Did you ever plan the menu for a meal with 200 people? . . . and ended up getting sticker shock at how much it would cost? According to a hundred-year-old magazine, a church supper for 200 people in 1916 would cost only $74.58. To keep the costs down, the menu did have a few limitations. For example, canned peas were listed as the main vegetable. But, on the other hand, the person planning the menu did budget $3.50 for “help”.
We really should factor in inflation when looking at this old menu. According to an online inflation calculator, a dollar in 1916 is worth $22.22 today. So in today’s dollars, the total meal cost $1,657.17 or $8.29 per person – which, at least in my book, is still a very reasonably priced meal.
I found a delightful Bavarian Cabbage recipe in a hundred-year-old magazine. This traditional German dish was refreshingly sweet-sour (more sour than sweet), and would be lovely served with sausages, roast beef, or pork. It tasted very authentic; and if I closed my eyes and listened hard enough, I could almost see myself sitting at an outdoor cafe on the banks of the Rhine on a cool October day while listening to merry Octoberfest music.
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter (I used bacon drippings.)
1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Using medium heat, melt the bacon drippings (or butter) in a frying pan; add onions and cook until tender (but not browned). Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Then add the shredded cabbage and stir; cover the pan and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pan cover once or twice during cooking to make sure there is enough liquid; if too dry add enough water to keep from burning. (I did not need to add any water.)
I used less salt than the original recipe called for. One tablespoon of salt seemed like a lot – so I decided that it probably was a typo and instead used 1 teaspoon of salt. I also didn’t quite understand the last part of the old recipe about cold water (though I’m guessing that it was directing the cook to wash the cabbage prior to cooking).
There’s a lovely suggestion for serving grapefruit in a hundred-year-old magazine. The membrane between the segments is removed, and a maraschino cherry (or other fruit) is added as a garnish.
When two of my children visited recently, I tried serving grapefruit this way. The feedback very positive. Both agreed that the grapefruit was attractive and easy to eat.
Updated directions for modern cooks: Halve the grapefruit with a small paring knife; next cut around the edge of the grapefruit and around each segment, and then carefully remove several segments. With the knife cut the center membrane near where it is attached to the grapefruit rind, and then gently remove all of the membranes. After the membranes are removed, replace previously removed segments, and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
I love peanut butter cookies, so when I found a hundred-year-old recipe for peanut butter cut-out cookies I had to give it a try.
Here’s the original recipe:
When I made this recipe, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. When I combined all the ingredients, I had a thick batter instead of a dough–and there was no way I could roll it out. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with the original recipe, but I decided that the best way to salvage it was to add additional flour – lots of flour. The resulting soft dough rolled out nicely.
The verdict: The cookies were nothing like modern peanut butter cookies, but if you can totally suspend expectations, the cookies were good. The old-fashioned cake-like cookies had a hint of peanut butter, and are lovely with milk or coffee.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Place the butter, peanut butter, and sugar in a mixing bowl, stir to combine. Stir in the egg and milk, then add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir until well-mixed. Refrigerate dough 1/2 hour or until chilled.
On well-floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Place on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 9-11 minutes.
I’ve often thought that fruits and vegetables seem “waterlogged” when I harvest them after a rainfall. I recently discovered why the composition varies when I read an article in a hundred-year-old trade magazine for the canning industry called The American Food Journal. I also enjoyed seeing how a scientific study was written up in the early 1900’s. Here’s a few excerpts:
Influence of Rainfall on Composition of Tomatoes
It is the experience of many canners that tomatoes are unusually “sloppy” in seasons of excessive rainfall. They find this is evident both from the amount of water that separates on the peeling table on in the can during or after processing.
The composition of tomatoes varies through rather wide limits because of the environment in which they are grown. Arrangements were made with the Bureau of Plant Industry and the Maryland Experiment Station by which the laboratory secured samples of tomatoes of known varieties grown on plants set aside by these institutions for that purpose. During the growing seasons of 1914 and 1915 tomatoes were picked as fast as they ripened (usually two or three times a week).
In both the years mentioned the rainfall was higher before the tomato season than during the season, and the ground was well saturated at the time the tomatoes began to ripen.
There was considerable variation in the composition of successive pickings, which could not be explained by variation in rainfall. There appears to be a general tendency for the soluble solids to decrease in amounts as the season advances. Tomatoes ripening in September and October may contain less solids than those ripening in August because of the cooler weather.
We are not warranted, therefore, in concluding that the high rainfall and the relatively high soluble solids in the first part of the season are evidence of a relation between the two. The question would have been simplified if we had, as we hoped to have, a heavy, soaking rain preceded and followed by dry weather. However, it appears improbable that the “watery” condition of tomatoes observed after a heavy rain is due to a greater percentage of water in the tomatoes.
Each Fall my husband and I drive out into the country to see the leaves – and to buy pumpkins and winter squash. There’s a farmer who sells incredible produce directly from a farm wagon – and each year we worry that his tiny roadside market will be gone.
But this year (like every year), just when we were sure we won’t find his wagon, we went around a bend and there it was–and the selection of pumpkins and squash was the best it’s ever been. We stocked up on lots of Fall produce. Right now most of the squash are on our front porch with the pumpkins, but I decided to use an acorn squash immediately – which leads me to the point of this post. I needed to find a hundred-year-old recipe for acorn squash.
I browsed through my old cookbooks and found a delightful recipe for baked squash which called for molasses.
The recipe worked perfectly with my acorn squash. The savory nuttiness of the squash is enhanced by the rustic sweetness of the molasses.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Depending upon squash size, halve or quarter the acorn squash to create serving-sized pieces. Remove seeds and the stringy portion. Place on a baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil to make clean-up easier. Brush with molasses, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place in oven and bake until the squash is tender when poked with a fork. While baking, baste 2 or 3 times with additional molasses. After the squash is removed from the oven put a small dab on butter in the middle of each squash piece.
I’m often surprised how little has changed over the past hundred-years. I recently was browsing through a hundred-year-old home economics textbook, and came across a section on how to tell whether a cake was done. As I read, I’m mentally noting the similarities between then and now – cake springs back when lightly touched, toothpick comes out clean. And, then suddenly the text thrusts me into a whole different world of how to test whether a cake is done. . . .
Tests to Determine Whether a Cake is Done
Experienced cake-makers have various tests to determine when a cake is done. One touches the top lightly with her finger, and if the dent made springs back quickly she knows the cake is done. If the dent remains, she knows the cake batter is still too soft.
Another housewife depends entirely upon a broom-splint or one of the modern toothpicks. She thrusts one of these into the center of the cake, and if it is the least bit sticky when it is taken out she knows that the cake needs more baking. A box of toothpicks is rather a necessary part of kitchen equipment – not to be used as the name indicates, but for testing cakes and similar uses. It is much more sanitary to use a toothpick than a broom splint, unless a wisp-broom is kept expressly for this purpose.
How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie A. Long (1914)