I’ve never been sure what to make of Katharine Morrison McClinton’s Old-Time Meatless Recipes. It is nominally a cookbook, with around a hundred recipes. But Ms. McClinton wasn’t a chef, she was an antiques writer. She wrote more than thirty books and countless magazine articles for antique collectors over a fifty year career, and this is her only cookbook. But this book isn’t really about food. The recipes are just framing material for a small collection of illustrations of kitchen antiques. There’s a lengthy introduction on the illustrations and certain styles of European kitchenware. Aside from a short essay on Ms. McClinton’s herb garden it’s the only prose anywhere in the book. The recipes are presented without any context, not even bothering to explain why this the recipes are “meatless”.
And by “meatless” we mean eggs and fish and sometimes beef consomme. This is the 1950s and decidedly not the Vegetarian Times. The recipe selection is more along the lines of what an observant Catholic might eat on Friday than a trendy Seattle cafe. The recipes are arranged into three- and four- course menus, with separate chapters for “luncheon” and dinner. Not all of the menu items have associated recipes: some call for canned soups, coffee, or assume that the reader will be familiar with how to make a cole slaw or fruit salad.
The recipes vary widely in complexity and effort, and many assume that you have ready access to a good fishmonger. There are plenty of recipes that call for crab or tuna or halibut, but I wouldn’t even know where to start to source a whole flounder or fresh shad roe. The truly ‘meatless’ recipes are much more accessible, ranging from vegetarian pastas and pizzas to omelets, quiches, and cheese-smothered vegetables. As one would expect for the era there are any number of ill-considered Jell-O side dishes and liberal use of canned goods, mixed with traditional “from-scratch” recipes for scalloped potatoes and apple pies. They are not particularly adventuresome but it is hard to fault them for quality and variety.
The illustrated antiques, which seem to be Ms. McClinton’s passion, are kind of a mixed bag. The illustrations are all in black and white and appear to be drawn with a thick felt tip pen. I am not an artist, but this would not be my first choice of media if I were trying to draw intricate glassware or introduce my readers to quaint European kitchens. The best drawings are minimalist depictions of more complicated antiques with an abstract sensibility to them, but others come across as muddled. I will charitably assume that this is a limitation of the publishing process.
The recipe that I’ve chosen to exemplify the spirit of Old-Time Meatless Recipes is a simple side dish of bananas and cranberries. It is meant to accompany a luncheon menu of cheese rarebit (i.e. Welsh rabbit) and coffee. As will be obvious from the ingredient list, it is not the tastiest nor most sophisticated recipe in the book. There are several fish recipes and salad dressings that are truly excellent, and that I intend to write about in the future. But Bananas and Cranberries illustrates both a 1950s sensibility and the lack of boundaries in the recipe selection. It’s the perfect complement to the minimalist and oddly composed illustrations.
This recipe is as simple as it sounds: bananas are peeled and sliced lengthwise, covered with canned cranberry sauce and thrown in the oven. It’s an unusual and uncommon pairing, but it’s not half bad. There’s a smidge of butter in the baking dish that brings out the richness of baked bananas, and I threw in a couple of dashes of orange bitters to brighten up the cranberry sauce. I’ll admit that it wouldn’t be my first choice to serve with cheese on toast, but would work well as a brunch dish or even a waffle topping. I’ve even served it as a light dessert, but resist the urge to cover it in whipped cream – it’s just fine as it is.
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Peel bananas and slice in half lengthwise. Place in a buttered baking dish in a single layer like nested spoons.
- Slice the cranberry sauce and place over top of the bananas. Cover as much of the banana as possible to prevent it turning black while baking. Add a couple of dashes of orange bitters and, if desire, another pat of butter or two on top.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until cranberry sauce has 'melted' and bananas are soft and fragrant.