Retro Recipe Challenge No. 9: The Candy Man
How could I resist? Sugar, old recipes, and a challenge . . . everything I like in a Sunday evening’s amusement. Dolores at Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity is hosting this challenge for Laura Rebecca, two really fun food blogs, and I wanted in.
But not for me the cheap and easy–the sugar-sodden confections of the fifties, for example. No, I went way, way back: all the way to 1943, and The Women’s Home Companion Cookbook, to try a recipe that had perplexed me from my childhood: marguerites.
Marguerites are something of a culinary Marie Celeste, if you ask me. You’ll find them in recipe books from the teens, the 20s, the 30s, even the early 40s–and then they’re gone. They vanish without a trace. So I’ve got my choice of a couple of recipes for marguerites from the 1918 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, and a nutritional analysis of them in Feeding the Family, a 1924 college nutrition textbook by Mary Swartz Rose, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at Teachers College, Columbia University. Marjorie Heseltine and Ula M. Dow’s The Basic Cookbook, 1933, has a fancy Italian meringue version, and there’s a “quick and easy” recipe for them in Cooking for Two, by Janet McKenzie Hill (revised by Marjorie Mills and Sally Larkin), 1946.
But The Joy of Cooking doesn’t mention them. Neither does Betty Crocker. By 1960, the Day of the Marguerite had passed.
And here’s why. They just aren’t very good. As Little Sunshine observed sagely, they look like camel poop, and taste like a sandstorm.
The idea seems potentially okay: take a saltine cracker and top it with a sweet nut- and coconut-filled meringue, toast it in the oven, and enjoy a marshmallow-y, nutty, coconutty treat. In practice, though, it’s dry and gritty, lumpily bland, and undistinguished in appearance. Of the 18 I made this afternoon, there are still 10 left, and I suspect the chickens will be getting them.
Sorry, Retro Recipe Challenge! What I’ve learned about our culinary predecessors is that they didn’t have much in the way of taste in the early part of the 20th century.*
I should have made the Lord Baltimore Cake, a yellow cake filled with Italian meringue mixed with macaroon crumbs, chopped almonds, maraschino cherries, and sherry, and frosted with more Italian meringue tinted a delicate pink. It was invented by a character in a 1908 novel by Owen Wister, who also wrote that undying classic The Virginian. I’ll know better next time.
*Further evidence of this assertion may be found in the Sandwich section of any pre-1950 cookbook. Exhibit #1: the following suggestions from Cooking for Two:
- peanut butter, mayonnaise, and bacon;
- sardines, lemon juice, and mayonnaise;
- tuna, ketchup, bacon, and mayonnaise;
- crushed pineapple, cream cheese, and mayonnaise;
- mashed baked beans with, yes, mayonnaise.
So, the recipe:
1 egg white
Few grains of salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
18 saltine crackers
Add salt to the egg white and beat until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in the sugar. Fold in the nuts, coconut, and vanilla. Drop by teaspoons on the saltines. Bake at 325 F for 15 minutes, or until topping is a delicate brown.