Can't afford pastries made with Valrhona Equatoriale 55% this year? Not to worry. Clara Cannucciari, a spunky 94-year-old home cook from Skaneateles in central New York's Finger Lakes region, has a pocket full of Depression-era recipes for you in her new cookbook, Clara's Kitchen. Salads of backyard dandelion greens and simple pastas dressed with garlic and olive oil are what Cannucciari grew up supping on in the 1930s when expensive ingredients like meat, butter, sugar — and those damn “stubborn” artichokes in the video below — were scarce.
Many of the recipes are ingenious red sauce-inspired pantry creations with a side of Sopranos humor (Cannucciari's father was born in Sicily, her mother in Italy). In chapter three, “It's a Hot Meal, Stop Complaining,” you'll find “poorman's meal,” a dish of skillet-fried potatoes, onions and sliced hot dogs with tomato sauce and a light sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese. The “Pasta…Again” chapter offers simple recipes like pasta with escarole and olive oil, or beef scrap ragu if you're lucky enough to have leftover meat on hand. A word of caution: if you don't like a recipe in the book, we suggest you politely keep you lip zipped. As Cannucciari's mother liked to say “Eat this Mush, or I'll throw you out on your tush.” Although judging by the family's motto — no matter how tight things get, never scrimp on the olive oil or homemade red wine, and there's always a backyard green to cook up — these were hardly dinners of mush.
Cannucciari's recipe for budget holiday sugar cookies is after the jump.
Sundays were baking days at Cannucciari's house during the Depression. Her mother would bake bread for the week, and if she was lucky, a batch of these “Depression Era Breakfast” sugar cookies. Take note, there is to be no complaining about the absence of vanilla extract. It's expensive. “People don't realize how easy they have it these days,” says Cannucciari. “We never wanted anything because we never realized we could have anything.”
Depression Era Breakfast Sugar Cookies
From: Adapted from Clara's Kitchen by Clara Cannucciari
Note: Today Cannucciari adds butter to her mother's recipe to make a richer cookie. Watch the video to see how she slices the dough rounds to make crescent shapes.
Makes: 2 dozen cookies
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter
¾ cup sugar
3 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a stand mixer or in a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl then mix them into the butter. Add about half the flour to the butter mixture and mix well. Add the remaining flour and mix well.
2. Sprinkle a work surface lightly with flour. Roll one-fourth of the dough into a log about 2-inches thick. Cut the log into 3-inch pieces, then make a small slit in the middle of each piece (not cutting all the way through). Bend the dough in half at the slit to make a crescent shape.
3. Place the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on the cookie sheet.