The Junior League of Pasadena‘s classic Pasadena Prefers (1964) is another of those time capsule cookbooks that perfectly capture the home cooking of a particular time, place, and people.  Here, it’s affluent suburban housewives in southern California in the 1960s, the kind of women who might be called upon to wrangle a hoard of hungry small children, whip up a weeknight supper for the family, or pull off some gracious, elegant entertaining at a moment’s notice, and make it look effortless.

This week, I not only wanted to cook a classic 60s meal suitable for a nice family supper or for grown-up company, but I also wanted to settle a question:  why don’t people make leg of lamb and ice box cake anymore?

Are they too time-consuming?  Not tasty?  Dated?  Or, in the case of the icebox cake, which calls for several uncooked eggs, potentially dangerous?

The first recipe from Pasadena Prefers that I made recently came up on an episode of Mad Men when Don Draper drops in on his schoolteacher mistress, who offers him a slice of date nut bread.  While the quick bread is still alive and well, in pumpkin, banana, zucchini, and cranberry forms, the poor date nut bread has fallen from favor, unjustly, I might add.

Date Bread


Date Bread, which I did not offer to any philandering, cruel, yet devastatingly handsome and charismatic Manhattan ad men

2 cups dates, pitted and cut up; equivalent to one pound dates with seeds
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup butter
1 t. soda
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, separated
1 t. vanilla
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Pour boiling water over dates, butter, and soda. Let cool. Then add sugar, egg yolks, vanilla, salt and flour, mixing well. Add nuts. Whip egg whites until stiff but not too dry and fold into dough, blending well. Pour into 1 large or 2 small well-greased loaf pans. Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 35-45 minutes if using large pan; 1 hour and 10-15 minutes if two small pans are used. Test centers with toothpick at end of 1 hour 15 minutes, or 1 hour, depending on pans. If mixture adheres to pick, continue baking; if not, remove. Cool first in pans; then continue cooling on cake rack. When completely cool, wrap loaves in foil or saran wrap, air tight. Can be eaten immediately, but improves in texture and flavor if allowed to ripen one or two days before using.

— Mrs. Varick D. Martin, Jr.

It’s a dense, sticky bread that, as promised by Mrs. Martin, becomes stickier and moister after a day or so.  I kept meaning to send one of the loaves into work with Brady, but instead, we greedily kept both for ourselves, and got a week’s worth of yummy breakfast out of them.

I doubted if I’d like this next recipe (cold cream-based soups are not my thing), but it just seemed like such a perfect, clipped from an issue of Good Housekeeping, 60s appetizer that I just had to try it.

Avocado Soup


Avocado Soup

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 cups cold clear chicken broth
1 cup cream
2 T. white rum
1/2 t. curry powder
1/2 t. salt
Ground pepper
1 lemon, quartered, for garnish

Combine all ingredients, except lemon, in blender. Serve in chilled cups, with lemon quarter on the side. Serves 4.

— Mrs. Hubert Paul, Jr.

Actually, this was almost good.  However, that little pinch of curry powder gave the soup a rather unpleasant aftertaste that sort of spoiled the whole thing.  If you’re a fan of cold soups, though, you might give this one a try without the curry powder.

Next, it was time for the main event, the leg of lamb, which I had to buy at a specialty butcher as my local grocery store only sold little 1-pound packages of lamb stew meat.  As is the case with most older cookbooks, the authors just assume that you know how to do things like trim and tie a piece of lamb, which I did not.  Cook’s Illustrated provided some useful tips on this, and the rest I pieced together by consulting Food & Wine magazine and the Food Network website.

Still, I had little to no idea whether I was doing it remotely correctly, so that might impact exactly how instructive all of my instructive photos are here.

Lamb Roasted with Coffee and Cream

Leg of lamb
Dry mustard
Salt and pepper
Salt pork, sliced thin
2 cups coffee with cream
1 cup port wine

Skin lamb. Rub with garlic, mustard, salt and pepper.


Place salt pork over lamb and roast 1/2 hour at 400 degrees until lamb is brown.


lamb3Remove salt pork. Pour coffee with cream over lamb and roast 2 hours at 325 degrees basting frequently. Add port wine and cook 1/2 hour more.

— Mrs. William A. Brackenridge

The roasting times for this recipe will result in a leg of lamb that is probably more well-done than modern diners tend to prefer.  My meat thermometer read 140 degrees after two hours in the oven, so I added the port then, and cut the remaining roasting time to about 20 minutes in the oven, plus 10 minutes of resting on the cutting board.  With a total roasting time of 2 and a half hours for a 5-pound leg of lamb, instead of 3, most of the lamb came out somewhere between medium and medium-well.  So, if you like your meat a little bloodier, adjust accordingly.

