Stuffed Eggplant (1932)

A vintage photograph of the single-door version of the late, lamented 1932 double-door General Electric Monitor Top refrigerator that stood in the kitchen of my country house. Image from Worthpoint.com.

For several years, about a decade ago, my husband and I owned a 1930s General Electric Monitor-Top refrigerator. You know the kind: an imposing white slab of enameled metal, straight out of a Hollywood movie, with a basket-like contraption on top that hummed like a hive of bees and cabriole legs. As far as kitchen appliances go, it was my pride and joy, an eBay purchase so heavy that the kitchen floor had to be stabilized before the  refrigerator could be brought into the house—through the combined efforts of four able-bodied men, as I recall. It also took up an amazing amount of square footage, as I recall. Still, the side-by-side doors opened and closed with a satisfying ka-chunk, followed by a metallic click, so you knew everything inside was going to stay perfectly cool. Unfortunately this hunk of American ingenuity died one excessively hot and humid summer and could not be revived, at least not on our budget, so we replaced it with an extremely boring but efficient modern model. I still mourn the GE’s absence, though presciently, for the purposes of this blog, I had the presence of mind to keep its original handy-hints cookery brochure.

"The Silent Hostess Treasure Book," a curious cookery brochure that once accompanied a 1932 General Electric refrigerator.

Entitled The Silent Hostess Treasure Book, the paper-back publication is a promotional giveaway intended to make the General Electric Monitor Top seem even more radiantly modern and efficient to beleaguered American housewives. As the introduction states, it is “arranged to assist you in making the greatest use of your General Electric Refrigerator.” Consequently the recipes in its pages—from the cannon ball cocktail to beets cut into heart shapes for a Valentine’s Day luncheon salad—are devised to spend some time in the refrigerator, either waiting to be cooked or congealing in its chilly depths, which seems rather nonsensical today, at least as a galvanizing selling point. Still, the assortment of hors d’oeuvre, main dishes, desserts, and the like must have caught my fancy, at least enough to retain the brochure as the old refrigerator went out the door to its landfill demise.

Over the week-end, as our daughter was preparing her pencils, notebooks, and other paraphernalia in anticipation of her first day back in elementary school, she asked to choose the cookery book for at least one blog post. And the book she selected was The Silent Hostess Treasure Book. She flipped through its pages, studying the garish, even lurid photographs with great intensity, considering which looked the most appetizing. Finally she pointed at one picture and said, “Make this one.”

Stuffed Eggplant, as pictured in "The Silent Hostess Treasure Book" (1932).

“This one” was Stuffed Eggplant. Frankly, I’ve never been fond of stuffed vegetables, having been plied with far too many stuffed bell peppers as a child, but the illustration was fancy enough to catch my eye: a baked eggplant shell mounded high with sautéed chopped eggplant flesh and mushrooms and picturesquely crisscrossed with pimiento trelliswork. We had numerous eggplants growing in the vegetable garden’s raised beds, my husband reminded me, and there’s nothing I like better than decorative garnishes. So off we went to the grocer to pick up a few missing ingredients, and upon our return, I set to work. Some flavor adjustments were made (and are noted below), given the bland promise of the recipe’s contents, and what was wrought was unexpectedly good. Not great but warm, filling, and delicious, far more flavorful than I expected it to be. And as you can see in the photograph below, I got all details right. Just don’t eat the eggplant vessel, only the filling.

Stuffed Eggplant, as prepared by The Aesthete Cooks; the platter is 1830s Old Paris Porcelain.

STUFFED EGGPLANT

SOURCE: The Silent Hostess Treasure Book (General Electric Corporation, 1932)

SERVES: Two (2), as a main course, with other side dishes; using two small eggplants for this recipe would certainly look better.

INGREDIENTS

1 medium size eggplant

1 cup raw mushrooms (I used Baby Portobellas)

½ cup chopped onion (I used red Bermuda)

¼ teaspoon pepper (I used hand-ground black pepper, rather generously)

¼ teaspoon salt (I used a healthy pinch of French grey sea salt by McCormick)

1 cup minced ham (I used Virginia ham, Boar’s Head)

4 tablespoons butter (unsalted)

Pimientos (sliced thinly and lengthwise for garnish)

Dried thyme (not in original recipe)

Dried basil (not in original recipe)

Buttered breadcrumbs (about 1/4 cup, warmed in a skillet with a bit of unsalted butter until it is fully absorbed; I used panko crumbs)

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut slice from top of eggplant or cut in halves lengthwise; scoop out meat to within half an inch of outer skin.

