Sunday, January 12, 2014

Culinary hall of fame: Ruth Berolzheimer (and Your Sautéed Liver)

Among my collection of retro and downright antique cookbooks, I am glad to possess a monster called the Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer and published in 1950. The Culinary Arts Institute, not to be confused with today's Culinary Institute of America set on its gorgeous New York campus, seems to have been at one time the pride of Chicago, and Miss Berolzheimer its alpha lioness. Many of the enticing little retro cooking pamphlets to be picked up, just as I did the monster, at antique malls and castoff library book sales -- Cooling Dishes for Hot Weather, Entertaining Six or Eight -- also bear this editress' name, and the name of her institution. Who knows what mid-twentieth century avalanche of long-forgotten hostess, bridal, and housewarming gifts these little remainders represent? 

If you want to learn more about Miss Berolzheimer and the Culinary Arts Institute, and how it all began in the 1880s with the Butterick sewing pattern company's PR-and-dress patterns magazine, The Delineator (and how Miss Berolzheimer's surviving nephew in Evanston remembered her as a good organizer -- founded the first Jewish day school in Chicago Heights at the age of seventeen, was only the second woman to graduate from the University of Illinois with a chemical engineering degree -- but not a very good cook -- plus she was "tall, intimidating, crusty, and critical"), if you want to learn more, I say, you can do no better than to consult Mike Sula's article in the Chicago Reader ("The Cookbook Queen," Sept. 11, 2008)..

But perhaps she was not as crusty and intimidating as all that. Every chapter of our monster Encylcopedic Cookbook is titled, endearingly, "Your [topic]." Your 2,000 Facts about Food, Your Egg Dishes, Your Sauces, Gravies, and Dressings, Your Quick Dinners for the Woman in a Hurry. And on and on. We get the impression in glancing over all these titles that Miss Berolzheimer was anxious to soothe and encourage inexperienced young things in the kitchen. Don't fret, her posture seems to say. All this is already "yours."

All right. Let's take her at her word. Let's say we are a Woman in a Hurry. We just worked a ten-hour day. Our "prove up" court date is set for late December. We're worried about what both divorce and Obamacare are going to do to our finances. Leave it to fool men to take away perhaps a third of our income on a kingly whim. Our harassed ancestress circa 1950 lived in a freer time, and would not have had to worry about that. To top it off, our dear gentleman friend faces jury duty and a kidney stone.

Hurry? Yes, please -- but we are only allotted six pages out of an encyclopedic 974 for our rush. We can choose our menus on these six pages from "For the woman who lives alone" and "For the family of 3." That's all. Instructions are even spelled out to the very day: Ms. Berolzheimer, crusty as she may be, seems to think that because we're pressed for time, we may forget things, and will need the week entirely planned out for us. All right. It's Wednesday. On Wednesday she allows us to eat:

Sautéed liver with onions 
Buttered potato
Radish roses 
Grapefruit salad
Fudge squares 

I like the fact that she thinks we have taken the trouble to make Fudge Squares preparatory to this evening, precisely as she thinks we are going to cook apricots tonight, for tomorrow's permitted Thursday dessert (Apricot Whip). Here is everything we need to know for Wednesday's dinner, or, "How to go about it (requires 30 minutes)."
Scrub 2 potatoes and cook, covered, in small amount of water. Pare grapefruit, cut out sections and arrange on lettuce. Add French dressing. Chill
Set table. (For the woman who live alone! This is most civilized -- we must all do it.)
Sauté liver and onions.
Peel potato and reheat in butter. 
Keep other potato for Friday (You will gash its top and cover it with shredded cheese, then pop it under the broiler to reheat -- it will accompany your pan fried perch.)
Only -- when have we made the radish roses?   
Preparation for Thursday. 
Cook apricots for whip. Rub through sieve, cover and place in refrigerator.

And the liver itself? Here is "how to go about it:"

Sautéed liver with onions
1/4 pound beef liver, sliced
2 Tablespoons cracker crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
3 Tablespoons bacon fat
2 small onions, sliced 
Wash liver and drain. Dip into crumbs; season. Fry liver slowly in bacon fat in preheated frying pan until browned on both sides. Add sliced onions and fry slowly until onions are tender.

At just this moment, I want the detective from Laura to stroll in to the shadowy and lace-bedizened apartment, shotgun in the crook of his arm. I want him to smirk about our Career, and about how Dames look when they Get Killed. And I -- the Heroine -- want to drag on my cigarette coolly and say, "I never have been and I never will be bound by anything I don't do of my own free will."

Take that, O kingly men.

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