History in a Recipe Box

My mother's tan metal recipe box has yielded a treasure trove of forgotten food memories.

A guaranteed recipe from the early to mid-1950s can be discovered in most any multi-generational household in which previously dwelled family members who enjoyed home-cooked meals or baked goods. In the 21st century recipes are commonly swapped online, but during the early 20th century friends wrote favorite recipes on 3" x 5" notecards or slips of paper.

In 2012 I found my mother's recipes in a tan metal box made to store notecards. Most are family-oriented and were passed along from parents to children, but a few were received from friends in Hellertown and the Saucon Valley--some for foods that I can still taste from my youth or from my own era of being the family baker. Sweet or sour, cold or hot, they still linger on my tongue and conjure memories of holidays, special events or average school or work days when often there were stay-at-home mothers or grandmothers.

One such recipe for tomato juice, which would have been utilized during the summer season, was only identified by the name of the Ache family. Later, Peach Cobbler was made with the ripening of fruits in the Saucon Valley. The cobbler recipe originated with Claudia Shaffer, who was also famous for her sponge cake, often delivered in Hellertown to friends who had been ill.

Another hometown dessert recipe was passed along by Karyl Laub, who was noted for her Breakfast Cake containing buttermilk. Then there was one for one of everyone's favorites--Shoo-fly Cake--loaned by Verna Sterner. Blueberry Cake was described by Jan Weaver. Mrs. Buck, the baker, was the mother of one of my best high school friends, Bob, of Northampton Street. Her recipe was for one of my all-time favorites, Funny Cake. Merle Hinkley was noted for her Apple Cake. And the best Pineapple Upsidedown Cake recipe was passed down by my great aunt, Margaret Kies, who lived on Jefferson Street.

Then I discovered my paternal grammy's concoction of Chocolate Cake. This was Annie (Werst) Weidner, who also prepared great groundhog meals back in the day. My great aunt, Bertha (Kies) Himes was noted for her Spice Cake.  Louisa Schrantz contributed her Checkerboard Cake recipe, and her daughter, Dawne Pender, shard a reciped for a really good snack, Onion and Butter Flavored Pretzels. A special occasion dessert was Helen Belletti's Hawaiian Cake.

Lucille Makoski, another family friend, enjoyed making Broccoli Salad, which was also enjoyed by our family. My maternal grammy, Elizabeth (Kies) Weisel, prepared Mincemeat after Thanksgiving and allowed it to marinate in our local garage within a covered crock. Sometimes my grandpa would sneak an extra bit of rum into the mixture, to be baked into Mince Pie just before Christmas. Emily Grubb contributed her Rhubarb Pie recipe, baked every spring from our garden rhubarb.

Ginny Getz discovered a Vegetable Casserole recipe, found apparently at the St. Luke's Hospital Cafe, where she volunteered in the "old days." Joyce Newcomb's Barbecue Sauce recipe was a staple. Ruth Renner's Punch mixture I remember well from picnics during the 1950s summers. Finally, if the reader has not nodded off, Stella Brown's Apple Crisp must be mentioned.

Next, allow me to mention several Pennsylvania German traditional foods found in "The Story of the Pennsylvania Germans" published by William Beidelman in 1898. For instance, he writes about Scrapple (Pennsylvania German: pan-haas), which is still one of my traditional favorites. Venison Scrapple, shared by Al Hoffert, is my favorite variety. However, Beidelman describes scrapple as an "article of food made by boiling meal or flour with scraps of pork, chopped hog's liver, and kidneys, and seasoning, and served in fried slices." He adds that "it is a common article of food in the Rhine Pfalz, whence the early German emigrants brought it to Pennsylvania."

Sauerkraut "supplied the larder of the Hessian soldiers as one of their chief articles of diet when they embarked for America during the Revolutionary War." They were mercenaries hired by the British to engage in battle against the colonists, some of whom had German ancestors.

One more traditional food I must mention was "Schnits and Knepp"--"sliced apples and dumplings, cooked with pork." I recall my Grammy Weisel drying sliced apples in fall and storing them in an air-tight Sturgis Pretzel can for winter dinners. Wait a minute, today for lunch I ate "smear-case" (from the German word schmier-kase, commonly known as cottage cheese), which my Grammy Weidner made from scratch to be served with apple butter, originally known as "lattwarrick." Yes, I added some to the cottage cheese today. Fortunately, some things never change. The Lower Saucon Township Historical Society still sells Bauman's Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Butter, advertised as nothing but fruit, apples and apple cider, along with the necessary spices and no preservatives added. It is a real delicacy. I will always cherish these recipes, as do other ethnic groups in the Saucon Valley who cling to their traditional foods and will forever.

Mary Anne Looby May 22, 2012 at 08:03 PM
What a treasure you discovered in your Grandmothers receipe box! Many of the foods you mention I am familiar with, however your paternal Grammy made great groundhog meals? Were these meals made for Groundhogs Day or were they made with actual groundhog? It would be nice to know that these garden buggers actually "gave back" so to speak.


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