Hundred-Year-Old Advice for Getting Multiple Foods Ready to Serve at the Same Time

Image source: Reliable Recipes (published by Calumet Baking Powder Co., 1912)
Image source: Reliable Recipes (published by Calumet Baking Powder Co., 1912)

When cooking a meal do you struggle to get all the dishes ready to serve at the same time? Here’s some hundred-year-old advice that might help:

A menu being decided upon, it needs an accurate sense of time, forethought, and promptness, to have a number of dishes ready at the same time, or in proper sequence if several courses are served. Such questions as the following must be answered:

  1. What steps in preparation can be taken ahead of times, as washing, paring, cutting, etc.?
  2. What dishes take the longest to cook?
  3. Which must be served the moment they are done?
  4. Which can be kept hot for some time without injury?
  5. Which can be finished and cooled perhaps several hours before?
  6. What is the order of serving?

The fact is obvious that in preparing a meal you cannot finish the dishes one at a time, but that steps individual to each dish must be interwoven with each other, and the cook must have them all “on her mind,” and is often doing half a dozen things at once.

The woman at home will devise many ways of easing and shortening the labor just before the meal is served, avoiding haste, and anxiety in this way. A dessert can be prepared and be cooking as breakfast dishes are washed, and at the time left overs are put away they can be arranged ready for serving, as in the case of poultry or meat to be served cold.

Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1913)

53 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Advice for Getting Multiple Foods Ready to Serve at the Same Time

    1. πŸ™‚ Little things always seem to happen that throw off my planned schedule – something takes longer to prep than I expected, I have to sort through all my spice jars to find a spice that seems to have suddenly vanished, my arm brushes against a water glass and it goes crashing to the floor. . .

  1. I agree! Sometimes even for our daily meals I have to go thru these steps. It helps to think ahead and a little bit down rather than doing everything at once. Thank you sharing this post!

    1. It’s nice to hear that you like this post. The questions in the old book made me realize that I think about many of the things they addressed when I cook, but until I read the questions I never really thought about it in a systematic way.

  2. Kitchen work sounds like today’s kitchen!i have to plan and cook ahead for I’m a one track mind person,I don’t multi task very well in a lot of commotion. I have already forgot to serve a salad to my company because of not being ahead of the commotion. That’s a ” I can’t believe I did this’ moment. πŸ˜„

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve also forgotten to serve dishes to guests that I had worked hard to prepare. I guess I just got distracted – but it’s so annoying.

  3. This is such good advice, and not at all old-fashioned. I rarely do “production” meals any more, but when the time comes, so much of this comes into play: especially, making desserts and doing prep like chopping and dicing ahead of time. I like to find recipes that require the same oven temperature, too. It makes it so much easier if everything needs to be baked at 350 degrees.

    1. I find that I’m better at estimating how long it will take to prepare a meal now than what I was when I was younger. As a result, I start prepping earlier – and have fewer disasters at the end. πŸ™‚

  4. It is really great advice for a long time problem. I will actually make a timetable, a list of food to be served and set out serving dishes with labels. And that wonderful invention of a warmer oven comes in handy and how did we ever manage without microwaves. Even with all my notes, I too have forgotten to serve food I made!

    1. I generally think about which tasks to do first, how long they will take, etc. – but sometimes I run into time crunches at the end. I would probably benefit from laying things out more formally in a timetable.

    1. I agree that cooking is an art. I never thought about it before – but it is nice how the title includes the words “household arts.” It suggests what perspective the book will take.

    1. I’ve always admired cooks who have perfect timing. It must take a huge amount of organization to get the timing right when running a cupcake store.

        1. I hope that you decide to publish some “flashbacks.” I love to read food/cooking memories, and it sounds like you’d have some wonderful stories to share.

  5. It was fun to read that planning list. Thanks for posting it. I could have used that wisdom 50 years ago! As I read this, I realized I learned to do all those steps myself. I also learned that not every single dish in one meal had to be a complicated one.

    1. I agree that every single dish doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, when cooking for guest these days, I try to make meals that include as many simple dishes as possible. πŸ™‚

  6. This is me all the time! I am good at making single dishes, but when it comes to preparing a meal, I struggle sometimes. Dishes do need to be interwoven so everything comes together as it should.

  7. Hi Cheryl, I’m concerned because I haven’t received your last three posts in my e-mail box like I usually do. I’ll look into it. Luckily I can still read them from the READER on wordpress. I enjoy the task of making sure multiple dishes are ready all together. It’s crazy in our household because I cook for 4 adults all of whom have different tastes and dietary needs.

      1. I’m glad that the issue apparently has resolved itself because I have no idea what might have caused it. But it still seems strange that you got an email today. This post was posted yesterday morning, and it seems like you should have received the email then instead of today.

        I admire that you enjoy the task of cooking for people with different tastes and dietary needs – some cooks find that very difficult.

    1. I find that when cooking a meal for guests that I tend to be over-optimistic about how quickly I can prep the various foods and then I sometimes end up feeling rushed at the end.

  8. For some reason this post reminded me of how much I despise today’s open floor plans. I guess I was thinking of the mess I make when I host dinner parties and there are dozens of pots and pans and skillets, etc. everywhere due to the multiple dishes being prepared at once. I wish I could close off the mess so no one can see it.

  9. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to create elaborate meals one hundred years ago! Even with all of the modern conveniences, I have a hard time doing it today! But even those these tips are old, they are still very useful. I have never understood why so many people want a kitchen that can be seen by the rest of the house. They say it’s so they won’t be left out when they are cooking for company. Is it just me, or don’t most people prepare as much food as possible ahead of time before the company arrives?

    1. I’m with you – Like you, I try to prepare as much food as possible before the guests arrive. I know that some people enjoy chatting with guests while cooking, but that doesn’t work well for me. πŸ™‚

  10. My father was very strict about having everything on the table hot and complained that his mother (an excellent cook) never mastered this. I thought it was because Grandma took so much time while fixing a meal for us to laugh, joke and talk that she lost track of things. That was OK with me.

  11. I like this article. It’s very informative and encouraging on how to plan meals better. Even now with all our modern technology, I still deal with guessing what to cook when and get the table set with the food ready at once. My timing is usually off.
    I really admire the cooks that have mastered the art of perfectly timed cooking and serving.

    1. This is an interesting lens to use to look at this. I hadn’t thought about it quite this way, but you’re absolutely right. Today women (and men) spend time in the kitchen because they enjoy cooking. A hundred-years-ago women were expected to put three meals on the table 365 days of the year whether or not they had any interest in cooking.

  12. I’ve been known to write out a preparation and cooking schedule to “interweave” the steps for each dish for big meals like Thanksgiving. But my regular approach to getting a meal out on time is “one-pot” cooking — in the slow-cooker, casseroles in the oven, or stews on the stove-top. πŸ™‚

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