Heirloom Cooking With the Brass Sisters

Recipes You Remember and Love


By Marilynn Brass

By Sheila Brass

Photographs by Andy Ryan

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Authors of Heirloom Baking and James Beard Award finalists Marilynn and Sheila Brass launched a whole new cookbook category with their “heirloom” baking recipes. Now they turn their culinary skills to the rest of the menu, presenting delicious, savory, and timeless heirloom dishes collected over decades and updated for the modern kitchen.

Marilynn and Sheila Brass have spent a lifetime collecting handwritten “manuscript cookbooks” and “living recipes.” Heirloom Cooking collects and skillfully updates 135 of the very best of these, which together represent nearly 100 years of the best-loved and most delicious dishes from all over North America. The oldest recipes date back to the late 1800s, and every decade and a wide variety of ethnicities are captured here.

The book is divided into sections including Starters; Salads; Vegetables; Breads; Main Dishes including Lamb, Beef, Veal, Pork, Fish, Chicken, and Turkey; Vegetarian; and — of course — Dessert. As they did in Heirloom Baking, the Brass sisters include the wonderful stories behind the recipes, and once again, lush photography is provided by Andy Ryan.


Heirloom Cooking


Brass Sisters

Queens of Comfort Food ™

Recipes You Remember & Love


Photographs by Andy Ryan

To our three Barbaras
Barbara Carey, Barbara Haber, and Barbara Wheaton
with love



How to Use This Book

The Essence of Heirloom Cooking


Libby’s Spicy Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

Mrs. Yaffee’s Pierogi

Mixed Olives with Lemon and Rosemary

Auntie Dot’s Chopped Liver

New York Paté

Nick’s Savory Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

Ione’s Zucchini Pie

Mystery Stuffed Mushrooms

Salmon Mousse

Helen’s Fried Cheese Balls with Chili Mayonnaise

Corn Pancakes with Sour Cream and Chives

Chickpea and Potato Cholay

Rose and Natalie’s Caponata


Sunshine Potato Salad

Mrs. Fredman’s Coleslaw

Sweet Potato Salad

Barbara Carey’s Chopped Salad

Candle Salad

Mock Chicken Salad

Barbara’s Rice Salad with Cumin and Walnuts

Mrs. Julian’s Shrimp Salad

Boiled Salad Dressing

Fruit “Mayonnaise”

Dot Luke’s Hawaiian Jellied Salad

Mary Bradshaw’s Egg and Gherkin Salad

Mrs. O’Brien’s Cranberry Delight Salad

Banana Nut Salad

Herring Salad


Jane Bullard’s Yellow Squash Casserole

Caramelized Potatoes (Brunede Kartofler)

Libby’s Stovetop Pickled Beets

Icebox Pickles

Baked Butternut Squash

Louella’s Church Cauliflower

Zucchini Cheese Bake

Jean Downey’s Marinated Vegetables

Marinated Fresh Bean Salad

Mrs. Carter’s Baked Stuffed Onions

Mrs. E. R. Brown’s Corn Soufflé

Crispy Norwegian Potatoes

Red Cabbage (Rødkål)

Mrs. Hodges’ Savory Sweet Potato Puff

French Risotto (White Rice)


Scotch Broth

Arthur’s Clam Chowder

Katherine’s Savory Tomato Peanut Butter Soup

Fred’s Creamy Potato Soup with Thyme

German Dessert Fruit Soup (Schnit Suppe)

Garden Salad Soup

Bok Choy and Corn Soup

Baked Bean Soup

Portuguese Red Kidney Bean Soup

Mama’s Chicken Soup

Margaret’s Cream of Parsnip Soup

Auntie Rose’s Vegetable Beef Soup

Split Pea Soup

Vermont Corn Chowder


Sally Lunn

Ila’s Canadian Banana Bread

Aunt Ruth’s Dilly Casserole Bread

Clara J. Warren’s Refrigerator Rolls

Arline’s Farm House Rye Bread

Grandma Hails’ Buns

Chili Cheese Cornbread

Oma Geywitz’s Stollen

Traditional Greek Easter Bread (Lambropsomo)

