Hundred-Year-Old “Peasant” Tablescape

Source: American Cookery (November, 1916)
Source: American Cookery (November, 1916)

A century ago luncheons with friends often had beautiful tablescapes designed by the hostess. There  are many lovely tablescape ideas and examples in hundred-year-old magazines. Here’s a suggestion for how to create a Peasant Table:

The “Peasant Table” is always in favor for luncheons, especially informal affairs. The one pictured has a long runner of white linen decorated with a crochet insertion and finished with a crochet edge. A grass receptacle in the center contains a flower holder in which tall spikes of zinnias appear to be growing in a natural clump. Four plain brass candlesticks frame the floral centerpiece. A brass bowl at each end flanks the candlestick, and it contains a floating pool of zinnia leaves and blossoms. Individual blue and white flower holders to match the blue and white dishes, contain zinnias also. Crochet doilies are used at the plates instead of linen, to relieve the plainness of the runner.

American Cookery (November, 1916)

Hundred-year-old Tomato and Cucumber Salad Recipe

I love all the fresh summer produce at the farmer’s market. Two of my favorites are tomatoes and cucumbers, so when I saw a hundred-year-old recipe for Tomato and Cumber Salad I knew that I had to give it a try.

The salad  was delightful, and had a light vinaigrette dressing that enhanced the sliced vegetables.

Source: American Cookery (October, 1916)

Source: American Cookery (October, 1916)
Source: American Cookery (October, 1916)

When I made this recipe, I halved it and I still had more dressing than I needed. Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 large cucumber

2 tomatoes

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons apply cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/2 tablespoon onion, grated

Slice the tomatoes, and pare the cucumbers with a regular knife and then slice (using a fluted knife if desired). Arrange the sliced cucumbers and tomatoes in a serving dish. Set aside.

To make the dressing, put the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated onion in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly and then pour the desired amount over the tomatoes and onions.

Extra dressing may be refrigerated and kept for several days.

My fluted cucumbers didn’t look like the ones in the old photo. Maybe they used a different type of knife.

Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep?: Hundred-year-old Advice

Source: Good Housekeeping (July, 1917)

It’s fun to read household advice columns in hundred-year-old magazines. Ever wonder whether whole-wheat flour keeps as well as white flour? Well, here’s an old Q&A which answers that very question:

Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep? 

Is it true that whole-wheat four becomes rancid a few days after milling? This statement was made in public by a representative of a well-known milling company. Why is not this flour more generally milled and why is the price higher than that of white flour? 
L.W.L., New Mexico

It is not true that whole-wheat flour becomes rancid a few days after milling. I have kept whole-wheat flour more than four months in hot weather without damage. It should be kept in a cool, dry place, such as a well-ventilated cellar, in a heavy wood container. The same remark is true of whole corn-meal. Whole-wheat flour is not more generally milled because so few people ask for it. Just as soon as people demand whole-wheat flour and whole corn-meal, the mills and the grocers will supply it. It costs more than white flour because there is so little demand for it. The price should be considerably less than that of white flour. 

Good Housekeeping (September, 1917)


Old-fashioned String Beans with Bacon Recipe

String Beans with Bacon (and onions) are delicious, and they are quick and easy to make. This hundred-year-old recipe brings back vague memories of string bean dishes from my childhood.

The recipe calls for cooking the beans until they are tender – and I cooked them for about 20 minutes. They weren’t crisp like the beans often prepared using modern recipes – but I found them to be a refreshing change, and enjoyed this dish’s old-fashioned goodness. The recipe is definitely a keeper.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Larkin Housewives’ Cook Book (1917)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

String Beans with Bacon

  • Servings: 3
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 pound string beans (use either yellow or green beans)

2 small onions, thinly sliced

1 slice bacon, chopped


1/8 teaspoon salt

dash cayenne (red) pepper

Clean string beans, remove tips, and snap into 1-inch pieces. Place in a saucepan. Add the sliced onions and  chopped bacon; then just barely cover with water, and add the salt and cayenne pepper.  Place on the stove and bring to a boil using high heat; then reduce to a simmer. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, then remove from heat, drain any excess liquid (a little is okay), and serve.

