250 Cookbooks: New Creative Crock-Pot Stoneware Slow Cooker Cookbook

Cookbook #107: New Creative Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker Cookbook, Robin Taylor Swatt, Pascoe Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 2001.

New Creative Crock-Pot CookbookI come in from outside on a cool spring morning and a spicy, beefy aroma sends my senses racing. Ropa Vieja is in the crockpot! I think this is what I like most about slow cooker cooking.

I found the Ropa Vieja recipe in the New Creative Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker Cookbook. I have covered other crock pot or slow cooker cookbooks in a few other posts in this blog; some history of crock pots and my opinionated thoughts on them is in this blog post. To find my crock pot recipes, search my website for “crock” or select the category “slow cooker” or go to the recipe index.

The New Creative Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker Cookbook is nicely presented and pleasant to leaf through. The introduction is written by the “Rival® Kitchen”, and throughout, Crock-Pot is followed by the obnoxious-to-type “®“. No introduction is given by the author.

Notes in this cookbook indicate that I have tried several recipes from this book: a tomatillo chicken, beef roast, and a hoisin chicken. I like the section entitled “from around the world”, and I appreciate the low-fat section. In my opinion, too many of the recipes call for prepackaged seasoning mixes but other than that, most of the recipes I could try. But I probably won’t. I usually cook for just two, and my current Rival® Crock-Pot® is a 3-4 quart cooker, so it makes a lot. And I rarely need the time-saving convenience of a crock pot (a luxury of retirement). These days I mostly use my crock pot for things like pork green chili, spicy pinto beans from scratch, and shredded beef, dishes I usually cook from memory rather than from a recipe. Comfort food dishes I can make a lot of and freeze some for later meals.

But the recipe for Ropa Vieja in the New Creative Crock-Pot® Stoneware Slow Cooker Cookbook could add something new to my shredded beef repertoire. The cut of beef used is flank steak, rather than roast or brisket. This interests me, because flank steak should give nice long “ropes” of shredded beef. (Ropa Vieja does not translate to “ropes”, instead, it is “old clothes”.)

ropa viejaropa viejaI buy a large (and expensive) flank steak. Instead of vegetable broth, I use my own beef stock. I stay with just carrots in the cooking liquid, although I want to throw in onions and garlic. (I know the carrots will just be mush after 7 hours cooking, but they should add some flavor!) I can’t resist adding some spices, like chili powder, cumin, and cayenne. I toss in half a chili pepper that I have in the ‘fridge. Instead of making the tomato-chili-broth and serving the dish like a stew, I decide to use the shredded beef sans sauce in burritos.

Okay. I mangled the recipe. But Ropa Vieja gave me inspiration, and often that’s all I look for from my cookbooks!

Flank Steak Shredded Beef
serves about 6

  •  1 1/2 – 2 pounds flank steak
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • dash cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper
  • a small fresh chili pepper, or half a larger one (optional and to your own personal taste)

Put the stock and spices (and chili pepper, if using) into a 3-4 quart slow cooker, then add the flank steak. Cook on low 7-9 hours or high 3-4 hours. The shredded beef is done when it falls apart when you grab some with a fork.

Here is the cooked beef:

shredded beefLook at the big ropes of shredded beef! The turned out perfect. It was great mixed with onions and beans and cheese in flour tortillas. I had lots leftover for other meals.

The carrots were as I predicted, mushy like baby food. But the cooking liquid was dark and rich with beef and spice flavors. It would have been good mixed with onions and chiles and tomatoes as in the original recipe, except that it had a layer of fat on top:

shredded beef brothI put the cooking liquid in the refrigerator and a few days later removed the hardened layer of fat. I put it on the stove and thickened it with cornstarch, and mixed it with some of the leftover shredded beef (and olives and onions and cheese) for enchiladas. Yum!

250 Cookbooks: New Slow Cooker Meals

Cookbook #86: New Slow Cooker Meals, Betty Crocker, General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 2001.

New Slow Cooker CookbookI remember there was a time that I searched my house but couldn’t find any of my slow cooker cookbooks. That’s probably when I picked up this small cookbook at a supermarket. Today, I don’t find any of the recipes in New Slow Cooker Meals inspiring. In my opinion, most of the recipes would be better cooked in a pot on the stove for an hour than dragging out a big crockpot and having it cook all day. But then again, I am retired. (See my first crock pot entry for my opinions on crock pot cooking in general.)

