Long before the Internet and high-speed travel connected us all, The Farmers Wife magazine gave hard-working rural women a place to find and share advice about everything from raising chickens to running a farm kitchen. One of the magazines most popular offerings was advice on baking, providing farm family recipes for making everything from basic bread to much-loved holiday desserts.
The elaborate cakes and company pies, the dainties and muffins for club luncheons, the rich breads for a warming breakfast or a lunch-bucket sandwich, the profusion of pies for threshing parties, the specialties like Cornish Pasties and Danish Kranse--all are here, inviting readers everywhere to recreate the fragrant kitchens and delectable tastes of farm days gone by. Adapted for the needs of the modern kitchen, these classic recipes preserve the flavor of a life dedicated to feeding not just the family, but the nation. They offer readers nostalgia and the chance to bake in a tradition unmatched since the 1930s.
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About the Author
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
How to Use This Book-Read This First
Cookies and Bars
Bars and Cake Squares
Icings and Frostings
Pies, Tarts, and Other Pastries
Yeast Breads, Rolls, and Cakes
The kitchen is where the farmer's wife really shone. And of all the various and important tasks she performed there, it was baking that allowed her the broadest arena for expression. She could be creative in the kitchen, letting her imagination run wild over cakes and cookies and pastries of her own invention. She could show off her skill, whipping up crisp-crusted breads and fine-crumb cakes of the utmost perfection. She could exercise one of the most esteemed qualities among country women-that of thrift, using the eggs, milk, butter, preserves, and other stores abundant on any farm-while at the same time showing love and care for her family through the delectable treats she offered them with and between each meal.
The farmer's wife baked for every circumstance and occasion. She baked all the family's bread, to accompany meals, to slice for sandwiches, and, when stale, to grind for crumbs. At a time when "dinner" was called "supper" and no supper was complete without dessert, she baked tarts and pastries to follow-up roasts and stews and casseroles. She baked cookies and cupcakes to stick in her children's lunch pails. She baked dainties and muffins to serve at afternoon teas and clubluncheons. She baked elaborate cakes for birthdays and weddings. She baked simple pies in great profusion to serve at threshing parties and other large community gatherings. Through the rationing of World War I, the privations of the Great Depression, and the uncertainty of the years leading up to World War II, the farmer's wife baked what she had-sometimes absent wheat and sugar-and she baked it as well as she could.
Perhaps one of the most defining, and surprising, characteristics of the farmer's wife was her curiosity-about new techniques and also the world at large. Among the pages of this book you'll find many of the things you'd expect from the farmer's wife: cherry pies, sourdough bread, and layer cakes. But you'll also find recipes for such things as Cornish Pasties and Danish Krandse, because such things, from far-away lands, fascinated the farmer's wife, and expanded her baking universe, and often enough, reflected her own heritage; Vinegar Pie and Parkin, rarely to be found these days in baking books but once true stand-bys of the farm kitchen; and so-called Victory breads that use potatoes and cornmeal and other grains to replace or expand wheat flour, because they are poignant reminders of years past, and a testament to the durability and ingenuity of the farmer's wife.
The recipes have been reprinted here much as they appeared on the pages of the magazine. Most recipes have been taken from issues spanning 1911 to 1939, and many were written by the magazine's own readers. In their language, they reflect the curious style and manners of their times, and herein lies a great deal of their charm, and the reason I have chosen to alter them as little as possible. Anyone accustomed to reading cookbooks, and any habitual baker, will feel right at home among the pages of this book. After all, the farmer's wife was nothing if not common-sensical, and so were her recipes. Anyone new to cookbooks, and more particularly, historical cookbooks, is advised to follow the golden rule of the recipe: Read it thoroughly, start to finish and preferably more than once, before embarking. Make sure you understand the instructions and the order in which they are to be carried out; make sure you have all the ingredients at hand and assembled; and make sure to preheat your oven a good 20 to 30 minutes before you are ready to bake.
Wherever possible, I have attempted to abolish confusing, misleading, or laborious instructions. I've also substituted modern equivalents for obsolete measurements such as the gill (4 ounces), and the teacup (8 ounces). More than anything, this book wants to be used, not merely perused and admired. So, please use it! And know that as you do, you are baking up a bit of farmland history.