1921 Tips for Cooking Potatoes

boiled potatoes in panI often make boiled potatoes. I think that they are out of style and considered old-fashioned; but, to be totally honest, I enjoy meals that feature meat and boiled potatoes.  A hundred years ago boiled potatoes were more popular than they are now. Here are some 1921 tips for cooking potatoes:

The method used in cooking potatoes has much to do with the food value. Baking or boiling “in their jackets” saves the food value. Peeling and then boiling causes some loss of the mineral matter and protein, since these foodstuffs are found just under the skin of the potato and may be lost when it is pared, unless very thin peelings are removed.

Potatoes, to be cooked, should be put in boiling water, not in cold, as soaking peeled potatoes in cold water draws out the starch and also causes a loss of protein and mineral matter. Potatoes should never soak in cold water after they are peeled, if all of the food value is to be saved. If they are old and withered, they should be freshened by soaking before the skin is removed. Potatoes should be removed from the boiling water as soon as they are done.

Baked potatoes, when done, should have the skin broken or pierced with a fork to all the escape of the steam, which would cause the potato to be soggy.

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

I just realized that I don’t follow these directions. I generally peel potatoes before boiling them – and I put them in cold water which I then heat. For holidays, such as Thanksgiving, when I make a lot of boiled potatoes to mash for mashed potatoes, I’ll peel the potatoes several hours ahead of time, and let them sit in cold water until it is time to cook them. Probably many of the nutrients are probably lost . . sigh.

And, when I make baked potatoes, I pierce the potatoes with the point of a sharp knife prior to baking – to allow steam to escape and keep the potatoes from exploding –  rather than waiting until they removed from the oven.

Cornflake Fancies

Even though I don’t often think about it, a wide range of commercially-produced foods were available a hundred years ago. Cornflakes was one of those products. According to Wikipedia, William Kellogg invented cornflakes in 1894 to serve to patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. They were first mass-marketed in 1906. And, soon thereafter, people began, not only eating them for breakfast, but also using them in recipes.

I came across a recipe for Cornflake Fancies in a 1921 church cookbook. The recipe is made by folding cornflakes and coconut flakes into beaten egg whites that have been sweetened with sugar, and then placing heaping teaspoonfuls of the mixture on a baking sheet. They are then baked until lightly browned The Cornflake Fancies were light and airy, and reminded me a little of Coconut Macaroons, but with a slight crunch from the cereal.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Cornflake Fancies
Source: Ladies’ Union Cook Book compiled by the Ladies of West Concord Union Church (Concord Junction, MA) (1921)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Cornflake Fancies

  • Servings: about 2 1/2 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 teaspoon salt

2 cups cornflakes

1/2 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350° F. Put egg whites in bowl and beat until stiff. Gradually add the sugar and salt, while continuing to beat. Fold in the cornflakes and coconut. Drop heaping teaspoons of the mixture about 1-inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake until set and lightly browned (about 10 – 12 minutes). Remove from oven, and let sit for about two minutes, then remove from the baking sheet with a spatula. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.


Church Cookbook Advertisements A Hundred Years Ago

Advertisements in church cookbook
Source: Ladies’ Union Cook Book (1921) compiled by the Ladies of the West Concord Union Church, Concord Junction, Massachusetts

Church cookbooks, both a hundred years ago and now, often contain advertisements from local businesses. The ads can help defray the cost of producing the cookbook, and can increase profits if the cookbook is sold as a fundraiser.

These advertisements are often very basic – yet I enjoy looking at them. They provide insights into the community and the times. For example, these advertisements from a 1921 Massachusetts church cookbook compiled by ladies of West Concord Union Church (Why are they called “ladies” rather than “women”? And, though perhaps it is obvious given the year, why did just “ladies” compile the cookbook rather than church “members”?) suggest that many homes regularly purchased ice (For an ice box?), that fresh fish was readily available, and that the area was fairly rural.

Potato Tarts a la Gratin

Potato Tarts a la Gratin on plate

Au Gratin potatoes are a nice comfort food, but they can get boring, so I was intrigued by a hundred-year-old recipe for Potato Tarts a la Gratin.  A muffin tin is lined with pastry dough, then filled with diced au gratin potatoes. The resulting tarts were tasty, visually appealing, and a nice change of pace. They reminded me a bit of the savory hors d’oeuvres served by hotels at events – though they were tastier than many of those hors d’oeuvres.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Potato Tarts a la Gratin
Source: American Cookery (November, 1921)

I substituted butter for the lard when I made this recipe. Rather than using left-over cold potatoes, I made boiled diced potatoes which I immediately used in the recipe.

