1-2-3 Recipe

Week 17: #52 Ancestors – Document

By Eilene Lyon

My mother handed down some written recipes, but they originated from her mother or mother-in-law. Though Mom had a home ec degree, she learned to cook in the era of convenience foods—very little made from scratch. The easier the better, as far as she was concerned. Taste be damned.

She did, however, teach me to make a few things from scratch without a written recipe. One of these was white sauce, sometimes called béchamel. She called it one of her “1-2-3 recipes.” Though I later referred to cookbooks to make white sauce, I never forgot that 1-2-3.

I’ve recently decided that her version probably called for: 1—cup of milk, 2—tablespoons of flour, and 3—tablespoons of butter. (Most recipes use equal parts butter and flour.) They are actually used in reverse order, so I’ll call it my “3-2-1 recipe”!

First melt the butter then add the flour and stir with a whisk. Mom had one shaped like a conical spring, which was like a toy to a child-cook. I find it works best to heat the milk in the microwave before slowly adding it to the mixture, stirring constantly.

Stir occasionally as the sauce thickens and add desired seasonings. White sauce can serve as a stand-in for heavy cream and I usually use it for pasta. It comes together quickly, so you can make supper in a pinch with whatever noodles you have available, or make a tuna casserole. If you add cheese, you can use it for creamy enchiladas or potatoes au gratin.

Tuna Casserole (Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from the aforementioned casserole, Mom used white sauce for a favorite Sunday brunch. Start with one or two hardboiled eggs per person. Separate the whites and yolks. Chop the whites and add to the sauce. Grate the yolks using a strainer. Pour the sauce over slices of toast and top with the grated yolk.

This delicacy has the creative name of “Egg on toast.” Mom liked it particularly around Easter when we had lots of hardboiled eggs around. Food coloring that stained the egg whites just made it a little more festive!

Easter eggs. (Wikimedia Commons)

Feature image: Grandma Smith’s sausage dressing recipe in Mom’s handwriting.

43 thoughts on “1-2-3 Recipe

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    1. I like simple most of the time, but cook much more from scratch and with fresh ingredients than my mother ever did. White sauce is a lifesaver at times.

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      1. I’m trying to recall if my mom ever got that sort of magazine. If so, it was pretty infrequent. My parents were big on Newsweek. I was the one more inclined to read home/style magazines.

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      2. My mother bought Woman’s Day at the checkout when she bought groceries–until she figured out that they were just recyling the same content year after year.

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  1. I will try your 321 next time I make white sauce. My mom used it a lot too, especially the cheesy one on pasta, but taught me to use “this much if butter, and some flour” and I never bothered to measure, hehe.

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  2. Love old recipe cards – I’ve got quite a few of my grandma’s! I think I must have learned to make white sauce from my mother at some point, probably as a base for cheese sauce for mac’n’cheese, though I’ve never used specific measurements. I just dump flour in the melted butter until the roux looks right, and then add in milk until it’s the thickness I want it. Still use it for mac’n’cheese and rarebit, but I add way more spices (and probably more cheese) than my mom does in hers. My dad isn’t big on flavour.

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    1. I do like quite a bit of seasoning in my food, too. My mac’n’cheese usually has jalapeños! I agree that the measurements for white sauce really don’t need to be very precise. I’ll bet a lot of moms passed this recipe down!

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    1. Jello salads must not be a thing in Scotland.😆 The sausage dressing goes in the Thanksgiving turkey. It was just an example of a recipe my mom handed down to me, but wasn’t hers.

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  3. [If my first comment shows up, sorry for the duplicate. If not…]

    These recipes are throwbacks to the time before microwaves, I’d guess. I never could stand sausage in stuffing, like tuna casserole but a more sophisticated one, and enjoy Jell-O. Yep, there I admitted it.

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    1. Only see the one! We didn’t get a microwave until I was in high school, I think. We sure use ours all day long, reheating cups of coffee, thawing something for dinner, etc. I don’t dislike Jello, but it’s really more of a dessert than a healthy thing. If I’m going for sugar, ice cream is the thing for me.

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  4. I always enjoy old recipes – it sounds like my mother’s cheese sauce – butter, milk, flower and cheddar – with some Parmesan sprinkled in to give it some aged flavour. She never measured anything so I don’t know the exact proportions.

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  5. Nice to read this, Eilene (and I got here, finally! I also hope to answer your email soon). I recently went through all my mum’s recipes, and she had a lot of them in a similar form.

    I always get confused with American measurements. Here we mostly use metric now (though I still succumb to imperial). I hadn’t thought of trying the 1-2-3 (or 3-2-1) measures for white sauce. I use 25g each of flour and butter, and half to three quarters of a pint of milk. It’s meant to be a pint, but as it’s usually for just for two people, I do less, and it works just as well. I add some grated cheese to the sauce a few minutes before take it off the heat, to turn it into a cheese sauce. Occasionally I skip the cheese and add fried onion.

    The addition of chopped egg white, is a specific sauce here in the Uk, but I can’t remember what it’s called!

    We didn’t use packeted Jelly (Jello) for savoury things, only sweet. But there are various types of fruit-based jelly that are made from scratch in the UK and usually served with meat. I’ve never been a fan of them, but popular once are made with quince or cranberry.

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    1. Hi Val, so nice to see you here!

      The U.S. just can’t seem to get with the metric system, no matter how sensible. Maybe that’s the problem – it’s sensible! Much of the time, I think we Americans are anything but that…

      Anabel seemed to think anything made with gelatin was disgusting. If it’s the sort mixed with fruit to make jam, I can understand that. I think that’s just powdered bone marrow or some-such.

      Let me know if you come up with a name for white sauce with egg in it.

      Hope you are enjoying a lovely spring. It’s finally above freezing at night, but windy dust storms in the day. No rain in the forecast for anytime soon, unfortunately. I’m going to have to quit calling it a drought and just say we now live in a desert, rather than on the edge of one.

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  6. Eilene – I enjoyed reading this and I’m no cook/baker. My mom always said she learned nothing from her mom and if I could read a recipe, I could cook. (I beg to differ as to that theory). I operate on the KISS method for sure. I wrote a post about my mom’s binder of recipes once around Christmastime. She would tear out recipes galore but never handwrite them onto the looseleaf paper until they were tried and true.

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    1. That reminds me of all the recipes I’ve torn from newspapers and magazines. I’ve tossed a bunch, but have a box stuffed with many. I do try some and either keep or toss. Still, way too many that I probably won’t ever get around to. Why can’t we just dump it all and stick with what we know, and go out to eat when we’re sick of cooking? Human folly, right?

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      1. Agreed! I don’t bake and I was looking through my mom’s binder to write down a recipe for someone. It was a first look through of my mom’s “system” and I likely will never go through all that effort for just me.

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