Are Bananas Good for Us?

Sometimes I’m amazed by the things that people worried about a hundred years ago. For example, they worried about whether bananas were good for them. Here some excerpts from a hundred-year-old magazine article:

Consider the Banana

Perhaps no staple article of food is more the subject of strange fancies or more misunderstood – more overpraised for qualities which it does not posses and blamed for defects not its own – than that standby of the corner fruit stand, the banana. 

“Is it true that a banana contains as much nutritive value as a half-pound of steak?” “Is it true that a raw banana is as indigestible as a raw potato, and must be cooked before it is eaten?” “Is it true that the combination of bananas and milk is poisonous?” 

In spite of prejudice and misunderstanding, however, the majority of people accept its worth, for the consumption of bananas has increased by leaps and bounds. Less than fifty years ago the first bananas were brought to Boston. Today it is estimated that seven billion are consumed annually in the United States – an average of six dozen of this fruit for each man, woman, and child in the land. 

Do not chose bananas that look pretty rather than those that are ripe. The banana of a clear lemon-yellow color, which brings the best price in the market, is most certainly not yet a ripe fruit. The pulp of such a banana is composed very largely of starch, and while it is an exaggeration to say that it is as difficult to digest as the starch of a raw potato, it is greatly improved in this respect by permitting the ripening processes.

When the banana is perfectly ripe, the clear yellow peeling has changed to brown or black, and more of the starch in the pulp has been converted into sugar. Such bananas have a far better flavor and aroma than the unripe yellow fruit. 

Whatever bad reputation the fruit has acquired as regards to its indigestibility is due, undoubtedly to the fact that many people eat the unripe fruit. Then there is the tendency to eat the whole banana quickly without sufficient mastication. 

Nature has given us in the banana a sanitary, sealed package. The banana is cheap; when properly ripened it is easy to digest; moreover, it contains sufficient roughage and laxative properties to be free from the constipating tendency of which many highly concentrated modern foods are guilty. 

Its flavor is bland and characteristic, yet not sufficiently pronounced to become tiresome. 

Good Housekeeping (October, 1917)

Hundred-Year-Old Lamb Curry with Rice Recipe

When browsing through hundred-year-old magazines, I’m sometimes surprised by the recipes I find. This is one of those times. I was amazed to find a recipe for Lamb Curry with Rice (East Indian) in the April, 1917 issue of Good Housekeeping that had been submitted by a reader.

Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1917)

This recipe makes a very credible Lamb Curry. I’m not an expert on Indian foods (and feel free to disagree), but to me, it tasted similar to some of the milder lamb curries that I’ve eaten in restaurants over the years. Which led me to wonder, who was the woman who submitted this recipe to the magazine? Did she have friends from India? Had she visited India?

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Lamb Curry with Rice

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 2 1/2 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 pounds stewing lamb


1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons shredded coconut

juice from 1 small lemon

cooked rice

Place the lamb in a dutch oven or large saucepan and cover with water; add salt. Cover, and bring to a boil using high heat; reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the lamb is tender. Remove from heat. Cut the lamb into small pieces, removing any fat, bones, or gristle, then set aside. Reserve 2 cups of broth, and skim excess fat from the top of the broth. (The broth may be chilled to make it easier to remove the fat.)

Melt the butter in a skillet using medium heat, and stir in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion and garlic are soft; then add the cooked lamb.  Stir in the flour, pepper, curry powder, cloves, and allspice. Slowly add the lamb broth while stirring constantly; bring to a boil.  Add the coconut and lemon juice. Then reduce heat and simmer until the sauce has a thick gravy-like consistency. Remove from heat and serve with rice.

Hundred-Year-Old Rapid Fireless Cooker Advertisement

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1916)
Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1916)

When browsing through hundred-year-old cookbooks, I sometimes see fireless cooker recipes. Until I saw this 1916 advertisement for a Rapid Fireless Cooker I couldn’t quite figure out how they worked.

Fireless cookers were the crockpots of their day, and were quite popular in the early 1900’s. Food was first heated on the stove and then placed into a heavily insulated container to continue cooking.