Recipes & Treasure
After my mother-in-law passed away, I took home several of her old cookbooks including three different volumes on Armenian food. I started browsing one of them in earnest this past weekend, looking for something different to do with all that ground lamb from the CSA. What I found was far more than that.
It’s more like a little time capsule. This book was published by the Detroit Women’s Chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union back in 1949. It’s a lot like one of those church cookbooks with contributions from various parishioners. I was charmed by the illustrations.
Although those are the only two. It was 1949 – where did one get clip art anyway? How was it distributed? Or, did one of the benevolent Armenian ladies draw them herself? Perhaps we’ll never know. But here’s something I am glad we all know now.
Madzoon, according to this page is sour cream in a custard form. Or it is what you and I would call yogurt. Imagine the dairy case in your local megamart right now. Now imagine it without that whole gigantic section full of single serving cups, baby-sized cups in the six-packs, 2-pound containers, the ones with the candy toppings in the separate top container and the go-gurts. Hard to do, isn’t it?
Well, back in 1949, yogurt was not commercially available. In fact, as this page points out, if you indeed did wish to make some sour cream in a custard form your only course of action was to get some starter from an Armenian home or restaurant. (I bet you could have gotten some from a Greek home, but they have a different word for madzoon and there might have been some confusion. And did anyone go around asking for sour cream in custard form starter?)
My mother-in-law used to make madzoon all the time. If she ran out or didn’t keep any for starter, she went to one of her sisters or sister-in-law to get more. One day she tried some Columbo yogurt (founded by Armenian immigrants Sarkis & Rose Columbosian) and decided it was almost as good as her own and a lot easier. My husband fondly remembers drinking Tahn as described at the bottom of the page – madzoon thinned with water and served chilled. He got me totally on board with eating plain yogurt with cucumbers but drinking watery yogurt is not something I think I will try any time soon.
Besides a world without yogurt, 1949 was also a time when people just knew how to cook. I was interested in the Potato Musakka recipe wich calls for “enough flour for batter.” Within the text of the recipe the only assistance offered is “Beat the egg and enough flour to make a batter like waffle, (add milk if too thick).”
This book even includes a recipe for “sheet dough”, or what we’d call phyllo or filo dough. There are some tips for making the sheet dough and the last one says that it may seem very complicated but if you study the process first and then try in small amounts it will be as easy as making a pie. And I am pretty sure they mean that literally, so if you’re no good at pie crust it’s probably best to not even try.
Here’s a look at the cookbook committee. It was 1949 – women didn’t have first names then. Okay, they did, but they didn’t use them on such formal occasions.
Tucked inside the pages of this book are more little treasures. My mother-in-law was an avid newspaper clipper and there’s a recipe clipped from one for Chocolate Meringoons (which seem to be macaroons), a tip for cleaning your iron’s soleplate with Triple O steel wool, a note jotted on a scrap for adding corn starch to regular flour to make cake flour, and my personal favorite – a clipping entitled Why Grow Old? It features a photograph of a woman demonstrating an exercise wearing a striped & collared bodysuit and black tights.
So, thank you, ladies of the Detroit chapter – we may never know your first names, but we can remember you, and Mrs. Adams, when we cook and eat these wonderful recipes.