Betty Crocker’s New Slow Cooker Meals is 5×8-inches and 96 pages. You could subscribe to Betty Crocker cookbooks, and this cookbook has a url printed in it: www.bettycrocker.com. On the current website, these small printed cookbooks are called “Recipe Magazines from Betty Crocker”, and you can still subscribe to them. The website has a section on slow cooker recipes.

I do have a task this week that I can tie into this cooking blog. The Lyons Garden Club is having a chile cookoff, and I want to contribute a crockpot of chile, albeit not one to enter into the contest (since I am a member). So, I will make the Family-Favorite Chili on page 19 of this Betty Crocker recipe magazine. Family-Favorite Chili is made with hamburger, spices, tomatoes, and beans.

(I find myself typing “chili” and “chile” interchangeably. Which is correct? A web search reveals much controversy. I kind of like the answer at MJ’s Kitchen: a chili is a pepper and a chile is a dish cooked with a chili pepper. Don’t sweat it.)

Here is Betty Crocker’s recipe for Family-Favorite Chile.

FamFavChiliRecI will of course make some changes. I like to wilt onions a few minutes before adding them to a dish. (And I find it odd that step 3 says to cook until the onions are tender: 3-4 hours.) I like to use a seasoning packet like Two Alarm Chili or Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit. Boring, but consistent. I have some dry pinto beans and a new pressure cooker, so I will cook my own beans instead of using canned beans. Below is my version.

My Basic Red Chile with Hamburger and Beans
makes a big crockpot’s worth of chile

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • a chili kit (Carroll Shelby’s or Two-Alarm or your favorite) or chili powder to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 2 cups (more or less) cooked or canned kidney or pinto beans (I used pintos that I soaked then pressure cooked for 20 minutes; I added dried hot peppers and salt before cooking)

Brown the ground beef, then drain off any fat and put it in a crock pot. Heat some olive oil in a small pan and cook the onion (salt it) until it wilts; add the garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add the onion-garlic mixture to the crock pot.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seasonings to the crock pot and give the mixture a good stir. Cover and cook on low about 6 hours. Add the beans and check the seasoning, adding more spice or salt to your personal taste. Cook until the chile-bean mixture is heated through.

This chile will hold well on low for another hour or more but you might have to add a little water if it gets too thick.

My ChileThis chile is always good! Not different and unusual, but always welcome for a comfort-food dinner. We usually put cheese and onions on it and serve it with warmed flour tortillas.

I added some Mexican oregano and some of these dried chiles to this pot of chile:

jalapeno chilisAnd here are the Chili Queens at the Chili Cookoff!

Chili Queens

Photo credit to J. O’Brien, downloaded from Facebook.

250 Cookbooks: Crock-Pot Cookbook

Cookbook #47: Crock-Pot Slow Electric Stoneware Cooker Cookbook. Rival, Kansas City, Missouri. No publication date given.

Crock-Pot CookbookThis small pamphlet is the original instruction book that came with my mother’s first Crock-Pot. My guess is that it was published about 1972, based on the research I did on Crock-Pots for my Electric Slow Cooker Cookbook post on slow cooker apple butter. Rival Crock-Pots were first introduced to the American public in the early 1970s.

I enjoy this passage entitled “A note from our Rival Home Economist”, on the inside cover of the booklet:

“In all my years of experience I have never enjoyed such interesting and rewarding months as those spent testing this revolutionary slow cooker!

All of us are mighty interested in nutrition, flavor and economy. Well, you’ll certainly get the best of all three with your Rival “Crock-Pot.” Better flavor than you could ever get by boiling or frying. Slow “Crock-Pot” cooking is an excellent way to retain more vitamins, juices and minerals. You’ll be thrilled at the tender, tasty meals you can serve, using less expensive meats. “Crock-Pot” cooks all day for about 3 cents. What better way to conserve electricity – and save food money, too!

Forget about watching meals as they cook. Forget about that little question: “Will everything and everybody be ready at the same time?” Enjoy yourself while your “Crock-Pot” turns out perfect meals – unattended. Imagine this: during tests I actually simmered chicken and vegetables continuously for 30 hours – of course, far longer than necessary – yet they were still intact and actually good.

