Winter Sunshine for Sale and a Triple Treat

Winter Sunshine Salad

I was fortunate enough to extend my winter holidays by a couple days this year, flying to London, England to stay with friends for the first week of the new year. In my search for the cheapest ticket possible, I found myself at the Halifax airport for a seven-hour layover before a brief flight home to Montreal. There, I told myself, I would get some work done after a week of sleeping late, sightseeing, and snacking on British biscuits (my favorites being the orange-and-chocolate topped Jaffa Cakes). Bleary-eyed and clutching a large double-double (welcome back to Canada, indeed), I fiddled with the airport wi-fi until I was able to access my email.

I had to pick some recipes from the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook to make for the next installment of the Historical Cooking Project. I looked at the recipes my fellow historical cooks planned to make. Alex planned to make a Baked Alaska, so, dessert was covered. Emili had volunteered to make borscht and a sandwich loaf, so I wouldn't need to make bread or soup. Carolynn had volunteered to make molded Jell-O and imitation steak, so I could make another main course without meat (which you can read about right here: ). What was missing?

Salad. Right. I would need to make a salad. I settled on Winter Sunshine Salad, a grated carrot and celery salad with the addition of parsnips (a vegetable that I'd never eaten raw), orange zest, and orange sections.

The simple recipe comes from Eleanor Combs Holderman, described as a "well-known Home Economist of Minneapolis, who herself spreads sunshine". The presence of orange is a reminder of the increasingly wide variety of fresh food that became available to consumers in the 1950s. Oranges and other citrus fruits aren't able to grow in cold climates, but advances in shipping throughout the first half of the 20th century meant that consumers in places like Minneapolis, where winter temperatures rival Montreal's, had access to these fruits all year long-- particularly during the winter growing season in the states of Florida and California.

Indeed, my beloved Jaffa Cakes are also the fruit, so to speak, of innovations in food transportation; "Jaffa" refers to oranges grown in the city of Jaffa, in what is now Israel. The territory was under British mandate when the cakes were first manufactured in 1927, and therefore in a perfect position to export fruit to the cold, rainy British Isles and keep British consumers' pantries well-stocked with orange marmalade.

By the 1950s, oranges were no longer a rare treat for consumers in cities like London and New York, but a regular grocery item.

Orange juice, in particular, was available in frozen cans since the mid-1940s, and thus became a regular part of the American diet. I would be remiss not to share this commercial from the era (those kids look like they're really struggling with their huge juice glasses; at the same time, I can't remember ever seeing a commercial for a fruit or vegetable on television!)

Combined with hardy root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, a little bit of orange brought a bright tang to familiar winter staples. What's more, the 1950's shopper had a variety of choices for obtaining food -- she might have been a skilled gardener, already accustomed to laying away vegetables every fall from a wartime victory garden, or she might have picked up her vegetables from a supermarket.

The salad came together easily (so easily, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture of the process); I grated three carrots and two small parsnips, added them to a stalk or two of chopped celery and orange zest. I doused the salad in orange juice instead of the sections the recipe called for, with the hope that this would keep the salad tasting fresh for the trip across town to Emili's apartment. I made a "French dressing" according to the Betty Crocker recipe.

The Winter Sunshine Salad was not the showiest dish on our table that night, but it added a crunch to our overloaded plates, and the parsnip flavour blended in nicely with the carrot, celery and orange. I don't think this simple carrot salad has made inroads in the culinary world, however; a quick search for "winter sunshine salad" revealed a variety of recipes, with ingredients ranging from blood oranges to radicchio to instant lemon pudding, but none with the carrot, parsnip and orange combination.The salad served more than the purpose of adding some nutrients to our cream- and cheese-heavy supper, however. Its presence revealed the variety of foods available to the 1950s housewife, whether she lived in Minneapolis or Miami. 

 I bought my own carrots and parsnips at my local supermarket, along with the ingredients needed to make another vegetable dish: the Triple Treat.

The Triple Treat

I had first been drawn to the name of this appetizer while scanning the Betty Crocker cookbook, however I was quite surprised by the ingredients: pickled onions and gherkins would go well together, but why the addition of maraschino cherries? The three pieces on a toothpick sounded quite unappealing.

Interestingly, the Betty Crocker cookbook does not contain recipes for preserves like pickles and cherries. This recipe would have been easy, however, for a 1950's cook to assemble either with ready-made ingredients from the grocery store or with ingredients that she had preserved herself. When I went food shopping upon my return to Montreal, whether by coincidence or fate, everything I needed to make this "treat" was on special at the grocery store, I added the jars to my shopping basket. The flavor was not something I would seek to replicate, but it was edible.

Before leaving my apartment, I assembled a handful of Triple Treats and offered some to my housemates. I wouldn't say that the appetizer was a "treat," but I did get my housemate's boyfriend to eat two. If the barometer of success for a Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe is making your food look nice and to get guests to eat what you've made with gusto, then I'd call the recipe a success.

(written by Kathleen Gudmundsson)