It has been a few years, so we don’t feel too guilty for not remembering who gave us Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book. Jerri thinks it is remotely possible that she bought it before we headed for Charlottesville, Virginia and moved into our first home, a terrace apartment in an antebellum house.
Terrace apartment, at least in Charlottesville, was the name given to an apartment built partly below ground in what would be the basement but with retaining walls set back a few feet from the house so that we had windows and a certain amount of natural daylight.
It had been the slaves’ quarters before the Civil War with solid masonry walls, broad plank floorboards of pine, a huge living room, and a tiny kitchen added much later. Our landlady, the wife of “the Seventh George Gilmer in Virginia,” as she was fond of explaining, recommended that we hire a cleaning lady to help Jerri, who was teaching high school full time.
That is how we met Mary and Martha, two widowed sisters who were some of the nicest people we ever met, though Mrs. Gilmer warned us that we had to keep our eyes on them. When I asked her, she told us not to pay Mary $1 an hour, the federal minimum wage. She explained that though both Mary and her sister were honest and could be trusted not to steal from us when Jerri was teaching and I was in seminars at the university, they were blacks and therefore slow and inclined to slack off when no one was watching. We paid her the dollar an hour anyway.
A few months after we moved into the apartment, Mary announced that the living room floor needed a coat of wax. She asked me to buy a can of Johnson Paste Wax for her. Since it was spring break at the university, I bought an extra can of wax so I could help wax the floor. The night before the project Jerri and I moved the furniture into the dining room and swept. Moving the furniture was easy, as it consisted of a used sofa, a rocking chair and a couple of brick and board bookcases. We also had to roll up and move the braided oval rug that we lounged on in front of the fireplace.
We got up early that day. Although Mary had to walk two miles to get to our apartment, as usual she arrived at daybreak. While Jerri dressed for school, Mary and I got busy with rags and wax. I had not paid much attention to how fast she worked, as she was usually remaking the bed (Jerri made it even when Mary was going to do it again.) or doing the dishes when I left for classes.
I was about halfway down the thirty-foot expanse of floor on my section when Mary started back on her second swath. When I finished mine, she was headed back towards me on her third swath. I checked her work and found a smooth even coat of wax on the lovely honey-colored wood. She was like an electric floor waxer/buffer. She thanked me for helping with the floor, and when she left that day I gave her an extra dollar. She had earned it, if only for teaching me that a 65-year-old widow could work faster than me.
A few months later, Martha was filling in for Mary one day when I was home. She was ironing my shirts in the dining almost as fast as I could hang them in the bedroom closet. I had recently learned from someone that Mrs. Gilmer paid Mary and Martha and the 60-year-old “boy” who was her gardener only 75 cents an hour.
When I asked her what she thought of the lower wage, she smiled at me, then cut her ironing speed in half. As she moved the iron slowly down the board, she said, “When ah irons for Miz Gilmer, ah jest goes like this.” If there was much ironing to do, Mrs. Gilmer would have saved money by paying minimum wage.
But back to the cookbook: It is a small spiral bound book that lies flat on the counter so you can follow the recipes easily. As the title suggests the book was intended to help a new bride prepare meals for her husband. It includes sections on American Favorites, Seasonal Specials, Regional Meals, Pennywise Dinners, Good and Easy Dinners, and more. The book was published in 1958 and is no longer in print, but used copies are still available.
Jerri’s Salmon Loaf comes from the Good and Easy section, and we like it a lot. If you want a good and easy meat course to go with boiled potatoes and creamed green peas, this is the recipe for you.
1 14.75 oz. can or 2 cups of pink or red salmon
Liquid from the salmon plus enough milk to make 3/4 cup
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed cracker crumbs
1 T lemon juice
2 tsp. chopped onion
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350º and grease one end of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Make a divider of folded aluminum foil.
Open the can of salmon and drain the liquid into a measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 3/4 cup of liquid and set aside.
Put the salmon into a mixing bowl and use a fork to flake the meat. Coarsely crush about 1 1/2 cups of saltine crackers and mix them with the salmon. Beat an egg in a small bowl until it is lemon colored, then beat in the liquid, salt and pepper. Add the liquid to the fish and cracker mixture and mix well with a fork. Stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice. If the mixture seems too soft, add a few more cracker crumbs. If it seems too dry add a small amount of milk.
Spoon the mixture into the greased end of the loaf pan and gently press the end and top into a loaf shape. Use the tinfoil to help support the open end of the loaf
Bake the loaf on the center shelf of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until the top is crisp.
Serve slices of salmon loaf with boiled potatoes, green peas in white sauce and bread.
Green Peas in White Sauce
This is an ordinary medium thick white sauce flavored with a dash or two of white pepper.
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
3 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
If you are using fresh green peas, put them in boiling water and cook for about five minutes. If using frozen peas, cook them for about three minutes in a microwave oven.
Melt the butter over low heat in a heavy 1 1/2 quart saucepan. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper and cook for two or three minutes to make a roux, stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon. Do not brown the flour.
While the flour is cooking heat the milk until it is steaming. Add the hot milk all at once to the roux. Stir continuously with the whisk or spoon and cook the mixture four or five minutes to make a smooth sauce. Drain the peas and add them to the sauce. Simmer for one or two minutes.
NOTES: We always use canned salmon and frozen peas for this recipe. Betty Crocker suggests a garnish of lemon wedges and parsley sprigs. I don’t think Jerri did that even when we were first married, and we are still eating her salmon loaf. You can add a small amount of milk to the sauce if it seems too thick.