I confess that I am a real throwback in many ways. I know, intellectually, that I benefited from the feminist movement, but there is something in me that is inexorably drawn to the aprons, cherry prints and domesticity of the 1950s. For many women I know, a life of coffee klatches, baking for the kids after school, and getting into heels and pearls before Daddy got home from work would be a hell on earth reminiscent of Julianne Moore’s life in “The Hours.”
For me, full permission to stay at home all day puttering, cleaning, gardening and baking would, instead, be heaven. I wouldn’t want to be subservient, just encouraged to use my creative energy for hearth and home instead of desk and office. I think that’s why I love books like the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” series, in which mothers are forever taking warm gingerbread from the oven to serve as an after school treat with glasses of cold milk. Its also why I love 50s kitchen prints, and snap up 50s cookbooks whenever I find them.
On my desk, I have a beautiful specimen purchased at a yard sale: “Better Homes & Gardens Salad Book: New Salad Ideas for Every Occasion,” published in 1958. With full-color pictures of everything from Chicken in Tomato Towers to Cheese-Aspic Peaks, the book had me at the opening sentences: “You’re all set to scoop up fresh air and sunshine-the sunshine of spring vegetable gardens and autumn fruit-laden orchards, In a salad.” This is no 21st Century book of meals to assemble quickly after a day at work, nor is it an earnest collection of recipes from a cutting-edge restaurant famous for organic foie gras and vegetables grown on the chef’s acreage. (Although I own, and use both). It is a collection of kitschy, adorable salads written at a time when one might really serve Orange-Stuffed-Prune Stackup at a lady’s luncheon or a bridge party, or start a dinner party with Frosty Fruit Cup as an appetizer. There is a whole collection of molded salads made with gelatin, and directions for making Radish Accordions and Carrot Corkscrews.
Although I don’t see myself presenting my family or friends with gleaming towers of creamy Jellied Chicken Almond, the book includes several recipes that I will actually use. One is for a cucumber salad that would be delicious with grilled meat.
Cucumber Slices in Sour Cream
- 1 medium cucumber, sliced thin (2 1/2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup dairy sour cream
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 to 2 drops Tabasco sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 1 teaspoon dill seeds
- Dash pepper
Sprinkle sliced cucumber with salt; let stand about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Combine sour cream, vinegar, Tabasco sauce, chives, dill seed and pepper; pour over cucumbers. Chill well before serving, about 30 minutes.
Another salad I’ll be trying is this one, which sounds like a good way to use up leftover chicken and make good use of the bounty of tomatoes later in the summer. I will probably skip the “tower” and just serve the salad in a hollowed tomato or plated on top of a stack of tomato slices, although Sam would think the towers were pretty nifty. We’ll see.
Chicken in Tomato Towers
- 2 cups cubed cooked or canned chicken
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 2 tablespoons chopped pimiento
- 1 tablespoon chopped onion
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 6 medium tomatoes
Combine chicken, celery, pimiento, onion and salt. Blend mayonnaise, curry powder. and lemon juice; add to chicken mixture. Chill.
Peel tomatoes and cut crosswise in three slices; sprinkle with salt. On lettuce, reassemble each tomato, top down, spooning filling between slices as you stack. Makes 6 servings.