A Practical Table: Treasuring a 1930's "Palette"

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.--1 Corinthians 14:3

Well-ordered stones make architecture...Stones in disorder produce ruins--Professor Blackie

Those of you who followed my old blogs know i'm not exactly a pro in the kitchen, but surely a beginner. Like many of my generation i wasnt raised to be domestic, but instead to be academic. It wasnt until my early twenties that i even made my first pot of soup... and then at age thirty a rather serious chronic spinal injury was obtained and made me step back from many domestic things once again. It's only been the last couple years honestly that things are finally, slowly, coming together bit by bit, slowly learning skills and finding ergonomic tricks to be able to keep up my home, and fill its table, despite the the physical limits from the injury.

What i've been realizing though, is that homekeeping isnt just a matter of practical learning...its about finding one's fascination. This is how it is with simple living as well i think. I've found i have a hard time for example with many typical simple living motivators out there, was finding them not working for me and getting frustrated. Though i need to save money without a doubt, still the mere fact of saving money just doesnt encourage me enough somehow, i don't get that little motivating rush when the calculater hits the low numbers. Strange i know, you'd think saving money in itself would motivate someone who has so little of it, but it just doesn't, not in itself anyway. But i later found that what does really motivate and its the Biblical ideal of Holy Poverty (more in another post).Anyway, finding your fascination like that, i think its pretty important.

Likewise for shopping and stocking the panrty. I just can't seem to get into the whole "bargain shopping" thing, looking out for weekly sales clutters my brain too much, which is the very opposite of simplicity for me. Not only that but i don't even like things in their original packages, i like to get rid of labels and such and transfer many things into to clear bags or jars instead, i like the feeling of things feeling direct and basic and "real", and not cluttered with lots of labels and colors and ads and words. So i'm not into brands or many special products really anymore, much less the desire to spend time hunting them down in bargains.... i'm more into gathering "ingredients", both for food and for homemade cleansers and the like. And that draw to "the basics" is what opened up finding the fascination to follow. In my case, the fascination (doesnt mean i'm there yet, but its what inspires) is to keep things so simple that you don't need to shop at certain stores, and don't need to shop for sales all the time either, that the things you buy are things that are typically inexpensive and found anywhere. That, rather than finding a bargain, is what gives me that little rush. I know that there are folks who won't be drawn to that of course. But for me it works, it makes me feel free, not tied to a particular store or even a particular part of the country (wendybirdes sure love to fly around y'know), and not dependent upon sales either. I need that.

But more was uncovered when following this fascination of "the basics", a deeper fascination... and thats where this 1930's cooking draw has come in lately. The thing is, i've been learning slowly over time that what i seem to be seeking in my home, my life, my kitchen, is the feeling of a "palette"...those "basics" so fascinated by, they are the paints of the palette. Again i know it may not be for everyone, but it truly is having a palette that gives me a sense of calm, of order....and its only from such a place that i can get creative at all really (and cooking is a creative act).

Getting ready to cook from different various stand alone recipes for example, something often feels off there for me, theres no palette there to work with, no building blocks, no simple order. This is hard to explain, becuase its not that i dont use recipes, becuase i do. Its just that rather than a collection of individual recipes that "stand apart" from each other i need more of an interlapping whole, more of "palette" of basics to create from instead. It's back to the brain clutter thing...if im thinking in terms of what i'll need on hand for a bunch of different stand alone recipes then i get all cluttery inside, and overwhelmed rather than inspired. But if im thinking instead of having the palette i'll need to work with, well something relaxes and opens up then, and makes me really feel like creating.

So now enter 1930's cooking. As some of you know, i've recently moved to a very small town, and one of the gifts here is some amazing antique stores in nearby areas...one of which is selling its book stock for a song right now. So i came home with a stack of vintage homemaking books and magazines dating from the 1800's to the 30's and just pored over them with the most wonderful feeling. And what surprised me was that it was the stuff from the 30's that ended up drawing the most. There is just something there... a simplicty, a directness, a charm, and to my surprise...maybe even the very palette i had been searching for.

The cookbook that has me the most excited here is called Magic Chef Cooking (its inner cover illustration is what's up top). This book is just amazing! I'll post some of its recipe ideas later, but in a nutshell it gives very basic yummy recipes with very basic basic (and few!) ingredients. It gives, rather than a bunch of stand alone complicated recipes...rather a palette to create with. Your ingredients will be few and common, your shopping list will be short and basic...and its wholesome healthy yummy stuff. Seriously, if anyone is drawn to this kind of cooking this simple little book is amazing, and pretty reasonable on ebay and the like. The trick to collecting old books it seems is just in realizing that collectors only want the ones in good shape. If you can find a copy with wear and tear (which frankly i think can add charm), then it can be pretty inexpensive.

Well, i'm sure there are other cookbooks like this from this period as well...does anyone else have any favorites they'd care to share? Favorite resources from this period (or any period really, its more that it would have these simple oriented principles), or better yet your own recipes in this simple vein? If so please email me, and i'd be happy to share them here, or to link to your blog if you'd like to post about them there. There is something just SO healing when ones ingredients are simple, few, and direct....simple few and direct enough to create a true palette to work with and create from.

Recently i also found a wonderful online resource as well, the videos of a 92 year old woman who has lived through the Depression and is sharing her recipes, and memories, online. The videos can be found here...such cool stuff! Can't say i'm a pasta fan, but i do really like her egg drop soup....and her such direct and simple way of cooking.

Well, more nuts and bolts type stuff (ie recipes!) in a later post : )

(Top image from here, it's from the 1934 edition of Magic Chef Cooking; the second one was from an article some time back on the Slow Food Movement, but not sure which one)

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