You will love having the “Crock-Pot” in your kitchen. It promises to be quite a change from what you’re used to. For enjoyment at its best, as a starter, may I suggest pot roast or Swiss steak. Just don’t be afraid to leave it alone for 10 hours. With the “Crock-Pot” in the kitchen, you don’t have to be there.

The recipes in this book represent the many categories of foods you can prepare with ease and confidence. Because the “Crock-Pot” is so versatile, you’ll want to adapt some of your own favorite recipes. I’ve prepared a guide to make things simpler for you.

Have fun cooking with your “Crock-Pot” Slow Cooker! For whatever you use it, it will save you time and give you better flavor.”

-Marilyn Neill, Home Economist, Rival Manufacturing Co.

The whole pamphlet is written in this friendly style: it was fun to read! When I first retrieved it from my bookshelf, I thought I’d try a recipe and then recycle it, but in the end I decided it was interesting, friendly, nostalgic, and useful enough to keep. It has a still-useful guide for adapting your current recipes to slow-cooker versions, and several interesting recipes. My mother made notes on the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe, Coq au Vin, and Pot Roast of Beef recipes. Currently, my “go-to” cookbook for slow-cooking is Cover and Bake (from Cooks Illustrated); I will tuck this little cookbook-pamphlet inside that book and enjoy it again.

I decided to try “Boeuf a la Flamade”, or “Beer Braised Beef. Briefly, a beef stew. And I have been making beef stews for years, sometimes on the stove top, sometimes in a covered casserole, sometimes in a slow cooker. I generally brown the meat first, to add flavor. This recipe does not call for a browning step. What the heck, it’s worth a try, and saves time and a messy pan. I like the inclusion of bacon and beer: how can you go wrong with that combination?

Here is the original recipe:

Beer Braised BeefI think that a pound of mushrooms is overkill, so I will use only the 8-ounce package that I have in the refrigerator. I like to use a cross-rib roast for stew meat, and the one I bought is only 3 pounds, so my version of the recipe reflects this change. I’ll use less salt, too.

Beer Braised Beef
serves about 4

  • 3-4 pounds cross rib or chuck roast, cut in 2-inch pieces and trimmed of fat
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 strips bacon, cut in small pieces
  • 10-12 whole small onions, peeled*
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 12 ounces beer
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or use a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

Mix the flour, salt, paprika, and pepper in a bowl and roll the beef cubes in it until they are all well-covered. Put the onions, bacon, and half of the mushrooms in your slow-cooker, then add the floured beef cubes. (I added the floured cubes and also the rest of the flour mixture because we like our stews thick.) Add the rest of the mushrooms. Mix the beer with the sugar and vinegar and add to the pot. Add the thyme and bay leaf.

Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours. Check at 7 hours because it will probably be done.

*An easy way to peel small onions is to put them in boiling water for three minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Cut off the ends and the peel will pop right off.


I set my slow cooker to “low” and checked it at 7 1/2 hours and it was done: the meat was tender,  the gravy thick, and it was starting to stick to the pot. Perhaps today’s slow cookers have a different low setting, or maybe it’s just mine. Anyway, I suggest checking the stew after it has cooked 7 hours on low.

Here’s my prep:

Beer Braised BeefAnd here is the stew:

Beer Braised BeefThis turned out great, and I will make it again. The bacon gives it a flavor reminiscent of “little piggies”, a dish I make from round steak slices rolled around pieces of bacon. I like this recipe because it does not include carrots and potatoes, vegetables that in my opinion get overcooked in the slow cooker. To save calories, you could fry the bacon first and pour off the fat before combining with the meat. I served it over mashed potatoes; it would also work great over rice or noodles. This recipe made enough for two meals for the two of us; I froze half for a quick and yummy meal sometime in the future weeks.

Below is a scan of the back cover of this small cookbook. I like it because it shows my first crock pot in the upper left photo, the exact same color and size. Also note the phrase “makers of Click ‘n Clean CAN-O-MATICS”.

Crock Pot Cookbook

1990s blog and favorites: Botched-Up Cassoulet

CassouletI call this “Botched-up Cassoulet” because I do know that a cassoulet is a famous French entree that if prepared according to tradition, is complicated and takes days to prepare. I have an e-mail from a “fellow food fiend” who describes making this dish:

I have been cooking for three days. First I made a complicated true French cassoulet including sausage, lamb and duck. I even bought these wonderful white beans that I can only get in the Bay Area. When we were there over the weekend I stocked up. I wish you could see these beans, they are so beautiful I can barely stand to cook them. They look nothing like beans in a bag.

