Vintage Cooking – Central Lutheran Ladies Guild of Portland X Purefoy Hotel

Though I’m not a particularly accomplished home cook, one of my favorite things to collect is old cookbooks, in particular the small run examples turned out by local community organizations, or businesses capitalizing on the secrets to their own menu. Besides what you can cook from them, they’re always fascinating anthropological documents. The introductions and asides, back page advertisements and acknowledgements, and illustrations and photographs carry a wealth of details about daily life at time of publication. The evolution of cooking techniques and wax and wane of the popularity and availability of different ingredients evidenced by the writing is always interesting too.

Today, I prepared a few items from two cookbooks I’ve accumulated…

The first is from one published by members of the Ladies Guild of Portland’s still extant Central Lutheran church in Northeast. Printed by the Kenwood Company of Portland in 1956, this volume advertises Scandinavian specialties on the cover, and the set of lefse recipes I adapted from are featured front and center.

The second is from a 1941 edition of the Purefoy Hotel cookbook, authored by Eva B. Purefoy. Being a lifelong resident of the Northwest I can’t say to what degree the byline “Tried and True Recipes of Real Southern Cooking” stands up to a practiced connoisseur, but they all look pretty tasty, and the one I prepared certainly delivered.

On account of dietary restrictions and preferences in the household, a number of modifications applied to both recipes. For standard wheat flour, I substituted the gluten free 1:1 substitution mix we have around the house. Milk ingredients were also omitted or substituted.

I started off with the creamed chicken recipe from the Purefoy cookbook. Since I have an instant pot handy I just used that to cook the chicken, which since I’m not keen to deal with a whole bird was just two pounds of fresh chicken breasts. Cup of water, some salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic powder thrown in with it for 7 minutes at high pressure did the trick nicely. I then cubed the meat and set it aside.

The rest of the recipe I followed fairly faithfully, though I went heavier on the vegetables, especially mushrooms since I enjoy them a lot, and couldn’t find pimentos in the midst of the Coronavirus-instigated grocery apocalypse this weekend and so left them out. Substituting chicken stock (from bouillon) for milk worked just fine, and the gluten-free flour posed no problems aside from being a bit more prone to clumping. Adding it in slowly and aggressively whisking it into the butter and stock mixture was enough to compensate for that tendency.

The “lefse” I prepared ended up being a more troublesome adversary. I used red potatoes out of personal preference, leaving the skin on, and cooked them in the instant pot to start. Then I cut them into small sections and started mechanically mixing them at lowest speed with a flat edge beater attachment. Other ingredients were added in quantities somewhere in between the two lefse recipes pictured, with the cream and sugar omitted, and a non-dairy butter substitute used.

I’m not certain what exactly what went wrong, but I suspect the gluten-free flour… The resulting dough was not at all suitable for rolling out and I gave up on that idea in moments. As an alternative I first tried dropping a ball into a pan on the range and pressing it flat, but found the stickiness of the dough to be a problem, and also ran into the issue of it being quite slow to cook through. I tried a few different heat settings and thicknesses of cake and found the sweet spot to be about 1/4″ thick of a dough blob at 1/3 power, low and slow. Once one side firmed up the cake could be flipped without disintegrating, and yielded an passable but not pretty result. The better preparation came by way of a suggestion from my partner, who offered that we might want to drag out the waffle iron. That worked far better, at about 40% heat with a well oiled grid.

As the comments on the recipes suggest, the finished product loses its crisp pretty quickly following preparation, so I was glad I did the potato cakes last.

The finished combination is perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it was very delicious. It came together as something resembling a chicken and dumpling soup, or inverse chicken pot pie. Certainly something I’d try again, especially once I’ve done a bit of research as to how to improve the handling of the potato based dough.