How to: Adapt Old Family Recipes

Many of us have old family recipe books, and if you've experimented with the recipes you'll know how difficult — and fun — it can be to try to replicate them. My Great–Great Grandmother, Abigail Billings Smith, was a virtuoso natural cook. Her daughter passed these down through the generations, and my mother still talks "story" about her gandmother's cooking and how she would pull hot pans out of the oven with her bare hands.
— Clay Ide



Grammie, as I knew her, didn't use recipes — she had them memorized. She did all of her cooking on a large, cast–iron wood–burning stove. The stove was re–kindled 4 a.m., then she would begin her day cooking a large breakfast. She continued her day, cooking off and on, all day, every day, except Sunday.

The four recipes included, are my favorites, but also classic New England recipes from 1877. I believe Grammie's mother, Abigail, wrote these recipes to teach them to her while she was a little girl (she lived to 95). However, I know she added the charming drawings of local friends and family over the recipes and on blank pages.

To adapt old recipes, you need a bit of creativity — often, old recipes contain no measurements, temperatures, or specifics of any sort. They also sometimes contain ingredients like lard, which most modern cooks avoid. Try to get as close as you can with modern ingredients. Keep in mind, with ingredients like butter and eggs, and it's best to use only farm–fresh and whole milk.

Baking was done in a woodstove, roughly 325º F, and items where baked slowly, for a long period of time. For a modern oven, try using heavy, old–fashioned ceramic cookware that retains heat, and a water bath to help soften the oven and regulate heat.



Rice Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1⁄3 cup rice
  • 1–2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

  • Combine ingredients and bake for two or three hours.

Indian Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 8 medium–sized tablespoons coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1 cup blackstrap molassas
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 11–2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar, beaten with 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Optional raisins or currents

Preparation:

  • Beat eggs with sugar.
  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Bake one hour or several hours in an earthen dish.

Tapioca Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons tapioca
  • Lukewarm water
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • Salt
  • 4–5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 egg whites, separated from yolks
  • 4 tablespoons pulverized sugar

Preparation:

  • Soak 3 tablespoons of tapioca overnight, in lukewarm water as directed on package.
  • In the morning, combine tapioca mixture with whole milk in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
  • Stir in a pinch of salt and four to five tablespoons of sugar.
  • Add the egg yolks and let come to a boil again.
  • Simmer to thicken, stirring constantly.
  • Pour into a pudding dish. Beat egg whites to a froth and add four tablespoons of pulverized sugar over the top.
  • Bake until light brown.

Lemon Jelly Cake

Ingredients:

Lemon Cake
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2⁄3 cup sweet milk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2⁄3 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 2⁄3baking powder
  • Preparation:

    • Stir all together and bake.


    Ingredients:

    Jelly for Cake
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1cup sweet milk
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preparation:

  • Stir all together and boil to thicken.