Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Simon sisters cook comfort food

Freda Simon Oppenheimer
This is the last look, for this week at least, into the 1907 St. Andrew's Guild Cook Book --- and considering the situation of things in general, it's a good morning for comfort food, something Chariton's Simon sisters --- Freda (Simon) Oppenheimer and Sadie (Simon) Oppenheimer --- were good at. 

The women were immigrants from Germany and most likely learned the culinary basics there within their large Jewish family, so the recipes they submitted are for hearty dishes with more of an ethnic flavor than is found in many of the others.

Freda was born during 1864 in Altleiningen, now within the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, and came to American when she was about 18 to live in the home of her cousin, Max Loeb, an Albia clothier, and his wife, Bertha (Oppenheimer) Loeb. There she met Bertha's younger brother, the dashing Simon Oppenheimer, an aspiring clothier himself, and they were married in 1883.

The newlyweds went into business first in Red Oak, but after about a year moved to Chariton where, in 1884, they opened a family business that would continue in several incarnations for almost a century.

After they were established in Chariton, Freda and Simon sent for her younger sister, Sadie, born during 1870. In Chariton, Sadie met Simon's nephew, Eli Oppenheimer, and they were married during 1891.

Eli and Sadie established a business of their own in Nevada (the Iowa town, not the state) during the 1890s, but in 1899 moved back to Chariton where Eli eventually joined his uncle in business and the reunited sisters lived happily for many years as neighbors on South Grand Street.

All of the Oppenheimers were affiliated with Congregation B'nai Jeshrun --- Des Moines' first Jewish congregation and Iowa's first Reform congregation --- but also were honorary affiliates of St. Andrew's. And both Freda and Sadie were members of the St. Andrew's Guild. Freda, especially, was a formidable hostess, not only to her own large extended family but also, newspaper reports suggest, to half the population of Chariton at one time or another.


So to start with, here is her recipe for Hungarian Goulash --- considerably different from the bland institutional casseroles presented as "goulash" that I remember from various school cafeterias.

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

Take one can of tomatoes, boil and strain; add to this a lump of butter, juice of two lemons, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Take two pounds of chopped veal, add one chopped onion, two eggs, salt, pepper and ginger. Make into balls, wrap these balls in large, scalded cabbage leaves. Pour the tomato sauce over the wrapped balls and boil slowly two hours. Do not stir. Shake occasionally.


Freda seems to have specialized in various forms of bread and hearty pastry --- and here are three from the Guild cookbook:

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

Make a soft sponge from one cake yeast; let rise overnight. In the morning make this stiff using half rye and half wheat flour, a large handful of salt and a large handful caraway seed (if desirable). Work the dough into a ball, your hands having been well floured; knead hard toward center of ball; the ball should be turned over and around so that every portion may be manipulated. The longer you knead the finer the pores of the bread. No matter if you do feel fatigued, the exercise is beneficial to your arms and chest. Now work the dough into shapely loaves and let it rise for an hour then wet, or rather brush the top of the loaves with water and bake slowly for an hour.

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

Sift two pounds of flour into a bowl; set a sponge in it with two cents worth of compressed yeast, a teaspoon of salt, a pint of lukewarm water, a tablespoon of sugar. When this has risen, add a half pound of creamed butter, a quarter pound seedless raisins and one-quarter pound of sugar, yolks of four eggs, four ounces of powdered almonds, and the grated peel of one lemon. Work all well, beating with the hands, not kneading. Let this dough rise at least three hours, then form into one or two loaves, narrow at the ends, like a stolle. Brush the top with melted butter, let rise again, and bake over half an hour in a moderate oven.

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

When you set sponge for bread keep out a bowl full; add to this one egg, one cup sugar, one cup butter, one cup of luke-warm milk. Mix this thoroughly, then add enough flour to make it stiff but not as stiff as bread; let this rise over night. In the morning roll out in thin layers, put in pans and let rise an hour, then sprinkle this mixture over the cakes; bake in slow oven until brown. Mix cinnamon, sugar, flour, butter and few nuts. Use your own judgement as to the amount of each, or according to the number of cakes you have.


And here's a recipe for tapioca pudding that interests me --- I like tapioca pudding, but am accustomed to a plainer variety.

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

One cup of tapioca soaked over night; let this boil slowly on back of stove; then add one and one-half cups sugar until well melted; add one-half can of grated pineapple, juice of two lemons. Let this boil up well; add beaten whites of three eggs. Serve this when cold with whipped cream.


And finally, from Freda, your basic recipe for dill pickles --- and remember that at the time this recipe was being prepared, commerically prepared dill pickles arrived at the store in barrels rather than neatly sealed in glass jars.

Mrs. Freda Oppenheimer

Take nice, large cucumbers, wash and wipe them, lay them in a (stoneware) jar, sprinkle coarse salt over each layer and add a great quantity of dill, cover each layer of pickles with grape leaves, then add a handful of whole pepper. Fill the jar full of cold water, put a plate over the top and upon this place a clean stone. Place the jar in a warm place for about three days, then remove to a cool place. They will be ready for use in about a week.


Sadie Oppenheimer does not seem to have been quite as enthusiastic about cooking and entertaining as Freda was, but she did submit recipes for basic noodle soup --- and the noodles needed to prepare it.

Mrs. Sadie Oppenheimer

For about six persons, 10 cents worth of soup bone; add three quarts water, one onion, one celery root, some parsley, three ripe tomatoes and the giblets of poultry if you have any. Cover up tight. Put on as early as 8 a.m. and boil very slow and steady if for 12 o'clock dinner. Remove every bit of scum that rises, strain, add salt and remove every particle of fat Put in noodles, boil about five minues and serve at once. If allowed to stand it will become thick.

Mrs. Sadie Oppenheimer

Put a large handful of sifted flour in bowl, make hollow in center of flour and break in an egg; take handle of knife and stir the egg slowly always in same direction until the dough is so stiff it cannot be stirred more with knife. Flour your baking board and empty your dough upon it, and knead with hollow of hand; work until quite stiff; flour your board and roll out thin as possible; lay on clean table near kitchen fire to dry; cut into halves, double up and cut as fine as possible; spread lightly to dry.


As a bonus, here's an account clipped from a January 1898 edition of The Patriot that gives some idea of the scale of Freda's entertaining:

Mrs. Simon Oppenheimer Receives and Entertains

Mrs. Simon Oppenheimer is providing a series of receptions and parties at her beautifully arranged home on south Grand street that will be remembered in society as the most complete and finished function of the winter season. On Tuesday afternoon she received her feminine friends from 2 to 6 o'clock and entertained them handsomely but so naturally as to put everyone at their ease. Toothsome refreshments were served and the first of the series was brought to a close to the sorrow of all present.

On last evening, the house was again thrown open to friends. The entertainment for this evening was cards and the company was composed of ladies and gentlemen in about equal numbers. The time passed all too swiftly for those present, but as time waits no one they were compelled to at last quit the pleasures of the game and retire, but not until they had been served with the delectable dainties provided by the hostess.

This afternoon the third and last number of the series of entertainment is being held. A bevy of ladies are guests and the invitations contain the request that they bring their knitting. A jolly time is in progress and this promises to be the most enjoyable one in the lot. Mrs. Oppenheimer has added new laurels to her already wide reputation as a thoughtful and resourceful hostess.

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Freda! What a party animal!!