Reader’s Digest(ibles): Pink Molded Salad for Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

cabbage-molded-salad

When I was a little girl I greatly enjoyed reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, which featured chapter after chapter of misbehaving children and their hapless mothers who turned to good old Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for help. The cures ranged from “let the kids stay up late as long as they want until they’re too tired to do anything fun, so they’ll stop complaining about bedtime,” to “I’ll let you borrow my pig with lovely table manners to act as a model/shame your child into eating politely,” to “here are some magic pills that will turn your child invisible whenever he’s showing off.” The books were hopelessly dated even back when I read them– they all involved happy housewives and mostly absent husbands, and everyone wore gloves and attended luncheons and ate ridiculous 1950’s food. Which is what brings me to this, um… masterpiece.

Because really, the 1950’s produced some seriously awful stuff, and while I think that the foods mentioned in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books were deliberately exaggerated (prune, noodle, and sardine surprise, anyone?), this one was just too bizarre-yet-plausible to pass up.

The table was decorated with pink tulips, a pink tablecloth, pink candles, pink napkins, and pink nut dishes. The main course was a maraschino cherry, walnut, marshmallow, pineapple, strawberry, cream cheese and cabbage molded salad, accompanied by pink biscuits. There were also pink mints and pink gumdrops. And luckiest of all, Mrs. Harroway just happened to be dressed entirely in pink with even pink gloves and pink roses on her hat. All through lunch she was so happy and gay everybody said, “You look adorable, Helen dear, I wish I’d worn pink.”

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Kit’s Blueberry Corn Cake

RD-corncake

I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond on my own as a kid, but then had it spoiled for me by my school’s making it required reading. Nothing makes you hate a book more than having to sit through your classmates’ laboriously reading aloud one paragraph at a time while you’re forced to listen and keep track of where they are so you can take your turn. Bleh.

BUT, at least the book left one abiding pleasant memory– blueberry corn cake, which Hannah Tupper (a nice old lady who is later accused of being a witch) gives to Kit (a rebellious teenaged girl in Colonial Connecticut) to comfort her after a really tough day.

Hannah had set a wooden trencher on the table with a small corn cake studded with blueberries, and beside it a gourd filled with yellow goat’s milk. She sat watching as Kit ate, taking nothing herself. Probably, Kit thought too late, swallowing the last crumb, that was every bit of dinner she had!

I think that when I first read this, I was picturing a square of cornbread with blueberries stuck to the top– kind of like how you stud an orange with cloves by sticking them all over its surface– but I’ve since realized that the author was likely referring to a single cake with blueberries stirred into a cornmeal batter.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Pippi Longstocking’s Pineapple Puddings

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When I was young I read several books featuring Pippi Longstocking, a redheaded Swedish girl who lived by herself (well, with a horse and a monkey) and had amazing adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika. The series was lighthearted, more than a little silly, and featured several descriptions of tasty-sounding Swedish food. Case in point:

“Now shut your eyes while I set the table,” said Pippi. Tommy and Annika squeezed their eyes as tightly shut as possible. They heard Pippi opening the basket and rattling paper.

“One, two, nineteen, now you may look,” said Pippi at last. They looked, and they squealed with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had spread on the bare rock. There were good sandwiches with meatballs and ham, a whole pile of sugared pancakes, several little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings. For, you see, Pippi had learned cooking from the cook on her father’s ship.

When I was trying to come up with ideas for a new fictional dish to try out, pineapple puddings came to mind. It took some thinking to figure out how I wanted to approach the dish– clearly these were individual puddings, rather than one big bowl of pudding, and the fact that they were served as picnic food (and in Sweden, where “pudding” doesn’t necessarily mean a thickened dairy dessert) made me think that they weren’t the standard pudding you get in the U.S. When I’d thought about it at all, I’d pictured the puddings as baked in individual ramekins and being somewhat firm, kind of like a particularly dense flan. Since they were transportable, though, they probably didn’t need refrigeration, or at least weren’t served chilled.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Almanzo’s Fried Apples n’ Onions

RD apples n onions

Sticking with the classics, my next trip down memory lane is Almanzo Wilder’s fried apples n’ onions from Farmer Boy. This book is seriously FULL of good eating– I came across a website that quoted every meal he ate in the book, and was drooling by the end of it. It all sounded amazing, but it’s too hot this summer to be roasting spare-ribs and cooking baked beans with salt pork, so I decided to go with something simpler: fried apples n’ onions.

