By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
Myriad reading material litters my nightstand and clutters the top of my comfortable leather chair side table (formerly my grandfather’s smoking stand). I always have the best intentions to finish a book I’m nearly done with, but then, a new read happens: A magazine arrives in my mail box, and an alluring article or a recipe catches my eye. Then a new book from Ryanne, her current favorite, arrives from Amazon, and my bedside stack continues to grow.
The truth is, my favorite read (and most of these stacks) is a cookbook, which is ironic, because I rarely refer to one when I’m ready to cook.
I’ve downsized my cookbook library considerably, from 1,000 or so to my favorite collection of 500-600 books. The old cookbooks will always be my favorites.
In addition to actual cookbooks, I have hundreds of softbound, saddle-stitched vintage recipe books that were premiums gifts from food and appliance manufacturers. Most are dog-eared and worn, and besides recipes they’re filled with beautiful colored photos, lifestyle tips for the “modern cook,” and endless plugs for the products of the respective company.
A favorite in this collection is a prized 1918 edition, “For Best Salads and Better Cooking, Douglas Book of Recipes.” The photos and illustrations are beautiful, and the recipes appetizing and the tips are still timeless.
Intrigued about this company, a quick search on Google satisfied my curiosity about the Douglas Oil Company.
George Douglas, Sr., was a Scottish immigrant who became a founding partner in the cereal firm of Douglas and Stuart, which later merged to become Quaker Oats. In 1903, his sons George and Walter began Douglas Starch Works, which produced cornstarch and cooking oil (in 1912, Walter celebrated his birthday on the ill-fated Titanic, and when his wife requested he join her in a lifeboat, he replied, “No. I must be a gentleman.” He was last seen on the deck of the Titanic in his evening wear).
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, company continued to grow and by 1914 was the largest starch works company in the world, employing 400 people who ground 10,000 bushels of corn per day. The business ended abruptly and tragically in 1919 with an industrial accident. A devastating explosion leveled the starch works as hundreds of windows shattered across Cedar Rapids and water mains ruptured. Parts of Douglas & Company buildings landed two miles from the site and 43 employees lost their lives.
I wonder if they’d still be in existence, not long forgotten, if their factory hadn’t been leveled to the ground 100 years ago. Between Walter’s chivalrous behavior on the Titanic and learning that the Douglas family personally attended to their former employees’ graves every Memorial Day, my imagination sees Douglas Oil Company, guided by social responsibility, as a great progressive food company with tasty products and test kitchens filled with culinologists, perfecting their recipes to inspire today’s home cooks.
Fascinated by their story, I was anxious to try one the baking recipes from their cookbook, which not surprisingly utilizes cornstarch along with flour, in most of their recipes.* This mixture is essentially cake flour, which produces a lighter, softer texture in baked goods.
I settled on an authentic cookie recipe that also included Quaker Oats. The purist in me tried replacing the cooking oil with butter, then a batch with half butter and half oil. Finally, following the recipe exactly yielded the perfect batch.
And guess what I else I discovered? Today, Sept. 29, is National Coffee Day! I’m as passionate about coffee (especially that first addictive, aromatic morning cup) as I am about food, and really, I feel like I have earned credibility as a coffee connoisseur.
Twenty years ago, daughter Ryanne’s best high school friend, Meagan, described me as “caffeinated,” which is a label I don’t dispute. In the same essay, however, my own daughter referred to me as “definitely a bit crazy.” I’d like to think the jury is still out on that one.
Regardless, whip up a batch of these cookies and make your way to Evans Brothers or Monarch Mountain to pick up a bag of locally roasted coffee as a great complement to your baking efforts. Celebrate this natural pair, the oatmeal cookie and coffee. And hoist a cup to the Douglas boys.
*For each cup of cake flour, sift 7/8 cup (one cup minus 2 tablespoons) of flour plus 2 tablespoons of corn starch.
Oatmeal Cookies from the 1918 ‘Douglas Book of Recipes’
yield 32 cookies
The addition of corn starch makes a light and crispy, delicious cookie. Be sure and add the ingredients in the order listed in the directions (it makes a difference in the cookies’ texture).
•1 cup granulated sugar
•½ cup oil
•2 eggs, beaten
•1 cup seeded raisins
•¾ cup flour (after sifting)
•¼ cup corn starch
•1 tsp baking soda
•2 tsp ground cinnamon
•2 cups oatmeal
•½ tsp salt
•Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
•In large bowl, whisk sift flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt, set aside.
•In standup mixer or by hand, mix sugar, oil, and beaten eggs. Beat well; add raisins and oatmeal, then add flour and cornstarch mixture.
•Drop by spoonful on parchment paper lined or greased cookie sheet.
•Bake for 12 minutes.