The Dark Side of Vintage Recipes

From Robe to 60's Style Wrap Coat
A Big & Small Thrift Score Thursday

I am not a foodie blogger. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, and do so quite frequently…usually with something at least vaguely pleasant to show for it afterwards. I get most of the recipes I use from online or from my beloved two-volume set. However, after my recent horrific cooking experience, even the vaguest thought of becoming a food blogger has been permanently bashed from my brain.

While ambling about the local blogosphere, I encountered a couple of posts that inspired me. One was, by April Blake, and the other was by Anne Wolfe Postic. Both articles are about the many awesome recipes you can find in old thrift store cookbooks.

April has a considerable collection.
April has a considerable collection.

You’ll recall a recent Thrift Score Thursday in which I scored this 831 page tome for free.

IMG_0364
You are a book of lies.

I flipped through the pages excitedly, seeing recipes for Smoked Duck and Caviar Crescents…ignoring other recipes for such delicacies (?) as squirrel and roasted bear (first red flag). I imagined me smiling graciously as my dinner party guests offered rounds of applause for my culinary prowess.

As I flipped through page after page of mostly picture-less (second red flag) recipes, for some reason I stopped on this one.

No, Me From the Past...turn the page! Don't do it!
No, Me From the Past…turn the page! Don’t do it!

“Huh. I used to LOVE chicken livers as a kid,” I thought. “I should make this!”

In looking back on this, I can’t actually remember any incident of eating chicken livers as a kid, let alone enjoying them. But the idea was there, so I went with it. I ran to the grocery store and got all the ingredients I needed to make what I was sure would be one of the most amazing meals I had ever prepared.

It didn’t start off very well.

The hell? I don't remember them looking this gross...
The hell? I don’t remember them looking this gross…

As I browned the livers in butter, my kitchen began to fill with the aroma of blood and baked dirt, intermingled with a sour smell that I still can’t quite put my finger on. A brownish-green gravy began to form in the pan.

But I was fearless. It would all come together in the end. I was certain. There was no going back now.

Whew! Okay. This seems normal.
Whew! Okay. This seems normal.

The next step was to remove the livers and brown the mushrooms in the leftover chicken ooze. The recipe appeared to be taking a safe turn.

WRONG!
WRONG!

Oh good God. What is this slop?????

I added the chicken stock and white wine to the mushrooms as instructed.  Then I added the livers and simmered this grotesque mess until the sauce thickened.

No. Just no.
No. Just no.

I put this awful-smelling stuff on top of a bed of rice (Yeah…that’ll help) and took my first bite.

At least the bowl is pretty?
At least the bowl is pretty?

I took a second bite.

And promptly threw the whole thing into the trash.

It was awful, my friends. It tasted exactly how it (and now my entire apartment) smelled, which wasn’t helped by the addition of the rubbery texture of the livers.

Let this be a warning to you. The next time you thrift score a cookbook, perhaps you should try the less-adventurous recipes first. Or at least stay away from sautéed organ meat.

Now…if only I could get this smell out of my house…

Cheers!

4.7 (94.47%) 76 votes

81 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Vintage Recipes

  1. My mother had the Charleston Receipts. She also had one called Carolina Housewife, or House and Home. One of the recipes said, Obtain a medium-sized turtle. Decapitate it. NOPE!

  2. Chicken livers might have been the first clue that recipe was going to be gross. Yuck! However, don’t give up on your vintage cookbook. I have one from the 1940s that describes roasting a turkey — from beginning (and I DO mean beginning) to end. You don’t want to know. I’ve found, though, that baked goods from vintage cookbooks usually turn out fantastic. There’s nothing like an old-fashioned cake with beaten icing! They do require a little practice, but when you get one right….mmmmm!!

  3. I make dog food with them! Sounds like you encountered a bile sac – I hate when that happens. I’m vegetarian myself.

  4. Simmer lemons or orange slices on your stove to help get rid of icky smells. I do it every couple of weeks to get rid of mystery smells in the house from garbage and my doggy. ;)

      1. You poor brave woman. I bow to your greatness. No way on God’s green earth would I have even considered that recipe. Told my sweet hubby if he wants liver and onions he has two choices: make it himself or go someplace to get them. *Doing the oogie liver dance while I make the ewwwww face.* Love your blog, Jillian! You’re an inspiration.

      2. I LOVE chicken livers. YUM! Soak them in milk for a few hours and rinse before cooking. BTW, it is the kidneys that produce urine. Doesn’t matter, I like them cooked too.

  5. Too, too Funny! I also tried liver (beef) as an adult because I remembered liking it as a kid and suffice it to say it was a gourmet meal for my dogs ;)

  6. You should check out the mid-century menu blog. She makes recipes she finds in vintage cookbooks and feeds them to her husband with mixed results. It’s hilarious. She also does cocktails, which turn out much better.

