Great-Grandma Helen’s Peanut Butter Cookies


My kitchen has been off-limits for baking lately because we’ve been keeping the house super clean in case any potential buyers decide to stop in. We’ve decided to sell our house & downsize a bit, which is really exciting and scary at the same time. But I felt like I’d been away from here too long, and got inspired this morning to go ahead and make a mess.

When I imagine peanut butter cookies, I imagine them as palm-sized, fluffy & chewy, slightly salty and VERY peanut-buttery little pieces of heaven. They’re probably my favorite cookies ever, so when I stumbled upon this peanut butter cookie recipe from Great-Grandma Helen’s collection, I knew it would be just the thing to jump back into the swing of this project.

The first thing that worried me was that the base of the cookie is shortening. Shortening sort of yicks me out, and I really don’t like the whole super-awful-for-you nature of it, plus I really love the buttery awesomeness that only butter can provide… But sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the sake of experimentation and historical accuracy, so I pulled out my can of Crisco and got to work. The recipe is super straightforward:

Cream together 3/4c shortening with 1/4c peanut butter.
Add 2c sugar
Add 3 eggs (beaten)
Add 3c flour, 1/4t baking soda, & 1c chopped peanuts.

Place 3/4″ diameter balls on cookie sheet & press flat with a damp cheesecloth stretched over the bottom of a small glass.

So for the first round of baking this rather large batch, I followed the instructions to a T. The only alterations I made to the recipe were adding a pinch of salt, because, really, what cookie doesn’t need salt? It had to be done. And also, since I didn’t have any cheesecloth around, I used the bottom of a sieve to achieve a small gridded pattern that I imagined would come close to cheesecloth.

I always bake cookies on my silpat just for ease of release and saving myself from having to cut parchment, and it worked well for this recipe, but whatever you’ve got is fine.
Because there were no specific cooking instructions, the first batch I just took a wild guess based on other similar recipes and baked them for 5 minutes, rotated the pan, and then about another 6-7 minutes until I started to see a little golden brown around the edges. I let them cool a little while so I could test their texture, and despite the fact they looked perfect and the flavor was lovely, the texture told me immediately they were overdone. The color on the bottom is REALLY subtle, but apparent nonetheless:

The second batch, I brought down to about 10 minutes total, rotating in between, and it seemed much better. Despite the fact there was no color at all on the bottom, they were slightly crunchy on the outside but still chewy on the inside. I smashed half of this round with the traditional cross-hatch fork pattern, too, just to compare. This is the color you want to see on the bottom:

My third and final oven round was doubling the size of the cookies, so going from a tiny ice cream scoop to a larger one, and baking just til the sheen disappeared: approximately 12 minutes. I also sprinkled a tiny bit of kosher salt on the tops of these to give them a little flavor punch. Also I love salt on cookies. So, the size was quite a bit larger, about 1.5″ balls to start with, flattened out to almost palm-sized like this:

I’m not at all used to peanut butter cookies looking anything like this… They are almost white, and sort of have the look of pecan sandies, but when you bite into them — especially the larger, less-cooked version, there’s no mistaking that these are simple & spectacular classic sweets. I think next time, I’ll give this recipe a shot with butter instead of shortening, just to experiment. If you try it that way, let me know how it turns out!

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Absolutely not.

I will decidedly not be making this recipe we found today. Sorry.

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Vegan Fruit (‘n Nut optional) Bread

Okay, so this isn’t a historical recipe, but it tastes as classic as anything, and was just too awesome not to share. It’s so moist and amazing, especially for being relatively healthful! It’s incredibly versatile, and it’s a perfect weeknight ‘hey, I want something sweet but not complicated and nothing that makes me have to go to the grocery store’… Just use what you have on hand; I’ve recommended some substitutions below. This is a great place to start if you’re just getting comfortable with putting your own spin on your favorite recipes.

