One of the greatest discoveries I made while we were in Mystic was Great Grandma Irene’s cache of recipe cards. From magazine clippings to hand-written cards from friends to seemingly incomprehensible notes on the backs of other papers, these recipes ranged in age from the 1960’s all the way back to the 1920’s. The recipe Kyle and I chose to conquer, in Irene’s own kitchen, was her recipe for Meat Sauce with Spigetta.
This recipe appeared to be very old indeed. Irene was married for the first time to Great Grandpa Redding in 1914, becoming Susan Irene Redding. In 1927, she had divorced and remarried William Frink, changing her name to Susan Irene Frink. This recipe was scrawled on the back of a piece of stationary reading “Susan Irene Redding.” It is my deduction, therefore, that this recipe was written between 1914 and 1927. It is possible it was written later, but that would depend on Irene and Bill’s personal sense of propriety versus their sense of thrift. Given the Great Depression kicked off in the first five years of their marriage, I suppose it is perfectly possible that the recipe was written later than 1927.
The first step was to decode the recipe. There were a couple abbreviations that I had never heard before but I think we were able to successfully figure them out. For instance, “mroom” was “mushroom,” and “st Tom” was “stewed tomatoes”.
The second step was to collect the ingredients necessary. The biggest obstacle was the main ingredient for the meat sauce: veal. The local grocer in Hill City didn’t have such an ingredient so we made do with what was available and got steak instead. I felt better about it in general because, being a millennial city girl, I felt bad about the prospect of purchasing the meat of what I was imagining as the most adorable baby cow ever.
As for the other ingredients, I think the mushrooms may have been canned rather than fresh, but otherwise I think we did well with the accuracy of our ingredients.
I began by “dising” all of the ingredients. Meanwhile, my new husband did an excellent job taking literally 177 pictures of me making this dish.
One of the most exciting parts about making this dish was that we were making it in the same kitchen Irene had likely made it in. The Mystic house was built in 1928 on land leased from the National Park Service. In 1986, the townsite (which includes the house, church, and outbuildings – even the outhouse) was registered as an historic place. The Mystic Preservation Alliance cares for the house and the other buildings, maintaining them and upholding their historic integrity.
Which is why Irene’s kitchen is just the way she left it.
Once I had my ingredients prepared, I set to work on the recipe. The first instruction was to “cook meat and onions in water until done.” To say I was skeptical of the approach would be an understatement. How much water? Why in water? Why not saute? That’s what every other recipe says to do! Brown the meat, trap the juices inside!
Luckily, Kyle was there to keep me honest and I followed through faithfully on the instructions. But I did skimp on the water.
Irene’s stove doesn’t have a starter or a pilot on the burners, so in order to start the flame, I had to light it myself. There was a box of matches just to the left of the stove, mounted on the wall, and that probably would have been the most historically accurate way to do it. However, Kyle found an old lighter much like the one photographed on the display of antique kitchen items so I thought that it would be perfectly acceptable (and much less terrifying) to light the burner from a safer distance.
When the meat and onions were done, I proceeded to add the mrooms, tom, and broth as directed. The following direction was “season” so I did that as well by adding salt and pepper and the butter and garlic that the ingredients list called for but that the directions never mentioned.
The final instruction was “put in flour. boil slowly 1 hr. Stir once in a while.” Having put flour in recipes before, I used my Prior Knowledge to rustle up a technique that would allow me to add the flour without huge chunks of it floating about and without having to stir the precariously full pan too vigorously. Behold, the sieve.
I decided that “boil slowly” meant simmer and so for the next hour, I let the ingredients simmer slowly, stirring occasionally.
The smell. It was incredible. The longer it simmered the better it smelled, until finally we couldn’t wait any longer. We cooked the pasta and served up the meat sauce.
Now I have to be honest. With the simple seasonings of this dish – salt, pepper, garlic, onion, butter – I didn’t think the flavor would be particularly powerful. For goodness sake, it didn’t even call for any fresh herbs!
Irene sure showed me. The sauce was INCREDIBLE.
Seriously, I can’t recommend this recipe more. Every time I look at that picture of it plated, I crave it. We’ve made it again just a week or so ago and it HOLDS UP. Therefore, because I love this recipe so much and because I love all of you, here is a transcription of the recipe with a few of my notes:
Meat Sauce with Spigetta
[To prepare spaghetti] Plenty water, boiling – salt. Drop in spag. [spaghetti] Stir well. boil 12 or 14 min, strain.
Monico Meat Sauce.
- 1 lb. veal stake [steak] dised [diced]
- 1/2 lb. mroom [mushroom – I used cremini] – dised
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 pt broth
- 1 ” st Tom [I bought the can of stewed tomatoes and measured out a pint]
- 1/4 butter [I used half a stick, or a 1/4 cup] little garlic [I used 5 cloves – so I splurged]
Cook meat and onions in water until done. add mrooms. add tom. and broth. Season [add butter, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste] – put in flour [I recommend you sift it in]. boil slowly [simmer] 1 hr. Stir once in a while. [Top cooked spaghetti with the sauce and enjoy. Again and again and again. Seriously. Family favorite. You’re welcome.]