Friday, February 8, 2008

A Toast To The Ladies

"Can you really cook or do you just write well about food?"
Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery

"Picture it..." 1946. Wartime America. Three beer toting, audacious, elderly women: Mrs. Feeley, Mrs. Rasmussen, and Miss Tinkham frolicking around a junk yard, (named Noah's Ark) surrounded by a wall constructed entirely out of beer cans, in Los Angeles no less. No, this is not a flashback from the archives of The Golden Girls. It's Suds in Your Eye the first novel written by Mary Clyde Grayson Lubbock Lasswell Smith. (Mary Lasswell) Click a look at this presentation; a modern day sort of "flashback."

The following is from the publication Women's Humor in the Age of Gentility which includes The Domestic Humor of Mary Lasswell by Professor Linda A. Morris.

Mrs. Feeley, Mrs. Rasmussen, and Miss Tinkham (as they always called each other), came together during the early days of World War II, after each has fallen on hard times, and defied all conventional notions of how old people, especially old women, are supposed to behave. Their sense of collaboration, their collective ingenuity, spirit of adventure, and disregard for the dictates of polite society, allows them to overcome the financial woes that befall them in a wartime economy. Mrs. Feeley, proud owner of a junkyard, takes the other two women into her one-room house when their finances, or families, fail them. Miss Tinkham, spinster music teacher, adds a touch of class to the trio, while Mrs. Rasmussen cooks them all delicious but frugal meals, which they wash down with quantities of cold beer. source

Mary Lasswell

Lift up your glasses. Today is the birth date of Mary Lasswell Smith. Mary Lasswell was an author whose humorous novels about life in Southern California and Texas were popular in the 1940's and 50's. In the 1960's she was an editorial writer for the Houston Chronicle. Suds in Your Eye was followed by five more adventurous books about the same three charming characters along with a cookbook of Mrs. Rasmussen's recipes. Among Mary Lasswell's other books were High Time "ladies get involved in the war effort" (1944), Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery (1946), Bread for the Living (1948), One On The House "saloon adventures in Brooklyn and Newark" (1949) Wait for the Wagon (1951), Tooner Schooner (1953), I'll Take Texas (1958), Let's Go for Broke (1962), Rags and Hope (1962) Tio Pepe (1963) (which she developed into a musical comedy in 1968,) Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery with Second Helpings (1970), with illustrations by {The} New Yorker cartoonist George Price. In 1944, Suds in Your Eye was adapted into a Broadway Play by Jack Kirkland. Her book, I’ll Take Texas, called attention to natural areas in Texas such as Padre Island and the Big Thicket which eventually lead up to conservation and environmental efforts in the region.

I’ll Take Texas recorded her adventures rambling all over the State of Texas in the early-1950s. One of her stops was the Big Thicket. There that she met Lance Rosier. Now Lance had kept up his quiet fight to save the Big Thicket even after the early momentum was lost, but his way was a quiet way, growing advocates for the Big Thicket one person at a time, one field trip at a time. Lasswell was very taken with Lance and gave him and his perspectives a lot of ink in her book...On March 11, 1961, Pete Gunter wrote Senator Yarborough a very compelling letter using Laswell’s book as a basis to urge the Senator to get involved in the land conservation of the Big Thicket. The Senator responded in an encouraging fashion and, in the words of Pete Gunter, that “became a kind of rallying point around which a large and very diverse group of people could gather.” ...Lasswell’s book, which triggered Pete’s letter and the Senator's positive response gave people hope and inspired collective action once again. source

Mary Lasswell, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, of American parents, on February 8, 1905 grew up in Brownsville, Texas.

"Mary Lasswell, born to a prominent Texan family, spent her childhood in Brownsville, Texas, where she learned to speak Spanish before she learned English. She taught for a few years after receiving her B.S. degree in 1930 from the University of Texas. In 1938 she married Clyde Lasswell. Her husband's career in the U.S. Navy took them away from Texas for a time. Upon returning to the state in the late 1950s, Mary Lasswell, who by this time had achieved considerable success as a humorous writer, became active in many professional and civic organizations. These affiliations included the Texas Civil War Centennial Commission, Authors League, Dramatists Guild, Texas Institute of Letters, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and Theta Sigma Phi (Women in Communications). She remarried, surgeon Dudley W. Smith in 1964, and after many years of residence in Texas, moved to Los Alamos, California." more info

Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery

"The kitchen's the gayest room in the house when America's pin-up cook takes over"
Mrs. Rassmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery

Another dilemma. It wouldn't be fair to you, or my other cookbooks to say that Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery is my favorite cookbook, although, it is brewed into an old-fashioned, down-home cookery book served up with a good froth of humor!