Based on a recipe from Lois Dieterly’s Sinfully Vegan — an AMAZING resource for vegan desserts. 1 serving of this cake is huge, though, and it only sets you back about 400 calories. I am pretty happy with 1/3 of a serving and a cup of coffee. 🙂


1.5c unbleached white flour
1.5c whole wheat flour
2t ground cinnamon
2t baking soda
1/4t salt
1.5c maple syrup
1 small can (15oz) pureed pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 mashed ripe banana
4t flax powder
1/4c water
1/2c canola oil
1/2c apple sauce
1 large baking apple, peeled, cored, & diced
1c dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, raisins, whatever you have handy)
1/2c nuts (optional)

This recipe is very flexible. If you don’t have flax powder, you could use egg replacer, and if you don’t care if it’s vegan, you can use 2 eggs. If you don’t have pumpkin, you can use more bananas, and vice-versa. If you don’t have applesauce, you can use an extra 1/4c oil or some melted butter. If you love warm spiced things, double the cinnamon and add in some freshly grated nutmeg and/or ground ginger. It would be awesome brightened up with some orange zest and OJ in place of the water. Add in some English Walnuts for some extra omega 3’s, use a higher percentage of whole wheat flour for a heartier version. Use what you’ve got — including your imagination!! — and it’ll still be amazing.

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Grease a large bundt pan (or two small ones) with vegetable shortening or nonstick cooking spray.
  • Combine flours, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine maple syrup, pumpkin, banana, oil, and applesauce in another bowl. In a small bowl, combine flax powder and water. Add to liquid ingredients and comine.
  • Add diced apple and fruit/nuts to liquid ingredients and stir. Slowly add flour mixture to liquid ingredients, and fold it in slowly, just til combined (don’t stir, don’t overmix).
  • Pour batter into prepared pan(s). If using large bundt, it’ll take about 80 minutes to bake. If using small bundts, it’ll take about 45 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick inserted to the middle of the ring comes out clean. Leave in pan on wire rack for at least 10 minutes before inverting the pans & letting them cool completely on the wire rack before putting away. It’s best within the first 24 hours, but also refrigerates well (in an airtight container) for
    about 4-5 days.
Categories: Breads, Easy Peasy, Sweets | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Simplest Homemade Bread IN THE WORLD

This is really crazy. I’m going to let this recipe speak for itself:

3c self-rising sifted flour
2T sugar
1 can warm beer
1 big pinch of salt

Turn out onto a floured surface, knead quickly, put in greased pan, let rest 1 hour, bake at 375 for til golden brown on top (maybe 45 minutes?). 

Seriously? That’s all there is to it? Yes. It takes about 30 seconds of work. Try this! It’s totally worth every second. 🙂

A few tips:

  • Don’t use a beer right out of the fridge. It won’t rise as well.
  • Make sure you put your bread somewhere warmish to rise.
  • Don’t be shocked or disappointed if it isn’t, like, good for sandwiches or doesn’t slice neatly.
  • It’s an eatin’ bread, not a slicin’ bread. It’s a bit wetter than “normal” bread. And it tastes a little like beer.
  • Eat it hot, pile it up with salted butter, and you’ll flip your lid!! We couldn’t quit nibbling, and I think we went through about a stick of butter. 🙂


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Mrs. Moulton’s Chicken Loaf (Excellent)

Anything that has (Excellent) next to the title just has to be great, right?

We’re not sure who Mrs. Moulton was, but my Great Grandmother apparently liked to serve this Chicken Loaf all the time for her bridge club. The greasy fingerprints and drips tell me this was definitely a well-loved recipe. At first glance, you’d think it’d be a meatloaf substitute, or something akin to the ham loaves we made last week. But when it really comes down to it, it’s actually a classic stretch-the-meat dish — with very little actual chicken-to-mass ratio. It’s bulked up with a lot of grains (bread crumbs & rice) as well as 4 whole eggs and some chopped pimento.

The loaf itself turned out to be more casserole-ish than loaf, requiring a spoon for removal from the somewhat-inappropriate loaf pan. As for the flavor? My #2 succinctly put it, “Meh.” It was just okay.

