There has been a lot of talk about recipes here on the blog as of late but so many interesting food-related topics have been popping up recently in the historic land of Ms. Jeannie, it seems a shame not to share them. So here we are back in the vintage kitchen with a newly discovered almost 100 year old recipe that came from Ms. Jeannie’s great -great Aunt. This week’s post takes us to the heartland of America – a middle state where young newlyweds ventured via covered wagon in the the 1860’s and set up life, spreading their roots so deep in the soil they practically built up the foundation of a small township.
We have talked about the Edwards’ family a few times previously on the blog so if you are a regular reader you’ll remember the adventurous Albert and his wife Martha who married in Johnson County, Indiana in 1865 and then immediately (the very next day in fact!) got into a covered wagon and headed west towards a new frontier. Three months later, Albert and Martha settled in Benton County, Iowa in a small town east of Cedar Rapids.
If you are familiar with Little House on the Prairie and are up on your John Travolta movies you’ll know Vinton, Iowa for two reasons. It is where Mary Ingalls attended the Iowa School for the Blind (also known as the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School) between 1881-1889 and it is where they filmed many scenes of the movie, Michael, (including the final courthouse scene) starring John Travolta, Andie MacDowell, William Hurt and Oliver Platt.
Known primarily for its burgeoning agricultural opportunities in the mid-1800’s, Martha and Albert had two goals when they moved to Vinton – farming and family. In true pioneer spirit they got down to business right away working out their farmplace and starting a family dynasty that would eventually produce 11 children and 45 grandchildren. Their first baby, Anna was born during the crispy days of October 1866 just 19 months after their arrival in Iowa.
As the oldest of her 10 brothers and sisters, Anna learned a lot about farm life, babies and family relationships. By the time she was 4 she saw the birth of two brothers and then the sad death of one those brothers who was in her life for just 7 short months. The next five years brought three new sisters and then the death of her remaining brother Cornelius. So by the time Anna was nine years old she had already witnessed the death of two of her siblings.
When Anna turned 18 in 1885 and married Selmon T. Whipple she had six sisters in total ranging in age from 2-14. Immediately following their wedding Anna and Selmon set up their own farm in Benton County and got to work on their own family. At this point in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, babies were coming into the family from all directions.
Anna’s mom, Martha was still having her own kids and Anna was just starting to have hers, which means mom and daughter were preganant and giving birth at the same time. So the the first few years of Anna’s marriage went something like this… a baby boy for Anna, and then a baby brother for Anna, a baby girl for Anna and then a baby sister for Anna. It’s a whirlwind of confusion and name sharing where all the aunts and uncles are close in infantile age to their nieces and nephews but brothers and sisters have almost two decades between them. And then add in the fact that Anna’s six sisters were starting to marry and have their own families and it was just kids everywhere.
Basically for the first twenty years of Anna’s marriage she was pregnant and raising babies. Her fifth son Frankie died the day he was born but all the other little ones made it through to adulthood. A year and a half after her last baby, a little girl named Nellie, was born, Anna’s husband Selmon fell off a shed and became paralyzed. For three long months he lay immobile at home before he died leaving Anna, aged 45, the entire responsibility of managing the farm, twelve kids and her large house.
But Anna was a strong woman and she came through this tragic circumstance with courage and a loving heart still intact. In addition to all this newly placed responsibility she even managed to take on the care and raising of her infant grandson, whose mother (Anna’s daughter-in-law) died from tuberculosis.
As the wife of a farmer with over a hundred acres in crop production and the mother of thirteen children Anna knew her way around the vegetable garden and the kitchen. In 1928 she submitted a recipe to the Vinton Cook Book which was compiled by the First Division Pastor’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. With a little help from the ladies at the Vinton Historical Society, Ms. Jeannie was able to acquire a copy of the recipe that Anna submitted.
The recipe is for tomato soup. It is a very simple one with few components but it does contain one unusual ingredient – baking soda. Today in the vintage kitchen we are recreating this 89 year old recipe to see what cooking in the 1920’s tastes like and to see if it still appeals to our modern palettes.