Take a bottle of cold beer out of the icebox. Place an ashtray handy to the stove. Assemble your favorite wisecracks for the favorite friends who've gathered round. What's this! a struggle over a hot stove? Lady, relax. You're having a high time cooking with SUDS!
From the inside cover:
Mary Lasswell cooks the way she talks-fast, in five languages. In Samoa she prepared a seven course dinner for eighteen on a two-burner kerosene stove. She says it was like cooking over a blow torch. Mrs. Lasswell claims that real, natural born cooks are not dependent upon gadgets and fancy equipment; good cooks can turn out a meal with one pot over a fire built between three bricks. There is considerable red in her hair and a sure way to set off the fireworks to ask, "Can you really cook or do you just write well about food?"

Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery is the perfect book to use as an example for the often asked question, "Why do you read cookbooks?" Why? One could spend an evening curled up in a favorite chair, with a nice cold beer, an even cooler light, and relish lively anecdotes to their hearts delight. And yet, like a solemn moment of thought, there's hidden tenderness.

Our fighten' men all over the globe has wrote us letters askin' for the receipts to some of our dishes at Noah's Ark. Mrs. Feely, Mrs. Tinkham an' myself was sure happy to hear from 'em. We was awful sorry we couldn't gather 'em all together under our own roof for a reel Feeley Brawl. So this book was wrote for all those who served in the Armed Forces...

The food in this book is what the fellers ast for. Four fliers in Italy that called themselves The Hungry Four wrote for a pin-up pitcher o' one of our meals. Six Marines in the South Pacific...got right down to cases!...All but the desserts in this book goes good with the beer-an' speakin' o' beer, you can stir up most o' these dishes with one arm an' hold a beer in the other. Here's hopin' the guys will do some o' the cookin' theirselves-an' if they get bottle fatigue, well, they rate it after all the battle fatigue.

Alone, no one will hear your giggles. With company? You'll get a light tug. "What are you laughing at?" Oh, nothing, {:giggle, giggle:}

If you're lookin' for pink or green whipped cream, or a salad made out of a canned pear with a girl's face painted on it, an' a head o' curly hair made outa cream cheese squoze through a pastry tube-you sure come through the wrong swingin' doors!"

The Recipes

"Don't hold a lighted match near your face, you'll think you're a flame thrower if you do!" That is how Mary Lasswell describes the following recipe for Salsa Brava (Ferocious Sauce.) My attempts to find the recipe on the internet were near futile until I happened upon a a Texas cookbook which had a few recipes in it from Mrs. Rassmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery. As there are so many recipes floating around cyberspace, I try not to repeat too many of them. Linking usually works just as well. The recipe for the Salsa Brava seems distinct enough to include here.

My only encounter with Shrimp Topolobampo was in a small Mexican restaurant in the village of Babylon here on Long Island. Unfortunately, I haven't been to Don Ricardo's in such a long time, I'm not sure it's even on the menu anymore. It is said, there is a restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, in Los Angeles where the dish may have originated. I read an interview online with Chef Roberto Berrelleza from Babita Mexicuisine, where it is one of the signature dishes and he offered some insight to the "invention" of the recipe. The Chef is from Sinaloa, where there is a tiny seaport called Topolobampo. I'm guessing the recipe for Shrimp Topolobampo, is named in the tiny seaports's honor. Salsa Brava, "wild sauce" is a spicy sauce, often flavored with paprika. Not only would it add an essence of kick to shrimp, it is often used as the sauce in the tapas dish Patatas Bravas (baked potato wedges doused in the salsa)

Salsa Brava
8 large dry Mexican chiles, ancho, grueso or redondo
1 C. boiling water
2 Tbs. Tabasco Sauce
1 Tbs. vinegar
Clean peppers thoroughly, discard seeds, membranes and stems, handling only when thoroughly dry. Pour boiling water and salt over them and let them stand 1 hour or 2. Do NOT cook or boil them. Press through a vegetable puree cone. Add Tabasco and vinegar; carefully taste for salt. Serve in a small pottery olla with a wooden spoon for a ladle.
NOTE: I didn't have much luck finding a source for the other chiles:(

In honor of all those feisty ladies, I leave you with this recipe for Lemon Cheese Cake. As they say at the Ark, "The best is good enough for us!"

Lemon Cheese Cake

1 lb. cheese as follows...
1/2 lb. pot cheese
1/2 lb. cream cheese
1 C. granulated sugar
4 eggs beaten separately
4 tbs. cornstarch
1/4 lb. butter melted
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 C. sweet milk
2 tbs. grated lemon rind
1 tbs. lemon juice
Press cheese through a fine wire sieve into a mixing bowl. Add the beaten egg yolks, cornstarch, and melted butter. Mix until smooth. Add lemon juice, vanilla, salt, lemon rind, and milk. Mix again. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites into which the sugar has been folded. Pour into form that has been lined with zweiback pastry and bake 1 hour in a 350 degree oven.
Zweiback Pastry: Mix 2 cups crushed zweiback with 3/4 cup melted butter into a paste. Spread thinly over bottom and sides of a spring form cheesecake pan.

1. Chicken Soup with Guacamole Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery
2. Suds in Your Eye (informative review of the book)
3. Corn Bread (Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-Arm Cookery)

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