Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump

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by Marilyn Naron

altWhen my friend Sara from Culinerapy visited Concord, Mass. last year, she made a reader’s pilgrimage to Orchard House, the historic home of Louisa May Alcott. Since Sara and I (and half the women we know) share an abiding love for Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women, she sent me a thoughtful souvenir: the author’s recipe for Apple Slump. It’s a homey, deliberately simple dessert, comfort cousin to fruit buckles, bettys, cobblers, grunts and pandowdys. Still, reading the calligraphy-script recipe, I could see where I might tweak it. And I thought, who am I to edit Louisa May Alcott?

Not editing, really. Finessing. Alcott may have mastered prose at the desk, but in the kitchen she was likely closer to Jo March, for whom the “bread burned black” and the “cream turned sour.” Making Apple Slump would be like cooking with Ms. Alcott’s domestically-challenged ghost, and while I cored and sliced I considered my years reading and rereading the March girls, picturing Amy’s limes, Meg’s vain high heels and lonely Jo in the attic with apples, writing and cursing scarlet fever, the villain that stole Beth. I regretted that my little tweaks – dash of vanilla, an extra apple – could not make Laurie come to his senses and dump Amy. Pecans would add crunch but they would never make Jo marry Laurie, nor bring Beth back. They’re a matter of personal taste, like my feelings about Meg wedding that dull John Brooke, and while they won’t change the story they can at least enhance Ms. Alcott’s kitchen legacy, and certainly perk up the Slump.


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by Cathy Pollak

babkaBabka (cake) is a big part of my childhood memories.  If you don't know what babka is, I guess the best way to describe it is a very spongy, brioche-like yeast cake.  It's sweet and usually has a fruit filling such as golden raisins.  It's a very dense cake and the dough can be very finicky and easily over-mixed.

My grandmother and my mother always had a babka marathon leading up to Easter Sunday.  A recipe only makes a few loaves and it seemed 10 or 12 were always needed for family, friends and church bake sales.

Babka is definitely not for the novice baker.  It helps to make it a few times with someone who is used to working with the dough.  It's one of those doughs that benefits from a familiar touch of knowing when to stop mixing or to add more flour.

My mom had been using the same babka recipe for years, but recently we were treated to a babka made my friend's mother Sharon.  The babka was fantastic.  It was the perfect texture and sweetness and just really stood out as an excellent example of what a good Polish babka could be. 

Tortilla Soup

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by Susan Salzman

soup_tortilla.jpg I make soup every Sunday. Along with my pre-made grains, a legume, some roasted chicken(or sauteed sausages), cleaned and prepped veggies, soup is always simmering on Sunday mornings. I meal plan. Shopping lists are written on Fridays, shopping is done on Saturday, thus the organization begins. Simply, it makes weeknight meals easier, quicker, and nutritious.

Soups are the best way to use up those veggies that get somewhat neglected or pushed aside in your vegetable drawer. Soup is one of those versatile meals, served with a salad one has the perfect meal. Barley soup is made with homemade chicken stock,prosciutto, leeks, potatoes, carrots, and celery. Before serving, I add some sauteed chicken sausage and chopped chard. Lentil soup is a staple and corn chowder is household favorite.

But, it’s my tortilla soup that is number one on the soup list. This soup was conceived over 20 years ago while spending weekends on a friends estate in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In the winter months, I would occasionally ski, but it was nesting in their cozy home that I embraced most. Summers were spent on the lake, hiking, horseback riding, and eating; lots and lots of eating. It was one of those lazy days, reading and napping. Dinner was approaching so I accessed the provisions. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, chicken, stock, spices, tortillas, and an avocado. I started chopping, roasting, mincing and my tortilla soup was born.

Mushroom and Garlic Turkey Liver Pâté

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by David Latt

turkeystove.jpgWith Thanksgiving around the corner, my wife and I have started talking about the menu. Mostly we want to enjoy favorite dishes. One of those is a turkey liver pate I adapted from a chopped liver recipe my mom made when I was a kid.

Even people who love chicken livers view turkey liver as too much of a good thing. Whoever has the job of prepping the turkey on Thanksgiving Day frequently looks with bewilderment at the large double-lobed liver in the bag tucked ever so neatly inside the turkey.

Following my mother's lead, my solution is to turn lemons into lemonade or, in this case, turkey liver into pâté. My mother prepared chopped liver using a shallow wooden bowl and a beat-up, double-handled, single-bladed mezzaluna knife that her mother had given her.

She would cut up and sauté the turkey liver with a chopped up onion. Two eggs would go into boiling water. Once hard-boiled, they would join the sautéed liver and onion in the wooden bowl, which she would hand to me along with the mezzaluna. While she prepared the turkey, she put me to work.


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by Michael Tucker

ImageIt’s funny what you think you know. For the last thirty-five years I’ve been cooking chicken scarpariello – or shoemakers’ chicken — for my family. It’s one of my kids’ favorite dishes out of my humble repertoire – cut up pieces of chicken, still on the bone, flash-fried with garlic, white wine and rosemary. The best way to eat this dish is with your fingers, mopping up the sauce with a piece of good Italian bread. It’s heaven on a plate. I first came across the recipe in Alfredo Viazzi’s cookbook. Alfredo had a restaurant – he had a few of them, actually – in Greenwich Village where we lived in 1972. We ate at Trattoria d’Alfredo a couple times a week, often spotting James Beard at a table by himself, packing away Alfredo’s fabulous food.

