Dia De LosMuertos 1 - The Story Of Stew
My father cooked few things. Those few things he did cook, he did well for the most part:
Soft boiled eggs on toast (always shells to pick out),
Rice pudding (usually a little burnt on the bottom),
French fried green beans,
Pork chops with mountains of sauteed celery and soy sauce,
And beef stew.
My father's name was Frederick Stewart, his family called him Stew as a nick name. My mom called him Fred or Freddie. I therefore concluded ever so cleverly (I thought) that this dish was "Freddie-Stew". His beef stew was always a perfect peppery clovey beefy brothyness with large chucks of carrots and potatoes and beef.
My mother and I would go to church and my father, the agnostic, would nap, tend to his plants, and cook Sunday dinner. We would come home to the heavenly scents of beef stew and fresh baked bread. He used those ready-to-bake, frozen loaves of dough, but they still smelled wonderful. He would brush the top with butter and sprinkle with a coarse salt and turn that bad boy out on a wooden cutting board. Usually only half the loaf was left at dinner time.
That fresh bread and a bowl of beef stew felt like a golden ticket reward for enduring the long church service and the scritchy scratchy hugs from tweedy and woolen women and stiffly starched old men. Needless to say I probably didn't get what I was "supposed" to out of these Sunday outings.
On this day, as I am reflecting on those who have walked before me, I am wanting to honor and pay tribute to my ancestors in ways that feel right and good to me. I am making beef stew today. And, instead of tooling around Pinterest and giving you a bunch of links to check out, I'm rolling back the time on the clock of the world.
I still have my father's first cookbook, well, his only cook book. He told me it was his "bachelor days" cookbook. It is the Culinary Arts Institute, Encyclopedic Cookbook, first published in 1950, this "New and Revised Edition" is from 1962.
This book has all sorts of tips and tidbits from how to care for your automatic refrigerator to proper storage of the milk delivery. Chapters named with titles such as "Your Soups and Chowders", "Your Leftovers", "Your Dairy Dishes", and "Your Quick Dinners for the Woman in a Hurry" speak to the apparent audience for this tome of kitchen wisdom.
In fact, in the introduction, one of the goals of this book is for it to have "...a light touch, a sense of humor, a flair for the clever idea in cooking and serving that results in something called style, but above all a feeling for the kind of beauty that women want about them in their work-a-day world."
From the Introduction
It's also a sign of those times that it lists no less than 99 items (categorized as extras for efficiency, miscellaneous, and gadgets) after the essential 54 (rolling pins, bowls, pans, whisks, and the like) needs for the kitchen!
Now, I just don't see my father being the one to embrace cooking in this fashion. In fact the only recipe for beef stew that is featured in this book uses the pressure cooker. So I wonder how much use this book actually got in his hands. My dad's beef stew was very simple. Like him. It consisted of a few good ingredients that when blended together made a quality, delicious stew.
Since I didn't see the beef stew recipe that I was accustomed to in my father's bachelor book, I then consulted the other cookbooks that are at my fingertips.
My mother, unlike Daddy, was an entertainer and home-chef extraordinaire. As a result, I was left with an extensive selection of cookbooks. Everything from a 1967 "Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle, and Beck to the twelve-volume "Encyclopedia of Cookery" by Woman's Day from 1966 (I am missing a few).
Yes! I really do have a bachelor cookbook!!
The stew definitely was not something from Julia Child, (although "Julie and Julia" have me really wanting to try making beef bourguignon!! Just not today.) Some of the recipes in the other books featured everything from bacon, yams, dried mustard, chili powder, peas, green peppers and turnips. None of these were fitting the bill.
I finally stumbled on what appears to be the basis for the recipe in one of the older ring bound Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbooks (its definitely not the beef stew featured in their "updated for the 90's" edition which uses instant bouillon, vegetable cocktail, and all manner of dried herbs and quick things.)
It is a very simple combination of pan browned chunks of stew beef, simmered until tender in water with some Worcestershire sauce, onions, potatoes, carrots, cloves, pepper, bay leaves, garlic, paprika, and that's about it. Knowing my father, the garlic and paprika did not even make it into the pot that would have been too complicated. He could just handle tossing a few peppercorns and cloves in the mix. And my mom would actually salt the stew and thicken it once she got home.
Now I realize that what I have always thought of as my father's stew, my "Freddie-Stew", came about more likely from my mother telling him what to do with it while she was gone. But that's okay. I still love that it is associated with him preparing our family meal on Sunday afternoons.
Back to the bachelor cook book. The last clue to its short-lived success may be the phone number scribbled in the front cover in my mother's hand: UN3-9214 for Chinese Village take out. :-)
My Freddie-Stew turned out delicious!! I made a mini crusty loaf of bread with some butter.
Bonus Dia De Los Muertos shout out my father and grandmother, Lottie Isabelle. Rice Pudding!! Although I did put my twist on it (Chia-Rice pudding with golden raisins, dried cranberries, and orange zest) and did it in a hot water bath so it didn't burn! Yummmmm.
Father's Day 1969 - dig my dots!!
Ashe!! All thanks and praises. Although I know you're watching, it would have been so nice to break bread and sup stew with you again.