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Old Fashioned Cooking Ingredients? Plus A Recipe

I come from a long line of cooks who make everything from scratch.  But as I got to looking through my Mother’s and my Grandmother’s handwritten recipes I realized that so many of their recipes used white flour, white sugar, white bread, processed foods, canned items and packaged food. Amazing.

I’m guessing that somewhere down the line, when those kinds of items became available my family started buying and using them out of convenience.  Probably out of peer pressure too at times.  You know, when so-and-so’s bread is lighter and rises higher, and its because they used white flour….

I’m definitely not militant about using whole and natural ingredients but I do prefer to use them as much as possible.  A few years ago, you might not have been able to convince me that they were always better, but I’ve used almost exclusively natural and whole foods now for a while and I know they taste better and are better for us.

About 18 years ago I figured out that my #2 son had a MSG allergy. So I was very careful after that not to buy foods that contained MSG in all its camouflaged forms like Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Natural Flavors and Vegetable Protein Extract.

Making those kinds of choices at the store every week, and looking at all those labels more closely, really got me thinking about what we were eating.  I knew that I didn’t have to cook like that and it was probably contributing to ill health in my family.

I started out making the change-over by using whole wheat flour. Then I began grinding my wheat so I’d have the freshest possible flour.  I still do this, though when I know I have a lot of baking to do, I buy King Aurthur light whole wheat flour. Pretty soon I added other whole grains like flaxseed, brown rice, spelt and amaranth.

Then I started using less and less white sugar and began experimenting with rapidura. I already used molasses a lot. I don’t use stevia because I am allergic to it and my husband doesn’t like the taste.  And I figured out that most Brown Sugar is nothing but refined white sugar with molasses added back into it.

Do I still use brown sugar?   Well, yes I do.  And I use white sugar in my tea. I like it. And I wonder if that’s why my fore-mothers starting using white foods instead of whole foods? They just liked the flavor better? I know how rushed I am in the kitchen most days, so convenience probably had a lot to do with it as well as availability. In small towns, you buy what is at the store most of the time.

One of the things I’ve been doing for a long time is using more and more wild game and fish.  My husband isn’t a big hunter, but he does get a deer now and then. And we have some great friends who share their venison with us. I’ve learned how to make some really delicious dishes using venison.

The recipe that I am working on right now is a venison stew that contains spices and herbs that would have been common to people who lived in this area 150-175 years ago.  Since we are big into re-enacting 1830 and 1860, this kind of recipe comes in very handy.

Here is the recipe, it doesn’t have a name yet …. I guess it should just be called venison stew! You could use beef in it though.

2# venison cut into 1 inch chunks
whole grain flour to dredge
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons lard
4 cups peeled and cut up vegetables, what ever you have: turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, carrots
1/2 teaspoon each: thyme, oregano, mint
1 tablespoon ground sumac (red sumac berries)
6 juniper berries, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
Homemade beef broth
Homemade noodles – cooked

Use a large, heavy baking dish or covered casserole pan.
Dredge the venison in the flour, brown in hot lard. Add 2 tablespoons flour to remaining fat and stir in.
Add the veggies, herbs and broth. Bring to a boil, cover and put in a hot oven. Bake at 250* til tender, about 6-7 hours. Add broth as needed through the cooking process.
Serve over cooked noodles.

If you’ve never used sumac and juniper berries in your cooking, you will be surprised at the delicious flavor.  I collect sumac berries in the fall and dry them and then use them in the summer to make a pink, citrus-y tasting drink, sweetened with raw sugar. The crushed berries also have a very slightly citrus flavor.

Interestingly, in 1830 in the area I live in, which was then the “frontier”, flour in general wasn’t available, You bought or grew wheat and took the grains to the miller to grind. He didn’t sift out the bran but left it in.   Sugar was an interesting commodity as well. It was available pressed into cones. It was cane sugar and was still full of the brown cane goodness that had lots of minerals.  It had to be crushed before using it in recipes.

I have a cookbook that was written in 1868 and the recipes call for and assume that you will use white flour.  I know this because many of the recipe talk about how “white” the cakes is or how light something rises.  After the Civil War, millers increasingly left out the bran from flour so the flour would have a longer shelf life. They sold the bran as animal food. That’s probably why most home cooks started using white flour, it was what was for sale in the store.

Today, looking for whole, natural ingredients, making naturally fermented foods and using techniques like drying and salting to preserve food, grinding wheat and all ….. I feel like such a renegade!


  1. Amanda Jones

    Love this post Sylvia!

    My family has taken steps to not only remove MSG from our diet but also soy. Mother and I noticed how sensitive we were to it and realized it is in everything! We’ve also cut out artificial sweetener opting for more natural sources such as Xylitol and Stevia. I like to use Stevia for certain things such as homemade whipped cream, in low carb stir fries, etc. I love using Xylo-Sweet for baking purposes. It’s a plant base sweetener and can be used measure for measure like sugar, but unlike sugar it won’t raise your blood sugar and it helps fight against tooth decay! Plus it has less calories than sugar(40 calories less). We also use the brown sugar form of it called Ideal Brown for cookies, pie crusts and the like. It’s been a life saver and making our low carb journey more tolerable. I was able to make a chocolate almond crust for my birthday cheesecake and I used the Ideal Brown which imparted very little brown sugar flavor.

    My Great-Grandmother raised 5 kids during the Great Depression. Sugar was precious, sweetening teas was out of the question. So she raised my Grandmother to only use sugar for baking and canning purposes. That has been passed on to even me. We have use Demarra in the past, and I prefer it above anything else, but I’ve had to stop using it since it is sugar and isn’t safe for us to use now.

    We also steer clear of Splenda. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Dr. Mercola, but he even advices people to stay away from it as well. Here’s a link::


    There’s a picture on that page of someone with a rash like reaction on their neck. That is what I had when we were using Sucralose. For a year I had large patches on my neck that itched and we couldn’t figure out what was causing it until we read an article by Dr. Mercola. There are a lot of things that we use today because it’s convenient, for some they don’t want to think they are being lied to. We want to trust what the FDA tells us and quite honestly we can’t trust them anymore than we can throw them. We must take the steps to protecting ourselves instead of relying on someone else to look out for us.

    Going back as close to nature as possible is the best thing for all of us. Even taking care to not consume foods that have been genetically modified is a chore. GMO foods are everywhere! This is why it’s important to eat seasonally, like our ancestors. Eating foods that are grown from heirloom seeds, this is why it’s a great idea to have a garden. To grow as much of it yourself and rely on the Lord to provide a bountiful harvest. We must become self reliant, no longer expecting companies to provide for us. Support our local farmers, buy meats that come from local butchers rather than from the meat section in the store. If you think about it, this is how it once was, and how it needs to be again if we are to get our health back to where it should be.

    Forgive me for the long reply, but I thank you for posting on such a topic. It’s refreshing to know we’re not the only ones making these changes! God bless you!!

  2. Ella

    I love venison. I’ve never cooked with it though. My best friends husband hunts, and they eat everything he gets. So She cooks with venison very often (in hunting season 🙂 ).