This dish is just what it’s named– apples and onions, fried together. I don’t understand why most recipes online make it so sweet, adding tons of brown sugar and cooking until the apples and onions turn into mush. This is not apple pie we’re talking about here, this is a side dish, and Almanzo states in the book that he ate four helpings in one meal! If it were sweet I’m not sure that even I (with my notorious sweet tooth) would’ve been able to eat that much…

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Mr. Bingley’s White Soup

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For the next installment of Reader’s Digest(ibles), I’m going with white soup. Originating in 17th Century France, white soup (a variation of it, at least) became a popular food to serve at balls in Jane Austen’s time. The dish is referenced in Pride and Prejudice by Mr. Bingley, as he plans the Netherfield Ball.

“By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield?—I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”

“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chuses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.”

When I first read the book in high school I had no idea what “white soup” could be, and given the context I initially speculated that it might be some weird term for envelope paste or something necessary for the invitations. But eventually I learned that it was an actual soup, and when considering what to make next for this series it immediately presented itself as an option. As implied by its name it’s a creamy soup, generally based on a meat stock, thickened with bread, and it includes almonds.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Ma Ingalls’s Vanity Cakes

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I was definitely a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series as a child. Wasn’t everyone? Okay, perhaps not, but I enjoyed the descriptions of the day-to-day life (however fictionalized), and one of the food descriptions that stayed with me was in the third book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, where Ma fries up a batch of “vanity cakes” for Laura’s birthday party.

She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom. Then it swelled underneath till it was round, and Ma lifted it out with a fork. She put every one of those cakes in the cupboard. They were for the party.

The cakes were not sweet, but they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue.

They ate and ate of those vanity cakes. They said they had never tasted anything so good, and they asked Ma what they were.

“Vanity cakes,” said Ma. “Because they are all puffed up, like vanity, with nothing solid inside.”

As a kid I could picture these exactly– they’d be crispy and thin and about the size of a large plum, with a golden brown outside that shattered when bitten into, and maybe just a faint hint of chew on the inside. They sounded really delicious, and I wished I could try them.

The Little House Cookbook apparently has a very basic recipe for these, but every single one of the online reviews for the recipe states that the cakes just don’t puff up that much– they’re dense and eggy, not crispy, and certainly not hollow inside. This didn’t sound right at all, so I had to think of some other way to achieve the effect. Then I thought of choux pastry.

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Reader’s Digest(ibles): Anne’s Liniment Layer Cake

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I love to read. I love to cook. What better set of projects to undertake than foods inspired by my favorite books? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been comfortably curled up, reading a description of something delicious being eaten/made/thrown by a character, and thought “I wonder what that tasted like?” So I figured that I’d try to bring some of those dishes to life.

First up is a classic from my favorite book in the world, Anne of Green Gables. There are numerous references to food in the book, mostly mentioned in passing (ice cream, chicken salad, chocolate caramels), but a few stand out as plot points. One of those is the layer cake Anne makes for a tea party, despite having a head cold that prevents her from smelling the bottle-full of what she thinks is vanilla extract– with disastrous results, since it’s actually anodyne liniment. Based on the text, the cake is a vanilla-flavored layer cake, sandwiched with jelly.

The cake did rise… and came out of the oven as light and feathery as golden foam. Anne, flushed with delight, clapped it together with layers of ruby jelly and, in imagination, saw Mrs. Allan eating it and possibly asking for another piece!

While the Anne of Green Gables Cookbook (written by Montgomery’s granddaughter) provides a recipe for this cake, reviews indicate that it comes out somewhat dense, which doesn’t jibe with the “light and feathery as golden foam” description in the original book. I decided to go another route, using a hot milk sponge cake recipe which has been around for a while and is supposed to produce a light, tender cake.

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