I looked up “cassoulet” in my authoritative cookbook, The Best International Recipe (from Cook’s Illustrated, Christopher Kimball). Sure enough, a cassoulet recipe is offered: flageolet beans, boneless pork shoulder, garlic pork sausages, and confit duck legs. The duck confit alone takes over a day to make. And the authors admit that even this is a toned down version, appropriate for a home cook. (But we all know, hint hint, that a true cassoulet can only be made by a properly trained chef.)

I offer instead a tasty version that is very good and can be relatively low in fat. While being high in fiber and nutrition. And being very easy to make. The original recipe is from one of my slow cooker cookbooks. I’ve made this tons of times and included it on the short list of recipes in my 1990s blog. It’s yummy, even to my non-bean-loving dining partner.

Botched-Up Cassoulet (crock pot method)

1990s note by me: A true European “cassoulet” is, I believed, baked in a special ceramic casserole under special conditions. I remember reading about it once. It is one of those esoteric topics that true chefs like to go on at length about. Here is my version. Do not be afraid to substitute anything, just keep the total liquid to the amounts specified.

Serves 2-3 people.

  • 15 oz. can navy beans*
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 carrots cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil (use a tablespoon of fresh basil if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 cup water plus 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (or use chicken stock)
  • about 1 cup chicken, cooked or not
  • about 3/4 cup ham or sausage

Put it all in the crock pot and cook on low 10-12 hours.

*Navy beans are those small white beans, often sold as Great Northern beans. Instead of using canned, you can buy them dry, soak overnight, and boil, with salt to taste, until done.

Non-crock pot method

You might note that the photo at the top of this page reveals that I cooked the cassoulet in a Le Creuset rather than a slow cooker. Sometimes I prefer to cook it this way. Part of the problem is that my current slow cooker is pretty big and a meal for two people gets lost in it. So, the following is my method for baking the cassoulet in a covered casserole. I like to cook the onions first, and the Le Creuset allows me to do that on the stove top and then add the rest of the ingredients for the baking step.

Directions: Use the same ingredients as listed in the slow cooker method, above. Begin by cooking the onions until they are soft, then add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. (If your casserole cannot be used on the stove top, you can skip this pre-cook step.) Combine all of the ingredients in the casserole and cover it. (My choice for chicken is bone-in, skinned thighs. I used three of these chicken thighs along with a half-cup of ham for the two of us when cooking the cassoulet in the photo.)

Bake at 325˚ for two hours. Then, uncover, turn the oven up to 400˚, and cook for about another 20 minutes. Check a couple times during this uncovered baking period; it’s time to take it out of the oven when most – but not all – of the liquid has evaporated.

This is extra good with some bread crumbs on top. So if you want to, roughly shred  enough sourdough bread to make about 3/4 cup crumbs. Saute these large crumbs in a small amount of butter. Put on the uncovered casserole in the last 15 minutes of the baking time.

Read the introduction to my 1990s cooking blog for background information.


250 Cookbooks: The Electric Slow Cooker Cookbook

Cookbook #18: The Electric Slow Cooker Cookbook. Barbara Bean, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1975.

The Electric Slow Cooker CookbookI have eleven crock pot/slow cooker cookbooks – guess that says something! Three are copyright 1975. Let’s see, where were we then. We moved to Colorado in 1973, so we were living in Boulder. I was in my first years as a working young woman, and interested in the current healthy-style trends. I used the crock pot to cook beans or inexpensive cuts of meat while I was at work (or at play, thinking back …).

Crock pots (as we know them) had not yet been invented when I grew up. Out of curiosity, I google-searched news articles employing date limits and found the first mention of “crock pot” in 1973. A “crock pot” was demonstrated at a church gathering by a “Mrs. Fred Jones”, and a bride-elect was presented with “an electric crock pot and a lily corsage accented with red roses”. A more traditional search of the web pulled up a Wikipedia entry and another interesting website that discuss the history of the electric crock pot. Its predecessor was the “Naxon Beanery All-Purpose Cooker” developed by the Naxon Utilities Corporation of Chicago. In 1970, Rival bought Naxon and the rights to the Beanery, upgraded the appliance, and called it the Crock-Pot®. The PetitChef website has a graphic of crock pots from different eras. My first one looked just like the “1971” version.

