Sunday, May 22, 2022

Lemon Cream Cookies: or, If you ate liver you earned these

I couldn't stop thinking about the grimmest newspaper recipes I've ever seen clipped.

I found this pressed into the pages in my college library's copy of The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book. This book lives in protective custody in the special collections, but they gladly let any library patron look through it. However, you can only read the book on premises and under their watchful eyes. The librarian saw me copying down recipes to try and helpfully said "There's a scanner over there." I just had to also scan this joyless slip of newspaper that someone had carefully pressed between the book pages like a dried flower. I wondered what unfortunate dieting person would cut this out and press it into a book. Also, did they come from a densely packed page of dieting recipes? An article about how to eat dinner like you have two dollars for groceries when you only have one?

Anyway, a while ago I tried to get a free trial to They wouldn't let me sign up without giving them a credit card number, and I knew I would forget to cancel before it was too late to avoid paying. But every now and then, I get an email about a discount or other promotion. And so, when they announced a free trial that didn't require me to hand over a card number, I had to see what these recipes came from. I searched the Fort Worth newspapers (since the page turned up in the Fort Worth woman's club cookbook) for any mention of both "buttered turnips" and "liver and bacon." This turned up almost instantly.

I finally found it!

Lemon Cream Cookies
⅔ c butter
2 c sugar
2 eggs
4 tbsp cream
2 tbsp grated lemon rind
1 tsp lemon extract
¼ tsp salt
3⅓ c flour
2 tsp baking powder

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a baking sheet.
Cream the butter, sugar, lemon rind, salt, and baking powder. Beat until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each. Add cream and lemon extract, beat well. Mix in the flour.
Drop the dough by the spoonful onto greased baking sheets and bake 12 minutes. If you want them a little more neatly shaped, form the dough into balls instead- but they'll come out fine either way.

Source: "Helping the Homemaker" by Marian Manners, Fort Worth Star-Telegram morning edition (Fort Worth, TX), May 9 1934, page 11

This clipping comes to us from the women's page of the Fort Worth newspaper. Since it was pressed between the pages of The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book and it is now in a library in the Fort Worth area, it appears the book I found it in has spent its entire existence in the same city. 

Based on the date headings on the news page, the newspaper had separate morning and evening editions in those days. This clipping comes from the morning of May 9, 1934. I kind of like how the later newspaper date shows us that whoever owned the book in which this clipping lay dormant still used the book six years after it was printed. You don't stash recipe clippings in cookbooks you never use. You will notice that whoever saved this brittle newspaper scrap left out the only good recipe. The rest of the day's suggested menus, while perhaps not thrilling to someone living in this millennium, are not as grim and punitive as the two clipped recipes suggest.

The rest of the women's page is a time capsule of 1930s ladyhood (or at least, what people thought 1930s ladyhood should look like). There is the daily inspirational article which on this particular day is about how women hold the country together while the men go to work ("all riches come to naught if emotional comfort is lacking"), the daily romance novel chapter, a dress pattern of the day which you can order from the newspaper's sewing pattern department, childrearing advice, fashion updates, puff pieces about the rich and famous, and other things of ladylike interest. A laundry soap advertises that with their product you can remove dirt and stains without "scrubbing your clothes thin in a few months' time," an interesting reminder that many people still washed their clothes with a tub and washboard long after the pioneer days were over. A short article about the importance of exercise opens with "When joints are stiff and the sprint for street car or bus is ambling, something has to be done." Apparently even Texas used to have such good transit that you didn't need a car.

But moving back to "Helping the Homemaker." If liver and boiled turnips are supposed to help the homemaker, I wondered how many homemakers appreciated the aid-- even if they also clipped the lemon cookies printed with the other two. To give "Helping the Homemaker" a fair shake, I looked it up by that name. It ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the early to mid-1930s. Most of the recipes are better than the ones we saw lovingly pressed into the cookbook. The food choices skew towards easy yet interesting (well, interesting for the time) recipes that you, the lady news reader of 1934, can make for dinner on short notice tonight. If the recipes weren't written by women who had families at home, the writers at least consulted them before publishing. The person who clipped the liver and turnips, despite having the good taste to write down my favorite bread recipe, cut out the worst edition of the column.

