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VPR Cafe: Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen

flickr: vtpeacenik 63348497

Louise Andrews Kent, aka Mrs. Appleyard, wrote a series of cookbooks in the 1930s and 1940s filled with Vermont recipes, stories and commentary about Vermont. At the time they served as cooking lessons for new brides and farm wives. Today, Mrs. Appleyard's books are prized not only for their recipes but for Kent's colorful writing style.

One of Mrs. Appleyard's biggest fans is Candace Page.  She talks about the history and legacy of Mrs. Appleyard. Below are her recipes for Oatmeal Lace Cookies and Rhubarb Pie. Candace writes for the Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press.

Broadcast Sunday, Jan. 19, 2013, 10:45 a.m.

Oatmeal Lace Cookies
From Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen by  Louise Andrews Kent (Houghton Mifflin, 1942)

2 and 1/4 cups uncooked, rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 and 1/4 cups light-brown sugar
1/2 pound butter
1 egg slightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or almond extract, if you like it

A word from Mrs. Appleyard:

"Begin by looking at the weather. It is no use trying to bake these cookies on a hot sticky day. Make brownies or sponge cake [instead]. The day should be cool and crisp with a few white clouds high up in the blue. The wind should be in the northwest. The smell of newly cut hay, the sound of a downy woodpecker tapping on the apple tree, cowbells in the distance and the silky rustle of maple leaves are desirable, but not absolutely essential. [NB: depths of winter works fine]... 

"Never make the mistake of adding more flour because the mixture looks too wet. Never try to bake anything else in the oven at the same time.  Don't try to get along with less than three pans.....Never leave the stove while these are baking. Let the telephone ring."

And now, the method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three heavy-duty cookie sheets with baking parchment.

In a large bowl ("that old Bennington one with the crack in it") stir together the oats, flour, salt and sugar. In a small pot, melt the butter. Let it get quite hot but not bubble. Stir it well into the mixture until the sugar is melted. Add the slightly beaten egg and vanilla (or almond) and stir all together.

Push the batter of the end of a large spoon with a spatula, onto the prepared pans. Make small lumps two-inches apart. Do not smooth them down; they will attend to that themselves. You will get about 9 cookies per pan.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom of the oven about halfway through. Set on the counter to cool for a few moments. When cool enough to peel off the parchment,  do so, and put cookies on a cooling rack.

"If you have good luck and no one comes in to ask you how to play Mah Jongg, or to ask whether any socks came home in the wash, you should have just about enough tie to get one batch of cookies off the pan and the pan filled again while the next batch is baking. At the end of the time you should have about 50 cookies - minus any that were wheedled out of you and the ones you ate yourself to be sure you were doing all right."

"Be sure they are cold before you put them away. A large box with a tight cover is the Appleyard repository for them, and they are put in between layers of waxed paper. They will keep crisp as long as there are any left. Mrs. Appleyard says she kept some once for almost two days."

VARIATION: In his excellent book, "Simple Cooking," food historian John Thorne  (Viking Penguin, 1987) modifies this recipe slightly. He toasts the oats in cast iron skillet set in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 minutes. He reduces the flour to 2 tablespoons, specifies unsalted butter, and adds 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to the recipe.  Thorne calls "Mrs. Appleyard's Year"  "one of the few good New England cookbooks published this century."

Mrs Appleyard's Reubarb Pie

I increased the rhubarb and decreased the sugar (Mrs Appleyard had a sweet tooth). I’ve been making this pie since 1968 and have never had a complaint. If you still have rhubarb when Vermont strawberries ripen, a combination of three cups of rhubarb and one of strawberries works well.

3 cups rhubarb (I always use 4)
11/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of sugar (I use 1 rounded cup)
2 tablespoons of flour
1/8 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 egg well beaten
2 tablespoons butter cut into bits

Mrs. Appleyard writes: “Use only ‘strawberry’ rhubarb so young and tender that it needs no peeling. Cut the stalks in 1/2 inch pieces. Sift flour, sugar and spice together. Line a 9-inch pie tin with pastry. Leave a good margin of pastry around the edge of the tin. This is to be turned up over the upper crust and pressed with the back of a fork so no juice will run out. Mrs. Appleyard mistrusts her own skill in this matter so she sets a fruit pie on a square of chef’s foil and turns the edges up to make a box, says it’s less work than cleaning the oven.

“Scatter 1/4 cup of the flour, sugar and spice mixture over the lower crust. Add half the rhubarb. Add half the remaining mixture, then the rest of the rhubarb and the rest of the mixture. The rhubarb should be heaped slightly toward the center of the dish: it will sink while baking. Pour the beaten egg over the pie and dot with bits of butter.

“Put on the upper crust. Gash it well so that steam can escape. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until the fruit is tender and the crust is brown, about 40 minutes longer. If it browns too quickly, cover it with a sheet of buttered brown paper.”

From “The Vermont Year-Round Cookbook” by Louise Andrews Kent, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1965

Franny was VPR's Director of Programming & Production.
Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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