Imagine my shock when I researched the recipe on the Internet and found that it’s not Italian at all. I typed in “pollo allo scarpariello – ricette” on Google, so that I could pull up the recipes in the original Italian and I came up empty. They don’t have that dish in Italy or, if they do, they call it something else.

Gratin Dauphinois

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by Joseph Erdos

gratindauphinois.jpgPotatoes make some of the best and most comforting side dishes, especially when they're roasted or baked. A gratin of potatoes combines the best of both techniques, a soft creamy interior and a crunchy browned top. Much like scalloped potatoes but without the cheesy top layer, gratin Dauphinois, from the former French province of Dauphiné, is as simple as a homey country dish can get. The texture and the flavors of the potatoes do all the work to make an out-of-this-world potato dish.

Traditional gratin Dauphinois has no bells and whistles. It's simply thinly sliced potatoes and luscious cream baked in a dish rubbed with garlic and butter. The thick cream and starchy potatoes create the perfect texture, consistency, and crust. Therefore no cheese is even necessary. Some like to dust the potato layers with gratings of nutmeg. But I prefer the earthy flavors of fresh thyme. It's a lovely complement to the garlic as well as a favorite herb to use with potatoes. The gratin goes excellently with any roast meat, but in my opinion juicy roast chicken is the best. It's a simple yet special meal to enjoy this fall and for the upcoming holidays.

Oh Those Spiral Cookbooks!

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by Nancy Ellison

spaghetti_pie1.jpgI have a large collection of both vintage and current cookbooks with many favorites, but my heart skips a beat when I come across one of those local PTA, Church Auxiliary, American Legion, Junior League or Private Club cookbooks - usually in a spiral binding! Heaven! Where else can one find so many venerable variations on the great American cheese ball, guacamole, bean and sour cream dip, or anything made with dried onion soup mix – Laugh! (Ha-Ha) but the best comfort food in the world comes from these unpretentious, homey books!

My darling husband, Bill and I summer on Martha’s Vineyard (true Heaven) and while there, my favorite go-to references for comfort food are STAR-SPANGLED RECIPES from the American Legion Auxiliary General George Goethals Post #257, Vineyard Haven, MA, and my newest, THE WEST CHOP COOK BOOK.

From Star-Spangled Recipes comes Island Lobster Stew, Lasagna for 150, and Spaghetti Pie. Yes! I used to make re-fried spaghetti pie when I secretly raided the fridge as a young child! Well, actually my dish was re-fried spaghetti sandwiches on white bread with mayo. Yum. Their pie has neither white bread nor piecrust but it does have cottage cheese, and while I haven’t tried it (the name alone satisfies me) I have the recipe near by for any potential nostalgic hunger fits. There is a saying on the island, “Summer People – Summer not!” When I cook from this book, I am no longer a summer resident but … An Islander!

Roasted Garlic Hummus

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by Joseph Erdos

garlichummus.jpgHummus and I go way back. I couldn't imagine my college years without the chickpea dip. It was always there for me when I needed an impromptu dorm room dinner or when I had friends over. I love to dip into hummus with soft pita or even tortilla chips, never those awfully hard pita chips, which have the texture of wood chips. Hummus is now so popular that you can find it around the world, but this dish has Arabic origins.

It's not completely clear which peoples invented hummus, but you can find it throughout the Levantine region: Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Turkey. But you don't have to travel throughout the Middle East to find hummus for yourself. Every market sells it, but making your own is so much more satisfying, because you can flavor it to your personal taste. Plus, with a food processor, it only takes a few minutes to prepare. Start a party with an appetizer platter including hummus.



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by Susan Salzman

rugulah-cooks.jpgI’ve made lots and lots of rugelach in my day, but this one takes the cake. I have made my grandma’s, I have made Ina’s, Martha’s and Rose’s. This one, from Cooks Illustrated is by far the best I have ever had. Better than Weby’s bakery (most Sunday mornings, when I was little, you could find me and my dad, waiting in line to buy the fresh baked egg-onion bread). My kids don’t really like raisins or dried fruit in their sweets. I altered the filling. I substituted mini chocolate chips for the raisins.

The dough was super easy to work with. Even though the recipe didn’t ask me to refrigerate the dough after rolling, I did anyways. Only for about 15 minutes. I feel it made all the difference in the world. I baked off a few to taste and then cut and flash froze the rest. Even though they look more like a pinwheel cookies, they taste like rugelach.


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by Michael Tucker

vongole-veraci.jpgUmbria is the only province in Italy that doesn’t touch the sea. That’s one reason they call it the Green Heart of Italy. However, it’s not more than an hour and a half from both the Adriatic to the east and the Mediterranean to the west and we have a fabulous fresh fish store in our village that draws from both.

I was there today, browsing, and saw a big mesh bag filled with vongole veraci – they’re the wonderful, tiny, briny clams that work so well in spaghetti vongole – pasta with clam sauce. I love making this dish in Italy — because of the superior ingredients, of course. My version is a bit ornate and not really classic. I’ve been checking different recipes – from Venice, from Liguria, from Naples — and they’re mostly quite simple – garlic, oil, clams, and maybe a little parsley.


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