Last week the eggplants at the farmers’ market just seemed to call me. Their beautiful deep purple color, and smooth curves made them aesthetically pleasing. I also knew that eggplants are known for their versatility because they have little flavor of their own, but rather absorb the flavors of the foods and spices that they are cooked with.
Once I had purchased an eggplant, I had a new challenge – finding a hundred-year-old recipe that called for eggplant.
After browsing through old magazines and cookbooks, I think that I found a winner. Scalloped Eggplant is made by slicing eggplant, then layering it in a casserole dish with grated cheese, and smothering with tomato sauce. It is then baked in the oven until the eggplant is tender.
The Scalloped Eggplant was delicious, and can be served as either a meatless main dish or a hearty side dish.
Here’s the original recipe:
Today eggplant is generally written as one word, but that has not always been the case. Based on the way it was written in this recipe, it was two words a hundred years ago.
I used cheddar cheese when I made this recipe. And, I didn’t sprinkle the layers in the casserole dish with salt because I had previously soaked the eggplant in salt water. There is also salt in the cheese and tomato sauce. Sometimes I think that people in 1919 liked saltier foods than what we do today.
Peel eggplant and slice it into 1/2 inch slices. In a large bowl, combine the water and salt. Add the eggplant slices. Put a plate or other weight on the eggplant slices to keep them from floating. Let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse.
Preheat oven to 375° F. Pour one-fourth of the tomato sauce in a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Next put one-third of the eggplant slices in the dish. Add another fourth of the tomato sauce, then add one-third of the cheese and sprinkle with pepper. Continue layering until all of the ingredients are used, ending with the cheese.
Cover dish and bake in oven for 35 minutes. Remove lid and continue baking until the eggplant is tender (about another 10-20 minutes). Remove from oven and serve.
Food must have been a lot scarcer a century ago than it is now. A hundred-year-year old magazine had this tip about how to successfully save those tiny dabs of extra butter that are sometimes left over after buttering bread:
Use bread and butter plates – yes, even if you do your own dishes. Every bit of left-over butter or margarine can be saved this way. It can’t be, or isn’t always, if put on the dinner plate.
American Cookery (August-September, 1918)
Is it just me, or does this tip seem slightly gross? At my house, I scrape any left-over butter off the plate and throw it away. Of course, I never use bread and butter plates, but still this seems a bit over the top.
There were lots of cucumbers in the refrigerator, and my husband said, “Make sweet pickles,” so I started digging through my 1919 cookbooks for a hundred-year-old sweet pickle recipe. I found one that looked somewhat promising, but it ended up being frustrated because it lacked key information.
When I read this recipe, I had more questions than answers: How many cucumbers do I need to make this recipe? How do I make a “weak brine”? What would be a good spice combination that would result in tasty pickles?
Not to be deterred, I forged ahead – and googled “weak brine.” I then pulled out some of my other cookbooks and looked at their pickle recipes to get a sense of how many cucumbers might be needed based upon the amount of sugar and vinegar listed in the recipe. I also considered various spice combinations listed in other recipes.
Here’s my stab at fleshing out and modernizing this recipe:
Peel cucumbers, then quarter cucumbers by cutting in half lengthwise and then cutting each half in half. Scrape the seeds out of the quarters to create strips.
Put the strips in a crock, or large glass bowl or jar. Cover with the brine. (Make brine by stirring salt into the water.) Make sure the strips are submerged in the brine by weighting them down with a plate or other weight. Leave in brine overnight (at least 8 hours), then drain using a colander. Place colander with cucumber strips in sink (if not already in the sink). Scald the cucumber strips by pouring boiling water over them.
In the meantime, make the pickling syrup. Combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, and mustard seed in a large kettle. Using medium heat bring to a boil. Add the cucumber strips, and bring back to a boil. Cook until the strips are translucent (about 3-5 minutes).
Pack the strips and syrup into hot pint jars; fill to 1/4 inch of top. Wipe jar rim and put lid on.
Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
The verdict: The pickle strips turned out okay. They were sweet and tangy, and had a texture similar to thinly-sliced bread and butter pickles. They were not as crisp as some other pickles. That said, the next time I make pickles, I’ll probably use a different recipe that provides more detailed instructions.
People have wondered for a long time how exercise and other activities affect the number of calories needed. A 1919 home economics textbook contained this table with U.S. Department of Agriculture data on the “average calorific requirements of the body under different conditions.” The book contained examples of how the table could be used to calculate the number of calories needed by an individual:
A woman of about 130 pounds, sleeping for 8 hours, doing light housework 10 hours, reading, etc. 6 hours, would require (8 X 56) + (10 X 148) + (6 X 87) = 2,450 calories. A boy of about the same weight with 8 hours sleep, 8 hours active exercise, 6 hours playing tennis (severe exercise) and 2 hours quiet would require (8 X 56) + (8 X 165) + (6 X 390) + (2 X 87) = 4,282 calories.
Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home by Christine Frederick (1919)
hmm. . . I wonder if the information in the 1919 table is still considered correct.
When I was a child, there was always lots of food at Labor Day picnics – including multiple gelatin salads. So I was thrilled when I came across a recipe in a 1919 American Cookery magazine for Ginger Ale Gelatin Salad just in time for this long holiday week-end.
The sparkling Ginger Ale Gelatin Salad was sweet and tangy, with a mild lemony undertone. The gelatin can be made with or without fruit. A hundred years ago canned fruit was often added to gelatin, so I added canned pear halves – though other fruits could be used (or none at all).
The old magazine included a section where readers could ask questions, and this recipe was provided as a response to a request for a Ginger Ale Salad recipe. The reader making the request indicated that the desired recipe should be for a gelatin salad that could be made with or without fruit.
When I made the gelatin, I used an entire packet of gelatin since this recipe called for a total of 2 cups of liquid – and the gelatin box indicated that each individual packet should be used with 2 cups of liquid. Since the old recipe called for using 1/4 packet, I assume that gelatin packets were larger back then. I ignored the serving suggestion, and passed on the French or mayonnaise dressing with cocktail sauce. I also did not use small molds – and instead put all the gelatin into one mold. (I used a 1-quart bowl as the mold).
Put the water in a bowl; sprinkle the gelatin on the water. Set the bowl in hot water; let sit for 2 minutes, then stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir in ginger ale. Put in refrigerator until the gelatin just begins to thicken (about an hour), then remove from refrigerator and stir in grated lemon peel and, if desired, add the fruit. Pour into bowl or mold, and return to refrigerator. Chill until set.
Old cookbooks sometimes have poems, such as this one in a 1919 cookbook. It was at the beginning of a chapter containing bread recipes. The poem lays out the path involved in creating a bread ingredient (flour). People were so much closer to agrarian life back then, and had a clear understanding of relationship between the weather, wheat production, the milling process, and flour. Would a similar poem resonate with cookbook users today?
August is my favorite month when it comes to cooking and eating. Gardens and farmers markets are filled with a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits at their prime – and, to me, corn on the cob is the quintessential August vegetable. But, I also am always looking for different ways to serve corn. So I was pleased to find a classic, very easy, hundred-year-old recipe for Fried Corn.
The corn is fried in a little butter, then seasoned with just a bit of cream, salt and pepper. Frying the corn, removes some of the liquid and brings out its natural sweetness Sometimes simple is best.
Cut corn off the cob. Melt butter in a skillet. Add corn then, using medium heat, fry the corn until browned, while stirring frequently (approximately 8-10 minutes). Add cream, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to season; stir. Remove from heat and serve.