Tuesday, September 16, 2014

History -- on the backs of old recipes

Last night was yet another exercise in insomnia. But -- it turned out to be a delightful fun time to indulge my inner history geek!

After finally coaxing my mother to sleep (another topic for another post or two), I was tightly wound-up and irritated, and wondering if I was going to be able to be alert for the work crews, who continue to valiantly press toward completion of the bathroom.

Oookay, rather than lying on the sofa (my regular sleeping place for the past eight months or so--another long story)and feeding my gotta-get-to-sleep urgency, I put the time to good use. The Vietnam Veterans of America were due in the morning for another pick-up. In preparation for the next planned chaos--the kitchen demo--I've been thoughtfully culling through the cupboards and drawers. There's lots of vintage kitchen utensils that I'll probably seldom use, if ever. When I pick up one of them, however, the memories of my grandmother or mother using them for everyday or holiday meals come flooding back, in the form of visual and even olfactory (a fancy word for smell)recall. These tools form a huge part of my own personal history, and so I can't bear to part with any...when the kitchen is redesigned, I just have to make room for these things...for another fifty years of family history...

So, back into the drawers went the old Christmas cookie cutters, the potato masher, the whisk, for decades-more of reprieve.

What did get ruthlessly packed into the VVA boxes included a set of china that I never liked; a plastic cup with "West Side Story" on the side, from a date at the Pantages Theater (because of the jerk-ex-boyfriend of which it reminded me); a wall dispenser for paper cups that has been hanging, unused, over my current kitchen sink; and some artificial flowers that will have no place in the new bathroom decor. Purged! What a relief!

With those boxes pushed out onto the porch with all my might, and my hands aching from the effort, I turned my fascination to the metal recipe box--approximately a foot-plus long, and stuffed with what I first thought were only index cards written in my paternal grandmother's curly turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cursive. Again, I'm not a culinary enthusiast, and my first impulse was to simply add this to the to-go pile.

Hey, it was nearly 1 AM, and it seemed I wasn't going to nod off any time soon. Where was the harm in taking a look at these recipe cards, most of which I'm sure contained recipes my grandmother wrote down, but never tried? Maybe that will provide the necessary boredom to induce sleep.

Tucked among the cards, to my fascination, I found a large number of clippings from the Buffalo Evening News (now simply the Buffalo News). I've tried my best to scan these -- and one I tried to enlarge a bit.

What riveted my attention were not the ingredients for rhubarb pie or Lobster Newburg, but the printing on the back of each one. Each one was like those holes that kids used to peer through fences -- tantalizing bits that made me imagine what had been cut off. There were only a few dates, but the names of famous people made me realize just how important the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN (930 AM) were to my parents and grandmother. Kenmore, the small village just outside Buffalo from where my family made its way to California in 1963, was very small, and these media were vital to keeping local folks current. These were bits of the mosaic of who my family was--and what went into making me who I am, even today.

This ad for the "new Brillo pads" looks like something that fed the 1950s housewife archetype -- cue the music from the "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes.

Again, because it was the recipes that were being cut out, much of the text on the back was eliminated. But you can see evidence of how WBEN-TV Channel 4 teamed up with the newspaper to inform folks of the meeting of then-Vice President Nixon and then-Senator Kennedy. Also, one some night or another, "Herbert Hoover" was "honored tonight." Because we have a recipe for "Beets in Orange Sauce" on the back, we won't ever know more than that. Lowell Thomas contributed to the airwaves. Lady Olive Baden-Powell, head of the Girl Guides, visited the Girl Scout Council of Buffalo. And, in recognition of more serious issues of the times, we could read that the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was taking a stand against integration of the public schools...

Below, more ads. Does anyone of my generation remember Ivory Snow? As far as Musterole goes, a Google search informed me that it was the predecessor of Vicks VapoRub. The guy reaching out of his 1960 Rambler almost looks like he's using a drive-up ATM. And below the L & M cigarette ad, there's a fine-print blurb for a "$20,000 Westinghouse Vacation Home, "with built-in Westinghouse kitchen, Spacemates laundry equipment and clean, comfortable baseboard electric heating for carefree vacation living." I could see Don Draper from Mad Men hanging his hat here.

Below is the thing I tried to enlarge a little, but I'll help you 1950s car enthusiasts out here. These ads were mostly from dealerships, but there were a few private-party transactions. Among the offerings; 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertibles, 1958 and 1959 Impalas, and a 1959 Mercury coupe convertible going for $1300.

In the late 1950s, TV was still in its infancy, so radio was still the way to pass an evening, or provide the backdrop to a party. We could count on Roy Rodgers, Bob Hope, and dramas like "The Whistler" to fill the void. WBEN provided all this to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area:

As a nod to my Buffalo origins, and love for all things historic, I have also added WBEN, Reminisce Magazine, and Buffalo (Evening) News to my Twitter and "liked" Facebook pages. It was, in the end, a pretty good night.
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