Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aunt Anna's Company Treat

Shortly after Jim and I moved to South Hadley a gazillion years ago, we served dinner to a couple of gourmet cooks.

I made my best meal, "Aunt Anna's Company Treat." A family recipe for boned chicken breasts, the ingredients are chicken, a can of whole cranberry sauce, a package of Lipton's dehydrated onion soup and a jar of French dressing (the red kind.)

Popular recipes from the 1950s and '60s were not so hip in the 1980s. Our dinner guests were gracious, but I sensed they had detected the presence of dehydrated onion soup. They didn't reciprocate the dinner invitation, making me wonder if they considered us not sophisticated enough.

Anyway, I can never disown Aunt Anna's chicken. Recently it came up in conversation, so I made it again, served with wild rice and green beans (salad works too). It was just as tasty as ever.

My mother showcased the recipe in a cookbook she illustrated and wrote and called "Short Order." She never would have tried to get the book published, although it probably would have done well.

She illustrated it with whimsical figures, lithe women with long eyelashes and, of course, a strand of pearls (poils). The cover shows an unhappy woman at her desk, and then the same woman, with a big smile, presiding over a table set with wine glasses, a candle and flowers.

In her elegant script, she starts off with her "Must-Have-Ins" – "Candles: light them nightly, it even glorifies eggs; parsley and watercress – garnish everything in sight; mushroom soup in cans, dehydrated onion soup, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, paprika; cherry tomatoes, olives, carrots, cranberry sauce, grapefruit sections and anything else for salads."

The recipes have names such as Aunt Rae's Cocktail Triumph (meatballs), The Boid, and You Wanna Make a Mold? (her lime jello mold with pineapple).

Aunt Anna's chicken was even better cold. I'd stand at the refrigerator in our galley kitchen and eat it after all the guests had left.

Her cookbook was of its time but also contemporary, with its goal of offering quick meals for busy working women like herself to make when they got home. She had two young daughters and worked full-time at the jewelry store she owned and also as a jewelry designer. My father was a gem, but also in keeping with the times, after work he settled in the big yellow chair in the living room while my mother scrambled to come up with dinner.

Her artistic touch manifested itself everywhere. She was at the hospital every day during my first encounter with leukemia in 2003. It was just about a year after my father died, and it hit her hard. Still, she looked beautiful every day; the nurses loved her and called her Jackie O. Although she was worried sick, she often managed to put a light spin on things.

For example, she marked the countdown to the end of chemotherapy with drawings on the dry-erase board: a mischievous monkey, hanging from a tree, saying "Hey Ronni, can you do this?"; a long-lashed rollerskating giraffe saying "Come on Ronni, you can do it" and, at the end, a cute elephant proclaiming, "Hurray, hurray, chemo's done today!"

So hurray for cartoons in chemo and for hand-made cookbooks where women in pearls serve short order meals under candlelight's glow. Hurray for Aunt Anna's Company Treat, so outdated yet so contemporary.

Here's the recipe, simple yet sweet.

Boned chicken breasts
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 jar French salad dressing (the red kind)
1 package Lipton's dehydrated onion soup

Mix ingredients well and pour over chicken in baking dish. Bake in 325 degree oven for 1 and a quarter hours
Baste once or so
Before done put some pitted black bing cherries on top
Serve with wild rice and green beans or salad


donna said...

I have a similar recipe called "Trudy's Delight", straight out of our church's 1980ish cookbook. Chicken, dry Lipton onion soup, russian dressing, and apricot jam. My kids loved it! Your mom was great. Always there with you with her oversized shades and stylishly decorated canes. And such a wonderful artist! I'm so lucky to have one of her sketches. Thanks!

Diane said...

Sweet memories of our wonderful mother and father! I just happen to have an original drawing of the giraffe on roller skates next to my desk that I dug up when cleaning the apartment. And gazing at me from my wall is a picture of mom arranging flowers on your dining room table and dad at the grill in Atlantic Beach. It gives me comfort... as do you! love you

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Catherine said...

I love this recipe! Four ingredients, a little sweet, a little salty. Even I can make it!

I've made something like Donna's "Trudy's Delight." Naturally I found it in a church cookbook. These are my favorites. Chicken tetrazzini, anyone?

pam said...

Dear Ronni and Diane,

i got chills and smiled fondly with tears as i read this piece...

i feel truly blessed to have been welcome at your parents' heart/h and home...and of course, restaurants and the theater!
i cherish the memories...

Your Mother was the quintessential hostess -- Elegance everywhere, from the beach barbecue to a Sunday brunch at 1200...Super settings and great conversations...

i also remember being amazed at her being a businesswoman, and visiting the store with she did it, i have no clue!

Your parents' generosity was boundless...Your Mother's gracious, Your Father's tennis, books and wisdom...
Thank You, Gorgeous-Gordon Gals...

Ann said...

What fantastic memories. Thanks for sharing.