Bagels from Chicago

Homemade Croutons

White Hall Crackers

Lizzie Goldberg’s One-Bowl Babka

Grandma Gaydos’ Gum Boots

Margaret’s Scottish Baps

Enormous Popovers

New England Brown Bread

Cheese Bread

Mike’s Mother’s Spaetzle

Souffléed Common Crackers


Katherine’s Shepherd’s Pie

Eggplant Lasagna

Mary Gualdelli’s Tomato Sauce

Curry of Lamb with Saffron Rice

Controversial Irish Lamb Stew

Corned Beef Hash

Glazed Corned Beef from Michigan

Easter Meatloaf

Dale’s Meatloaf


Romanian Stuffed Cabbage

Alice McGinty’s London Broil


Creole Veal Chops

Arline Ryan’s Swedish Meatballs with Sour Cream Sauce

Wisconsin Beer-Baked Beans with Short Ribs

Bunny Slobodzinski’s Stuffed Cabbage with Salt Pork Gravy

Germain Asselin’s Stuffing Pie (Tourtière)

Deviled Ham and Cheese Strata

Ham Loaf

Salmon Squares

Daddy’s Fried Lox

Elinor’s Shrimp Creole

Curried Shrimp

Dot’s Tuna Crescents

Danish Roast Goose Stuffed with Apples and Prunes

Libby’s Curried Turkey Pie

Turkey Divan

Hot Chicken Salad

Chicken Pot Pie

Anna Morse’s Lemon Chicken

Reta Corbett’s Wild Rice and Chicken Casserole

Rose Howard’s Cheese Frittata

Mama’s Pie Crust Pizza with Mushroom Tomato Sauce

Onion and Olive Tart

Susanne Simpson’s Apple Puff-Pancake

Aunt Ida’s Apple Cranberry Noodle Pudding

Billionaire’s Macaroni and Cheese

Welsh Rarebit

Basic White Sauce


Red Velvet Cake

Buttermilk Cake

Dorset Apple Cake

Milk Chocolate Pound Cake

Edinburgh Tea Squares

Coconut Pie from North Carolina

Sheila’s Sweet or Savory Pie Crust

Mary Melly’s Chocolate Angel Pie

Mrs. Naka’s Lemon Angel Pie

Green Tomato Pie

Shoofly Pie

Blueberry Buckle

Sweet Potato Pudding

The Samels-Carbarnes Family Adventures

Toasted Almond Butter Cookies

The Five Isabelles’ Orange Drop Cakes

Nathalie’s Ginger Whale Cookies

Gertrude Woods’ Steamed Pecan Cake









We are two roundish bespectacled women who have a combined total of 114 years of home cooking experience. We have always felt comfortable in the kitchen because we learned to cook at a very early age. Our mother, Dorothy, was an inspired home cook, and the meals she produced when we lived on Sea Foam Avenue, in Winthrop, Massachusetts, more than sixty years ago are still memorable.

Working at the black cast iron stove with its green enamel trim, we learned to ignore its idiosyncrasies to produce the soups and stews of our childhood, recipes we still make with pride today. We believe that there is nothing more comforting than the smell of a thick vegetable soup simmering on a back burner, a glistening brisket braising in the oven, or a dish of macaroni and cheese with its golden crust of buttery crumbs. We still relive the glories of the appetizers, vegetables, salads, and main dishes that came out of that sunny kitchen to become satisfying home-cooked meals. When we want to replicate these precious family recipes, we go to Mama’s first cookbook, All About Home Baking, fragile now, but priceless, with her handwritten recipes on the front and back pages.