My use of a crock pot has ebbed and flowed over the years. I tried a lot of recipes; some failed, some worked. I used to use the crock pot a lot for my own version of refried beans. I would buy dry pinto beans, soak them, then cook them in the crock pot with a bunch of seasonings. When done, I would mash them with an electric hand mixer while still in the pot. This way, I would have “refried” beans without any fat. In the early 70s, I also cooked soy beans for a soy bean chile.

I consider a slow cooker an essential tool for my kitchen, even if it sometimes sits for months without use. I’m now on my third slow cooker. My first one was a Rival CrockPot® (it got a crack in it), my second one was a “Crock Watcher” by Hamilton Beach (it has a removable crock; the switch wore out). My newest has a timer and a removable cooking crock. Recently, I had a lot of fun using it to make Apple Butter.

The best thing about a crock pot meal? Walking into the kitchen after a long day day at work or play, and finding the house suffused with the aroma of something delicious simmering and ready to be dished up.

What I don’t like about the crock pot is that with the wrong recipe, it can turn a mixture of meat, vegetables, and liquid into an amorphous mass. I’ve learned to choose my recipes carefully. It’s good for breaking down tough, inexpensive cuts of meat, like round steak or chuck roast, turning them into tender and tasty stews and stroganoffs (try it for my Lamb Stew with Cinnamon). I have a good recipe for game hens in a slow-cooker and a great cassoulet  recipe. I’m sure I’ll come across other crock pot favorites when I go through the rest of my cookbooks, and I’ll share those that have become favorites. And, I’ll try to branch out as I go through these eleven crock pot cookbooks.

And I am branching out with my recipe choice from this cookbook: Duck!

Yes, duck. That other poultry. We’ve had it at restaurants a few times but I’ve only cooked it once or twice. So trying this recipe is a bit of a stretch for me. Good exercise!

The duck recipe is not the only recipe that I might eventually try out of this cookbook. I noted about six that look interesting. Years ago, I tried the recipe for Teriyaki Chicken and wrote notes on it. The recipes in this 1975 cookbook are a bit dated, perhaps, but I think they stand the test of time as “comfort foods”. One would not see their simple titles on a recipe in a fancy restaurant, but in my kitchen, after a cold winter day spent outdoors in the Colorado high country? Yes, they have their place. I am going to keep this cookbook. You can see from the photo (at the top of this entry) that it is well-worn.

The recipe I will try is “Duck Bayou”. I think that duck will hold up well in the slow cooker; it probably will retain some texture after a long cook. And it has a distinct flavor to bring to the dish.

Duck BayouDuck BayouRecipe Comments

The dish turned out to be a success. I probably will cook it again, and I think it’s interesting enough to share. I did run into some issues, though, both at the store and in the cooking.

First, duck can be hard to find. I was lucky to find three leg-thigh pieces at the counter at our local groovy store. They had frozen whole (and expensive) ducks in the freezer display, but I’m cooking for two, and that was too much; I didn’t want to cook an entire duck for two people. I wrote the following recipe for two people, and if you have more to serve, buy a whole duck and cut it into pieces yourself.

Second, the recipe said to cook for 8-10 hours on low. I checked my duck at 6 hours, and found that the liquid was almost evaporated and the duck was starting to char. I immediately removed the food from the cooker.

The problem with the cooking time might be that the original recipe was written for a tall, round slow cooker. Mine is large and oval-shaped. Also, I downsized the recipe but still used a large slow cooker. Two approaches fix the problem: less cooking time and more liquid.

I made a few other changes as I cooked this recipe: more herbs, chicken stock, extra wine added at last step, fresh mushrooms. My modifications are incorporated in the version below.

Duck Bayou

This recipe is written for 2-3 people, depending on appetites. Double the recipe (using a whole duck) and it will serve 4-6 people.

  • 3 pieces of duck (breasts or leg-thighs)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • oil or butter for frying the duck
  • 3/4 of a medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 cup red wine, divided
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1/2 cup diced ham
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon tarragon (dried, more if you have fresh tarragon)
  • 1 cup sliced or chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Carefully trim the fat and any excess skin from the duck pieces. Duck skin tends to pack a lot of fat.