But then you add insult to “meh”, by topping it with a really gross sauce. And the sauce itself shouldn’t be that bad, it’s just a normal white chicken gravy, but… canned mushrooms. Now, I know I don’t despise canned mushrooms in all their functions — I don’t hate canned mushrooms on pizza when it’s hiding with cheese and crust and tomato sauce, and I kind of like the jars of marinated mushrooms just for snacking on, but the canned mushrooms floating through this plain Jane white sauce were simply gut-wrenchingly gross — like little rubber erasers floating in chicken-flavored cream.

I feel a little strange publishing a recipe that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly endorse actually eating, but for the sake of history, I’ll allow it. I can almost guarantee there are more recipes on the horizon that will not actually be palatable at all, so this is a good first step down that road. It’s really interesting to consider how tastes change over time, even our own tastebuds completely regenerate and are replaced by new cells every 24 hours (it’s true!), so imagine what 100 years will do to a cultural palate. This recipe makes a lot of sense in a historical context as well, because chickens didn’t used to be mass-produced like they are today. A 4 pound chicken would’ve been a large, old bird — a “stewer” — probably not tasty enough for roasting, but would do in a context like this because it’s just chopped into little bits for flavor and not necessarily texture. We hardly ever see chickens that large these days.

In any case, it did look pretty on a plate with broccoli, but to be perfectly honest, I would’ve taken 5 pounds of broccoli over this loaf any day. If you’re brave enough to try this, or if you’re looking for a fairly decent chicken casserole (we’re just not casserole people, but I know plenty of people are), this would probably be yummy with a crunchy buttery cracker topping, and I’m willing to bet you could freeze & reheat til the cows come home (or some other old-fashioned idiom). And whatever you do, for the love of your tastebuds, use fresh sauteed mushrooms in the gravy or skip it altogether.

Mrs. Moulton’s Chicken Loaf (Questionably Decent)
If you already have leftover rice on hand, this dish comes together remarkably quickly. It’s a good use for leftover chicken & rice from the night before — and if you don’t have this much on hand, even cutting this recipe in half would still yield a decent meal for 4.

1 4lb chicken, cooked & diced
2c stale bread crumbs
3c chicken broth
1c cooked rice
1/2t salt
1/4c pimento
4 eggs, well-beaten

Mix together everything except eggs, then add the eggs.

Put mixture in two parchment-lined loaf pans (or a large, shallow, buttered casserole dish if you prefer) and bake a 325 for 1.5 hours, or til it’s brown around the edges. 

Optional mushroom sauce (my version):
Saute 2c of mushrooms til soft and brown, add in 1/4c butter & 1/4c flour, cook over medium heat til well-combined & nutty-smelling
Remove from heat and whisk in 2c of chicken broth and 1/4c cream a tiny bit at a time. Place back on heat after it’s lump-free (except for the mushrooms, of course), and stir constantly until thickened.

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Rolled Oat Bread

Making bread is exhausting. It takes forever and you feel like you’re stuck in the kitchen all day long. So when you get around to actually doing it, it’d better be worth the effort once it’s out of the oven. That said, it’s really not often that you taste a loaf of bread that makes you say, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted bread that tastes like this before.” I mean, bread is bread, right? But when you add 1/2 cup of molasses to a bread that isn’t a sweet quickbread (like maybe pumpkin bread or something like that), it lends a really unique flavor!

Here’s a brief culinary history lesson on yeast, and the mysterious “yeast cake” required by this recipe (via wikipedia):

 In 1879, Great Britain introduced specialized growing vats for the production of S. cerevisiae, and in the United States around the turn of the century centrifuges were used for concentrating the yeast, making modern commercial yeast possible, and turning yeast production into a major industrial endeavor. The slurry yeast made by small bakers and grocery shops became cream yeast, a suspension of live yeast cells in growth medium, and then compressed yeast, the fresh cake yeast that became the standard leaven for bread bakers in much of the Westernized world during the early 20th century.

