Cooking In the 1930′s Part II

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Chocolate and Mashed


Previously, I showed you photographs of the worn and ragged Rumford Cookbook that served as my grandmother’s journal and recipe collection. She evidently never cooked out of the book, but used it to record family events and geneologies and favorite recipes which consisted almost totally of desserts! Now I know where I get my sweet tooth.


It is a precious thing to have this book with my grandmother’s writing scribbled throughout, but to make it even more special, my father, who will be 84 on July 4th, wrote a book about his early life in Missouri and his experiences in Germany during the WWII era and it includes the story of the Rumford Cookbook. Dad’s book is a volume of memories that I can pass on to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren in a way that my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles will never be forgotten. They will always be alive in words and photographs.

Here is an exerpt from the book that I thought you might enjoy:

According to the old saw, some people eat to live, meaning they aren’t particular about what they eat or how it is prepared. Well, I think it is fair to say my family “lived to eat.” We enjoyed food!! It may not have been prepared in a fancy way, but it was fixed with love. Don’t ask me why but the folks said “fixed” instead of “prepared” as in “I’ll have supper fixed directly.” Mom, Grandmother Hightower and other members of the family prided themselves on being good cooks and well they should. Light rolls were high and light. Fried catfish was crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. Steak was tender enough to cut with a fork. And who could stop with just one piece of red devil’s food cake with fudge icing?

It may seem strange to write about a cookbook but Mom’s Rumford Cookbook was no ordinary cookbook. It served as the almanac in which the first snow of the year or some unusual weather was recorded. It was a family history with a listing of family members’ birth dates. And it was the diary in which family members wrote memories. I wrote in it about bringing Pegg home in January 1950 while Lois wrote about being with the folks at a Christmas, telling what Mom was cooking and how good the fudge was. Oh yes, it was also a recipe book in which Mom put her favorite recipes…The Depression was very deep during the thirties but as we had the grocery store, we never worried about having enough food. I said one time that I wasn’t fussy about what I ate so I always ate what Mom put on the table. What I didn’t add was her belief that food should be enjoyed so she fixed what we liked to eat just the way we liked it…

Our week day breakfast was usually grapefruit or cantaloupe (whichever was in seson) toast, bacon, hot or cold cereal and coffee. I started drinking coffee when I was about four years old and about all the milk I got was on cereal. We ate a lot of oatmeal in winter and cold cereal in summer. I can still hear the sound of Dad crushing Post Toasties with his hands after pouring some into the bowl. Sometimes Mom fixed waffles or pancakes – we called them hotcakes. And she always heated the syrup for them. We seldom ate eggs but when we did, we either fried them or made scrambled egg sandwiches. I liked to take scrabled egg sandwiches in my lunch at school. One of my favorite sandwiches in summer was a bacon and tomato sandwich. Mom made mush out of corn mean and hot water. Sometimes we ate it right then and other times Mom left it to set overnight to congeal. The next morning, she sliced it very thin and fried it in bacon drippings until it was crisp. Some people called it “poor man’s bacon.” I called it good!”

Guess what I used to take to school in my lunch box too! Yep. Scrambled egg sandwiches with a little mayo and lettuce. Can’t believe we didn’t die of salmonella!!

Reading through the tattered Rumford Cookbook, I found three recipes for devil’s food cake in Grandmother’s writing and one of them was for the Red Devil’s Food cake that my dad mentions. However, there was another recipe that looked so curious, I had to make it to see how in the world it would turn out. This cake includes mashed potatoes!! And Grandmother had a bad habit of just writing down ingredients with no instructions, so I just did what I thought would work. It is a curious cake indeed and it looks like something straight out of Little House of the Prairie! I have to remember that cakes baked in the “old days” were much heavier and denser than our packaged cakes of today and this particular one is too. But it has a good flavor and Mr. Fix-It tried it topped with fresh strawberries. He said it was like eating chocolate covered strawberries! So here you go…potatoes and cocoa all together in one confection from the 1930′s!

Devil’s Food Cake

1/2 cp butter
2 cups sugar
5 tsps cocoa
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 eggs, separated (beat whites to fluffy)
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half)
2 tsps vanilla
1 cup nuts
2 1/2 cup flour
4 tsp baking powder

2 squares chocolate
2 cups sugar
2 tbsps syrup (I assume Karo White but I used plain old pancake syrup and it was great)
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half)
2 sticks butter
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar to thicken if needed

Printable Recipe


Cream sugar and butter until fluffy


Separate eggs and place egg whites into a bowl to be whipped.


Add yolks to the sugar and butter mixture and mix


Add potatoes and beat


Add cocoa and milk and mix thoroughly


Add vanilla


And nuts..I used English walnuts, but pecans would be great too.


