It’s Greek Easter today and we’re cooking up a storm. I’m making two legs of fresh Quebec Spring lamb, stuffed with garlic cloves and rosemary “trees”, and brushed with dijon, paprika, and dried wild Greek oregano.
For cooking time, my wife pulled out her vintage 1968 copy of Better Homes and Gardens Meat Cook Book. It was given to her in 1972 when she left Quebec City to attend McGill university in Montreal. This book has been our go-to guide for all things meat related for the 38 years we’ve been together.
I leafed through its pages this morning over my Greek coffee. It was really a time warp and I realized that if you want to glimpse any period in the past, investigate a cookbook from that time. A couple of things stand out about that time (1968) that coincide with my own memories:
- Ingredients were very simple and locally available. There was nothing exotic: No smoked paprika, dijon, cold-pressed olive oil, Tellicherry pepper, caper berries, Madagascar peppercorns, truffle oil, quinoa, black rice, Herbs de Provence, etc. If they existed, they were for the “rich”. I distinctly remember my mother sending me to our local big-chain grocery store to get some yogurt and the owner asking ME what that was. “Oh yeah”, he said, “I think there’s a couple in the back of the dairy shelf”. There were: Two containers of plain…almost expired. If you’re under 40 you probably don’t remember a time when the yogurt aisle wasn’t the biggest section in dairy and there weren’t 200 types of yogurt.
- MSG was a common flavour enhancer for any sauces and gravies (I remember Accent!). It is, by the way, making a comeback, and I’ve read many articles claiming that its purported negative effects were completely overblown. Glutamate is a natural amino acid and the key trigger of umami, the fifth taste.
- Women were shown doing the cooking, but men were shown doing the carving. Recipes were often titled: “Get the oven ready for when HE brings home the game”.
- My grandmother was able to produce some of the finest Greek food on the planet by substituting simple locally available ingredients. I’m not sure we’re quite as adaptable today: I’ll spend a day hunting just the right ingredient from the shady side of the mountain, in order to get the recipe “right”.
- The food was delicious. There was no concern about fat, cholesterol, salt, carbs, glycemic load, gluten, and lactose. Only taste and pleasure mattered. Strangely enough, people were thinner too, perhaps because they worked harder physically and moved more in general. There was much less cancer and heart disease, although you died a lot quicker if you got sick. How ironic that obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease have exploded (pun intended) in parallel to our health obsession.
- The photography was absolute crap.
I’m going to start making some of these recipes in the coming weeks as a test vs. modern-day results.