During World War II, Fleischmann’s developed a granulated active dry yeast for the United States armed forces, which did not require refrigeration and had a longer shelf life and better temperature tolerance than fresh yeast; it is still the standard yeast for US military recipes. The company created yeast that would rise twice as fast, cutting down on baking time. Lesaffre would later create instant yeast in the 1970s, which has gained considerable use and market share at the expense of both fresh and dry yeast in their various applications.

2 other interesting things I didn’t realize before investigating this recipe: prior to Pasteur’s discovery that yeast is actually a living organism (around 1860), bread wasn’t made with “yeast”, it used “leaven” which you can create yourself over the course of a few days by leaving out a mixture of flour & water and waiting for yeast in the air to come feast on the paste. Talk about requiring patience! Also, apparently, yeast cake (or compressed yeast) is still available and a favorite for professional bakers because it’s quicker-acting. It’s not as widely used by home bakers anymore because its shelf life is extremely limited in comparison with its powdered counterpart (and most people just don’t bake bread all that often).

I’m a huge fan of how this old recipe worked out. Sliced thin (I had to use my electric bread knife because it came out really super soft), and with a good schmear of salted butter, it’s heavenly. Look at that beautiful top crust; golden and full of little holes. Gorgeous.

The recipe didn’t actually include cooking instructions (Gramma and I like to imagine that back when these recipes originated, you’d have to be a total idiot to not know how long to cook a loaf of bread). Instead, we just tried to recreate the most generic bread making possible: we kneaded the dough a bit even though the instructions didn’t say to (you’d have to be an idiot to not know that you need to knead bread dough, um, right? haha.) We cooked it in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. We undershot a little, and wished we’d left it in 45 (hence the softness).

So there it is. Amazingly odd tasting rolled oat molasses bread… But it really does feel like you’re eating history, something that’s truly been lost, and that is totally worth an afternoon in the kitchen.

Rolled Oat Bread
(makes 2 loaves) 

1 c oats + 2c boiling water – combine and let sit for 1 hour
 4t active dry yeast (in place of the yeast cake) + 1/2c lukewarm water – combine & let yeast soften
 1/2c molasses
1 1/2t salt (use normal iodized. If using Kosher, double it.)
1T shortening
4.5c flour
Knead gently, adding a little flour if you need to to get the dough dry enough to work. 
Let rise (in pans in a warm, draft free location)
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

Categories: Breads | Leave a comment

A Battle of Two Hamloafs

Gramma and I may have had slightly different motivations for deciding that hamloaf would be one of the first dishes we’d try to make for this project. Gramma was probably drawn to it because she really loves ham, and I’ll totally admit that most of me just wanted to try to make a hamloaf because it sounds really gross. (And, yes, I realize it’s probably two words: Ham Loaf, but “hamloaf” is so much more fun.) Who would ever (in this day and age) even think of making a hamloaf? Is it made from ground ham instead of ground beef? How is that edible? It’s like someone saying they like to eat ham salad — you know that it’s probably a thing, but nobody actually eats it.

So, in the recipe collection we are working from we found not one but two recipes for hamloaf.

The first was courtesy of Ruth H. again. Gramma’s cousin confirmed that Ruth H. was a friend and neighbor of Great-Great-Grandma Ursie, and they used to exchange recipes a lot.

Ruth’s recipe made a lot of good sense to me: if you have to have a ham loaf, you want it coated in brown sugar and mustard.

Ham Loaf (Ruth H.) 
We ended up making a half batch of this one, just so we could experiment with both recipes.

1.5lbs fresh pork
1/2lb smoked ham
2 eggs, well beaten
1c milk
1c cracker crumbs
salt & pepper
Combine everything, bake 2 hours.

