The After-Church Dinner a Hundred Years Ago

Foods for a Sunday Dinner
Source: Good Housekeeping (February, 1920)

Both in 1920 and in 2020, it can sometimes be challenging to get a meal prepared in a timely manner. Here are some excerpts from a hundred-year-old article in Good Housekeeping about successfully preparing a Sunday dinner:

The After-Church Dinner

Can I join my family at church on Sunday when there is a hearty dinner to prepare? 

“Yes,” answers Good Housekeeping Institute. “Let us show you the way. Go to church – then cook your dinner afterward, a dinner simple, yet hearty and tasty. Simplicity should be the keynote of the Sunday dinner.”

Save your more complicated meat, vegetable dishes, and desserts for the week-day meals, when time is not go great an item nor rest so essential. In their place serve broiled or baked chops, steaks, small roasts, or fish – meats which require little or no preparation and little time for cooking.

Simplify the vegetable courses by avoiding all scalloped or cream dishes which take so much time to prepare. Serve your potatoes baked in their jackets, boiled, or broiled, depending upon the various seasonings at hand to give variety to the vegetable. Serve carrots, turnips, celery, Brussels sprouts, and such vegetables in their simplest form, that is, either whole, sliced, or diced, according  to the vegetable; when properly cooked and delicately seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, butter, etc., you will not long for the more elaborate dishes. Frequently serve from your store of home or commercially canned vegetables; these are cooked and require only reheating and proper seasoning to make them delicious. A salad course may or may not be included in your menu. 

At all times fruit is an acceptable dessert, particularly as a quick-time dessert. Many enjoy the fruit as it comes from the market; others prefer it cut up, slightly sweetened, and served plain or with cream. When fresh fruits are scarce, use your own canned fruit or that commercially canned. Such a dessert served with homemade cookies or cake cannot be surpassed. 

Good Housekeeping (February, 1920)

48 thoughts on “The After-Church Dinner a Hundred Years Ago

    1. I was surprised myself as I expected this to be on a “big Sunday meal” and was taken off guard by the suggestion that there was more time during the weekday.

      I guess that shows the extent to which I’m used to the world of today. In 1920 preparing any meal was a lot more work and most women were still employed at home, either in their own homes, or the homes of others, with other sorts of employment on the rise but not anywhere near what they current are.

    1. I had a similar reaction. I found the caption under the photo interesting, “In one and one-quarter hours, this Sunday dinner was easily prepared.” Any meal that takes one and a quarter hours to prepare doesn’t sound simple to me.

  1. At first I thought the article would be about the practice we called “dinner on the grounds” — the practice of getting together at the church or grange hall for singing, and then having a potluck afterwards. As I think about it, I’m pretty sure I know how Grandma managed church and that wonderful fried chicken dinner — she baked on Saturday, and was up at 5 a.m. on Sunday!

    1. I think of the Grange being the agricultural organization. Is that what you are referring to here?

      The Grange exists here, but doesn’t seem to be very active and I don’t know anyone who is a member. The reference to them in this fashion catches me off guard.

      1. Yes, indeed — that’s the Grange I grew up with. In Iowa, in the 1940s and 1950s, they were especially active. There was one outside my home town where various meetings were held, and community activities scheduled. “Out at the grange hall” was a pretty commonly heard phrase. Some of the best food in the country showed up at Grange events!

        1. My grandfather was from Dyersville, although he left it as a young teen, came back as a late teen, and then left again in his early 20s. All of my knowledge of that area is from my father visiting his own grandparents with his parents, and from some family photos.

        2. The grange played an important role in the social life of many people in rural areas when I was a child, but it doesn’t seem to be very active in many areas any more.

      2. It’s worth noting that I also remember telephones with no dial, operators who’d ask “Number, please,” and four-digit phone numbers. It was a different world, for sure.

    2. It sounds like your grandmother was very organized – and put in some long hours. I won’t get up at 5 am to start preparing the Sunday meal. 🙂

  2. I grew up in a house that did just the opposite of this advice. Weekday meals were simple, Sunday Dinner was the feast of the week. Times change, sometimes in the most subtle ways.

    1. That’s sort of what our home was like, except that my mother wasn’t a very good cook. Generally, on Sundays she made the meal that she put the most effort into, or my father sometimes did that in the summer before she fell ill and he took over all the meals. Anyhow, Sunday in my mind is associated with roast beef or roasted chicken in the cold months, or rotisserie chicken (we had a small rotisserie) or fried chicken in the summer, both of which would have been something my father would have cooked.

      On weekdays my mother always tried to have something done that was more or less timed with my father getting home from work. Not right on time, but near time. That generally meant it was something easy for her to prepare.

