Cover image reproduced courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; cookie photo by Romulo Yanes © 2010 by Conde Nast Publications
Slashfood talked to Kemp Minifie, who created recipes for Gourmet for more than thirty years, about some of her favorite cookies from the magazine's early years.
Slashfood: How did you ever pick just one cookie for each year?
Kemp Minifie: We went through all the issues, and tried to choose the one cookie that would say a lot about the time in which it was made. Take the Honey Refrigerator cookies from 1942. There was a war on, and there was rationing. Sugar was scarce. So we cooked with honey, which also helped the cookies keep well. These cookies go great with a tangy cheese, like goat's-milk or gorgonzola. In 1943, the Scotch Oat Crunchies also worked with our need to stretch ingredients by using oatmeal, which was inexpensive. This English and Irish take on the biscuit is thin and crisp, not too sweet, and it's filled with jam.
SF: What else do those cookies from the 1940s mean for us?
KM: When I eat some of these old-fashioned cookies, like the Date Bars, from 1945, I feel like I'm back sitting at my grandmother's table. This recipe is from a Russian cook named Katish -- people loved her recipes. The date bars are made with graham crackers and walnuts, along with the dates, and they're so moist and chewy. The Old-Fashioned Christmas Butter Cookie from 1947 is unusual because it's made with both raw and hard-cooked egg yolks, which give it more texture. It's such a tender cookie, and rich (of course, it's also made with a pound of butter)!
SF: How did our sense of travel and foreign places take hold when we baked?
KM: In the Fifties, we began to look toward Italy. The Biscotti di Regina, or Queen's Biscuits, from 1955, were like a visit to New York's Little Italy, and they're not too sweet. There was more liquor in our cookies back then, too. The French Palet de Dames, which we ran year after year, is cakey inside with a nice crisp edge, and is spiked with currants and rum. In the late 1960s you saw even more of a European touch, with cookies like the Florentine, which had candied orange peel and nuts -- a delicate cookie that's coated with a chocolate glaze. What could be better than that?
SF: Has baking changed so much in seven decades?
KM: We had to work a lot harder back then, especially when we worked in ingredients like almond paste by hand, instead of using a food processor. Ingredients like pastry flour and lard were used much more often (a lard-based crust is amazing). And, frankly, cooks were much more experienced, so our recipes in the early days didn't explain as much as they do today. So although in the book we run the recipes as they were originally written, we provide notes so that today's home cook can adjust the ingredients and the methods to make it more contemporary.
SF: What's one of your memories from your early days at Gourmet?
KM: One thing I'll never forget is our Reader's Services line. There was a woman named Isabelle Calvert who answered readers' questions, and people would call her not only to offer their own recipes (we ran a lot of those over the years), but would ask her to plan whole menus for them from Gourmet recipes. Even wedding banquets! And she'd do it. Over the phone. That was service.
AOL's Kitchen Daily is also proud to feature many of Kemp Minifie's original recipes, from appetizers to desserts.