I also found myself unable to procure salt pork to lay over the lamb during the first stage of roasting.  I picked up some bacon instead, but had concerns that the smoked flavor would interfere with the lamb.

Thankfully, Pasadena native Julia Child came to the rescue.  In those rare situations where the smoky, salty flavor of bacon isn’t necessarily a plus, Child recommends blanching it by placing the strips in a saucepan of cold water, bringing it to a boil, and allowing it to simmer for 5-8 minutes.  Problem solved.

My final concern about the leg of lamb was its cost.  However, Brady and I ate sliced lamb for two nights, then put the rest of the leg through a meat grinder, and made shepherd’s pie with the leftovers.  So, two people were fed for 4 nights, making the leg of lamb, in the end, not so extravagant after all.

And, I might add, we were fed very, very well.  Even though it was a bit more well-done than I would have liked, the lamb was still juicy, and the coffee/port basting juices were a delicious complement.  Why don’t people roast leg of lamb anymore?  Aside from the difficulty of obtaining it (which really wasn’t all that difficult), I can’t think of a single reason.

I wanted to make peas for a side dish (which would come in handy when we made the shepherd’s pie), and the recipe that I chose here was coincidentally, also submitted by Mrs. Varick D. Martin, Jr.

Savory Peas


Savory Peas

1 pkg. frozen peas
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 T. olive oil – or half olive, half Wesson
1/2-1 t. sugar
1/2 t. sweet basil
Salt and pepper to taste

In saucepan, blend together all ingredients except peas. Cover. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Cook peas according to package directions. Add to mixture, and reheat 1-2 minutes. Serve at once.

— Mrs. Varick D. Martin, Jr.

Finally, for dessert, I planned to tackle a version of a recipe that has fascinated me for as long as I’ve been collecting old cookbooks:  the ice box cake.  They’re ubiquitous in American cookbooks from the 50s or 60s, but nowhere else.  And despite the raw eggs, they’ve always struck me as delicious-sounding.  So, once again I had a moment of doubt, but ultimately decided that a) this dessert was eaten for decades and probably no one died of it, b) it was pretty sad that I had put it off this long, and c) who was I anyway to argue with the Junior League of Pasadena?

German Ice Box Cake

2 cakes German sweet chocolate
2 T. water
1 T. powdered sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 t. vanilla
1 dozen lady fingers

Melt chocolate and water in double boiler. Add sugar and beat well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and beat well. Add vanilla. Beat egg whites stiff, and fold into mixture.


Line a one quart loaf pan with wax paper. Split lady fingers and line bottom and sides.


Pour in mixture.


Refrigerate overnight. Serves 8.

— Mrs. H.C. Krueger

I got this started with two hours in the freezer, then moved it to the refrigerator until the next day when it was time to eat.  Then, I had to trim the edges of the lady fingers, which came up a little further on the side of the pan than the chocolate mixture.


Then, I inverted the loaf pan on a serving platter, removed the pan, and peeled off the wax paper.  As you can see, I could have used some slightly sturdier lady fingers (or maybe some sponge cake, which can be substituted), but though there was a dicey moment, it did not collapse.


German Ice Box Cake

It is a very special day in a young woman’s life when she makes her first ice box cake.  And as with the leg of lamb, I regret that they have declined in popularity, because it was delicious.  The chocolate filling was like a cross between pudding and mousse, and though I would have liked a thicker lady finger, it make for a good combination.

As my week with the Junior League of Pasadena comes to an end, I have to admit that I’m no closer to answering my question about the leg of lamb and the ice box cake.  They weren’t difficult or time-consuming to make, not that expensive, all things considered, and both tasted great.

And I think both should make a comeback, if for no other reason than that it is really satisfying to make something you’ve never tried to cook before, especially when it turns out more or less like it’s supposed to.


The time capsule cooking has been fun, but next week, it’s back to the present, and to the Midwest, with the Junior League of Minneapolis-St. Paul.


pasadena prefersThis week I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Pasadena’s Pasadena Prefers (1964), because I felt like moving a little closer to home, preferably towards a city with no Major League baseball team (though Jackie Robinson did grow up there, and cut his sporting chops at Pasadena Junior College in the 1930s).

Though Pasadena is just a few miles north of downtown Los Angeles, it seems worlds away, an outpost of quaintness, quiet, and beautifully landscaped yards within easy reach of the squalorous city.  As a result, it’s both a city in its own right, and an uncommonly pleasant suburb, possibly the closest that southern California comes to recreating life as experienced on Leave it to Beaver.  When Brady first moved to Los Angeles, he stayed with a friend there while apartment-hunting in the city, and began to refer to Pasadena as “The Womb.”