Sheila, third grade, 1943; Marilynn, first grade, 1948

We couldn’t have written Heirloom Cooking without consulting our manuscript cookbooks, those treasured notebooks of personal recipes compiled by home cooks. It is these living recipes, these notes handwritten on crumbling scraps of paper or the pages of old, well-worn cookbooks that inspire us to interpret the lost recipes and family stories of others. We continue to find these recipe collections, gathered together in bundles or in small boxes at yard sales, in used bookstores, or on the pantry shelves of friends.

Our personal collection of manuscript cookbooks has grown from 85 to 150 over the past two years. Because we are women of the twenty-first century, we have launched our own Web site (www.thebrasssisters.com) to communicate with our new friends, exchange recipes and family stories, and answer culinary questions.

In Heirloom Cooking, we give you the choice of planning and serving an entire heirloom meal or preparing a special heirloom dish from primary sources, the recipes handwritten by home cooks from all over the United States and Canada. The recipes we present are culturally diverse and tempting, from a German sauerbraten recipe from Ohio to a sophisticated liver paté from New York City. Discover Arline Ryan’s Swedish Meatballs with Sour Cream Sauce from Indiana, Sweet Potato Pudding from North Carolina, Elinor’s Shrimp Creole from Florida, and Danish Roast Goose Stuffed with Apples and Prunes and served with Red Cabbage and Caramelized Potatoes from Minnesota. Scottish baps appear as well as sweet and sour cabbage rolls and French-Canadian tortière. Mrs. Fredman’s Coleslaw, from our childhood, is represented right along with Southern Icebox Pickles. For dessert we present a colorful choice of Red Velvet Cake, Green Tomato Pie, and a New England Blueberry Buckle, as well as other classic home-baked desserts.

We also pay tribute to the inexpensive vegetarian meals that utilized and celebrated the bounty of backyard gardens—those dumplings, frittatas, and pancakes that often served as main dishes in families that had more love in their kitchens than money in their purses.

Heirloom Cooking contains chapters on appetizers, soups, salads, vegetables, breads, and main dishes, as well as a respectable number of pies, cakes, and cookies. We have interpreted these handwritten recipes so that you can reproduce them in your own home kitchen, and we’ve tried to simplify the ones that once took hours or days to put together. To do this, we’ve turned to the culinary tools of twenty-first-century America—the mixer, the food processor, and occasionally, the microwave oven. Some recipes, such as those for bagels, have been scaled down and reinterpreted so that you will be able to prepare a home version of something that was usually produced in large quantities commercially. Not only have we kept it simple, we’ve also given you the freedom to adjust the seasonings, the size of the portions, and the cooking times. Please remember that the more exotic dishes, such as curries and patés, are interpretations of how an heirloom cook would have prepared these dishes in her own home kitchen. The recipes for roast goose and sauerbraten require more time to prepare and would have been served on special occasions.

What has influenced our appreciation of heirloom cooking the most has been the culinary journey we’ve taken across America. We’ve traveled through the South, the Midwest, and New England meeting old friends and making new ones. It was a sentimental journey because these visits with home cooks all over America have reinforced our belief that every family has a story and a recipe to document its own personal history. Sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes they are funny, but all are touching.

For us, traveling across America was a movable feast. We shared chicken pot pie in St. Louis, and we ate pierogi and stuffed cabbage in Ann Arbor. We learned about a Danish-American boy from Minneapolis who, upon losing his mother when he was fifteen years old, learned to cook the substantial meals needed to sustain his construction worker father. We were told of a young girl who, married at age fourteen to a Russian Orthodox priest, fed her five children her delicious cheese and farina dumplings between entertaining the bishop and ironing the church linen. There was the sprightly white-haired woman in Philadelphia, with a no-nonsense haircut and merry blue eyes, who advised us to add brewed coffee to our soups and gravies to give them a richer color. Later, we found the same advice in a Southern cookbook from the 1870s.

These encounters were precious, but the message was always the same. Cooking is the way we show our love for others. It’s the way we nurture and support our family and friends. Heirloom cooking is just another definition for comfort food.

