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A Retro Recipe for Hard Times

Retro recipes have been coming back into fashion lately. I've seen a few aspics in popular food magazines, and rumaki got a shout-out on Mad Men. There are probably many reasons for this trend, including changes in barometric pressure and the phases of the moon, but I like to stick to philosophizing about tangible reasons for things being the way they are. I have a one-word response to all this: Grandmother.

Most of my personal Proustian moments occur when I smell something that resembles the smells in my grandmother's house. Collard greens are a prime example. The smell of cooking collard greens is not inherently pleasant, but it is nonetheless capable of making my stomach growl simply because I remember my grandmother cooking them. Ditto brown gravy. Thoroughly unexciting, especially to someone with a palate for highly-flavored foods. But Grandma made it.

Of course, we could go deeper. We think so fondly of these homely foods because they are foods from a simpler, sweeter time in our lives when our biggest worries were acquiring one of the swings on the playground at recess and getting the dog to eat our green beans without Mom noticing. Ah yes, the good old days. I find that I especially crave things like this when the world is going crazy, as it has been lately. Listening to the radio in the morning is enough to make you want to get back in bed and pull the covers over your eyes. Wake me when it's over! At least you can return to childhood at your dinner table. Just don't play with your food, and remember to use your utensils. You probably have a reputation to maintain, after all.

This recipe is a true classic gem from Irma Rombauer's 1939 cookbook, Streamlined Cooking. Being a recipe from 1939, it is a little lacking in flavor. If your family likes food on the subtle side, it will probably suit you just fine. If you like more spice, please feel free to add it liberally. I can imagine that a good dose of chili powder or, if you like Indian spices, some garam masala or a spicy curry powder would be a good companion to this dish. The white bread crust is terribly cute, but you could always use whole wheat bread or even a real piecrust. I tend to think that the crust as-is gives this dish more character.

Hamburger Pie
4 to 5 servings

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat in a large skillet over medium-high heat:
        2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Cook, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until it is browned and the onion softened, about 10 minutes:
        1 pound lean ground beef
        1 medium onion, chopped

 Stir in:
        2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
        2 teaspoons chili powder

Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in:
        One 14 1⁄2-ounce can tomatoes, with their juice
        One 15 1⁄4-ounce can corn, drained, or one 10-ounce package frozen corn, thawed

Bring to a simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, and cook 3 minutes. Stir in:
        3⁄4 teaspoon salt
        (1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic)
        (1 teaspoon brown sugar)

Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch glass pie pan or 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Set aside. Trim the crusts from:
        6 slices white sandwich bread
Spread one side of the slices with:
        2 tablespoons butter, softened
Cut the bread slices into quarters. Arrange the quarters buttered side up over the meat mixture, overlapping the pieces by about 1⁄2 inch and covering the mixture completely. Gently press the bread down to anchor it to the filling. Bake until the crust is browned, about 30 minutes.



Charles Moffett's picture

Looking for Beef Pot Pie


Meredith's picture

Substituted veggie crumbles (found in the frozen isle) for the beef. I was a little skeptical about the substitution, but it was a hit. Both my partner, who's also vegetarian, and my mother, who's not, loved it! This will definitely be a regular feature in our house. Easy and delicious. Thanks!
meg's picture

Awesome! So glad you tried the substitution and that it worked nicely. JOY isn't known as a vegetarian-friendly book, but many of the recipes are either vegetarian or easily made vegetarian.
Merna's picture

I'm a real fan of retro recipes, well a lot of them, there are some dishes from the sixties that i wouldn't make, lime jello cabbage salad perhaps comes to mind. I have a recipe that has been in my family for decades for hot milk sponge cake that has only 1 tb of butter, is very quick and Very good. I am thawing some rib steaks that I bought for $3.00 a pound, they aren't good steaks but ground meat was at $6 so this I'll grind them and make this tonight. The world has gone a bit nuts if I bought steaks for 1/2 the price of hamburger!
meg's picture

Agreed--there are plenty of retro recipes that are best left alone. The hot milk sponge cake sounds delicious! As for the ground meat, I think you're absolutely doing the right thing by grinding your own meat--even if the price on ground meat wasn't so high, you can get the meat you want and grind it yourself without worrying as much about contamination. After all, you never know how clean the facility is where they grind the meat you see in the supermarket. It makes us feel better to grind our own.

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Make the brandied peaches first. In a medium bowl, combine:
     2 ripe peaches, sliced
     2 tablespoons sugar
     3 tablespoons brandy or bourbon

Let the...