Little House on the West Side

The Settlement Cook Book pictured on the left, is probably one of the biggest influences on my cooking life. My mother purchased the book early in her marriage. As a little girl I was fascinated by that army of worshipful cook book reading maidens in their cute hats and dresses.

It took a long time before I began reading the recipes in the Settlement Cook Book. What I did devour though were the chapters on how to feed invalids, how to make soap, or dust a room or wash dishes or set a table for either French or Russian service. By the time I was in my early teens I was fascinated by the recipes for food items that I assumed only came packaged, like cottage cheese, or ketchup or noodles.

My kitchen has always been light on appliances. The Settlement cook book does not even assume an electric fridge. So, soon after my husband and I got engaged and my non cooking mother in law offered me her copy of the Settlement Cook Book, I jumped at the offer. It has been my go -to cook book. I also love the book as a cultural /anthropological glimpse into kitchens of the past.

As I have become a more experienced cook, I have been wanting a cook book not with recipes, but with formulas. My needs were answered by Michael Ruhlman's, Ratio. I had heard him interviewed on NPR, and uncharacteristically for me, announced to my husband that I needed that cookbook. my husband was kind enough to fulfill my needs.

One of the culinary tasks that I had been dying to try out was noodle making. Mrs. Randall, the mother of my best childhood friends, used to make her own spaghetti for family celebrations. Seeing those strands of pasta drying over clean sheets on the dining room table was one of the powerful visual memories of my childhood. The Settlement book had very cryptic directions for making pasta, the Rhulman book had fuller directions, it seemed like something to tackle.

My youngest had purchased a gallon of milk the Friday before Yom Kippur that turned almost immediately. The Settlement Cook Book suggests that macaroni be cooked in milk, rather than water. It seemed like a good way to use up the not quite sour milk. My son loved the results, the pasta ends up in a thick milky sauce, I seasoned it with salt and lots of black pepper, a favorite combination of my youngest son's.

We still had a quart of sour milk left. I decided to turn it into a soft cheese. I heated it to just below the boiling point in a large pot. Then I added salt and vinegar. The milk immediately separated into a repulsive looking mess. I had assumed that I had created a disaster. I poured the contents of the pot into a linen towel lined colander.After several minutes of draining, i tied the towel by it's corners to my kitchen faucet, according to the Settlement directions. I let the mixture drain for about an hour. I scraped the curdy mix into an empty sour cream container and added a bit more salt. the resulting cheese was similar to that lovely cloud like ricotta cheese.

Later in the day, my youngest and I embarked on noodle making. I rolled the pasta out by hand. I ought to have rolled it a bit thinner. Some of the pasta was filled with the cheese I had made earlier in the day. After we boiled the noodles we topped it with the rest of the cheese.

My picky eater son requested that I make pasta again. I felt a little like Ma in Little House on the Prairie. But these are both experiments that I will try again


  1. Too funny! I just picked up a copy of The Settlement Cookbook at an estate sale a few weeks ago. "Ratio" also sounds interesting... I'll have to check it out.
    Some years ago we knew a family that raised their own goats and made cheese from the milk. It was my first exposure to cheesemaking, and, like you, I really liked the results. Haven't tried it since, though.

  2. The Settlement Cook Book is truly terrific. it's useful for giving you the basics of Central European cookery that immigrants brought with them, as well as the American foods ( and foods of their neighbors) that they wanted to learn how to cook. It's a nice mix of peasant food and tea room food.

    But now that I have made noodles, maybe soap making is next.


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