We have provided you with a keepsake envelope in the back of Heirloom Cooking as well as a special chapter of blank lined pages on which to transcribe the stories and recipes of your own family. We encourage you to listen to each story, write down the recipe, and make the book your own. Have fun cooking!

Cambridge, Massachusetts


We hope you will enjoy using this book. We have tried to make the recipes easy to understand and the ingredients easy to find. We’d like you to be so inspired by the recipes that you go into your own kitchen and start cooking.

Nearly all of the ingredients for the recipes in Heirloom Cooking are those found in most home pantries. You probably won’t have to make a stop at your local gourmet shop to stock up on special spices, herbs, flours, or extracts. If you do find that some ingredients prove to be elusive, we have included a short list of suppliers (see Sources on page 269) whom we suggest you contact to order what you need. Most of the recipes will make four to six servings; several of them can be successfully halved or doubled. Some of the soup recipes make more than four to six servings. We suggest freezing leftover soup. What constitutes a serving size is often subjective, and open to interpretation, so for some recipes, we have tried to give you measurements in cups or slices for each serving. Decreasing or increasing the recipes may result in adjustments to cooking times.




We bought small amounts of good-quality brandy, sherry, and whiskey to have on hand when making heirloom recipes. We use them to flavor recipes, plump raisins, and season fruitcakes.


For the recipes in this book, we use unsalted or sweet butter, softened at room temperature. Some recipes call for butter that is refrigerator-firm or melted before it is combined with other ingredients. We used generic store brand butters and found them to perform as well as commercial brands. If you do not have unsalted butter on hand, you can use salted butter for cooking, but do not use salted butter when baking because its moisture content can affect your results. We suggest that you reduce the amount of salt when cooking if you use salted butter. Do not use whipped butter in any of the recipes.


Chocolate was often a luxury ingredient in the kitchens of the women whose recipes we tested. Occasionally, we introduced a gourmet chocolate when testing a recipe and noted a subtle enhancement of flavor, but we also found that familiar commercial brands of chocolate and cocoa produced good results. We discovered that by judiciously adding small amounts of bitter or baking chocolate to semisweet chocolate, we could achieve the complexity of flavor we were seeking. When a recipe requires baking chocolate, we use bitter chocolate. We were vigilant about using the correct cocoa, either American-style or Dutch, depending on the rising agents used in the recipe. Store chocolate and cocoa in a cool dry dark place. Milk chocolate candy bars can be used for Milk Chocolate Pound Cake (page 242).

Tin advertising displays for candy bars, 1920s–1930s


The recipes in this book use homogenized milk, not skim milk, and cultured nonfat buttermilk. We used whole-milk ricotta. We do not use reduced-fat cream cheese or nonfat sour cream. For cream, we use heavy cream, whipping cream, or half-and-half. We use farmer cheese or pot cheese instead of dry curd cottage cheese. We do not use reduced fat cheese or products referred to as cheese food.


For consistency, we used only U.S. graded large eggs. Unless otherwise noted, the eggs should be at room temperature. Some recipes call for beating the eggs before adding them to the other ingredients. Egg whites should be at room temperature before being beaten. Eggs added directly to a warm or hot mixture run the risk of cooking too rapidly. To temper the eggs, stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the eggs before adding the eggs to the recipe.

Toy milk jugs, 1930s


Vanilla is the most popular flavor in the recipes we tested. We use only pure vanilla, lemon, and almond extracts. Pure citrus oils, when substituted for extracts, resulted in some very true flavors, and we provide a source for ordering them (see Sources on page 269).


Use all-purpose bleached or unbleached flour unless the recipe calls for a specific type, such as bread flour, cake flour, or pastry flour. Some recipes require graham flour or rye flour. We also use yellow and white cornmeal interchangeably. Even though most large grocery chains carry specialty flours, you can order these items by mail or on the Internet (see Sources on page 269). For smooth gravies, we suggest that you use quick-mixing flour, which is finer than regular flour. It is available in grocery stores under the brand name Wondra. We tested several recipes with well-known commercial brands of flour but we found that using store brands produced the same results.

