then add my notes.

Children's Chocolate-Chip Squares

Encourage children to learn to cook and bake when they're young. This is a simple recipe they'll love.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup chopped nuts
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Grease and lightly flour an 8-inch square pan.

Toss together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Add the vegetable oil and eggs, and beat until thoroughly combined (the mixture will be stiff).
Stir in the nuts and chocolate morsels.
Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and use your moistened fingertips to smooth the top and spread it evenly.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with just a residue of chocolate on it.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a rack, then cut into 2-inch squares.

My notes:
Of course, I used melted butter rather than oil!
I mixed together the flour, powder, and salt in a bowl.
I beat the eggs in the Kitchen Aid mixer and then added the sugar.
I turned the speed down and slowly added the flour mixture and the (cooled) melted butter.
Then I added the nuts and chips.
I didn't smooth down the top.

This would be a wonderful cookie bar to make with children. It is easy as can be, and I think they would especially enjoy the smoothing the top part.

the batter
the finished product


  1. I love Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book, but it never occurred to me to look to see what else she's written. Thanks for alerting me to yet another book for my to-be-read pile!

  2. So right, Nan. I see bigger kitchens with no cooking happening in them, and bigger houses with no kids in them. It mystifies me. I don't want to be one of those crotchety old people who always talks about things being better in the good old days, but I'm certainly glad that I got to live through them!

  3. Liz whipped out a batch of these this afternoon. I can taste the chemicals in a mix...none of my family will eat a mix cake.

  4. This one sounds interesting..I like to read cookbooks, but the cooking part...not so much!! LOL!!

  5. I like the comparison to other arts and crafts such as painting or pottery!
    As far as home-cooking goes - guilty as charged... when my husband was still alive, he did all of our cooking (and he made most things from scratch; his home-made chips/fries were legendary!), but since I am alone, I do not cook for myself, only when I have visitors; then, I enjoy it.
    My mum is an excellent cook, and my dad is not far behind, but in spite of having been raised on their delicious, genuine home-cooked food, I simply can't be bothered to do that just for myself.

  6. This looks good! I have to admit that I am one of the children who was brought up with cans & packages. I am not a child anymore now but I use both. I don't home cook every day. But I can say I cook 50/50. And baking I will never ever do out of a box anymore!

    I am also in the foodie's reading challenge and I am currently reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her book :)

    Thanks for this great review :)

  7. It was a black day for me when my 30 year old son ate the birthday cake I made for him, and said (unthinkingly) that his favorite cake was Duncan Hines. One of the things that has changed with people using cake mixes is that the children don't want to lick the bowl anymore. totally understandable when the bowl only held Duncan Hines. Oh well, I still lick my own bowls, and I don't worry about the raw eggs. They are out of my own chicken coop. I love Marion Cunningham. Thanks for this.

  8. once again you've sent me scurrying to my library...

    I'm really enjoying Mr. W. as you called him...funny stuff :)

    Have a cozy weekend

  9. Sprite, and I thank you! I've never heard of this, and it sounds right up my alley! Breakfast foods are my favorites.

    Clair, that's a good point about the 'no kids' and absolutely true. I try really hard to balance now and then. As Joni Mitchell wrote, 'something's lost, but something's gained in living every day.'

    Sarah, that is SO great!

    Staci, for me it is soothing, and I always find myself smiling as I cook. I put on some good music (like Bobby Darin!) and have a great time. That's why our Bose is in the kitchen.

    Librarian, I read and hear that a lot -that people don't like to cook for 'just' themselves, whereas I am my favorite person to cook for because I know I'll always like it! (and Tom too!)

    Uniflame, that's so great that you do half yourself!! I use some cans myself - like crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. I couldn't live without them. :<)

    Commonweeder, that's a heartbreaker for sure!! Did you threaten to write him out of the will? :<) Same with me about the raw eggs. Aren't we so, so, so lucky to have our own chickens?

    Niki, this book is just your cup of tea! Glad you are liking 'Plum' as he is nicknamed.

