Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beatrice Stephens and Her Mint Recipes

Recently I purchased a copy of an old, used cookbook. Remember how I was crowing on and on about the Good Housekeeping Cook Book of 1949? Well, soon after writing that earlier post, I found a copy of the first edition of that book, copyright 1933, and the nice people at Eureka! Books in Mount Vernon, Maine (selling via Alibris), sent it to me without delay. (And yes, they were indeed nice!)

As soon as the package arrived, I grabbed it and an O’Doull’s, carried them out to the backyard, and plopped down in one of our big Adirondack chairs to give my lovely new/old book a nice once-over.

And if you’ve had much experience looking at used cookbooks, you know that they often include bonus treasuries of handwritten recipes and notes by the previous owner. And my copy of the 1933 Good Housekeeping Cook Book is no exception! What a treat!

First off, in the front endpapers is the name of the cookbook’s first owner:

Beatrice E. P. Stephens
21 Academy St.
Auburn, Maine

February 12, 1934
2 years to G.H.

Yeah . . . I Google-mapped the street address, and according to the “street view,” it looks like Beatrice’s house is no longer standing (unless they’ve renumbered the addresses on that block). There is a convenience store on the corner, and next to that is a large patch of big trees, including some Norway spruces among some deciduous species, and a place in the sidewalk curb where a walkway to a house must have been. The “academy” is apparently still there, down the street, but I guess her home is gone.

Shoot. Sometimes, a little Internet sleuthing yields some intriguing information, but no, I wasn’t able to find anything on Beatrice herself. And I have no idea if “Stephens” would have been a maiden or married name, of course, either. So who knows.

I did find one possibly interesting link, where a guy named David Stephens claimed to be abducted by aliens in 1975 near Oxford, Maine. His hypnosis sessions wherein he described the incident were witnessed by his father and mother, Gene and Beatrice. How about that! Wonder if it’s the same people. Oxford isn’t very far away from Auburn—ten miles, maybe.

However, David was twenty-two at the time of his abduction, meaning that Beatrice would have given birth to him ca. 1953, and if our Beatrice was starting to get Good Housekeeping in about 1932, that’s a long time between young adulthood and having a kid. Oh well. Probably different people.

Anyway, the Beatrice Stephens who owned this cookbook left several Depression-era recipes of her own in her clean, cursive fountain pen and in pencil, including: French Dressing; Sour Cream Dressing (“on a cucumber & scallion salad!”); Fish Chowder; outlines for four different salads; a list of spices to use when boiling smoked shoulder or ham; a list of sandwich fillings; and a recipe for donuts.

But she must have loved mint the best, because she wrote down several recipes for mint sauce, mint vinegar, mint punch, etc. I transcribe these for you now.

(I wonder: If you were to go to the location of 21 Academy Street in Auburn, Maine, and look around in that overgrown, foresty patch of land, do you suppose you would find a nice patch of spearmint persisting after all these years? I wonder.)

Mint Punch
Crush 12 sprigs fresh mint
add: 1 c. sugar
---- 6 oranges
---- 3 lemons, & stir well
Set 2 hours, pour over ice in bowl. Add 2 qts. ginger ale.

Mint Punch #2
4 Tbspn. fresh mint, chopped
2 " sugar syrup
2 " lemon juice
1 " orange juice, and set 2 hrs.
Strain; add 1 qt. ginger ale.

Mint Punch #3
Boil together for 8 min.
1/2 c. water, 1/2 c. sugar. Cool.
Mix 1 c. fresh mint, cho.—
juice of 2 lemons
-------- 3 oranges
1 pt. pineapple juice
1 qt. weak tea
1/2 t. to 1 c. bo. water (add water to make 1 qt.)
Stand cold place 4 hours or overnight.
Strain—add 2 qts. ginger ale
Makes about 1 gallon.

Mint Sauce #1
Chop 1/4 c. mint leaves & add to 1/2 c. hot vinegar with a little (1 T) sugar.

Mint Sauce #2
1 c. currant jelly, 2 t. mint, finely chopped, 1 t. grated orange rind. Break jelly with fork. Lamb.

Green Mint Vinegar
Bring to boil 1 qt. pure cider vinegar.
Add 1 c. gran. sugar &
1 pt. of spearmint leaves & young tips
Stir & crush
boil a few minutes.
Strain & bottle hot in glass jars.
For Iced Tea & Fruit Punches, basis for Mint Sauce, sparingly in lettuce & cress salads.

Minted Iced Tea
1 1/2 t. tea for ea. c. freshly boiling water.
Steep 5 min.—add a few crushed mint leaves.
Strain cool & chill in ref.
Cracked ice—lemon slice & mint sprig.

So this seemed a fitting post for today, since they’re predicting our weather will soon become more seasonal (which is to say, roastingly, braisingly hot), and mint has the marvelous property of making your mouth feel cool.

Also, mint has long been used as a mild remedy for digestive upsets, and since my dad is recovering from an acute and completely uncalled-for compulsory gastroenterology seminar this week, I’m prescribing mint tea for his tummy.

(One final note, an interesting connection: Beatrice Stephens acquired her cookbook in 1934, the year my dad was born. That summer was one of the hottest on record in North America. No wonder Beatrice was scribbling down recipes for mint tea and mint punch!)

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