Baste with the following before baking and then every 20 mins or so (heat together until blended):
3/4c brown sugar
1/2T mustard
3/4c vinegar
1/4c water 

If you’re making this one, I’ll suggest a few extra pointers from our experience:
Make 2 small loaves rather than 1 large one, it’ll cook faster & more evenly. (350 for one hour or so should get you to an internal temp of 170.)
Increase the mustard to 2T, and decrease the water in the basting sauce to just a couple of Tbsp.
Try this with a can of crushed pineapple instead of vinegar in the basting sauce — this is my husband’s family favorite for topping ham, and it’d be delicious on top of this hamloaf.
I’m sure it’s fine either way, but we decided to dump off the ham juice halfway through baking to give it a fresh start, so it wouldn’t get soggy.

Ursie’s version (written in Great-Grandma Helen’s handwriting and logged as “Mom’s Ham Loaf”) sounded not quite as spectacular, topped with “tomato soup”, but with a slightly higher ratio of ham:pork shoulder, which excited Gramma to hear.

Mom’s Ham Loaf

1/2lb ground ham
3/4lb  pork shoulder ground
1 egg
1/3c milk
1/3c breadcrumbs
Pour tomato soup on top before baking 

Bake 2 hours in a moderate oven (325-350)

If you’re making this one, here’s what I’d recommend:
Use only about 1/2 of the can of tomato soup. It’s super condensed… and the flavor can be overwhelming. And definitely do NOT add any salt to the mixture.

So… let us begin a battle of the hamloafs!

We noticed some points at which we had to guess what to do:

Our first challenge was figuring out “ground pork shoulder” and “ground smoked ham”. Gramma thought she had a meat grinder around somewhere, but I hoped/felt pretty confident it wouldn’t be too big of a deal to get the grocery store butcher to take care of that messy business for us. So we found a 3.5 lb pork shoulder (AKA Boston Butt, what you usually make pulled pork from) in the case — it was the smallest they had. We also grabbed a 1.5lb slice of smoked ham, and brought them both over to the meat window. We asked them nicely to grind up 1.5lbs of the shoulder for us, and all of the ham. They looked at us like we were crazy, and then had to ask their superiors about the ham (I think since it came from a 3rd party producer, they weren’t sure they could open the package or put it through their machines) — apparently the official answer from the boss was, “The shoulder’s no problem, but if you ask me about the ham, I’ll have to tell you no. So don’t ask me.” So, if you plan to make ham loaf, either brace yourself for a battle at the butcher, or plan to grind your ham yourself.

Side by side before mixing, they appeared fairly similar. One with breadcrumbs, one with crushed crackers. (Green = Ruth, Red = Ursie)

I mixed them up with my hands, meatloaf style, and formed them into loaf shapes in loaf pans, keeping the edges away from the sides like Gramma taught me to do with a standard meatloaf, though the recipes didn’t specify what to cook them in. America’s Test Kitchen’s meatloaf secret is to form small loaves and cook them on a cookie sheet, rather than in a loaf pan, which I suspect would work well here too.

We weren’t sure what a “mod oven” meant — a moderate temperature for our oven is 350 or so, but we decided to lowball it a little, and set the oven for 325, since the recipes called for cooking these loaves for a full two hours! (2 hours turned out to be a bit too long, we took them out at 1.5.)

We could only imagine that Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup — like, the normal old-fashioned stuff — was what the recipe was calling for, so that’s what we used.

The “basting sauce” for Ruth’s hamloaf was super runny, so we ended up just pouring it on. Also, we only had a super seedy Dijon on hand, so that’s what we used.

Also, Ruth’s pan became very full of liquid during cooking, between the sauce being poured on every half hour or so… and also the loaf itself releasing quite a bit of juice. So about an hour into cooking, I dumped the majority of the standing liquid, and basted again with the sauce I had left in the pan.

After 1 hour of cooking, both loaves were around 140 degrees internal temp, and we were aiming for a standard pork doneness of 170. I upped the oven temp to 350, and they were done in another half hour.

When they were done, I left them to sit for a little while, while I did a few other things, but I’m sure they’re great right out of the oven, too. They both sliced nicely.  The texture of Ruth’s was a bit more held-together, probably from all of the cooking liquid.