  7. Don’t give up on the book! Gourmet published some really delicious recipes. I think the issue was the chicken livers. Before going vegetarian, I cooked chicken livers from time to time (awesome pate) and while they could be a bit gamy, I never had the smell you described, so I think the problem was the particular batch you used. Buy somewhere else next time.

    I love your blog but it really is fantasyland for me because I live in NYC where thrift store prices are much, much higher. The environmental considerations still apply but it is not necessarily cheaper. I should note that in times of economic boom, you can score some awesome things for free on the street here. After he retired and lost weight, my husband replaced his entire wardrobe with street finds, including boots.

  8. Boil some white vinegar in a pan on the stove – boil it hard for awhile. Yea, the vinegar will stink for awhile, but when it dissipates, all other odors go with it. We lived with a terrible smell (won’t go into details, but it was a cooking disaster) for days before I heard this and it worked magically!

    1. Oh you smart cookie- you beat me to it! Arlene is correct, white vinegar will clear the smell of the bile, once it dissipates.
      I hope you try liver again, because it is really tasty. Maybe buy it from a butcher next time.
      Gloria is right, that’s the kidney’s job. Right now though, I must look into Sarah’s recipe…

    2. Yes – love that vinegar! It works the same way to get musty odors out of fabrics in the wash. For stubborn mildew smells, it might take a second or even third try, but vinegar never lets me down.

  9. My mom forced me to eat liver when I was a kid. The memory of that smell and that fuzzy taste still makes me shudder 40 years later. Nope.

    1. Exactly what my mom did! Once I left her house, I swore never to put another one of those things in my mouth! However, I will simmer the turkey giblets in a big pot of water to make more broth to make gravy with. But those organs get tossed afterwards!

  10. Haha! You make my day with this post! I have tried to explain to my family why I don’t buy, cook, or eat liver of any kind. You covered it all right here! I believe I will save this just so you can explain for me! Thanks again for sharing!

  11. Blame the recipe Jillian, not yourself! You were on your way to making a fine chicken mushroom pate, you just didn’t know it at the time! If the livers were cooked til pink, mixed with different spices and the whole mess whirled in the food processor it would have been a hit!

  12. I love this because it reminded me of one of my childhood experiences. My father loved liver and thought his girls should too. The first time I remember my mother cooking it, the onions made the kitchen smell heavenly. I took my first bite, thinking it would taste the way it smelled. It never did.

  13. My husband and I are both excellent cooks and recently encountered the problem with a recipe for Welsh Rarebit from an English tea book—modern. We though the ingredients called for and the amounts were suspect, but as you did, we soldiered on thinking it would come out alright. Well, it did not. Whether a mistake in the recipe or something someone would actually eat, we are not sure, but it was a disaster. We laugh about that each time we try a new recipe. Recently we have purchased a tagine and begun with Moroccan cooking. I am sure the stews are not as good as they should be, but to our uncultivated taste for Moroccan, they taste delicious.

    By the way, I love your clothing refurbishments. Our daughter-in-law buys great designer stuff in thrift shops and passes much of the bootie on to us. I will be looking at it with a new eye after being inspired by your blog.

  14. I used to cook chicken liver for 18 years because my cat loved it . It smells awefull and I never tasted myself. My father did, but he loves chickes liver although he’s not a cat :D

  15. To remove any lingering odors whether from cooking fish, broccoli or livers. ..mix 1/2 & 1/2 water and regular vinegar. Bring to boil and let boil for min of 20 mins. The vinegar neutralizes the odors in the air. And the disapates away. No liver smell. No vinegar smell.

    Also, if you try any recipes calling for chicken livers, substitute calf livers. It’s easier to make sure the green bile duct has been removed. Chicken livers are small and the green bile duct gets left on 9 out of 10 times when being processed.

    PS. There is a blog glamorous housewife. She has a video series. Keeping it modern. How to video showing original 1940s through 1980s recipes and how to update them for today’s taste. Might be of help.

    Good luck
    I truly enjoy your posts on all subjects.

  16. I’ve inherited a number of vintage cookbooks that happily reside in my Scenic Historic Section, meaning they are just there to remind me of how far we’ve come as a nation. I find old recipes to be awesome for laughs, but not anything else.

    Still, I admire your optimistic and plucky spirit. I would TOTALLY read a food blog with posts like this, but then, you’d actually have to MAKE that crap. Seems like a poor way to treat a favorite blogger!

  17. Loved reading this. Hate chicken livers and hate mushrooms. So there’s that. Please make sure you blog about your next cooking adventure from a vintage cookbook!

  18. Oh my gosh any liver is a no no in my home, we ate so much liver growing up I just hate it, the smell the col,or and the texture are just not for me.
    I see what you mean about the smell eeew.
    I love vintage cookbooks and have many, I love trying out new menu ideas.
    Still you always make me smile.

    Blessings
    Catherine

  19. Ohhhh … how disappointing, and kind of expensive … But how funny the way you tell it! So sorry you had a bad experience, but keep trying … and let us know how it goes.

  20. I think the problem is that you didn’t flour the livers and the butter cannot get hot enough to cook the livers but leave them firm. If you try again, I suggest cooking in a vegetable oil, remove the livers, add mushrooms, and other ingredients, then add the livers the last few minutes of cooking. But, I doubt you’ll ever try this dish again.

  21. I love chopped chicken liver and so do my children. It has never given off a weird smell. Usually the smell of liver cooking brings everyone excitedly to the kitchen. We always wash the raw liver first and remove anything that does not look right. ie; fat, veins, or a hear!. Sorry it did not work out for you.

  22. You are so funny. I was laughing and laughing reading your post out loud to my hubby inbetween coughing fits(getting over bronchittis)I love your adventurous cooking spirit. I have never in my life swallowed a bite of liver. I would sit at the kitchen table, as a kid, for who knows how long…..

  23. If you cook liver too long it will turn rubbery. It needs to be a little bit pink in the middle. Getting a fresh liver from a butcher or local farmer makes all the difference in the world in the taste. I got a fresh pig liver from a local Amish family and it was to die for! It was huge though and took me a couple of days to eat it all since my hubby didn’t like liver.

  24. Le sigh. I love chicken liver and I am not a cat. Overcooking liver makes it fuzzy and dry and bitter-tasting. If even one bile sack stays it ruins the dish too, because bile. Do not give up on chicken livers, though. ;)

  25. Chicken livers…ewwww! Now I remember my Mom cooking chicken gizzards and even though they sound gross, they are actually pretty good. Very chewy texture. Maybe that is what you remmebered?

  26. As someone said all ready, you have to wash the livers first. Also, from your pictures, it looks like you put too much into the pan at once. The pan is crowded which doesn’t allow the meat to brown properly and it also causes the meat to release it’s gross beefy fluid. This same thing happens if you are browning beef chunks for stew. Little amounts at a time, which also leaves delicious stuff on the bottom of the pan (rather than beef juice) which improves the flavor of the sauce, stew, soup, whatever.

    Or so says Julia Child. She also pats the meat dry before browning. I don’t got that far.

  27. Yeah if you don’t soak in milk before you cook them you taste the toxins. The liver filters toxins from the bloodstream. Soak them overnight in milk. Drain, rinse, season with scallions, pepper, salt, garlic powder. Saute with some heavy cream and mushrooms. Remove from heat before it starts to boil.

  28. PBS show featuring Chef John Folse from Louisiana featured a chopped liver spread using chicken livers, duck fat, bourbon that actually tempted me to try chicken livers. Sounded yummy. Check it out at: . A fun blog, Mid-Century Menu, , is entertaining. She enlists her cute husband as the guinea pig for all the retro recipes. Never realized how much jello was used in the 1950’s. I grew up with the Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Still use the recipe for Sweet Potato Souffle.

    1. My mother’s go-to cook book was Woman’s Home Companion. One year on Mom’s birthday my sister had the well worn book rebound. When Mom passed sis claimed the cookbook because she had put a lot of money into rebinding it. A few years later I rejoiced when I found a like new copy at a garage sale for just $1. I don’t use it a lot but just having it on the shelf is comforting.

    2. Soooo much jello was used in the 50s. I’m not a fan. Yet when I had a burst appendix, the beforehand, the surgery, and the hospital stay I wasn’t able to eat for 10 whole days – the first thing they brought me to eat was red jello. I was so hungry by that time the red jello tasted like the most luscious exotic fruit treat ever.

  29. That was such an awesome read! You, my dear are a fabulous writer… I could even smell that disgusting fragrance as I was reading. And you are so much braver than me!
    Thanks for the chuckle :)

  30. I love my vintage recipes. My grandma had one that said to ” use a female spoon”!! What the heck !!!??? Turns out it means a slotted spoon. Hahahaha!

  31. Did you clean your livers? Also, if they were rubbery, they were overcooked! They should have a smoother consistency, but also still taste pretty strongly of iron, which can be cut down by soaking them in buttermilk. Don’t give up on them!

  32. I LOVE Fried chicken livers. My grandmother cooked them and I loved them. Flour, salt, pepper, and if you really want to be retro, fried in Crisco; however, I would use half butter, half olive oil. They don’t need all the other stuff. And as one other comment stated, don’t crowd the pan.

  33. Chicken livers were a treat when I was a child and I still find them delicious. It is absolutely essential that the livers are fresh, so don’t buy them in a supermarket but only at a butcher’s or a specialist fresh chicken shop. It is also important to cut up the livers into nice even portions, remove all bits of skin and similar debris attached to them. Wash them with lemon juice and rinse them well. Dry them thoroughly. Mix plain flour with salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice/recipe and coat the livers with it. Use butter to saute the livers and do not overcook. They go rubbery when overcooked. Add chicken stock at the end and the flour will thicken it into a delicious gravy. I hope those hints will be of help to those of you willing to give chicken livers a try.

  34. LOL!!! Probably not the best recipe to begin your vintage cooking adventures with but it was a fun read! Don’t give up on chicken livers because when handled properly and cooked right, they do taste good plus they are recommended to eat for folks with medical conditions like thyroid. I noticed that folks who love livers and know a thing or two, gave really good suggestions in their comments here. Last but not least, love your blog!!! ;)

  35. This was a fun Refashionista post. I don’t do chicken livers but it was fun anyway. I am so enjoying receiving email from you. I have enjoyed reading your posts and the comments right from the get go through your persona crisises and all the great evenings with friends that you have. Hope the little dog is still in your l
    ife. Wishing you well…
    bree

  36. As a way to rid your place of unpleasant odors, place a large uncovered bowl with 2 cups of water mixed with 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of lemon juice closest to the stink. The will absorb all the funkiest odors naturally. After a few days toss the water down the drain.

  37. My brother, Michael, insists that I make the Chicken liver pate with brandy, bacon, and herbs from The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses and Anne Clark and Becky Roller, whenever he comes to visit. It is truly awesome, but with a ton of butter I only make it once or twice a year. I love everything I have made from this well worn cookbook and hope you can find a copy when you are out Thrifting. If not, I can scan it and email it to you!

  38. On the subject of livers… I love beef liver, the way I cook them, not the way Mom used to. Her’s always tasted like shoe leather as they were just a tough and hard… hard to eat. I tend to soak mine in some egg and a bit of flour so they get a nice crust on them. Then I fry them fast in oil (or butter, or margarine… whatever) so the sides get brown. Then, I turn the heat way down to a slight simmer and let them cook for about a half hour. They come out wonderfully soft inside with a nice brown crust on the outside. My hubby eats them and my kids, when they lived with me, at them too. Otherwise, I really don’t like liver at all… :) TEMA

  39. My father, who is in his 90’s, would have eaten that entire batch. I remember when liver and onions was on almost every restaurant menu. My mother would serve it once in a while, to my father’s delight. We kids thought it was gross. Liver seems to be a favorite of old-timers.

    I loved reading all of the comments on this post. Very entertaining, all around.

    By the way, my mother gave us two choices for dinner every night: (1) take it, or (2) leave it.

  40. Hahaha! Well I would have eaten it! I love chicken livers and I dont soak mine in anything, just saute with butter and onion and pop em in my face hole. Or calfs liver. Mmm.

  41. I enjoyed reading this hilarious post. Maybe it should be a monthly feature – good, bad, ugly – we love that you show it all (so to speak).

    I just love pate but I can’t bring myself to eat liver any other way.

  42. I thought your final product looked pretty good. This blog entry brought out your readers’ passion. It’s love or hate with liver. No middle ground. The American Woman’s Cookbook ed by Ruth Berolzheimer is my favorite and most used cookbook, modern or vintage. Mine is copyright 1947. CP

  43. One of my favorite cookbooks is the 1972 “Southern Living Parties” which I got from a friend’s mother. The chapter on “Foreign Dinners” cracks me up as its lists such far-away foods as “guacamole salad” with avocados, tomatoes, onion, vinegar, salt, pepper and shredded lettuce. “Foreign” indeed :)

  44. Funny, I was just at the butcher yesterday eyeing the chicken livers. I haven’t made them in years but when I did they were delicious! Dredge them in flour seasoned with salt and pepper then fry them with onions. Delicious! My husband thought they were fried potatoes the first time made them for him, lol.

  45. 1) I have that exact America’s Best Recipes cookbook. I have a few from the late 80’s through early 90’s, including 1990. They have solid recipes.
    2) Liver is very easy to overcook, especially when you’re not used to cooking it. Cleaning it is key and marinating it is always helpful. (Buttermilk is an old standby but I’ve also known a few who marinated in apple cider vinegar or even beer.) Very quickly sear them and then turn down the heat, adding liquid the whole time. If the quality of liver is poor it might still end up tough.
    3) You just needed to thin that a little. No matter how close you follow the recipe sometimes things can end up clumpy and gloopy. Thin and stir, quickly removing from the heat. If it cooks too long it’ll just keep thickening.

  46. I could have told you this would have sucked. My sister and I have a hilarious story about my dad and stepmother trying to feed this to us. This should even be considered a recipe because it taste so bad. Paring chicken livers with mushrooms is such a mistake!

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