2. Chop mushrooms and eggplant coarsely and sauté in butter, with onions, for ten minutes.

3. Add ham and seasonings and continue to sauté for another minute.

4. Fill eggplant shell with the ham-mushroom-eggplant mixture (it will be heaping) and sprinkle top with buttered bread crumbs.

5. Bake until thoroughly heated and the breadcrumbs have turned golden brown.

6. Arrange thin strips of pimento crosswise on top and serve.

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Miss Beecher’s Cocoanut Pudding (1871)

Catharine Beecher, the author of "A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School" and "Miss Beecher's Receipt Book," just two essential 19th-century lifestyle publications that bore her byline. Image from Wikipedia.

Tucked into a towering 19th-century sideboard in the kitchen of our country house are several shelves of cookery books, overflow from the adjacent pantry. I presumed this hoard encompassed all the books we possessed in that genre, but to my surprise, my husband carried in another armload of old volumes of recipes from the storage shed over the weekend. He’s preparing for winter (Matthew is very much an in-advance kind of fellow), so he informed me the books had to go to make way for more pressing storage demands. Which meant I had to find a new home for these unexpected treasures, among which is an 1871 edition of Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, Designed as a Supplement to Her Treatise on Domestic Economy (NY: Harper & Brothers).


Just who was Miss Beecher? From what I’ve read, Catharine Beecher (1800-1878) was a 19th-century firecracker: educator; cookery expert; household know-it-all; promoter of kindergarten as a foundation for a child’s education; founder of The Ladies’ Society for Promoting Education in the West and the American Women’s Educational Association; and cofounder of the Board of National Popular Education. She was keenly interested in women’s health issues and was a firm believer in calisthenics set to musical accompaniment, which makes her sound like Jane Fonda in a hoopskirt. In sort, she made an enormous impact on American society in her day, though, admittedly, her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the bigger star in the family.

The Beecher book in my possession, actually a compilation of two earlier books, is a guide to living well, eating well, and prospering on the home front. Between its worn covers is a staggering range of domestic topics, including everything from a standardized weekly schedule for one’s chambermaid to directions for building a “sick couch” for an invalid to detailed hog-butchering instructions. The vast majority of the volume, however, is given over to “short, simple, and perspicuous” recipes for meals composed of what Miss Beecher described as “simple and well-cooked dishes, designed for every-day comfort and enjoyment.”

The “simple and well-cooked” dessert we tried out on Sunday is Cocoanut [sic] Pudding. Unfortunately, in the manner of so many old cookery books, Miss Beecher’s directions are vague. In situations like this, I simply turn to the nearest modern cookery book, see what temperature is advised for the recipe at hand, and use it or adapt it to the older one. Usually this works, as it did Sunday night, though I did overcook the pudding a bit; our Chambers gas stove is several decades old and a trifle temperamental.

The pudding produced is an interesting hybrid—it’s nothing special but my husband pronounced it one of the most delicious desserts he had ever tasted. The ingredients separate during the baking process, leaving a tender flan-like custard below and a layer of crisply baked coconut above; the latter offers a textural crunch that reminds one of a coconut macaroon. As for the gill of rosewater included in Miss Beecher’s ingredients list—that’s a 1/4 pint to you and me—it contributed no flavor or scent that either my husband or I could detect. Perhaps our allergies prevented us from fully appreciating it; we’ve a new kitten in the house. His name is Isaac, in case you are wondering.

COCOANUT PUDDING

SOURCE: Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, Designed as a Supplement to Her Treatise on Domestic Economy (NY: Harper & Brothers).

SERVES: 8 to 10, depending on serving size

EQUIPMENT:

Standard soufflé dish

Ovenproof pan large enough to hold the soufflé dish

Boiling water

INGREDIENTS

1 and 1/2 cups grated coconut

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

Two cups granulated sugar (we used castor sugar, to add a vanilla-like undertone)

1/2 pint whole cream

Nine eggs (we used what was gathered from the hen house that morning, meaning 7 chicken eggs and 2 turkey eggs)

1/4 pint rose water (we used William Brewer’s Culinary Rose Water from Todd’s General Store at The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York)

DIRECTIONS (Adapted by The Aesthete Cooks)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cream the butter and sugar.

3. Beat the eggs thoroughly, then whisk or stir into the butter/sugar mixture.

4. Add the coconut and mix thoroughly, and stir in the rosewater.

5. Pour batter into an ungreased standard soufflé dish. Place soufflé dish in a baking pan and pour boiling water into the pan, around the soufflé dish, until the pan is 3/4 full. Carefully place water-filled pan on center rack of oven.

6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the coconut crust has turned a pale caramel color. (Ours baked a trifle darker than we planned, as you can see above, which didn’t cause a problem.)