Some interesting things to note: "Helping the Homemaker" occasionally detours away from meals and gives recipes for preserving the season's produce (since home freezers didn't exist for most people). Also, a lot of the recipes in various "Helping the Homemaker" columns call for bacon grease but not for bacon. I guess bacon often graced the table, and every sensible housewife kept a jar next to the stove to thriftily save the grease. (We have learned that bacon grease is an easy way to add a lot of flavor to whatever you're cooking- especially if you already have it on hand.) Moving away from the jar of bacon grease that apparently lived on every stove, "Helping the Homemaker" uses nearly every ingredient that could be purchased for a reasonable price in the 1930s. A lot of recipes use dates- which in this century are one of the more expensive dried fruits in the store. Ham also makes many appearances in "Helping the Homemaker," whether it's listed among the ingredients as leftover ham, raw ham, chopped ham, cured ham, sliced ham or a whole ham. On a lot of days, the featured recipe tells you to chop up the main ingredient (whether it's meat, boiled eggs, or vegetables), stir it into hot gravy, and serve it on toast. It looks like a very routine way for the housewife in the 1930s to make last night's dinner stretch into today's lunch. I can't help wondering whether people never really liked creamed-whatever on toast but merely tolerated it in the name of economizing, or if it went out of style after enough years of people calling it "shit on a shingle" (or "stuff on a shingle" if children are present). Lastly, "Helping the Homemaker" columns never have any loving introductions or mouth-watering descriptions of the day's recipes as one would include today. Each short installment of "Helping the Homemaker" has two or three recipes with very terse instructions, and maybe a suggested menu (sometimes for dinner and sometimes for the whole day) - and that's it.

Next, I had to ask. Who was helping homemakers? The column sometimes was credited to someone named Louise Bennett Weaver, but sometimes had no name at all. I first dismissed this as an odd but arbitrary choice, but then I found newspaper issues that had both an anonymous and a Louise Bennett Weaver homemaker-helping column on the same page. Sometimes the two were right next to each other.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram morning edition, October 28, 1933

Where were the non-Louise Helping the Homemakers coming from? Coming at this search another way, I decided to stop restricting myself to the Fort Worth area. I searched every newspaper in the country for "liver and bacon" and "buttered turnips." The same recipe column appeared in various newspapers across the country, all within a few days of each other. So, "Helping the Homemaker" was a syndicated column and not the work of the Fort Worth newspaper staff. A few newspapers credited it to someone named "Marian Manners." Aha! We finally had a name to look up!

It turns out "Marian Manners" was the Betty Crocker of the Los Angeles Times. By that I mean she was the fictitious face of their cooking staff writers. And so, this brittle, ancient newspaper clipping of unexplained and depressing recipes that has mystified me for so long turns out to be a syndicated column from a test kitchen in Los Angeles.

With all that said, I wanted to try the lemon cookie recipe that a scissor-wielding home cook deprived herself of in 1934. It starts with grating off a lot of lemon rind. 

Meanwhile in the mixing bowl, we commence with the butter and the sugar. I find it interesting that this recipe calls for butter measured out in thirds of a cup. These days, most of us get our butter by the stick- each of which measures a half cup. It seems most recipes these days have adapted to using butter either by the stick or by the tablespoon (since they print tablespoon-sized measuring lines on the wrappers). A third cup of butter leaves odd-sized lumps in the refrigerator. 

We are directed to cream the butter and sugar, then just add everything else in. I'm going to assume that they wrote this recipe for people who knew better than to just dump everything in all at once. If I am right, they left out the really obvious directions that any competent cook in 1934 would know. It's not until much later in history that everyone starts publishing recipes with detailed instructions. At this point, a lot of recipe writers (especially newspapers trying to cram as much as possible into the limited page space) only gave finely detailed directions if you were supposed to do things differently from what most people were used to.

With that in mind, we added in the lemon rind and gave it a good beating with the butter and sugar. In theory, the sugar crystals would sand the lemon rind and bring out a lot of the lovely flavor.

 As we add the egg, you should know that this lemony butter-sugar tasted absolutely wonderful. 

I checked and double checked the recipe, and we are supposed to use lemon rind but not any lemon juice. The recipe uses lemon extract instead. Well it's 1934, Old Man Depression keeps knocking on our door, and I guess we should be glad we can grate off the rind and economically save the rest of the lemons for another use. Because we failed to read the recipe, we did not purchase lemon extract. But this random mini-bottle has been hanging around in the refrigerator for so long that no one knows how it got there. 

Because we are economizing like they had to in the 1930s, I squeezed out the lemon juice and froze it for a later time. I also grated off the rind of the other lemon we bought and crammed it into the little vodka bottle to turn into lovely lemon extract. Shoving all those happy yellow shreds of lemon rind through a tiny bottle opening was a bit trickier than I expected.

And now, we get to the second title ingredient in today's recipe! When I first saw the recipe name, I thought "lemon cream cookies" meant lemon sandwich cookies with some sort of creamy filling. But no, the "cream" in "lemon cream cookies" simply means we're supposed to add a splash of the stuff to the dough. I thought about substituting in milk (since the recipe doesn't use very much cream anyway), but then I decided that they deliberately chose not to write a recipe for "lemon milk cookies." 

