Friday, April 16, 2010

Vintage Cookbook Review: Plum Good


Please welcome our newest contributor, Camilla Grigsby. Ms. Grigsby will periodically review vintage Cleveland cookbooks.


You can tell a lot about the character of a community by the foods its people eat. And that's especially true when you thumb through the pages of a spiral-bound cookbook published by a church, neighbors in a small town, or the PTA of an elementary school. You can tell whether you're reading about working-class families, people with strong ethnic heritages, or housewives who actually do their own cooking. And depending on the era in which the cookbook was published, you get some idea of what kinds of foods were in vogue at the time. For instance, look at cookbooks from the 50s and 60s and take note of how many of the recipes involve gelatin. These little books are always good cultural relics, so it's nice to find them at used book shops, yard sales, and in your mom's cookbook collection.


In 1982, the Christ Child Society of Cleveland published Plum Good: A Collection of Recipes. I couldn't find much information on this charitable organization, but it seems they offered assistance to kids in the Cleveland area in the form of day camps, day care centers, and food, clothing and layette drives. Their fundraising cookbook capitalized on the popularity (or campiness?) of the city's Cleveland's a Plum campaign.


Like any other spiral-bound cookbook, Plum Good includes sections on basic categories of recipes, including Appetizers, Salads, Entrees (with a special sub-chapter on Quiches – how very early 80s), and Desserts, among others. Most of the recipes are compiled from Christ Child Society members and volunteers.


Two recipes in particular stand out as very apropos of Plum Good's era and geographic milieu: Better Than Robert Redford Cake, and Drunken Wieners. The wieners are an appetizer, and the recipe calls for catsup (note the spelling), brown sugar, cocktail wieners, and “2 cups bourbon (inexpensive type).” Because God forbid you'd spring for Maker's. (Note: I grew up in Kentucky, where anything less than Maker's is pure sacrilege). The Robert Redford cake (excuse me, it's better than Robert Redford – can you imagine any such thing in 1982?) calls for oleo, Royal Chocolate and butterscotch pudding mixes, and Cool Whip.


There are a few special sections of note following the general recipes. There's a section called “Cleveland Continental” that includes menus and recipes for meals representing many of the ethnic groups of Cleveland: Armenia, China, Hungary, Italy, and more. And there's a section called “Great Gifts” which includes recipes for candies, “Can-A-Loaf” (where you bake quick breads in various sizes of cans: coffee, shortening, tuna), and potpourri. All appropriate choices for homemade holiday gifts.


The diet section, “No” Thyself, is amusing, focusing on the “No” Thyself Diet, which seems to revolve around eating a lot of cottage cheese. The recipe for Cheese Danish, for instance, calls for lowfat cottage cheese, cinnamon and sugar substitute, canned pineapple and toast. Sounds...slenderizing.


Plum Good's true gem is its “Celebrities” section which includes recipes from Bob Hope, Howard Metzenbaum, Pauline Trigere, Phil Donahue, Mrs. John Glenn, Jan Voinovich, Fred Griffith and Dick Feagler, among many, many others. It seems the editors of the cookbook sent out requests for the various celebrities' favorite recipes and received quite a response, and most of the replies are reprinted here on their original letterhead. There's a recipe for Shirley Metzenbaum's pickles, Annie Glen's Ham Loaf, and John Lanigan's chili.


Tim Conway's is probably the best, typed on letterhead from his secretary:

“I once asked Tim about his favorite recipe, and to quote him it's this: TIM CONWAY'S RECIPE FOR STEAK AND POTATOS [sic] – take a steak and a potato, cook them, and when ready serve and eat. Now that's about the shortest recipe in history.”

The book is peppered with pictures of various Cleveland landmarks – the art museum, the West Side Market, the statute of Moses Cleaveland from Public Square along with interesting tidbits of trivia. For instance, did you know that the Flats was considered by Margaret Bourke-White to be a “photographic paradise”?


And lest you think the Plum Good cookbook wasn't written with at least a bit of someone's tongue in cheek, check out the various plum (and prune) recipes included. Almost every section has at least one. They include:

  • Teriyaki Plum Appetizers
  • Fresh Plum Daiquiri
  • Plum Nut Bread
  • Plum Kuchen
  • Fresh Plum Muffins
  • Shaker Plum Coffee Cake
  • Plum Good Spareribs
  • Sweet Sour Plum Salad & Dressing
  • Czech Plum Dumplings
  • Plums 'N Port
  • Chocolate-Almond Prunes
  • Majestic Plum Pudding
  • “I Can't Believe It's a Plum Bread in a Can"

While some of the recipes in this 1982 cookbook are a bit passé by now, the sentiments expressed in Plum Good's introductory salute to Greater Cleveland are echoed by many of the city's biggest cheerleaders today:

“A waterfront metropolis with a heartbeat of almost two million people...a melting pot of talent and human resources from every land...renowned for its universities, hospitals, museums, theatres, concert halls and recreation facilities.


Cleveland is a dowager who treasures her memories of yesterday, nurtures her ideals of today and endows her heirs of tomorrow. Our city extends untold largesse to those who are disadvantaged through the dedicated efforts of those who care.”


Camilla Grigsby earned her MLIS from Kent State University in 2006. She collects cookbooks, particularly weird ones, and enjoys partaking of Cleveland's diverse culinary heritage. Camilla lives in a Cleveland Heights Colonial and would like to sell it to you, cheap.

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