When I made the sauce, it seemed rather thin for a tart filling, so I coarsely mashed a few of the diced potatoes and stirred them into the sauce to make it thicker before adding the remainder of the diced potatoes. This worked well.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Potato Tarts a la Gratin

  • Servings: approximately `10 - 12 tarts
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

3 – 4  medium potatoes, diced into 3/4 inch pieces (about 2 cups diced potatoes)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1/2 cup shredded cheese + additional cheese to sprinkle on the top (I used cheddar cheese.)

pastry dough (enough for 1 2-crust pie, or use approximately 4 pre-rolled sheets)

Preheat oven to 425° F. Roll pastry dough and cut into circles. Line the space for each muffin in a muffin pan with the circles of pastry dough. Fit each circle, trim, and flute edges.

Put the diced potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Put on the stove and bring to a boil using high heat; then reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes). Drain potatoes. Remove about 1/3 cup of the potatoes from the sauce pan; put in a bowl and coarsely mash using a fork. Set aside both the mashed and diced potatoes

Melt the butter in another sauce pan, then stir the flour and salt into the butter. While stirring constantly, slowly pour in the milk and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stir in the mashed potatoes and 1/2 cup shredded cheese, continue heating until the cheese melts. Add the diced potatoes. Stir to combine.

Spoon into the pastry shells, and sprinkle additional shredded cheese on top. Bake until hot and bubbly, and the top begins to brown (about 30 minutes).

Canning String Beans with a Pressure Cooker a Hundred Years Ago

Pressure cook and jar of string beans
Source: American Cookery (August-September, 1921)

I learned something new from browsing through 1921 magazines. Did you know that string beans could be canned using a pressure cooker that long ago?  I didn’t until I saw this photo and the accompanying article. Here’s what it said.

String Beans Canned in Pressure Cooker

Wash beans thoroughly, cut ends, and remove strings and cut as for the table. Dip in boiling water for two minutes, using a wire basket. Fill into cans, heat, and add boiling water and one teaspoonful of salt to each quart can of beans. Put on rubber ring and glass top. (Do not secure the top tight until after the cooking is done and the jar removed to cool.) Place on rack in pressure cooker, put on cover and process fifty minutes at 235 deg., eight pounds pressure. 

American Cookery (August – September, 1921)

Blueberries and Boulettes Recipe

Blueberries and Boulettes in dish

Some desserts which were eaten a hundred years ago are seldom seen today. One of those desserts is Blueberries and Boulettes. Boulettes are homemade drop dumplings that are made by dropping heaping teaspoons of dough into rapidly boiling water. Warm boulettes are topped with a little butter, and smothered with blueberries, and a generous sprinkling of sugar.

The Boulettes were fun and easy to make. They only take a few minutes to cook, rising to the top of the water when done. When served with sweetened blueberries, they made a nice old-fashioned summer dessert.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Blueberries and Boulettes
Source: American Cookery (August/September, 1921)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:


  • Servings: 6 - 8
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sour cream

3 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups flour




Combine melted butter and sour cream in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating each in. Stir in salt, then gradually add and stir in the flour.

In the meantime bring 3-4 quarts of water to a bowl in a large pan. When the water is rapidly boiling, drop heaping teaspoons of the dough into the water, and let it remain until it rises to the top; then remove with a slotted spoon. Serve warm.

To serve, put boulettes in serving dish(es), top with dabs of butter, blueberries, and sugar.


Grade Level of Text in 1921 Elementary School Home Economics Textbook

Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

When I flipped through a hundred-year-old home economics textbook, I was surprised how young the girls in the photo looked.

I also was surprised how dense the text was on the opposite page.

page in home ecomomcis textbook
Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

I then flipped to the Preface and saw that the book was intended for use in elementary schools. (Duh – I should have known that – the book title is Elementary Home Economics). BUT, how could elementary students possibly read something so complicated?

Preface home economic text book
Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

I decided to run the middle paragraph on the page – the one that begins, “Since, then, the scientist is able to measure. . . ” – through an online Flesch Kincaid Calculator to see how readable the text was, I was floored to discover that it was written at the 15.8 grade level. Did elementary students really read this stuff in 1921?

Flesch Kincaid Reading Level Chart