Balanced Meals a Hundred Years Ago

Text showing meals that are considered balanced, as well as meals that are not balanced.
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

A balanced diet helps maintain health – though I’m never exactly sure how to determine whether a particular meal is balanced. There are the five food groups, and once upon a time the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid was used to help balance meals, but that has been relegated to the nutritional dust bin and now USDA’s MyPlate can be used to balance meals. Is meat good or bad? – Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as we follow the current mantra and eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

A hundred years ago cooks also tried to prepare balanced meals. According to a 1919 home economics textbook:

A “balanced” meal is one in which the various food principles are combined in a proper proportion. The “balanced” meal must contain some protein, some carbohydrate, some fat, some mineral salts, some water, and some bulk. This combination or “balance” should be present in all meals both for the needs of the body and for good digestion. In other words, it will not do to eat nearly all starch at one meal, and nearly all protein at the next.

Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)


Eggs, Grand Duc Recipe

toast topped with asparagus, cheese sauce and poached eggAsparagus and eggs pair beautifully, and hum of spring, so I was thrilled to come across a hundred-year-old recipe for Eggs, Grand Duc which is a delightful, surprisingly modern, egg and asparagus recipe.

Toast is topped with long, graceful spears of asparagus, which is immersed in a creamy cheese sauce. And, it all is topped with a perfectly poached egg.

The presentation is lovely, and would be perfect for a small Spring brunch.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (March, 1919)

Here’s the recipe updated modern cooks. To make this dish more visually appealing, I used whole slices of toast instead of the toast squares called for in the original recipe. I also assembled the ingredients in a different order than called for in the original recipe.

Eggs Grand Duc

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1/2 pound asparagus

4 eggs

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup grated cheese (I used cheddar.)

4 slices of bread, toasted


Trim asparagus spears to remove the tough sections at the bottom of the stalks. Place asparagus in a pan with a steamer. Put water in the bottom of the steamer, and cover. Heat to a boil; then reduce heat until the water simmers. Steam for about 5 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. (If preferred the asparagus can be roasted instead of steamed.)

Poached Egg Directions

Bring 1 1/2 to 2 inches of water to a boil in a skillet, then reduce to a simmer. Break each egg into a small bowl or cup, then slip into the water. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the poached eggs from the water using a slotted spatula, and drain on paper towels.

Cheese Sauce Directions

Using medium heat, melt butter in a saucepan; then stir in the flour and salt. Gradually add the milk while stirring constantly. Then add the cheese; continue stirring until the sauce thickens.

To Assemble

On the top of each slice of toast, arrange one-fourth of the cooked asparagus. Spoon cheese sauce on top of the asparagus, and top with a poached egg.

Can Sizes a Hundred Years Ago

Table with information about selected can sizes
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

Can sizes today seem like they change constantly. I remember when tuna came in 6 3/4 ounce cans, more recently the cans were 6 ounces, and now they are just 5 ounces. Similarly, I remember when commercially-canned peaches were in 1 pound (16 ounce) cans; now the cans are only 15 ounces.

A hundred years ago there were standard can sizes, and people often referred to cans by their size number. For example, I’ve seen old recipes which call for 1 – No. 3 can of tomatoes. There actually still are standard can sizes, but the size numbers aren’t something on the tip of consumers’ tongues like they once were.

picture of various sizes of cans
Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Mrs. Christine Frederick (1919)

Dandelions with Bacon or Ham Recipe

Each Spring a primordial urge pulls me out of the house –paring knife and bowl in hand– to the weedy natural area at the far edge of my yard. Luscious green dandelion plants peek through the brown leaf-covered grass. The winter has been long and hard, and I desperately need to renew myself. The tender foraged greens are my spring tonic (as they were for my parents and grandparents).

People traditionally ate a very limited selection of foods during the late winter months, and often they were nutrient-deprived by April. Their bodies told them they needed the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants provided by the emerging dandelion leaves.

Since I’m a dandelion connoisseur (Is it possible to be a connoisseur of weeds?) , I was thrilled to find a hundred-year-old recipe for Dandelion with Ham or Bacon.

I made the ham version. The ham bits nicely balanced the slight bitterness of the small tender dandelion leaves. As I hungrily devour the dish,  I can almost feel the nutrients surging through my body. I’ve made it through another winter. Spring (and fresh food) have arrived – and I know that the summer’s bounty will be here soon. Life is good.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (April, 1918)

When I made this recipe, I made one-quarter of the original recipe. Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Dandelions with Ham or Bacon

  • Servings: 2 - 3
  • Difficulty: moderate
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2 quarts dandelion (8 cups)


4 ounces ham or bacon, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

Thoroughly wash the dandelion. (I triple wash it, and it is a slow process. The washing of the dandelion is what takes most of the time when making this recipe.)  Put in a large sauce pan and cover with boiling water. Place on stove, bring back to a boil using high heat. Boil for 15 seconds then remove from heat and drain thoroughly. Just barely cover the dandelion with fresh boiling water, add ham or bacon, salt, and pepper. Cover and place back on the stove. Return to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until the meat is tend and the dandelions are almost dry (they should still have a little juice (about 25 minutes).  Remove from heat. If desired, serve with boiled turnips or potatoes.

