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Fat-filled from the '30s and '40s

A few nights ago, I was leafing through the 1937 edition of "My Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook." This Art Deco-influenced silver and black ring binder cookbook belonged to my Great-aunt Inez, the one who loved to entertain and cook.

I turned to the vegetables section, hoping to get some classic suggestions on what to do with some of the bounty now in season, when I was pulled up short. It seemed every recipe called for butter or cream. Huh? I flipped back to the front of the section and scanned them again. No, I had not misread. Every innocent fresh veggie had to be spackled up with something butterfat-filled, all in the name of "healthful" foods for the family.

"At all times, the safest rule to follow has been to serve well-balanced meals every day, using a variety of foods. This rule, with an additional clause to insure a daily allotment of cod-liver oil to the children, still stands us in good stead," the Nutrition and Menu Planning section states. Blech!

Should I mention the Spring Vegetable Platter, with toothpick-impaled rolls of pickles and luncheon meat, and butter-drenched green beans and carrot strips encircling a mound of cooked spinach? How about Fried Celery Sticks?

This was astonishing. I thought of all the period films I loved and the clothes associated with them. Honey, you cannot have a butterfat-enriched tummy and wear silk gowns cut on the bias. Just what did models and Hollywood stars of the golden age eat? They couldn’t have survived solely on roasted chicken, consumme and tomato aspic.

OK, the vegetable section did include instructions on steaming and boiling, so all was not lost. But I thought it would be more fun to share one of the devilish recipes with you. This recipe was submitted by Mrs. E. Kronofl, Forest Hills, Long Island, and was published in the November 1949 issue of the magazine (Better Homes magazine included recipe pages that were cookbook ring-binder ready). Just be sure to wear your buffet pants when you dig into this side dish. If you like, though, put on lipstick, a pretty shirt dress with a wide skirt, heels and a ruffled apron when you serve it.


6 medium onions (1 3/4 pounds)

1/2 cup chopped cooked ham

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup soft bread crumbs

1 tablespoon melted butter or fortified margarine (my guess is this plain ol' margarine)

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash pepper

1 cup light cream or top milk (probably whole milk)

1/2 cup buttered bread crumbs

Peel onions carefully to preserve shape. Wash and cut a slice from the top of each. Pierce each onion through to center in several places to keep whole during the boiling. Cook onions until almost tender; drain and push out centers. Chop centers and add to ham, green pepper, soft bread crumbs and melted butter. Stir in seasonings; stuff onion cups. Place in a baking dish. Pour cream or milk around onions. Cover top of onions with buttered crumbs. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) until tender and the tops are a tempting brown, about 30 minutes.