  3. I do not have good memories of Sunday dinners. My Mom made a huge meal after church that took hours. In those days, it was important to finish all your food, so we were not allowed to eat before dinner. I probably had low blood sugar and I remember starving while laying on the floor watching Abbot and Costello…slowly I turn…waiting for the elaborate meal to be made. I know my Mom was keeping a family tradition and was pleased when we gobbled down our meal, but appetizers would have been nice.

    1. I can see how you could have easily felt starved. I was surprised how the illustrations for this article showed two clocks – one showing 12:30 and the other 1:45. The first clock probably represented the time the family got home from church and the cook began cooking the meal, and the second the time that the meal was served – but it seems so late to be eating the midday meal.

  4. I loved this, but as others said, our Sunday dinners were special. We went to 9:30 Mass, which always meant that Mom had time to make a roast (most weeks) or spaghetti and meatballs (occasionally). She often threw potatoes in with the roast chicken, pork, or beef, and on Sundays it was a relish tray rather than the weeknight salad, and she never missed a green vegetable. She baked on Saturdays, so this was the one day a week when we were likely to have a dessert other than fruit. I have tried so many times to duplicate the “remembered” taste of those Sunday dinners, to no avail.

    1. Sunday dinner at your family’s home back in the day sounds wonderful. Sometimes I think that foods and ingredients have changed across the years – though probably we’re remembering meals from long ago through “rose colored lens.”

  5. Sunday dinner is still a big deal in my house. My mom came from a family of 13 and Mass was at 7am. Grandma had the sauce on the back burner and bread rising before they left the house. What a life.

    1. We went to Mass early as well when I was a little kid. At that time, my father’s mother was still alive and she lived in town, and she’d go with us, which is interesting in that we had a large extended family but a small immediate family and we were the ones she’d go with. But she and my father were always very close. After Mass, we’d eat out for Sunday breakfast. Even after her death we often did that.

      Later my parents switched to Saturday evening Mass. That didn’t make for more elaborate Sunday meals, however, and as noted, my mother was a pretty bad cook.

      We try to have a larger or more special Sunday evening meal now, come to think of it. So we’re the reverse of the advice here. Sunday is the one day that we can cook something that takes quite a bit of time, although with modern appliances, that’s not as much time as it would have been a century ago.

      1. It was a matter of necessity. Oddly, while she may have been organized, life was simpler then. There is always a give to get. I recall a friend of mine arguing with me that it can’t be more economical to bake my own bread then it is to go to the store and buy a loaf for a buck. Well, I had to explain that without a car, or a buck, it was definitely more economical! When you think about it, pasta and bread are super easy to make, they just take time and she had all hands on deck at times!

  6. Saturday was the day to get food ready for Sunday when I was growing up,but I changed that some as I enjoy a little more relaxed day without piles of dishes to wash,so we do simple on Sunday.

  7. I second the use of a crock pot for Sundays. Of course, now that we can’t go to church because of covid, I don’t have to worry about getting food ready for after church.

  8. This doesn’t match my memories from half a century ago on the fringe of the Bible Belt. In my childhood “Sunday dinner” was served in early afternoon and was a big festive meal, served with real cloth napkins, and the best silver. Usually it comprised a roast chicken, (Mom and Dad each got most of the breast meat, Big Brother and Big Sister got the thighs, Little Brother and Little Sister got the drumsticks. If you were lucky you could go back and find a wing still waiting on the platter on the sideboard after you had cleared your plate. Or it might be a roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. (Chicken would be served with rice). Rarely, except for Easter and maybe New Year’s Day, there would be a ham served with sweet potatoes. Vegetables on the side would usually be canned string beans.

    Later in the evening we might have “supper”, which would be soup and bread, or maybe corned beef hash. We were supposed to have eaten our fill at dinner, so supper would be very light.

    That was then.

  9. I think the tables have been turned! I save the weekend for the fancy meals and the week day for the fast meals. My grandmother would make mashed potatoes, homemade noodles and fried chicken and gravy nearly every Sunday for the noon meal after church! Of course everything was prepped the day before! Especially the noodles!

  10. I like the simplicity but it’s still a work out! I did enjoy seeing the spices and herbs that were used then, most were probably home grown, most women tended the garden

    1. I also have found it interesting over the years to see which spices and herbs are commonly used (or not used) in hundred-year-old recipes. For example, I’m much more like to see a 1920 recipe that calls for mace than what I am to see a modern recipe calling for that spice.

  11. A good quick enjoyable Sunday dinner. We have so many options but I will kindly suggest one. Biscuits and gravy. Yes, I know its commonly a breakfast but it is very filling and a good reward for making attendance to church. A good dessert to go with it is some bananas and cream, maybe even some chocolate mixed in. I hope you enjoy the suggestions.

    1. mmm. . . it sounds like a delightful Sunday dinner. And, it makes sense to have the biscuits and gravy for dinner rather than for breakfast when rushing to get to church.

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