Do Houses Need Kitchens? A Hundred-Year-Old Opinion

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1919)

Sometimes I come across hundred-year-old magazine articles which absolutely stun me. They take positions which in some ways seem very forward thinking (or perhaps forward mis-thinking) – even by today’s standards.

Here’s some excerpts from a 1919 article which argues that there is no need for kitchens – and that cooking should be done in centralized locations:

Shall the private kitchen be abolished? It has a revolutionary sound, just as once upon a time there were revolutionary sounds in such propositions as these: Shall private wells be abolished? Shall private kerosene lamps be abolished? Shall we use ready-to-wear garments and factory-canned vegetables?

There must have been thousands upon thousands of men and women who said that these changes could never come to pass. But now we are not only reconciled to these, but delighted with city water, gas and electricity, and factory products.

And now why not get rid of the private kitchen?

The one who has not thought about it will almost invariably give the reply: “Oh, that will never be practicable.”

So now, when these very objections present themselves one after another before the proposition to abolish cooking in the home, it may be that we know how to meet them.

In a small town, it means the establishment of a central kitchen, or in a city the opening of many neighborhood kitchens. It means the preparation there of breakfast, lunch and dinner just as in a hotel or cafe. But the main industry would be the taking of telephone orders and the delivery of cooked food, hot, at the doors. Delivery would be made by auto; and, closed vans, with openings at the sides and filled with small electric ovens, heated by the power which supplies the car, are not such a far cry.

In the kitchen alone the primitive, solitary, unorganized labor of our ancestors continues to be maintained. When one thinks in terms of a whole town of, say, a thousand homes, a thousand stoves going, and the unpaid labor of wives and mothers who are themselves cooks, it is to be seen that the centralized system is exactly as logical in its certainty of economy as the centralized system any other business.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1919)

Old-fashioned Beef Balls with Spaghetti

There are some foods where the recipes were just plain different a century ago than what they are now. Spaghetti is one of those foods. Modern marinara sauce recipes often call for basil and oregano, but those spices are seldom seen in old recipes.

I decided to make a hundred-year-old recipe for Beef Balls with Spaghetti. The recipe for the sauce called only for tomatoes, green pepper, onion, parsley, water, and salt. I had my doubts about the recipe, and worried that it won’t be spicy enough.

I worried needlessly. This recipe was a hit.

My husband said, “This spaghetti is great. It reminds me of the spaghetti they served when I was in elementary school. Mom never made spaghetti, and this was my favorite meal at school.”

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Cooking for Everyday by Janet McKenzie Hill (1919)

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks. (I made this recipe entirely on top of the stove. I couldn’t figure out why the 1919 recipe calls for doing part of the cooking in the oven.)

Beef Balls with Spaghetti

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1 28-ounce can tomatoes (or use a 1 quart jar of tomatoes)

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped + 1 teaspoon onion, grated

2 bunches parsley, chopped

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound ground beef

1 egg

1/4 cup bread crumbs

3 tablespoons shortening or cooking oil

1/2 pound spaghetti

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350° F. To make sauce, put tomatoes, green pepper, 1 chopped onion, parsley, water, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove from heat, cool slightly, then puree.

While the vegetables are cooking, combine ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon grated onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl, then shape into 12 balls each approximately 1-inch in diameter. Put shortening or oil into a skillet, and heat. Add the beef balls, and cook for 3-5 minutes, then gently roll over. Roll several times until browned on all sides.

Put spaghetti sauce back in sauce pan, add beef balls. Using medium heat bring to a boil; reduce heat and gently simmer for 45 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Beginning about 15 minutes before the sauce will be finished, cook spaghetti according to package instructions.

To serve, remove sauce from heat, and take beef balls out of the sauce.  Add spaghetti and parmasen cheese to the sauce, and lift with a fork until well blended. Add meatballs. Serve immediately

Raising Chickens in the Yard a Hundred Years Ago

Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1919)

I have friends who raise a few chickens in the suburbs. A hundred years ago, people also raised chickens to get fresh eggs and meat. Here are some excerpts from the March, 1919 issue of Ladies Home Journal:

Did You Ever Think of A Meat Garden?

Why not raise meat in the garden as well as vegetables?

There is no reason why chickens cannot be kept successfully in a town or village lot, provided they are kept in the sanitary condition that is just as essential to the health of the fowls as to the health of the community. Many a family could keep a few chickens, not to make a fortune on selling eggs, but to raise this quick meat for table use or to supply the table with eggs.

The objects attained in keeping chickens for the use of the home table are fourfold: Fresh eggs daily for the children year round; increasing the food supply; raising meat in a short time for the table; saving money on the meat bill.