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Prairie Fare: Old Cookbook Offers Interesting, Not Always Accurate, Advice

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
As with home remedies, nutrition recommendations change regularly as scientific knowledge moves forward.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The other day, I decided to consolidate all of my cookbooks into a large set of bookshelves in my dining room. I thought my cookbooks would fit in a couple of shelves. I underestimated the size of my collection.

Suddenly, my kids and husband began gathering my “coffee table” cookbooks from the family room and living room and stacking them on our antique dining room table. We emptied two kitchen cupboards. I was worried the table might collapse.

As I sorted through the books, I came upon a cookbook I purchased at a museum at a fort in Kansas. The Civil War-era cookbook, “An Army Wife’s Cookbook,” was filled with recipes and home remedies. I began paging through the cookbook while seated at the table that was built by my husband’s great-grandfather around 1870.

I imagined the meals served at our table might have been quite similar to the recipes in the book. I enjoyed a history lesson as I paged through the book.

From the book, I learned how to take care of a gunpowder burn with linseed oil and lime. I hope I never need to use that remedy.

I read about a homemade cleaner and preservative for teeth, which included borax, myrrh and camphor. To cure headaches, the book recommended heating a bag of oats and using it as a pillow.

Equipped with instructions in the book, I could make my own soap from lye and grease. If a family member experienced hair loss, a potion consisting of “your best brandy” and black tea was recommended. You were to apply it to your scalp and not drink it.

As I perused the old cookbook, I came upon something somewhat interesting about dry edible beans. According to the mess officer’s assistant, “Beans, while an excellent food for the robust and healthy and for persons leading an active life, are considered unsuitable for persons of sedentary habits and for the invalid and convalescent.”

As with home remedies, nutrition recommendations change regularly as scientific knowledge moves forward. Beans, in fact, still are noted for their health benefits, but they are OK for people of all ages. We need to drink plenty of liquids and get some physical activity to maintain digestive function and avoid constipation when adding fiber-rich foods to our diet.

Beans are an economical source of protein with great versatility on the menu. They can count either as a protein or as a vegetable. One-fourth cup of cooked beans counts as an ounce equivalent in the meat and beans group of MyPyramid, and 1 cup of cooked beans counts as 1 cup of vegetables.

Cooked dry edible beans are naturally low in fat and contain no saturated fats, trans fats or cholesterol. Beans also have an abundance of antioxidants and phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals), which have been shown to reduce the risk of some types of cancer.

Beans contain complex carbohydrates that the body digests slowly. This makes them a good choice for diabetics to help control their blood sugar levels.

For people trying to manage their weight, beans are low in fat and an excellent source of fiber and protein. Fiber and protein will help the body feel full faster and longer.

Beans are a good source of the B vitamin folate, the natural form of folic acid. Folic acid is used to build cells and is especially important for women of childbearing age. Consuming adequate amounts of folic acid can reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube birth defects.

Beans are gluten-free, so they provide a source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals for people who cannot consume wheat or other gluten-containing foods.

Beans come in a variety of colors and forms. They can be used as main dishes, side dishes, salads, pasta, dips and spreads and even in baked goods. Dry beans require a soaking process to soften them and, therefore, take some planning when they are used on menus.

Canned beans, such as kidney or black beans, are convenient additions to your recipes. However, canned beans are higher in sodium, so be sure to drain the liquid and rinse them with water to remove some of the sodium. Try using sodium-free spices, such as onion or garlic powder, to reduce the sodium content of your recipes.

Here’s a recipe with a variety of beans and flavors. The leftovers freeze well in meal-sized portions. For more recipes, see “Now Serving: Beans!” a publication from the NDSU Extension Service at

Slow Cooker Calico Beans

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound lean or extra-lean ground beef

1/2 pound bacon, crisply fried and crumbled

16-ounce can pork and beans, undrained

16-ounce can lima beans, drained

16-ounce can red kidney beans, drained

16-ounce can butter beans, drained

1 c. Ketchup

1 Tbsp. prepared mustard

3 Tbsp. vinegar

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

In a skillet, cook and stir onion and ground beef until brown; drain. Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook eight to 10 hours on low setting.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 340 calories, 7 grams (g) of fat, 46 grams (g) of carbohydrate and 10 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 10, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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