My California small town has free book kiosks throughout the community. Residents donate books they don’t want, and other residents take them and then add their own unloved volumes. It’s a great way to find old cookbooks.
The first cookbook I discovered was one that I didn’t know existed. However, once I saw the cover, I realized it was a companion volume to a book—“Thoughts for Festive Foods”—I used faithfully when I was learning to cook. Published in 1964 and illustrated with line drawings instead of the gorgeous color photos we’re used to today, the book is very much of its time.
My roommate brought it with her when she moved in, and we both found it useful as we staggered through the ritual of cooking dinner for ourselves every night. The book’s focus is on planning dinner parties, and even though we barely entertained we enjoyed the suggested menus for such occasions as the Bon Voyage Dinner, Teacher Comes to Dinner and Circus Party for Pre-Schoolers.
Time passed and my roommate moved out and took this cookbook with her, so I had to buy my own copy. I never imagined that someday its publisher, Houghton Mifflin, would publish my own cookbook, “HELP! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!”
Gradually “Thoughts for Festive Foods” lost out to other cookbooks, and it migrated to a hard-to-reach shelf. However, when I saw “Thoughts for Buffets” sitting there in the free kiosk, I had to bring it home. Published in 1958, it too reflects a bygone era, although that doesn’t mean its recipes are bad. Perhaps they have more salt and fat than today’s eaters want, but that’s easy to fix.
For nostalgic reasons I tried the Clover-Leaf Potato Rolls, and they turned out perfectly. Now I am going to look out for the other volume in this series, “Thoughts for Food,” published in 1946.
Clover-Leaf Potato Rolls – makes 22-24 rolls
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
2 small potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter
2-to-3 cups flour + more if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon canola oil + more for greasing muffin cups
Combine the yeast and water in the bowl of a food processor, mixer with dough hook or regular large mixing bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes until bubbles form.
Add the mashed potatoes, egg, butter, salt and 1 cup flour and process or mix thoroughly.
Add the milk and 1 cup flour and process thoroughly again. If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, and process or mix until the dough comes together in a smooth ball.
If you are not using a food processor or mixer, tip the dough onto the counter and knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed. Work it into a smooth ball.
Put the canola oil into a large bowl and spread it around. Place the dough into the bowl and flip it over so that both sides are greased. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside, away from drafts. Let rise for 2 hours.
Grease the muffin cups with canola oil and set aside.
When the dough has finished rising, cut or break off pieces the size of large marbles and shape them into small balls. Place 3 dough balls into each muffin cup. The balls should be touching each other.
If you have more dough than muffin cups, divide the extra dough into 2-inch balls and place them on a greased baking sheet. Cover the muffin cups (and baking sheet) with a tea towel and let rise for 45-to-60 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the rolls for 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve immediately or reheat briefly in the oven.