Cooking with Childhood Icons

Gourmet Girl - September 25, 2013

"The lasting legacy of a couple of cookbooks inspired by the Peanuts gang, Winnie the Pooh and Nancy Drew."

The other day I was thinking about how I ended up as a food writer. I certainly never studied the craft, though I've had a lifelong love affair with food. My mom was a great cook and my dad even took turns in the kitchen. They held wonderful dinner parties and my brother and I used to wake up early the next morning after each one, savoring the leftover garlic bread, steak and chocolate cake for breakfast as we watched cartoons and “Wonderama.”
My parents instilled an early interest in cooking in both my brother and me. We helped make pancakes, pie crusts, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas cookies. My mother taught me the only recipe I've ever needed for a perfect vinaigrette, and I still regret the fact that she never wrote down her family recipe for the best barbecue sauce on the planet.

One Christmas, I received a copy of Betty Crocker's Boys and Girls Cookbook, and I proudly worked my way through each recipe it contained.  Another year, a pair of paperbacks were under the Christmas tree—The Pooh Cook Book and the Peanuts Cook Book. These colorful books paid tribute to some of my favorite childhood characters, with illustrations, quotations and comic strips paired with each recipe.

I couldn't wait to try out the Christmas Honey Wafers and Honey Gingerbread Cookies in the Pooh Cook Book or Frieda's French Toast and Lucy's Lemon Squares in the Peanuts Cook Book. I think that was the moment I became hooked on cooking. And I still have these cookbooks today, though they're a bit tattered and torn, definitely worse for the wear. I don't use them too often, but when I pulled them out to work on this blog, I found myself thumbing through the pages, smiling as the memories came back about making these recipes with my brother, my mom and my best friends.

As a kid, I was a big reader, and one of my favorite book heroines was Nancy Drew, who solved whatever mystery came her way with the help of her chums Bess and George. Food figured prominently in the series about the girl sleuth. Housekeeper Hannah Gruen was always baking cookies for Nancy and her father, attorney Carson Drew and  whipping up comfort food, from meatloaf and baked potatoes to apple pie and brownies. Bess chronically fought her weight, as she loved to eat, and in the middle of solving a mystery, the trio often stopped at diners and historic inns along the way for old-fashioned family-style meals that fueled them on in their sleuthing.

In 1973, The Nancy Drew Cookbook was published to the delight of young girls everywhere. It contained 100 recipes, each named after the titles of the book and the characters in the series, from Bungalow Mystery Salad and Hidden Staircase Biscuits to Crumbling Wall Coffee Cake and Ski Jump Hot Chocolate. I actually have two copies of the book, and a few years back, a friend and I organized a Nancy Drew-themed party for a group of women writers who were all Nancy Drew fans. The meal featured recipes from The Nancy Drew Cookbook, including Diary Chicken Salad, Shrimp Cocktail with Attorney Shrimp Sauce and Scarlet Slipper Raspberry Punch. It was a big hit.

All three of these cookbooks remain in print, which is a testament to the popularity of the books and the characters on which they are based. But many other cookbooks for kids have been published since they first came out,  including Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters, with 46 recipes that chronicle her daughter Fanny's adventures in Chez Panisse, her mother's legendary Berkeley restaurant. Pretend Soup And Other Real Recipes also is for young chefs, written by Molly Katzen of The Moosewood cookbooks and restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. If you've got kids in your life, give them one of these books. You never know where it may take them...

Recipes from Peanuts Cook Book

Great Pumpkin Cookies (Makes about 6 dozen)
1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
1-pound can pumpkin
12 ¾ cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 cup raisins
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix sugar, shortening, eggs and pumpkin in a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl, then stir into pumpkin mixture. Blend well. Add raisins and pecans.  Drop batter by teaspoonful on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Lucy’s Lemon Squares
1 cup flour
½ cup butter
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Dash of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour and sugar into a bowl. Blend in butter until well mixed. Pat evenly into the bottom and 8 x 8-inch baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
Beat eggs, granulated sugar, baking powder, lemon juice and salt. Pour over baked crust and return to oven for 20-25 minutes.
Cool on rack. Cut in squares and sprinkle with sifted, powdered sugar.

Recipes from The Pooh Cook Book

Cottleston Pie (Serves 6)
1 9-inch pie shell, baked until firm but not browned (be sure to line shell with rice or beans to prevent puffing while baking)
¼ cup cooked ham, diced
3 eggs
2 cups whipping cream
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1 ½ tablespoons butter, cut into tiny dots
½ cup grated cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat eggs, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl until well mixed.
Distribute the ham on the bottom of the baked pie shell and pour the cream mixture on top of the ham. Scatter the dots of butter and the cheese on top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until pie has puffed up and browned. Serve immediately.

Honey Custard (Serves 4)
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon honey
Grated rind of ½ lemon
2 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2-3 drops vanilla, almond or mint extract
Beat egg yolks and honey together. Add the lemon rind.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Add a pinch of salt.
Fold the beaten egg whites into honey custard mixture. Add the extract. Spoon into custard cups and serve.

Recipes from The Nancy Drew Cookbook

Crooked Banister Corn Bread (Serves 12)
2 cups yellow corn meal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 large, or 2 small eggs
1 1/3 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a square 8-inch baking pan.
Blend corn meal, flour, salt and baking powder. In a large bowl, beat eggs and add milk. Slowly sift the dry ingredients into the eggs and milk and stir.
Melt butter and slowly add to the batter.
Pour the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake for 18 minutes. Cut the bread into squares and serve.

Diary Chicken Salad (Serves 6)
2 cans mandarine orange sections
½ cup white, seedless grapes
¼ cup salted almonds
1 banana
2 cups cooked chicken, cut into cubes
½ cup mayonnaise
18 pineapple rings
Drain orange sections and dry on paper towels. Cut grapes in half. Chop almonds into small pieces. Peel and slice banana into thin rounds.
Combine oranges, grapes, almonds, banana and chicken. Stir in mayonnaise and mix well.
Place 3 pineapple rings on each plate, forming a triangle. Pile the chicken salad on top of the rings and serve.