Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Time Warp

  I was about 15 when mom had come across an old cookbook dated 1906. She handed it to me and I started paging through the brittle yellow pages. She thinks it may have been her mothers' cookbook but wasn't sure. As I began to read through it I realized, even at that age, that things were considerably different back then and especially in the kitchen. There were no mixers, timers, electronic thermometers or the like. Their ranges were wood or coal fired and educated guesses were almost a science. Ingredients of particular items were pure and natural, not in a jar on the shelf.  I enjoyed reading the instructions as they differed tremendously from what we were doing in the 60's. In order to gauge the temperature of the oven the book told you to drip some spittle on the oven door when you opened it to see if it would dance, sizzle or just lay there. If it sizzled the oven temperature was just right for baking a cake. I thought to myself, "this is insane!"
    Baking a cake back then in the 60's was an exact science. You would ride your bike down to the corner store, find a cake mix for 25¢, bring it home and follow the directions. Add one egg, some oil, water and pour it in a cake pan after 5 minutes on the electric mixer. The oven temperature would already be set and a half hour later the cake was cooling on the counter. What the heck was all this stuff about grating chocolate, adding baking powder, vanilla flavoring, measuring flour and sugar, and beating the batter for 400-500 strokes? That's crazy!
   Then it hit me. I'm going to give it a shot. I'm going to bake a cake the old fashioned way and follow the directions to the letter as best as I could. Mom had a gas oven so that would be the only difference. I started gathering up the ingredients and set them up on the counter. The list went on and on and on some more when I realized it will need frosting. I remember making at least 2 trips to the store to buy stuff we didn't have. I had started at 5 in the afternoon and paused for dinner then back to the reading and deciphering of this ancient method. It was to be a three layer chocolate cake with orange frosting. It even called for grating orange peels for the flavoring in the frosting. At 11:00 at night I tested the oven door with, yup... spittle! It sizzled. I put the three pans of cake batter in the oven and just before midnight I was anxious to see what I had created. I was going to taste what 1906 tasted like in 1968. I pulled it out of the dark oven when the surface was appearing baked and went to stick a knife in it to see if it was done. To my dismay, the 3 cake pans of batter were as flat as when I put them in. They never rose. I was devastated. I re-read the cook book instructions and discovered I had forgotten to put in the baking powder.  I had spent nearly 7 hours baking that cake. I frosted it anyway and it looked like 3 pancakes with orange filling. I never attempted to cook anything from that cookbook again. 1906 was over and the 25¢ cake mixes of 1968 were the best things to ever come along, I thought.
   Today, a new generation of cooks has arrived. Sheri teaches with some younger teachers in their 20's. If she brings something into the faculty room to share that she has baked the young teachers want to know where she bought it. They can't and won't believer her when she says she baked it from scratch. To them, scratch means opening up a mix and adding an egg and shoving it in the microwave. She has to explain that scratch means following a recipe with a list of ingredients like flour, sugar, oil, eggs, baking powder etc. They stare at her in disbelief like she came out of a space ship. I suppose it would be more accurate to say she came out of a time warp from the 60's when cooking from scratch was somewhere between 1906 and the modern day 25¢ cake mixes.
The Time Warp courtesy of The  Rocky Horror Picture Show
   Last week I decided to bake a pizza dough with no yeast, and followed the recipe as I am still pursuing the perfect thin crust pizza. To my amazement, it turned out rather good. It had a nice soft chewy crust but not the cracker thin crispy crust that I am looking for. I can still feel and taste the texture of Chicago Fire's Pizza which was exceptional. That is what I am looking for and hoping to find or develop on my own and in my own time.
   If pizza is to survive the time warp the dough has to be made from scratch every time. As far as mixes go: Just say "NO!"

No comments:

Post a Comment