Tuna noodle casserole, from a 1950s recipe, is topped with...

Tuna noodle casserole, from a 1950s recipe, is topped with potato chips. (Feb. 25, 2010) Credit: Doug Young

A big, black cast-iron wood stove was the hearth that said home in the first kitchen I knew.

My grandmother had set up housekeeping with that stove. It was replaced 54 years later by an unusual General Electric model, half electric, half wood, four burners each. We didn't quite trust electricity completely yet, and, anyhow, we needed the warmth from burning the wood.

In my earliest memory, we had an icebox on the closed-in porch, and a propane gas stove there, too, so that canning and preserving did not have to heat the kitchen all day in July and August. I grew up on a Midwestern farm, where we did not get electricity until 1951 or running water until 1960.

I thought of these kitchen memories the other day, and of the Hoosier cabinet that was in my Aunt Maye's house across the road, when I previewed the exhibit "America's Kitchens," which opens March 5 at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and runs through Oct. 17.

There in the exhibit were the stoves, iceboxes, refrigerators, Hoosier cabinets, cast-iron pots, blue Mason jars and rolling pins of my own life.

Our modernized kitchen was never so resplendent as the 1957 one in the show, all turquoise and yellow and color-coordinated. But it was a big improvement for us.

This was the era of cake mixes, Jell-O molds bright with fruit and tuna casseroles topped with potato chips.

In the kitchen on display, I was touched to see a cotton print apron, which could just as easily have been in a '30s or '40s kitchen, on the counter.

We, too, embraced new ways, clung to some of the old.

No show can cover every single wrinkle in kitchen accoutrements and food customs, though. There was a big, wooden churn there, but no Daisy churn like the one my grandmother used to churn our butter, one where you could see through the glass to the cream gathering into satisfying clumps of butter inside.

Seeing these kitchens from the past will trigger your own memories and lead to new ones, too, just as it did for me.

Looking at the photo exhibit of the Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius' new kitchen (Lincoln, Mass., 1945), I realized that a blue-and-white-checked dish towel hanging above the sink is the same as a faded one I own and have always been partial to. Now, when I use it, I'll treasure it even more.

Tuna Noodle Casserole, 1950s
The official and classic Campbell's Soup recipe for tuna-noodle casserole suggests using cream of celery soup, not mushroom, and calls for a buttered crumb topping instead of a layer of crumbled potato chips.

To this day, the recipe is constantly being gussied up; the current issue of Bon Appétit includes a recipe for one made with Gruyère cheese, leeks and fresh dill. This version incorporates some elements of the typical Midwestern recipe (mushroom soup and chips) and some from the soup company's formula (pimientos).

1 can (10¾ ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup milk

1 cup cooked peas

2 tablespoons drained, chopped pimientos

2 cans (6 ounces each) tuna, drained and flaked

2 cups hot cooked medium egg noodles

1/2 cup crushed potato chips

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a buttered 1½-quart baking dish, stir together soup, milk, peas, pimientos, tuna and noodles. Top with potato chips.

2. Bake for 20 minutes or until tuna mixture is hot and bubbling. Makes 4 servings.

 Marion Harland's Roast Chicken, 1901
This method of roasting a chicken, more than 100 years old, works surprisingly well, resulting in moist breast meat because of the steam created by the boiling water. Flour helps create a browned skin, so you don't have to cook the fowl until it is dry. The recipe has been adapted here for modern cooks.

1 roasting chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds

2 teaspoons salt

1 lemon, cut in half

1 small onion, peeled and cut in half

1 bunch fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 cups water to boiling and add salt.

2. While water heats, rub chicken all over with cut lemon. Place half a lemon and the onion inside the cavity of the chicken. Slip a few sprigs of tarragon under the skin. Tie the bird's legs together. Place chicken, breast side down, in roasting pan and pour the boiling, salted water over it.

3. Roast for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Using tongs and a wooden spoon, turn the chicken over. Roast for another 15 minutes, basting once or twice with liquid from the pan.

Carefully rub breast and legs with flour. Roast for about 15 more minutes, until flour browns, and then rub with softened butter. Roast 10 more minutes.

A bonus of this recipe is that the bits of flour that fall into the pan with the remaining water and the drippings make a simple gravy. Garnish with tarragon if desired. (Leftover tarragon may be dried.) Makes 4 servings.

 Fresh Pear Compote, 1858
This modernized recipe for a fresh pear compote in syrup does not require a Mason jar, patented in 1858 by John L. Mason. It looks pretty in a blue one, though. Store it in the refrigerator for up to a month.

6 large pears

Juice of 1 lemon

3 cups sugar

4 cups water

Vanilla bean, optional

1. Peel pears, cut in half and core. Slip them into a bowl with the lemon juice and toss to keep them from discoloring.

2. In a large pan into which pears will fit in one layer, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add pears, rounded side down, along with lemon juice. Add a vanilla bean if desired. Simmer gently, turning fruit over a time or two, using a slotted spoon, until a knife pierces the fruit easily, 40 to 60 minutes.

3. Immerse a quart jar and a lid in boiling water. Using tongs, transfer pears into the jar and pour syrup over them. Save and rinse the vanilla bean for another use. Screw on lid. Store in refrigerator. Serve with yogurt or ice cream. To gild the lily, add a few raspberries and call it pear Melba. Makes 8 or more servings.

 Old-Fashioned Apple Pie, 1765


Use your own crust recipe or purchase 2 crusts for this 8-or-9-inch pie.

Juice of 1 lemon

8 small tart apples, such as Granny Smith, or 6 large

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1¼ cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon heavy cream

Additional sugar

1. Squeeze lemon juice into a large bowl. Peel and core apples. Slice 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick and add to the bowl, tossing as you go so that lemon keeps the apples from darkening, and adding a bit of the flour and sugar, too. Toss all together with cinnamon and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with a cookie sheet inside it.

3. Roll out one portion of dough thinly on a floured board. Fold into quarters, center the point in the middle of an 8- or 9-inch pie plate and unfold it. Place filling in crust. Dot with butter. Roll out top crust, fold in the same way, transfer it to the top and unfold. Make some slits in the top to let steam escape.

4. Brush top of pie with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Set pie on the heated cookie sheet and bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. (The hot bottom surface helps keep the bottom crust crisp.) Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30 to 40 minutes more, covering edges with foil if they begin to brown too quickly. Cool on a rack. Makes 6 to 8 servings.