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a paper bag. Add pieces of duck and shake to coat.

Put a small amount of oil (I used olive oil) or butter in a frying pan. Add the duck pieces and brown well on all sides. Place in slow cooker.

In the same pan, saute the onion until it wilts, then add the garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add 3/4 cup wine, 1/2 cup stock (or water), ham, bay leaf, parsley, and tarragon. Bring to a boil. Pour over top of duck in slow cooker.

Cover and cook on the low setting for 6 hours. (If you double the recipe and have a tall, round slow-cooker, it can probably cook for 8 hours, but check it at 6 hours and add more stock if necessary.)

Remove the duck from the slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup red wine to the cooker. If there is only a small amount of sauce in the cooker, add some chicken stock until you have at least a cup of sauce. Add the mushrooms to the slow cooker and turn the heat to high. Cook about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are done. Taste the sauce and add a bit more salt, pepper, tarragon, and/or parsley to taste.

Dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of water, then add to the sauce. Cook on high until the sauce thickens.

(If you prefer, you can pour the sauce into a pan and cook the mushrooms and thicken the sauce on the stove top.)

Serve the duck with the sauce; rice is a good accompaniment. I served it over a white-brown-wild rice medley.

Here are the duck pieces browning. Actually, the main purpose of this photo is to show off my new, “green” non-stick pan:

browning the duck piecesHere is the cooked dish. The photo is here for proof that I actually cooked the recipe; it isn’t really very pretty. But it tasted good!

Duck Bayou (cooked)



250 Cookbooks: Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 1

Cookbook #9: Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, Vol. 1, A-Bea. Woman’s Day, Fawcett Publications, NY, 1966.

Encyclopedia of Cookery

This is the first in a series of 12 food encyclopedia volumes. They were my mother’s, so I will not part with them. But that’s not the sole reason that I now want to keep them.

Printed encyclopedias. Outdated tools? Today my first impulse when I have a question about (for instance) different types of apples, I open a web browser and enter my search terms. A plethora of links appears almost instantly, and I quickly scan the information that random people have uploaded to the internet. I have a (probably correct) answer, and then I jump to another website, or another task. That tidbit of information was fleeting. I probably will never see it again.

The web gives us quick answers, but we miss something, we miss the permanence of the written page. Print-published authors take a lot of time gathering their information, checking their facts, editing the text, polishing their photos. The next time I open this particular encyclopedia, the same information will be there, in my hands.

And when I took some time with this encyclopedia, which by definition gives “information on many subjects”, I found it full of not only information, but unexpected treats.

Let’s start with abalone, the first entry. This mollusk is described, including availability, calorie content, and basic preparation. Then several recipes are listed. This is the basic layout throughout the volume. Some information is dated, e.g., for abalone: “In the US, the fresh shellfish is limited to California. The law prohibits its shipment fresh to other parts of the country.” Interesting! It’s no longer true, but years ago, you could only have fresh abalone in California. The next entry is acorn squash, again with description and recipes. I learned that aioli is a thick sauce flavored with garlic. Definitions of the cooking terms “a la carte” and “a la grecque” and “a la king” are given, along with related recipes.

Then I came to a section titled “American Cooks are Good Cooks”. This section takes up a full third of the volume! I began reading the three page introduction to this section, written by a woman named Sophie Kerr. I’m sharing a few parts of this article so you, too, can enjoy it.

“A lot of talk goes round now and then to the effect that American cooks are way behind cooks of other lands when it comes to producing a first-rate meal, and that American food in general lacks the elegant subtlety of foreign dishes. I don’t know who started this nonsense, but nonsense it is, and it should be labeled so in large black letters. Actually, there is a great tradition in American cooking, and thousands of women have come to respect and perpetuate it.”

“. . . every housewife had her treasured recipes, which she wouldn’t give away even to her dearest friends. Those were the days of bake sales for church and charity, when the knowing ones lined up early to get some of Mrs. S-and-So’s pocketbook rolls, or Mrs. Whosis’ white cake with almond frosting, or Mrs. Query’s green-apple custard pie, and if the supply was gone when they got there, they screamed like Indians.”