We should also note that in those days, milk was not yet homogenized before selling it. The cream still separated into layer on top of it. If you had milk on hand, you didn't need to go out for cream to make these cookies. You just had to carefully pour the cream off the top of the milk already in your icebox. These days, since cream is a separate item you must deliberately purchase, you don't see as many recipes that just use a spoonful or a splash of it. In our age of homogenized milk, recipes tell you to use most (if not all) of the carton of cream if you're buying it at all.

I know it sounds silly to say this, but adding the cream made the mixture look, well, creamy. 

The cookie dough seemed a little stiff for drop cookies- like it might not actually spread. I didn't want a lot of oven-hardened lemon clumps, so I shaped most of the cookies into flattened balls. The dough really wanted to stick to my hands, which made this take a lot longer than it should have. But to test the recipe as written and to see what someone following the instructions in "Helping the Homemaker" would have pulled out of the oven on a lovely May day in 1934, I dropped a few unshaped cookies from the spoon just as the newspaper said to. 

When the cookies were done, the shaped and the dropped ones looked a lot more similar than when I had first put them onto the baking sheet. The spoon-dropped ones look a bit more bumpy on top, but they spread out just fine. 


I shaped the remaining dough into balls while waiting for the first batch to bake, and put them into the oven without flattening them. These cookies weren't quite as thin as the ones I flattened before baking, but there wasn't as much of a difference as you may think. There is no need to try to pat each cookie flat. As you can see, they come out just fine without it. 

Just to show how the cookie dough seems to turn into perfectly nice cookies instead of misshapen dough clumps no matter how you shape them, here are all three ways on one plate.

As for how they taste: Oh these are so good! Whoever left this recipe behind on the news page when clipping "Helping the Homemaker" was missing out! Perhaps I should thank her for accidentally leading me to this recipe by setting off my curiosity when I first found that clipping. I have long wanted to know where that grim newspaper snippet of liver and boiled turnips came from. I would not have seen the lemon cream cookie recipe were it not for her newspaper-cutting scissors in 1934.

These cookies are soft in the middle, crisp outside, and as someone else put it "Just the right amount of lemon to taste really good without being too sour." About a day later, I was told "I finally figured out what they remind me of! Froot Loops!" And once that was said, I couldn't un-notice it when I ate one. I guess this goes nicely with all the people around the world and want to know why Americans eat dessert for breakfast. These cookies really do taste a lot like a less synthetic version of some cereals. That, by the way, is no detraction. These cookies got eaten a lot faster than a heavily-loaded plate should disappear. They were unexpectedly good when dipped in the black tea with lavender that I splurged on last time I was at a grocery store with an expansive tea aisle.

My only warning is that this recipe makes a lot of lemon cream cookies. I cut it in half, and I got forty of them. If you're not filling a cookie jar to keep around the house or giving these away, you should at least think about cutting it in half. If you make the full recipe amounts instead of halving it, you will have two platters that look like this:

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Second-Stab Saturday: Chatting away our runny cookies!

Today I wanted to share a very simple change to recipe I really like! It's the fourth-to-last sentence in the directions.

½ c peanut butter
½ c butter
½ c brown sugar
½ c white sugar
1 egg
¾ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1¼ c flour

Put peanut butter and butter in a bowl. Add sugars, beat thoroughly. Beat in egg. When all is mixed, add the soda, salt, and baking powder. Mix well, then stir in the flour. Roll into small balls, and roll these in sugar. Press criss-cross lines on top with a fork.
Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before baking.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 375° and grease a cookie sheet. Place the cookies on it, about 3 or 4 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Source: "La Mesa" in Confidential Chat, Boston Globe, 1963; via Something from the Oven, Laura Shapiro, 2005

Our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe has been this one from the Boston Globe. But every time we made the recipe, the cookies ran together into one big baked peanut butter slab:

And yes, sometimes we oversoftened the butter and melted it instead, which would definitely worsen the problem. But the cookies ran like this even when I softened the butter by leaving it out for a few hours like a proper cook would. But while I didn't care too much about having to cut them apart with the edge of a spatula while they were still hot, it occurred to me that one extra step might forestall that:

If you put them in the container upside-down, you can just lift them off the lid as easily as plucking them off a plate.

That's right, we are popping the shaped cookie dough blobs in the refrigerator for a few hours so they get good and hard before baking! I usually chilled the dough before shaping it, but it always softened a bit while I was working it in my hands. There only hard part about letting the shaped cookies refrigerate. I had to resist eating too many of these lovely chilled cookie dough bonbons.

It seems these cookies only needed some time in the refrigerator to actually look like cute round cookies instead of a formless yet tasty runny mess! This is also a perfect discovery as we get into the hottest parts of the year. You can make the cookies in the sweltering day, and then just leave them in the refrigerator until later at night when you bake them.

Granted, the fork lines reduce to subtle suggestions of a grid pattern on top, but I do not care. These are officially my favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. They're crisp on the outside, very soft in the middle, and taste delicious.