Rejoice! The restaurants are opened up for patrons at 25%, thank heavens. A few places had large, semi-warm patios to let people sit, shiver and eat out. But by and large the “drive-thru” windows ruled the past year of exile in our homes. “Take Out” has become a new royal kingdom: They don’t call them Dairy Queen and Burger King for nothing. Just tip your hat as you drive by and curtsey when you pick up curbside. Our dependency on this simple task of drive-thru was alarming. “How will we get by? I am only used to the microwave at work. Can you even make coffee at home?” Did you hear it? Did you say it? It’s time to stop whining and get out your family’s cookbooks. It will be fun to remember those bunt cakes from the 70s, trust me. The nostalgia of Tupperware in burnt orange and puke green Jell-O molds awaits you. They burped, and and the Jell-O molds always came out.
I admit, I collect cookbooks, and I am addicted. I just got the “American Test Kitchen” for 2021. It is huge, but you better know some of how to cook or it will swallow you! American’s Test Kitchen can be seen on PBS or on Create channel. What I treasure about Test Kitchen is that they don’t just share recipes, they show you which type of mayonnaise tastes best and is a good bargain. They have product judging. Which potato peeler is a good deal? What should you look for in a pasta maker? And they appear to be having fun with food. What more could you want?
I adore country cookbooks from rural communities with the person’s name next to a recipe. We did one for the Air Guard once called “Taco Tales and Take Out.” Judy Suiter and I worked on it. Judy did the hard work; she typed all the recipes. I only wrote the foreword. Our husbands flew jets together. We wrote about what we cooked when the pilots and crews were gone. There was a standard joke about Elephant Stew by, no kidding, Perry Mason: “You can add a hare, but who likes hare in their stew.” I didn’t write that!
If we had trouble with cooking, we just called our local Extension Offices. The definition of these is, Departments located in local counties and universities run by university employees and volunteers, that are experts in local crops, landscaping, soil gardening and cooking. When I taught at Estancia High School, Linda Wells was our Home-Ec teacher and she had a lot to do with the county extension services, 4-H and FFA. That lady could cook, and if you needed help, she was the one with all the answers.
When we first came out to New Mexico from Iowa, two things seemed impossible to us, the spicy food and the altitude. PNM’s Home Service Department put together a small, but invaluable cookbook for newcomers. It told the why and how of high-altitude cooking for candy making, canning and broiling meat. It was a lifesaver. My Grandmother Irene used to make biscuits that were talked about all over Iowa. In 1962 we came here, and she made a tub of soft rolls. When she got them out of the oven you could not bite into them, they were so hard. She got so mad she threw them out into the backyard and hit the dog in the head. He cried and did not come inside for a day. But this public service cookbook, “Cocinas de New Mexico,” fixed it all. And then, surprise of surprise, we came to love New Mexican food and learned that these little books had the best recipes. I still use the one for posole. My husband Bill, the native-born boy, says posole is the only New Mexico dish I can make properly, because I come from Iowa and I only know how to cook corn and hogs. And don’t forget the red chili! (Or chile, as my editor insists, unless we’re talking about that tomatoey bean soup.) Jane Butel, famous for her school on Southwestern cooking, wrote a cookbook called, “Favorite Mexican Foods, 1968.” It, too, was very helpful, and the covers and some pages are now spotted with food. It means they worked. Cookbooks are more than recipes. They become part of our family history. Get busy and start cooking. This is not over yet. Roaring Mouse planning a red and green Jell-O fiesta soon, out.