Screamed like Indians! Boy, no one would write that today.

“Early in the 1900’s there appeared a new school of thought among American cooks. This was the era when careers for women were opening up in business and in the professions and arts, so certain groups, perhaps a little oversold on career stuff, proclaimed that it was menial to cook and that women now, for the first time, had their chance to come out of the kitchen. These groups made a noise considerably larger than their numbers warranted; but they did effect a slight hush-hush about recipes and good eating in general and particular. They said it wasn’t intellectual to be interested in food, and, of course, no woman likes to be publicly labeled as unintellectual. American cooking took something of a beating during this dark period; but it is cheering to remember that, in spite of all the shouting against them, there were plenty of sensible women who simply laid low and cooked better and better, confident that the tide would eventually turn.”

Enchanting. Sophie Kerr’s essay is followed by a collection of recipes from all fifty states. None of them caught my eye to try—Denver Sandwiches, Squaw Corn, Campfire Trout, Topeka Fried Chicken, Iowa Farm Ice Cream—but it’s interesting reading and has lots of photos. In fact, the entire volume is illustrated with full- and half-page photos, as well as drawings and decorative page borders.

I am going to remember this encyclopedia the next time I want to look up information about a particular food item or term. I know I’ll not only find the information I need, but also a history lesson, and maybe a chuckle or two. It’s an excellent source of historical recipes from the first half of the twentieth century in the US. However, I don’t find the cookbook very useful when searching for a recipe, because of the organization. Who would think to look for a recipe for green beans in the “A” section, under “Sauce Amandine”, in the almond section? (In the encyclopedia’s defense, though, a detailed index at the back of the last volume helps.) Another drawback is that the recipes were written before the invention of modern kitchen conveniences: immersion blenders, food processors, and microwave ovens to name a few.

beans amandine

I decided to cook a recipe from the “Apple” section. I chose Apple Butter. Why? Well, as often happens, what I cook is determined by what needs to be used in my freezer or on my shelves. A couple months ago we were leaving for vacation and I had a lot of apples that wouldn’t keep until our return. So I cored them and cut them in chunks and froze them, thinking I’d make applesauce someday. Combined with a few aging apples on my counter, they would be great for apple butter.

I modified the recipe from the Encyclopedia of Cookery (below) quite a bit.

Apple Butter

I wanted to use my slow cooker, and I didn’t want to strain the apple mixture. Instead, I chose to blend the cooked mixture, so that I could incorporate all the flavor and fiber of the apple skins. I added ginger and nutmeg because I like apple butter spicy. Consulting one of my crockpot books and a couple online recipes to determine cooking times, I came up with a more or less original recipe, entered below.

Apple Butter

If possible, use a mixture of sweet and tart apples. This recipe makes 12 4-ounce jars.

  • 4-5 pounds unpeeled apples (about 10-12 apples), stemmed and chopped roughly
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice* (see note below)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all of the above ingredients (except the lemon) in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for about 10 hours. (This is convenient to do overnight.) At this point, you can let the mixture cool and process in batches in a food processor. Or, you can use an immersion blender to puree it right in the slow cooker.

Apple Butter in Crockpot

(At this point I feel like a witch stirring her brew. Witchery, cookery . . . why is this cookbook series the encyclopedia of cookery? No wonder I feel so at home. Here is my blog entry from five years ago, back when I was a practicing witch . . . ahem, chemist . . . )

With the lid off, turn to temperature to high and cook for 1-3 hours, stopping when the apple butter is the thickness you prefer. And taste it, adding more spices if you like. I added the juice of half a lemon to lend it a little zip. It took 2 hours for my apple butter to come to the thick spreading consistency that I like.

The apple butter will keep in your refrigerator for up to a month. I decided to can it in small 4 ounce jars to keep and to give away.

jarsI sterilized 12 of these cute little jars in boiling water, then filled them with the hot apple butter. Then I closed them with hot canning lids and set them upside down on the counter to cool.

apple butter cooling

The whole process took awhile and it really made the house smell like apples and cinnamon, especially during the overnight cook. It was all worth it! This apple butter turned out very good, and we are still enjoying it, on toast, peanut butter sandwiches, and sweet potato biscuits (cooked as per this recipe but with half the baking powder).

Note: Allspice’s definition is conveniently in the same encyclopedia volume: