The first cookbook I was ever given was the Nancy Drew Cookbook. I think it was a Christmas present one year, but I can’t really be sure. I remember cooking breakfast out of it in the old farmhouse my parents sold when I was 7. The blue dot on the cover is a color of paint used for the sets one of my professors volunteered me to design for the Miss Glomerata pageant one year in college. (The Glom is the college yearbook that apparently required a beauty pageant in its honor.) I have no clue how it landed on the cover of my oldest & dearest cookbook.
You can always tell the favorite recipes by the stains on the page. The only two recipes I’ve made out of there on a regular basis are the pancakes & the Blackwood Hall Muffins. Okay, the only recipes I think I’ve ever made out of there were those two recipes.
Honestly, I was never a Nancy Drew fan as a girl. I read numerous books in the series, but I felt they were formulaic – you read one, you read them all. Interestingly enough, Edie came to the same conclusion on her own when she started reading them a few years ago. The cookbook however, is a different story.
As you would suspect, the recipe names are inspired by the settings & characters of the books. The recipes themselves are fairly easy, comfort food that you would expect to find in a children’s cookbook printed in 1974. When friends find this cookbook lurking in my cabinet, it usually starts a conversation where they express their disbelief that I would hang on to this one. I’m not a fan of novelty cookbooks. I’m notorious for purging cookbooks that don’t get a regular usage. I have a rule of three – in order for a cookbook to continue to live on my shelves, it must contain three recipes I use on a fairly regular basis. I got rid of a Chef Paul Prudhomme cookbook because I only used one recipe out of it. It was a great cookbook, but I didn’t use it. But Nancy? Nancy is an inspiration. At the bottom of almost every recipe page is a hint from Nancy – it could be a substitution for a new twist on the recipe or it could be a serving presentation hint. The first time I got the idea to use anything other than regular all purpose flour was from my Nancy Drew cookbook. There, at the bottom of the page on my beloved blueberry muffin recipe was a hint that has become a mainstay of my baking:
For Mysterious Flavor
Substitute 1/4 cup soya flour for the same amount of regular flour and you’ll add extra protein to your breakfast.
That habit I have of subbing a more nutritious whole grain flour for at least a portion of all purpose flour can be directly traced to my very first cookbook.
There are hints like that throughout the book – calls to sprinkle toasted wheat germ on your cherry cobbler, using brown rice instead of white. She calls for subbing blackstrap molasses in the hot chocolate (“a great energy booster”), spinach leaves for lettuce in a salad. The Nancy Drew cookbook is far more inventive than any of the books I remember reading about her. It’s also one of the most undercover health conscious cookbooks I own. Sure, you expect the vegetarian cookbooks to have a healthy tone to them, but Nancy Drew was the first time I saw things like wheat germ & brown rice. Who expects that from Nancy?
To this day, I’ve yet to find a blueberry muffin recipe I care for as much as the Blackwood Hall Muffin recipe. I’ve only ever made one substitution in all these years of making it – I add a dash of vanilla. I’ve upped the amount of ‘mysterious flavor’ flour I use to 1/2 cup, with my current favorite being spelt flour. These are particularly good with peach butter if you happen to have any laying around. Strawberry jam works well though too.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour*
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries
Dash of vanilla
Heat the oven to 400º.
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder & salt into a mixing bowl.
Add the butter, egg and milk. Stir with a fork until blended.
Toss blueberries with additional flour and stir them into the dough. Pour into muffin cups that have been greased, filling the cups 2/3 full. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown when done. Yield 12 muffins.
*I sub 1/2 cup spelt or whole wheat flour for all purpose and add a little more milk, as whole grain flours can absorb liquid quickly.