Even in its beginnings as a modern city, Pasadena was very much a product of that line of thinking.

first pasadena mapLet’s travel back to the 1870s, when a group of asthmatic, consumptive Hoosiers is so eager to escape another brutal Midwestern winter that they form a trust, the California Colony of Indiana, whose sole mission is to acquire some land in California, so that its membership might settle there.  A Mr. D.M. Berry was sent to survey the state, and wound up deciding that the land then known as the Rancho San Pasqual was ideal for their purposes.  In 1873, that particular chunk of property was owned by two men, Benjamin D. Wilson and Dr. John S. Griffin.  Griffin was eager to get rid of his land, while Wilson wasn’t (until a few years later).  The dividing line between their properties is now known as Fair Oaks Avenue.

Complicating all of this was the Panic of 1873, which was nearly the end of the California Colony of Indiana.  However, Berry was quick on his feet, and formed the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association, which sold stock to Angelenos eager to move to the area.  Each new settler got 15 acres of land for each share of stock, and thus, a city known for being settled by Midwesterners actually wasn’t… exactly.

In 1875, the city was named Pasadena, from a Chippewa word meaning either “valley between hills” or “Crown of the Valley,” depending who you ask.

Houses, churches, and schools were built, and then hotels, making Pasadena a prime destination for wealthy tourists, many of whom became residents.  A “Millionaire’s Row” sprung up along Orange Grove Avenue, boasting residences owned by families with names like Wrigley, Gamble, and Busch.

Pasadena is probably best known for hosting both the annual Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl.  Both got off to interesting starts.  The first parade was held in 1890, and consisted of a bunch of buggies adorned with flowers, followed by a day of sporting events (today, it’s not uncommon for a ToR float to run about a quarter of a million dollars).  Football didn’t enter into the picture until 1902, when Michigan trounced Stanford 49-0.  Though the event was a great success, drawing around 8000 people and creating an enormous traffic jam, it was thought too rough and wild, and the football game was discontinued until 1916.

However, in 1964, both traditions were alive and well.  That year, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower would serve as Grand Marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

tournament of roses cover 1964


As for Pasadena Prefers, the Junior League of Pasadena’s Cookbook Committee reads like a Who’s Who directory of Los Angeles County, though perhaps the best-known person on the roster is Marilyn Chandler, then wife of Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler.  Despite its pedigree, the Foreword to the cookbook has a down-to-earth, slightly dippy, harried housewife tone worthy of Erma Bombeck (who would serve as the Tournament of Roses Grand Marshal in 1986):

Next came the tasting forms which enlivened many a dinner party and tried many a husband who had been busy at a desk all day and might have preferred to eat his dinner without comment… Without their help, we would never have been able to collect anything we were sure they that they would like.  Children helped, too.  For the strictly raised child who is normally not allowed to remark about the food on his plate, tasting forms were a real boon.  “Do I like the taste?  Ugh!  Would I serve it to guests?  Only if they were enemies.”

… Determining the length of time necessary to prepare a given dish was fraught with difficulties… Kitchen utensils have a way of disappearing just when you need them.  Foreign objects sometimes find their way into cake batters (remove all Lego pieces before baking).  Mud-covered children invade your domain.  Under these conditions, there is no such thing as a quick recipe, but remember, it is all relative.

1964 rose queen

1964 rose courtThe book itself divides recipes not by standard courses, but by their “adaptability to sporting activities either as accompaniment or postlude.”  As a result, chapters have names like “Lawn Sports” (outdoor picnics) “Skiing” (hearty, fortifying meals) and even “Bridge” (ladies’ luncheons), “Parlor Games” (entertaining in), and “Armchair Sports” (small gatherings of close friends and family).

The recipes themselves are textbook examples of 60s home cookery.  Aspics abound, ethnic foods are adapted to middle American palates, and there’s even a tamale pie or two.  Later this week, I’ll be trying out a number of them.  Most are dishes that I’ve never even come close to attempting, and two have greatly fallen out of favor in our times:  the roasted leg of lamb and the icebox cake.

We’ll see if that’s for good reason or not.  I will say, however, that leg of lamb is not exactly cheap these days, and icebox cake usually calls for raw eggs, so we’ll see how this all turns out.  Hopefully not with a trip to the ER (or as in that classic Roald Dahl story/Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, to the morgue).

For the record, my leg of lamb is not frozen, thus making it an improbable murder weapon.

pasadena freedom loving