Add the flour that is mixed with the baking powder. Now here, I will caution that because of all of the different flour types, the 2 1/2 cups may be too much with certain types. If you grind your own wheat and are using a soft, white wheat pastry flour, you will definitely not need the full amount. I suggest that you add the flour 1/2 to 1 cup at a time until the consistency is smooth and not too dry. This batter is not a thin batter like we are used to with boxed cakes. It is almost the consistency of whipped icing.


Beat the egg whites until stiff and fluffy


Fold in the egg whites with a spatula by gently turning the batter over on top of the whites again and again until the egg whites are incorporated into the batter.


Divide the batter equally between two greased and floured 9″ round cake pans. Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 30 – 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick or sharp knife to make sure it comes out clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Check at 30 minutes and if it is not quite done add a minute at a time.


Invert cakes onto cooling racks and allow to cool


Meanwhile, place two squares of Baker’s Chocolate into a 1 1/2 quart saucepan.


Add sugar and milk or half and half and stir, with a whisk, over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat and, continually stirring, as the chocolate melts and the mixture comes to a low boil.


Stop stirring mixture and allow to boil for 2 full minutes.


Remove from heat and add butters and vanilla. Stir until butter is melted and incorporated. Cool until the icing becomes hard. Stir to whip to spreadable consistency. If you want a thicker spread then you feel you are getting, add powdered sugar, 1/4 of a cup at a time until you reach the consistency you want.


I like to place my bottom layer of the cake onto a piece of wax paper. Then, I can slide the cake onto a cake plate after I am finished icing, for a nice, clean look. Ice the top of the bottom layer of the cake with a thick layer. Place the top layer of the cake onto the bottom layer and make sure they are centered on top of one another.


Ice the tops and the sides of the cake


Garnish with a strawberry or chocolate shavings.


Of course, I had to use my vintage cake cutter that I found at an antique store. It is just like the one that I grew up with that my mom used to cut her cakes. It beats a knife to smithereens!! The cake is tasty, especially with strawberries and the longer it sits, the more most it seems to get. Next time, I’ll do the Red Devil Food Cake that Dad talked about and we will see what it is like!

Happy Baking!

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13 Responses to “

Cooking In the 1930′s Part II

  1. frankie says:

    Just got around to reading your blog. I have Momma’s cookbook that she got from her mother when she got married! Oh, what a joy it was to find and read that!
    I also have a collection of recipes from 1930-1940 that were published in the Daily Oklahoman under the byline of Aunt Susan…My uncle ran/owned the hardware store in Cushing. They sent me a copy of the cookbook that they stocked. What a fun it is to look through and read the recipes and comments!
    I don’t buy any new cookbooks, those recipes I can get off the is the old cookbooks with all the cook’s notes that i like to find and get.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing that, Frankie!! You are so right. It’s the old ones with the cooks notes that are so precious. I have to admit that some of the dishes are a little odd, like in the Rumford Cookbook, Fried Fish Balls, but they are fun to try out of curiosity! Thanks for reading.

  3. Jennifer says:

    You’re killing me! That looks SO good. I am enjoying this series! You’re sharing a wonderful history. Jennifer in western NC (PS hope your photo woes are solved – mean people, sheesh)

  4. So far, so good with the photos, Jennifer. So glad that you are enjoying the posts!! Thank you so much for commenting and reading.

  5. Candy C. says:

    How fun to have those old recipes and to actually make them! The cake looks wonderful and I love your old fashioned cake cutter and dishes! :)

  6. Herdog says:

    When I saw chocolate and mash potatoes I instantly thought it had to be my grandma’s Easter egg recipe. Nope! I guess ‘olden days’ use mashed spuds (potatoe starch?) in a number of recipes.

    Grandma’s Easter eggs are like those big chocolate covered creamy fondant type eggs we use to get in our Easter baskets. I ALWAYS got the fruit and nut one and could never talked my brothers into trading! It’s an easy recipe to make and my girlfriends and I get together b/4 Easter to make these to fill our families baskets and tummys.

    That cake does look yummy and thank goodness for our Grandma’s Love…I mean…Books.

  7. I wish I had invented that cake cutter, Candy. It is just the best thing every invented. I wonder if they still make them today? There is just nothing like them.

  8. Oooo! Herdog, share? share? :-) Yep, Mr. Fix-It liked that cake pretty good, especially with strawberries! And yes, thank goodness for our grandmothers. I hope someone looks back one day and says that about me!!

  9. Rena says:

    Another great story! and recipe! I loved reading your Dad’s excerpt. Great stuff!

  10. [...] sure you do not over bake. Invert pans onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely. Ice with recipe in the last post or use your own. Here’s something neat. I am keeping the cake in my [...]

  11. carynverell says:

    i have not tried this cake recipe yet but i will be soon…and guess what! i will be serving that cake on my good china which is just like the china you are using in the photo…it is such pretty china and the chocalate cake looks really good on it.

  12. Don’t you love those dishes? I like to serve tea in the footed cups because they are so dainty! :-) So have fun serving on your lovely dishes and good luck because you are entered!