`Try And Guess' Describes Those Recipes From Long Ago

January 20, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

The document my sister mailed me featured the vintage letterhead of our longtime neighbor, Clarence Dankmeyer, a dignified man who ran an advertising agency, complete with a clanking printing press, from the basement of his home. It occupied about the same location as my Christmas garden in the adjoining home on Guilford Avenue.

Typed on the paper was essential household information -- a recipe for clam chowder -- as well as the phone number UNiversity 1542, an exchange in use long before my time.

My sister Ann added a little comment: "found [in] the avalanche," a reference to her careful sorting of papers she has discovered in the four floors of my old home.

As my family gathers this weekend for sister Mimi's birthday, we've pledged to avoid restaurants because we're all broke after the holidays. We're also going to pull out some family recipes -- and try some new ones, too. At times like this, I wish I had more information on how my grandmother and her sister prepared their dishes.

The truth is, the sisters didn't follow recipes. They cooked by instinct -- and, on rare occasion, followed (loosely) some recipes clipped from this newspaper. Unfortunately, it's the useless oddball recipes that were saved, while the great ones were rarely typed on fancy stationery.

Lily and Cora were effortless cooks and never sought acclaim for their food. As a child, I sat in awe at their ability to duplicate a dish they liked.

When I was a small child, their favorite North Avenue bakery, Doebereiner's, closed for good, and with it went a mocha cake they had enjoyed since they were young women.

Aunt Cora once heard one too many complaints about the lack of a Doebereiner's cake. She rose, opened the sideboard drawer where she kept some printed recipes and before you could pronounce that German baker's name, she had duplicated the cake. Her recipe was based on a frail 1930s clipping from The Sun that appeared under the heading "Aunt Priscilla."

I started rummaging through the recipes I saved over the past 30 years and, of course, cannot locate the ones I want -- such as Green Surprise salad. I thought of its maker, summertime guesthouse proprietor Ann Ewing, who ruled Olive Avenue in the 1960s at Rehoboth Beach, Del. One of her vintage letters was discovered this week (it had been put away for 40 years) and made me think of this dish, once a standard on Sunday dinner tables.

My brother Eddie has an affection for Green Surprise's distant cousin, the Try and Guess salad, a dish promoted by The Sun in the Lyndon Johnson era. Thanks to the Internet and a recipe finder, its proportions and ingredients are now available: stewed tomatoes, raspberry gelatin, horseradish and sour cream.

If this sounds a little dubious, don't worry. I was recently reading a magazine article about the culinary preferences of Stiles T. Colwill, president of the Baltimore Museum of Art's board . In that article, Colwill revealed one of his secret food aces: Try and Guess salad.


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