It’s always frustrating when food goes bad. A hundred years ago cooks also worried about food spoiling . Here’s an explanation of why foods spoil in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:
Why Foods Spoil
Most foods spoil or change readily – fruits decay, milk sours, butter becomes rancid, and meat putrefies. Knowledge concerning the spoiling of foods makes it possible for the housekeeper to preserve foods from one season to another; it gives her the assurance that her preserved fruit will “keep.”
The decay of foods is due largely to the existence of minute vegetable organisms or microorganisms. These microorganisms are molds, yeasts, and bacteria. The molds (see Figure 88) are visible to the naked eye, the yeasts (see Figure 86) and bacteria (see Figure (89) are microscopic in size. These plants exist everywhere, and in everything (except those things in which the organisms have been destroyed and prevented from reentering), – in the air, in and on foods, and all over our bodies. Like all plants, these organisms require warmth, moisture, and food for their most rapid growth. Oxygen is necessary for the growth of some of these plants.
Many foods constitute nourishment for these organisms. It is because these plants exist in food and live upon them that changes in foods result. The mold on bread and fruit, the odor from decaying meat and eggs, the liquefaction of decayed eggs, and the gas from fermenting canned fruit are caused by microorganisms existing and growing in these foods.
School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer
Now that we’re in 2020, I’ve set aside the 1919 cookbooks and magazines that I got recipes from last year, and have been gathering 1920 cookbooks and magazines. (EBay is wonderful source of old cookbooks.) As I shift to 1920, I am really enjoying browsing through a whole “new” set of old recipes.
One recipe that piqued my interest was a recipe for Mushroom Croquettes. The coquettes are made by combining mashed potatoes, and chopped mushrooms. They are then browned in a skillet.
The Mushroom Croquettes were crispy on the outside, and filled with a delectable creamy mashed potato and mushroom mixture on the inside.
vegetable oil (shortening or lard would also work)
Mashed potatoes should be at room temperature when making this recipe. Either allow hot mashed potatoes to cool, or remove cold mashed potatoes from refrigerator and allow to warm to room temperature.
In the meantime, chop the mushrooms into small pieces. There should be approximately two cups of chopped mushrooms. Melt butter in a skillet, then add the chopped mushrooms. Sauté for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally. Then remove from heat.
Place the mashed potatoes into a mixing bowl, stir in the salt and eggs; then add sautéed mushrooms and stir until the mushrooms are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Then drop heaping spoonfuls of the mushroom and potato mixture into the hot oil. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom, then gently turn to brown the other side. When browned, remove croquettes from the skillet with a fork or slotted spoon. Drain the croquettes on paper towels, then serve.
Across the years (and across regions and countries), there has been wide variation in what people eat for breakfast. In the early 1900’s many people ate heavy breakfasts. By 1920 there was a focus on lighter breakfasts for those who did less strenuous labor. The January, 1920 issue of American Cookery magazine contained several breakfast menus. The menus ranged for very light breakfast options to calorie-laden options.
Sausage and apples are a classic combination, so I was thrilled when I came across a hundred-year-old recipe for Sausage and Apple Slices. It is a simple recipe that brings out the best of both foods.
Old-fashioned classic peppery sausage links such as country sausage, farmer’s sausage, or breakfast sausage work well in this recipe. And, the apples are cooked in a simple sugar syrup which enhances their natural tart-sweetness.
I can’t decide whether this dish was originally intended to be a breakfast or dinner dish. I served it at dinner, but it would work well for either meal.
1 pound sausage links (This is excellent with old-fashioned peppery sausage such as country sausage, farmer’s sausage, or breakfast sausage.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4-5 tart apples which hold their shape when cooked (I used Braeburn apples; Rome or Granny Smith would also work well.)
Prick each sausage link several times with a fork. Put in a large saucepan, and cover with water; bring to boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. While cooking sausage, preheat oven to 400° F. Put sausage links in an oven-proof skillet (I used a cast iron skillet), place in oven and brown (about 10 – 20 minutes). The sausage should be turned several times so that they brown evenly.
In the meantime, peel and core apples, then cut into slices about 1/3 inch thick. Put the sugar and water in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture using medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the apple slices. When the liquid comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the apple slices are soft. Using a large spoon, gently rearrange the slices once or twice, so that they all soften at about the same time. Remove from the heat, and gently remove the slices from the syrup.
To serve, arrange links on plates, and place apple slices to the side.
Some things never change. People have always wanted to live healthier lives, and eating appropriate foods is considered a key part of healthy living. Both now and a hundred-years-ago, people worried that they were getting soft, and living lives not as conducive to health as their ancestors. Here are some excerpts from an article in a 1920 magazine on how to be healthier:
To Raise a Family in Whose Arteries the Blood Leaps
It is a matter of comment among many soldiers that the old men of Europe kept things going while the young men were at war. Women and graybeards kept the state alive, and took care of the nation’s affairs.
It was no rarity to see men seventy years of age in the morning look after the stock, and then go into the fields for real hard work.
What makes these people so hardy?
They live differently than we do.
It must be the simple life which provides these people with the panacea for a healthy old age. They do not know anything about dietetics. But neither do they know anything of high living. Their fare is of the simplest.
Can it be the fact that they eat meat but once a week that keeps them in such excellent condition? An excessive meat diet, while producing in life’s first half extraordinary energy and restless activity, leaves the body a used-up, empty shell after forty-five.
Can it be that on account of eating denatured grains (white flour bread) our children are suffering from eczema and eruptions?
Vegetables cooked in steam, and prepared with only butter, a little salt and pepper, will soon build up a run-down constitution.
Wild growing foods are bitter and full of fiber; they act in the stomach vigorously, like a brush. The bitter principles activate a copious flow of bile. The harness of the substance and the fibrosity required strong chewing. The vigorous exercise of the organs brought about a being with strength and muscular development.
Simple fare and correctly prepared foods will imbue the person with the chaste health of the country lassie. It will not develop excessive fat or obnoxious pugnacity.
One of the simple joys of life is the aroma of warm homemade bread when it first comes out of the oven. And, when the bread is thickly sliced and smothered with butter, it is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Though I’ve been making hundred-year-old recipes for years, I recently realized that I’ve never made a hundred-year-old recipe for White Bread, so when I came across a White Bread recipe in a 1920 cookbook, I just had to give it a try.
The bread did not disappoint. This classic white bread has golden crust, and a light and fluffy texture.
Here is the original recipe:
When, I made the recipe, I substituted a packet of dry yeast for each cake of yeast.
In a large bowl dissolve the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water. Add shortening and half the flour; until smooth beat. Add salt and then gradually add the remaining flour until the dough reaches a consistency where it can be handled. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Put in a large greased bowl, cover and place in a warm spot that is free from drafts until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).
Punch dough down, then divide dough into four equal parts and shape into loaves. Place in four greased loaf pans, and cover. Let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Bake loaves in 375° F. oven for 35 -45 minutes or until lightly browned.
A popular 2020 New Year’s resolution is to eat better – and salads often top the list of “good” foods. People have been making similar resolutions for at least a hundred years. There is a poem near the front of the January, 1920 issue of American Cookery that is an ode to salads. Salads clearly were seen as a treat for epicureans. I think the poem also suggests that salads are healthy – though I’m not sure.
“Receipt” is an archaic term for recipe that was sometimes used a hundred years ago.