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Better than storebought, and easy too

The adventurous cooking enthusiast gets a craving to experiment with new recipes for old standbys. Or the homemaker gets tired of seeing long lists of additives on the labels of the foods her family eats.

Then there are those who yearn for the remembered flavors of yesterday, when Grandma spent long hours hovering over the stove concocting those delightful treats now usually found only in mass-produced and under-flavored quantities in the local supermarket.

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For just such cooks, Helen Witty and Elizabet Schneider Colchie have written "Better Than Storebouht," (Harper & Row, $12.95), a manual for creating a variety of delectable treats most people think of as strictly commercial products. Years of experimenting and testing have resulted in an interestingly written book of directions for making foods such as zwieback, liverwurst, ketchup, sour cream, garlic salt, cream cheese, curry powder, and others.

The authors have thoughtfully provided highly detailed instructions for the novice. Out of consideration for quality of the final product, they have ommitted recipes involving complicated cooking equipment or hard-to-find ingredients available to commercial producers. The result is a delightful volume that not only provides a wide range of reliable recipes for specialty meats, condiments, dairy products, candies, cookies, and beverages, but furnishes good commentary on cooking procedures and makes for some entertaining reading as well as cooking.

Two favorites i particularly enjoyed making, not to mention eating, were marshmallows and graham crackers. Here are the recipes. Marshmallows 1/4 cup cornstarch 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 1/3 cup water 2/3 cup sugar 1/2 cup light corn syrup Pinch of salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift cornstarch and confectioners' sugar into a bowl. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch square pan and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the mixture. Tilt pan in all directions to coat sides and bottom. Leave any excess in the pan.

Sprinkle gelatin into the water in a small saucepan and soak 5 minutes. Add granulated sugar and stir over moderately low heat until gelatin and sugar dissolve.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine gelatin mixture, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla and beat for 15 minutes on high speed, until peaks form.

Spread fluffy mixture in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Leave for 2 hours, or until set.

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With a wet knife, cut marshmallow mixture into quarters and loosen around edges. Sprinkle remaining corn starch and sugar mixture on a baking sheet and invert marshmallow blocks on it. Cut each quarter into 9 pieces and roll in starch and sugar.

Place marshmallows on a cake rack covered with paper towels and let stand overnight to dry the surface slightly. Makes 3 dozen. Graham Crackers 1 cup all-purpose flour 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour 1/2 cuo rye flour, plus additional for rolling out the dough 5 tablespoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening 2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon molasses 1/4 cup cold water 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blend all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, sugar, salt, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a bowl. With a pastry blender on your fingertips , work in butter and shortening until small, even particles are formed.

Mix together the honey, molasses, water, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Sprinkle gradually into the dry ingredients, tossing with a fork until the liquid is evenly incorporated. Press the dough together into a ball. It may be crumbly, but do not add water. Wrap in plastic and chill for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Halve the dough. Let soften about 15 minutes. Sprinkle a sheet of waxed paper sparing with rye flour, place one piece of the dough on top, and flatten it with a rolling pin. Sprinkle lightly with rye flour and top with another sheet of waxed paper. Roll out to form a rectangle roughly 7 by 15 inches, rolling slowly and with even pressure so the crumbly dough does not break.

Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and prick the dough all over at 1/2 to 1-inch intervals, using a skewer, sharp-tined, fork, or a puff pastry pricker if you have one. Cut into approximately 2 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to a large, ungreased baking sheet with a spatula, placing them very close together, almost touching. Repeat the process with the remaining piece of dough. Reroll and cut the scraps.

Bake crackers in the middle level of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they brown lightly on the edges. Remove to a rack and let cool completely. Makes 24 to 28 crackers.

Should the dubious reader doubt the authenticity of the book's title, I'll pass along the comment made by a guest who happened along just as my experiments had reached the eating stage. As he reached for his fourht graham cracker, topping it with his eighth marshmallow, he commented, "These are better than anything you can get in the store."

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