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LET’S COOK: A mystery recipe

By Staff | Jun 21, 2019

Much has been said about the power of the Internet and the ease to find recipes. But nothing compares to finding a lone, discarded recipe in a shoe box, at rummage sale, or even in the glove compartment of a car. These seemingly low-key counterparts have a rich past. Their appeal comes from the suggestive subtlety–like smudged finger prints–words written on the card such as: “this is good,” “save,” and “try again.” As a child, when I finished my paper route, it was investigation time and the setting was most regularly rummage sales and from time to time an auction sale.

While my friends were collecting baseball cards I was sleuthing out handwritten, vintage recipe cards. They frequently were placed in plastic bags, metal or plastic recipe boxes, and even sometimes tossed in with a collection of greeting cards. It became a passion with me to sort through these cards and select what I thought was a winning recipe.

Like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, my first mission was to look for clues. Not at the “The Lilac Inn” or “The Tower Treasure” but rather at the place of the sale. First, scout around to find baking pans–you know the kind that look like they have been rubbed with brown crayons. This is a dead giveaway that the abiding baker was well acquainted with the rules of noble baking. Next, search for recipes and remember they could be placed in or with unusual items. Once you have discovered the recipes in a box of old maps, study them.

Recipe cards that have been stamped like a well-used passport are the code to excellence. Impressions that note worthiness are butter, chocolate and a clear stain–oh my goodness, lard or shortening. Another clue to baking dedication is the recipe card itself. Many time recipes are written on plain recipe cards however from time to time the discovery of embossed or imaged laden cards can make one’s heart race. Favorites of mine over the years have been the blue black old fashioned cast iron cook stove, and the yellow tea kettle surrounded by a carrot, beet and an apple. And what is not to love about the introduction line “Here’s What’s Cooking” followed by “Recipe from the kitchen of:”

Oh, the suspense that comes with finding recipe cards like these can make your heart race. It is best however to remain calm and try to act not too interested. This will pay off when you approach the cashiers table! As you plop your hunches down, you often hear “oh, those old recipes,” “how about 50 cents?” Being raised in an enclave of Scandinavians and Germans who were always seeking out good recipes, I quickly paid the duty. After all, family and friends are often the motive for finding an amazing recipe. You have a clue come Sunday afternoon around the kitchen table if the bar pan is empty, keep the recipe. If the bar pan is half full, try again.

Recently I was at a sale and came across an embossed card box from the 1950s and upon opening it I discover a treasure trove of recipes. I am not usually an impulsive buyer, but this time I didn’t even hesitate. I went straight to the cashier and paid $1. I knew that with this box was real artistry that could be created with my hands, kitchen utensils and an oven. I will never master the artistry of playing Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude,” but I will create a delicious bar that could perhaps be enjoyed at the musical recital that presents Chopin’s work.

My investigation into the box was thrilling and brought forth bar recipes in a new light with radiance brighter than that of a computer screen featuring recipes. The recipe I selected was called Oatmeal Carmelettes. It looked easy to make and also healthy because of the cup of oatmeal within the recipe.

I was off to the kitchen and within a very short time I removed from the oven some very attractive bars and enjoyed some fine tasting. The recipe had on it the name of Esther Bjerke.

Investigation into this recipe led me to Casselton, North Dakota where Esther’s son, Keith lives. He responded to the inquiry with much graciousness telling about his late mother who had passed away in 2014 at the age of 94. She lived in Northwood and was a member of the well-kept, Washington Lutheran Church, rural Northwood–a traditional country church with a white steeple set against a row of pine trees. She and her husband Carl were farmers. He mentioned that “Mom was an excellent baker–especially of bread-and when her cinnamon rolls were baking you could find me running across the yard to enjoy them.”

Mystery solved and Esther’s Oatmeal Carmelettes were a hit recently at the Heritage Singers Board meeting. As you know, those gentlemen are often my taste testers for recipes. They all exclaimed “wonderful, delicious and my wife needs this recipe!”

So the next time you see a recipe card that is well stamped by kitchen use, pick it up and try it. More than likely, it will be a keeper.

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