I've thumbed through a number of them and I find that it's the desserts that catch my eye every time. Not too long ago, reputations were made and lost on a fluffy, rich Lady Baltimore cake, or the right texture of an angelfood, but these were more a social ritual than something to eat. The ladies were very competitive about the fine points of their cakes and biscuits and Parker House Rolls.
The day-to-day desserts are astounding when you remember that the family cook or mother was expected to produce a sweet at the end of every lunch and dinner without commercial bakeries, without packaged mixes, and without yogurt.
These plain Jane desserts stressed economy. Most recipes for simple cakes called for a quarter cup of butter and sugar, parceled out with care. Cream sauces required no cream, and butterscotch bars included only the butter used to grease the pan.
In one recipe for Orange Cream Cake, one orange is used for both cake and filling, and where is the cream? It is a parsimonious rendition of Boston cream pie from an age when oranges were precious.
Here are three of my own old-fashioned favorites made with a more generous helping of today's plentiful ingredients. Orange Cream Pie Cake: 1/4 cup softened butter or margarine cup sugar Grated rind of 1/2 orange 2 eggs 1/3 cup orange juice 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 cups sifted cake flour 1/2 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Filling: 1 cup milk 2 teaspoons flour 1 egg 1/2 cup orange juice Grated rind from 1/2 orange 1/2 cup sugar
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add orange rind. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, until mixture is very light. Sift flour with baking powder and add to creamed mixture in three parts, alternating with juice first, then milk and vanilla.
Pour into two 8-inch layer cake pans that have been greased and lightly floured. Bake in 350 degrees F. oven until cake begins to shrink from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and then turn out layers on a rack to cool completely.
Whisk the 2 teaspoons flour into milk in small saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, then turn heat very low and simmer, stirring often , for 5 minutes.
Beat egg, orange juice, and rind until well combined. Pour some of hot milk over egg to warm, then return to saucepan with sugar. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Cool and spread between cake layers. Dust top with confectioners' sugar. Serves 6 to 8. Butterscotch Bars 2 large eggs 1 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds
Beat eggs until light and fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat again until thick. Sift dry ingredients together and stir into egg mixture with vanilla and walnuts. Spread in wellgreased 9-inch square pan and brake in 325 degrees F. oven for 20 minutes. Cool before cutting into squares. Lemon Rice Pudding 1/2 cup raw rice, not converted 1/4 teaspoon salt 3 cups water 2 large eggs 1 1/2 lemons, juice and grated rind 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 cup sour cream
Bring rice, salt, and water to a boil in a 2- quart saucepan over direct heat. Turn heat very low and continue cooking for 30 minutes, stirring ocassionally until rice is very soft. Beat eggs and sugar until light and thick. Add lemon juice and rind and beat again.
Add some of hot rice to warm eggs, then return all of the mixture to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Pour pudding into 1 1/2 -quart shallow bowl. When slightly cooled, fold in sour cream. Serves 6 generously. Eat warm or cold. Squash Custard with Caramel Sauce 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1 1/2 cups whole milk 1 cup mashed, cooked winter squash or pumpkin 2 eggs 2 egg yolks 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In heavy saucepan or skillet, heat sugar over moderate heat until it melts and begins to darken. Immediately pour into an oven- proof 1-quart casserole such as a charlotte mold and tip dish to coate the inside with caramel. Pour milk into pan used to caramelize sugar and heat gently.
In blender, food processor, or with electric mixer, combine squash, eggs and yolks, brown sugar, vanilla, and blend briefly. When well mixed, add hot milk and pour custard mixture into prepared dish. Set in slightly larger dish and place in 350 degrees F. oven. Pour boiling water into larger pan until it is 2/ 3 the depth of the custard.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until custard is set and top is lightly brown. Cool and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. Turn custard out into a serving dish with a rim t o contain the caramel sauce that has formed. Serves 6 to 8.