Lost recipes find home in a new bookby Greta Cunningham, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The material for Christopher Kimball's new book, "America's Best Lost Recipes," came from a contest organized by Cooks Illustrated, a magazine Kimball founded and edits. He and his staff received close to 3,000 recipes from home cooks across the country.
The book features more than 100 of these old-fashioned recipes, including Wacky Cake, a World War II-era cake recipe that has no eggs, milk or butter; Mile High Bologna Pie and 7UP Cake.
Kimball says there's a simple reason why many of these recipes became "lost."
"These are recipes that -- many of them never made it onto the national scene. They didn't make it into 'Joy of Cooking' or 'Fanny Farmer,' or any other big cookbook or any other big magazine. So they're lost in that they're local," says Kimball.
According to Kimball, all of the recipes in the book "time-travel well," meaning they're still dishes that people would want to make today.
He and his staff made and tasted each of the chosen recipes dozens of times. The dishes had to taste good, look good -- and have something else.
"These are recipes that have a story. They're like little short stories. So we were looking for recipes that were stories, narratives -- and also the food is good," Kimball said.
The stories include how new immigrants adapted recipes from the old country so they could use food available in the U.S. Another theme highlights the inventiveness of cooks who had to deal with food rationing in World War II. One featured recipe, called Blueberry Boy Bait, won the Pillsbury Baking contest in 1952.
"The woman was 15 or 16 years old at the time when she did the recipe. And it was 'Boy Bait' because her boyfriend would come over and spend time with her when she baked it," Kimball said.
After World War II, women's magazines began to dictate what the American home cook should be making. Kimball calls the 1950s the "Dark Ages of American cooking." He says that's when vegetables began to come in tin cans, and convenience ruled over something that actually tasted good.
Kimball says during this time period many women's magazines were on the payroll of big food companies. This influenced the kinds of recipes featured and the ingredients used.
For example -- a simple macaroni and cheese recipe could call for a specific brand of cheese and a certain type of noodle, just to please advertisers.
The recipes featured in Kimball's book were not driven by food companies or magazine editors. The dishes were created by moms and dads, grandmas and aunts who wanted to serve something that would please their families.
"The thing about lost recipes is it needs to have some meaning for you. All these recipes meant a lot to somebody," says Kimball. "I think that's where we've lost it, if you will, in today's cooking. With the chef recipes and everything is new and different."
The Thanksgiving table is a place for traditional family recipes. But Christopher Kimball suggests people should have some fun and try incorporating some "lost recipes" into the big feast.
"I think you've got to pick something that reflects your style of cooking, or somehow you feel strongly about. I think eventually, Thanksgiving for example, should be the recipes that are important to your family over time," Kimball says. "It doesn't mean you can't incorporate a new one. But it should be a recipe that will become part of your repertoire over time."
When he looks through his latest book, Kimball says it's evident there was a time when people just enjoyed playing with food.
"Today cooking is, 'How can you do it in 20 minutes?' Well, that's absurd. That implies that you don't want to cook," says Kimball. "I'd rather cook than watch TV, personally. And I can listen to the radio while I'm cooking so it's a good thing. But I love to cook, and these people love to cook, and they were having fun! This wasn't drudgery. This wasn't something they had to do."
In the introduction to the book, Kimball says some things are made to be lost -- such as bad supermarket tomatoes, SpongeBob SquarePants cereal and children's books penned by celebrities.
But some things should be found again -- like Hungarian Cabbage Noodles, Whoopie Pies and Mashed Potato Fudge.
- All Things Considered, 11/19/2007, 5:54 p.m.