And then, for the taste test… the ultimate decision! We put it to the test by placing it in front of the world’s greatest food critics (ha): my eat-anything roommate, my picky husband, and my 3-year-old daughter! Our plates looked like this:

And then they looked like this:

After the votes were tallied, we had two votes for Ruth’s Hamloaf, and two votes for Ursie’s Hamloaf, and my 3-year-old abstained. They were both pretty good. Colin & I preferred the sweetness of Ruth’s Hamloaf, and I didn’t love the condensed tomato soup on top of Ursie’s, but Gramma & Mike decided that the tomato soup was what they liked best. So however you decide to make Hamloaf, you’ll be creating an unexpected treat: with the texture of meatloaf and the taste of ham. Who’d’ve thought?

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Creamed Spinach (a la Blackhawk)

Apparently even Great-Great-Grandma Ursie couldn’t decide which creamed spinach recipe she liked best — these two recipes were on either side of the same note card, but I did a little research, and this recipe originated as a copycat for some famous creamed spinach from a restaurant in Chicago called Blackhawk that was open from 1912-1984. I don’t think anyone knows for sure exactly how Blackhawk made their spinach so amazing, but every version I’ve found out there on the ‘net has one thing in common: bacon! Lots of bacon. And onions. And a load of cream sauce.

I would never admit to being a creamed spinach expert. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually made creamed spinach, because I don’t purport to even like creamed spinach. But this recipe, my friends, famed for generations, is absolutely divine. Nobody is claiming that it’s a health food — in fact, I’m loathe to even label it as a “veggie” recipe — but it might just be the only way you will ever get your pickiest eaters to consume frozen spinach. But also it’s just good. Here’s how we deciphered this one:

Creamed Spinach (a la Blackhawk)

8oz bacon
 (the original recipe used ground salt pork)
1 medium onion 
(we used a sweet vidalia, but you could use whatever you have handy)
2 10-ounce packages of frozen spinach
2T butter
2T flour
1.5c whole milk
1/2c cream

8oz bacon chopped fine, sauteed til brown
Add 8oz chopped onion & cook 20 minutes, til brown
Add 2 10oz packages of frozen spinach, and cook until the water is evaporated. 

While that’s working, whip up a thick white sauce:
2T butter + 2T flour, cooked over medium heat til just barely fragrant

Add 1.5c whole milk and 1/2c of cream, and whisk constantly til thickened

Once the water is evaporated from the spinach/bacon/onion mixture, stir in the white sauce. It’ll take about 30 seconds to combine.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

It’s really, really good. It’s an awesome side dish for just about anything, but I imagine it might take its rightful place on our Thanksgiving table next year.

Categories: Easy Peasy, Veggies | 1 Comment

Ruth Henning’s Date Candy

My late mom’s birthday seems like a good day to start something new. So here it is! The Old Kitchen Range’s inaugural post, and our very first success.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I did not expect to adore these like I did.

Ruth Henning was, we think, Great-Great Grandma Ursie’s friend. Or maybe her cousin. We’re not totally sure. She was around the farm in Illinois a lot. There are several recipes in her collection that are labeled (Ruth Henning) or (Ruth H.), so wherever Ruth’s descendants are, we appreciate your Great-Great Grandmother’s contribution to our collection, too.

We have all had that moment: where you take your first bite expecting one thing and experiencing something completely different — and at the same time magical.

This recipe is ridiculously easy. Totally straighforward. Ridiculously good. And did I mention, ridiculously good?

Date Candy (Though it’s more akin to a rice crispie treat with dates in place of marshmallows)

Put 1 stick of butter, 1 c sugar, & 1c dates into a pot, cook till thick, cool, then stir in 2c rice crispies. Shape into pieces (we made mini logs), then roll in powdered sugar. 

That’s it.

They’re beautiful, too, in a rustic sort of way. I can definitely see including these in my holiday cookies or serving them at a party. They are very sweet, with sugar + dates that are already sweet + more sugar on top. Sometime I might work up a healthier version with puffed brown rice and agave, but for now we’ll just enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth butteryness of these little gems.

Categories: Easy Peasy, Sweets | 2 Comments

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