From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let's Cook

1950s 4H recipe book for beginning cooks


In 1959, I joined the Rose Scouts 4-H Club and signed up for my first 4-H project: Let's Cook. To complete the project, I had to prepare each of the following, two times:

Cocoa and Cinnamon Toast
Fruit Desserts (Ambrosia or Apple Crisp)
Raw Vegetable Plate and Sandwiches
Cookies and Lemonade
Hamburgers

As you can see, the cover art on the Let's Cook booklet  is slightly misleading. None of the recipes in the booklet required the use of a rolling pin.

The girl looks cheerful, though. She's dressed for the job. and she knows what she's doing with the various utensils on her work surface. Utensils were very important in Let's Cook. They were listed in every recipe right beside the ingredients.

I was 8 years old, the summer that I completed the Let's Cook project. My mother was in the hayfield most of every day, mowing. Grandma Nora was staying with us to help with the cooking and housework and to watch my sister and me.

In the afternoons after the dishes were done, Grandma Nora and I had some fun and excitement with the Let's Cook booklet. I had fun, and Grandma tried to keep me from getting too excited.

Grandma had her own ideas about some of the techniques in the book. She wasn't too adventurous. She didn't approve of sifting flour, cocoa, and such onto a square of waxed paper; she insisted on sifting it into a bowl. She didn't see any need to squish a stick of butter into a measuring cup, when she already knew it was half a cup.

The booklet had a short list of procedures for washing dishes. It didn't seem very important to me, but Grandma thought dish-washing was part of every recipe. "Cleaning up the mess is half of it!" she told me, again and again. Grandma's been gone since 1980, but when I'm working in my kitchen, I still hear her saying those words.

The oatmeal cookie recipe in Let's Cook became my favorite recipe to bake for a year or two. Then I discovered that I could make the cookie recipes in my mother's cookbooks, and I forgot about the simple little recipe in my 4-H booklet. Mama was more adventurous about letting me experiment in the kitchen than Grandma was, even though she wanted me to clean up my messes, too.

In the next ten years, I completed six more food preparation and preservation courses in 4-H. I still have their booklets, too. but Let's Cook is the one that I remember with affection.

"Cooking is an adventure. It's fun to put together shortening and sugar and flour and turn out yummy cookies. It's exciting to see how meat and vegetables and salad become supper on the table... "


(Opening sentences of Let's Cook, an undated, unattributed publication of the University of Nebraska Extension Service, circa 1959.)

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.