  10. I'm back with one more comment. You might be interested to see/read Jane Brocket's "i bake" post today:

  11. Thank you, Clair!!! I so loved that. I've read her name before but not read her work or her blog. I shall remedy that. Thanks again.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this post this morning, Nan, and will be on the lookout for this cookbook.

    I love to read cookbooks (as well as to cook) and they are as often my bedtime reading choice as a novel. I do admit to keeping a few box mixes on hand for "just in case", but most of my baked good and dinner are from the ingredients I have on hand.

    I think a kitchen reveals a bit about a person, much as their bookshelves, or lack of them, does.

  13. Life on the cut off, it means so much to me to have you say that.
    And I think you are absolutely right about kitchens and bookshelves. I'd never thought about that. And one's garden, too, I'd guess.

  14. Nearly all my cookery--probably 95%--is done without any mixes or prepared items. We use fresh items as much as possible, although tinned tomatoes and flash-frozen meats & fish are necessary, and some frozen veg (actually, only okra and spinach come to mind.)
    As for baking, everything is by scratch. I have a box of Bisquick in a cupboard that I really ought to toss out, because I've only used it once or twice that I can recall.
    If I don't feel like cooking, we have a pizza or Thai curry noodles from local takeaway. Or dine out. Our kitchen is a point of connection and communion--and my husband and I enjoy cooking together (most of the time!)
    I will defintely try this brownie recipe!

  15. I'm always amazed at how many US recipes consist of opening a packacke of this and a can of that. I've always cooked and baked from scratch and my daughter also cooks from scratch - she's a better and more adventurous cook than I am now:) One of my sons can cook pretty well and his wife is also an OK cook, my other son has fortunately married a lovely girl who also cooks from scratch including things like pizza bases. In general it's the same over here in the UK though, a whole generation has grown up without any idea how to make tasty home cooked food. Home made is not only more nutritious it's also more economical. I can never understand why anyone would buy a crumble topping - it takes nearly as long to open the pack as it would to just throw one together yourself!

  16. I'm so glad you're enjoying this book!! After reading your review (and quoted passages), I'm tempted to buy myself a copy.

    Those chocolate chip bars look wonderful. I should bake some for my hubby tomorrow. :)

  17. Margaret, it was so lovely to read this!

    Rowan, that is so true! And I think it is the same for mixes. It is incredibly quick to mix up a homemade recipe. Hooray for your kids!!

    Les, it is so worth you getting your own copy. I saw lots and lots of recipes you would enjoy.

  18. I'll never forget baking some cookies with my daughter when she was a little girl and saying, "Cooking is FUN!" as we mixed. "It sure is!" she said, and I was so pleased. Today she is known for her homemade apple pies, but she doesn't love all cooking as much as I do. Glad to meet with others.

  19. Mary Lois, I love it that she is 'known for her homemade apple pies.' That is so great!

  20. What an interesting post, Nan. One of the reasons I was unable to swap recipes, many years ago, with an American pen pal was her recipes always seemed to start with, 'Take one pack of such and such a mix'. She didn't seem to understand that I couldn't get that mix in the UK and anyway always cooked from scratch. So I know exact;y what you mean.

    My youngest daughter and her new partner came to lunch just after Christmas and because we'd had umpteen roast meals I cooked them a homemade steak and kidney pie. He'd never had homemade before and was astonished at the taste of it. Being a keen but novice cook, he *had* to cook it himself and is now addicted to steak and kidney pie. LOL!

    Am saving that recipe to cook with my grandaughter when she comes to stay in a couple of weeks.

  21. I like the quotes you used and you opinions as well. Of course, I agree with you. There is one thing I see that gives me hope for the future: the way buying and eating local foods has become so popular.

  22. Cath, that is amazing. I just don't even think of mixes, and when I read a recipe that begins with a mix I'm flummoxed.
    I love the steak and kidney pie story. Sounds like your girl has herself a great fellow!!
    I'm interested in English and American pies. I know there are 'pot pies' over here, but mostly when we say pie, we mean a dessert - chocolate pie, lemon meringue pie, a fruit pie. So when I first saw the British tv show, 'Pie in the Sky' I assumed his restaurant was a dessert place. :<) I love that show beyond words!

    Margot, I so agree. Again, I thank you for offering this great challenge.


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