Measure flour by scooping a cup of flour and leveling it with a knife. If a recipe calls for “1 cup sifted flour,” sift the flour and then measure it. If a recipe calls for “1 cup flour, sifted” measure the flour first and then sift it.

Measuring spoon, 1930s; bowl, American, 1930s


We use the fruit called for in the original recipe whenever possible. Most of the manuscript cookbooks call for raisins, currants, prunes, cherries, dates, figs, and candied peels such as orange, lemon, or citron. When we did make substitutions, such as dried fruit for fresh or fresh for dried, we noted it. We use fresh fruit when it is in season and buy dried fruit in small quantities. Often, we found that plumping dried fruit in orange juice, tea, or brandy before using added another level of flavor.

We used canned fruit when it was appropriate to the recipe, such as canned pineapple and mandarin orange sections for Dot Luke’s Hawaiian Jellied Salad (page 78) or the cranberry sauce for Aunt Ida’s Apple Cranberry Noodle Pudding (page 229).

20 Roseville Pottery bowl, American, 20th century


We buy only commercial brand lard for use in recipes that call for lard. Old pastry recipes often call for a combination of lard and butter. We found that some cookies and pie crusts were particularly flaky and tender when made from lard or a combination of lard and butter. We also found that using lard gave an old-world flavor and texture to finished dishes. We use commercial brand salt pork to add flavor to heirloom dishes. Salt pork is remarkably salty. Since it might be necessary to remove the tough skin and blanch the salt pork, we suggest that you substitute bacon or pancetta (Italian bacon), when appropriate.


We use medium-sized lemons and oranges, as well as regular-sized Persian limes, with firm, unblemished skins. Use a Microplane zester/grater or a traditional grater to remove the zest or colored part of the rind, leaving behind the bitter white pith. We roll the fruit on a flat surface to break up the juice pockets first. Then cut the fruit in half and juice it on a reamer; strain the juice to remove any seeds. A lemon weighing 4½ ounces yields approximately 2 teaspoons grated zest and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. An orange weighing 6¼ ounces yields approximately 2 tablespoons grated zest and 4 tablespoons orange juice. A 3½-ounce lime yields approximately 2 teaspoons of grated zest and approximately 5 tablespoons lime juice.


Our choice of nuts depended on the original recipe. Walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and almonds were typically found in the larders and pantries of the women whose recipes we tested. Buy nuts in small quantities and store them in sealed and dated plastic bags or covered plastic containers in the freezer to preserve their freshness.



  • "Sisters Marilynn and Sheila Brass have revived dozens of recipes that represent decades of home-cooked comfort food?presenting [an] edible history in this handsome volume."

  • "Their cooking expertise is difficult to dispute."
  • "We fell in love with the Brass Sisters at first sight?.[Heirloom Cooking] reads more like an exploration of a cookbook from your grandma?s attic, full of warm memories and cozy notations."

  • "If you have a hankering for cherished old-time recipes, you?ll appreciate the new "Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters?a fun nostalgic read ? and doable recipes, too."

  • Selected "Best Outside the Box" cookbook! "One look at [The Brass Sisters?] book and them on the cover and we know we?d like to be cooking in the kitchen with them."

On Sale
Jan 6, 2014
Page Count
285 pages

Marilynn Brass

About the Author

Marilynn Brass and Sheila Brass are home cooks with more than 119 years of experience between them. They have appeared in their own television cooking specials including The Brass Sisters Holiday on the Cooking Channel and The Brass Sisters: Queens of Comfort Food on WGBH, the PBS affiliate in Boston. They have also been guests on the Food Network’s Bobby Flay’s Throwdown and on PBS’s Simply Ming, hosted by Tsai Ming. They have also made appearances on Antiques Roadshow FYI. Heirloom Baking was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award in the category of “Baking and Dessert.” They are the authors of Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters, also published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

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