The Holiday Menus Are Settled

Author Photo
By Sheila Julson

While planning yummy eats for Christmas and New Year’s get-togethers, I use a number of different cookbooks and online sources for researching new and unique recipes. However, one book that has been right under my nose, yet has eluded me, is my mother’s copy of The Settlement Cook Book, fifth printing, copyright 1965. She received the harvest gold, clothbound edition as a wedding shower gift in 1969.

Mom lent to me her worn, stained edition of the book with its cover held on by a vertical strip of clear carton tape. Little figures in long gowns and chef’s hats dance across the bottom of the cover. At the proclamation of “The way to a man’s heart” on the cover page, I braced myself for some antiquated recipes and instructions.

As I read the preface and researched the history of The Settlement Cook Book, I was pleased to learn it has progressive origins that began right in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A neighborhood house called The Settlement provided a resource center for European immigrants seeking assistance with learning English and citizenship, cooking, and sewing. A dedicated Settlement volunteer and social reformer, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Black Kander, ran the cooking classes and came up with the idea of printing the lessons and recipes, rather than having the students laboriously copy the recipes and instructions repeatedly. The book could also be sold to raise funds for continued Settlement operations.

The men of the Settlement board scoffed at the idea of spending money – $18 – on such a project, so Kander and her fellow volunteers began raising the money to print the book on their own. In April 1901, the first copies of The Way to a Man’s Heart…The Settlement Cook Book rolled off the presses.

OK, so that’s where the “way to a man’s heart” came from.

My mother’s 1965 edition contains diverse recipes from many cultures, as well as vegetarian (yes!) recipes and a section dedicated to serving persons with special dietary needs or restrictions.

The cake baskets sounded fun: make sponge or cupcakes in muffin tins and when cooled, cut off the tops, make a well inside each one, and fill with berries or ice cream.

Petits Fours … hmm. I like to cook and bake, but I confess that I do not have the time or patience for those. Maybe in the future.

While I skipped the haggis, hominy grits, steamed raisin puff, and fig pudding, those dishes still intrigued me in the sense that they shed much light on our history of food and using what ingredients were available at the time and in the regions from where the recipes originated.

A pea and nut-based vegetarian loaf recipe caught my attention, and it made me reconsider paying several dollars for the tiny meatless holiday loaves I buy at my local health food co-op. Sections dedicated to low fat, low cholesterol, and “invalid cookery” for those on liquid or soft diets showed how, even in 1965, people were attempting to become more educated and inclusive in the diverse universe of food.

I spent nearly two hours going through the book cover to cover, as I found it a great resource to learn of past food traditions, and it was full of advice useful today, especially for those who want to avoid processed food. The cheddar cheese sticks, Russian tea, and sparkling wine punch I made with recipes from The Settlement Cook Book were hits this holiday season, and I’ll likely borrow the book from my mother more often.

Happy Holidays, and cheers to a healthy and bountiful 2014!

Published on Dec 30, 2013