Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters – A love affair to remember

Coming on the heels of Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered from Family Cookbooks, Original Journals, Scraps of Paper, and Grandmothers Kitchen, Heirloom Cooking With the Brass Sisters widens its focus from soup to nuts, beginning with appetizers such as pierogi (made with real schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat), chopped liver, and salmon mousse (if you’re thinking that this menu sounds distinctly 1950s so far, you’d be right). There are also ethnic hors d’oeuvres such as chickpea and potato cholay (an Indian stew) and caponata (a sweet-and-sour Italian spread made with eggplant in addition to the aforementioned Jewish recipes (chopped liver, pierogi). However, the appetizer selection pales next to later chapters.

Salads includes several wonderful potato salads, including a steamed sweet potato salad rich with pecans, orange marmalade, apricot jam, and a hint of heat from raw garlic and hot pepper flakes, a nostalgic candle salad (a banana stood upright in a pineapple ring and topped with a marachino cherry to look like a candle flame), and a wonderfully seasonal rice salad with cumin and walnuts that’s perfect for Thanksgiving. Sides offers up a delightful yellow squash casserole from the 1930s that’s rich with cheese and a toasty bread crumb topping, Danish caramelized potatoes (ideally served with Danish roast goose, recipe included), a fabulous zucchini cheese bake from the 1940s (the perfect way to use up your garden leftovers!), and other creative ideas for veggies (baked stuffed onions, bean salads, Norwegian potatoes, Danish red cabbage) that will be sure to please vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Soups and breads were less successful for me, but two unusual entries were the tomato peanut butter soup and Portuguese red kidney bean soup (if you’re vegetarian like me, just leave out the sausage and substitute veggie broth for this 1920s “update” on minestrone). The bread section deserves special mention (there are many other great breads in their “Baking with the Brass Sisters” book) for the dilly casserole bread (cottage cheese, onion flakes, and dill seed), Oma Geywitz’s Stollen (another standout stollen recipe can be found in Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague), and one-bowl babka (a Polish / Eastern European Jewish yeast-based coffeecake baked in a ring). You’ll also find spaetzle, Slovakian farina dumplings, and a luscious cheese bread oozing with both shredded and diced extra-sharp cheddar.

The “meat” of the book is in Home Plates, where you’ll find such household standards as Shepherd’s Pie, corned beef hash, meatloaf, sauerbraten, London broil, brisket, and Swedish meatballs alongside lamb curry, Creole veal chops, lemon chicken, stratas and roast goose. Vegetarians may feel endangered here, but the wonderful Billionaire’s Mac and Cheese (adjusted for inflation) features *four* kinds of cheese (extra-sharp cheddar, provolone, ricotta, and Parmesan), and there are other vegetarian options such as the olive tart, kugel, Welsh rarebit (cheese on toast), cheese pizza, and cheese frittata.

I found the dessert section to be weak, but after their first volume of Heirloom Baking, maybe my expectations were too high (there are dozens of fantastic vintage recipes in Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters: More than 100 Years of Recipes Discovered from Family Cookbooks, Original Journals, Scraps of Paper, and Grandmothers Kitchen). Included are a red velvet cake, a divine milk chocolate pound cake (which can be baked in a Bundt pan for easier preparation), and a chocolate angel pie with meringue crust.

Like their previous volume, the Brass Sisters are engaging, endearing narrators and doyennes of vintage cookbooks and recipes. These charming hostesses include detailed information on ingredients, useful kitchen supplies, and the most intriguing, the story behind the recipes: who their creators were, or how they found a particular recipe. There is also a chapter of blank pages for you to transcribe your own family heirloom recipes as well as a small envelope to store recipe cards in. The photography is beautiful, but the recipe photos are few and far between. Many pages are illustrated with photos of vintage baking supplies, manuscript cookbooks, and antique advertisements. The recipes are very clearly laid out, with ingredients and steps clearly marked. If there is a suggested variation or helpful note, it’s provided in a sidebar. The recipes are delicious and rewarding, although like most vintage cookbooks from the 1960s and before, “low fat” wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary, so don’t expect these recipes to be particularly healthy.

Overall, this is a wonderful keepsake that makes a perfect gift for a mother or grandmother who will remember these recipes with fondness (many of these recipes date to the 1940s-1950s). The book itself is beautifully made and illustrated, and this will become a cherished keepsake as well as a useful primer on capturing the elusive tastes of our collective past.

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