Most likely Anna would have used previously canned summer tomatoes from her garden in this recipe or she would have made it fresh during the summer months and possibly canned the soup for winter consumption. Either way, it is February and Ms. Jeannie does not have any leftover summer tomatoes on hand nor does she have any fresh in the garden. So instead we are relying on fresh hot house tomatoes that were grown in Chile. Ms. Jeannie did not have high hopes for flavor with these guys even though they looked absolutely beautiful in the grocery store.
But she was very pleasantly surprised at both the sweetness and firm fleshiness of these traveling love apples. Anna served her soup topped with a sprinkle of crushed crackers, which most likely would have been soda crackers or saltines. But Ms. Jeannie wanted to pair her soup with something a little more exciting so she made rustic Caprese-style toast to partner. Look for that recipe following the soup. She also added 1/3 cup tomato paste at the end, which is not in Anna’s original recipe (as you’ll notice from the picture above) – an explanation for that addition follows the final step. Other than that, the recipe was made as-is.
Anna’s Tomato Soup (circa 1928)
1 quart tomatoes
1 pint milk
1 pint water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 pint beef broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup tomato paste
4 crackers (optional- see second recipe)
Salt & pepper to taste
- Remove seeds from tomato (Note: there is no mention as to whether the skins of the tomato should be on or off – most likely they would be skinless, but Ms. Jeannie left them on and they rolled themselves into thin toothpicks which added a little bit of texture to the overall soup in the end. Next time she will try making it with the skins removed. So it is your preference on this aspect.)
- Add the tomatoes and water to a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
- Add the baking soda and stir – like those lava volcanoes you used to make in third grade science class, this tomato /baking soda combo does foam up quite a bit, so keep stirring it until it comes to a boil. Then add the milk, butter and beef broth and bring to a boil again.
At this point, Anna mixed in some salt and pepper, called it done and ladled the soup into bowls, topping each with some crushed crackers. But the soup at this stage was very thin and tasted rather plain and uneventful so Ms. Jeannie added 1/3 cup tomato paste and let it simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. By adding the paste it gave the soup a much more tomato-y flavor and thickened it up a bit. The purpose of adding the baking soda was to neutralize the acid in the tomatoes, which it did beautifully. By the time it was ready to serve this soup had a gorgeous, silky consistency, bright flavor and a rusty orange hue.
Garlic, Basil Cheese Toast (makes two slices of toast)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 mini mozzarella balls, sliced thin
2 slices of multi-grain braed
2 teaspoons olive oil
dash of red pepper flakes
- Slice bread and smother each slice with one teaspoon of olive oil. Add the cheese in a polka dot style fashion and intersperse the garlic. Sprinkle the basil leaves, red pepper flakes and a dash of salt on top.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8 minutes and then broil for 1-2 minutes until edges of crust start to brown slightly.
Back in the late 19th century and early 20th century farm meals were big because family members and workers needed sustenance to get them through their chores. Apple pie was often served at breakfast alongside eggs and bacon and fried chicken and casseroles and fresh bread. Most likely this soup would have accompanied many other dishes on the table, which is why it is not made of heartier stock. In our modern world, this makes a lovely light lunch or quick snack if you are pressed for time. And like any good foundation recipe it can be augmented with lots of other elements including onions and fresh basil, garlic, sour cream, Parmesan cheese… you get the idea. It is quite lovely on its own but Anna wouldn’t mind at all if you wanted to add your own creativity to the mix.
After Anna’s husband died in 1912, she managed the farm for another 9 years growing corn and oats and reporting regularly in the newspaper as to their qualities and quantities. She raised her kids and grandkids and kept her house bustling with love and care. Eventually she said goodbye to farm life and moved into town to live with one of her daughters. Active in various community organizations and her local church she was referred to as being noble, generous and kind. When she passed away in the 1940’s at the age of 81, she left behind a family dynasty that included 10 children, 31 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and one great recipe.
Cheers to family cooks, the recipes they make and the love they pass on!