1920 Advice on How to Keep Milk Clean and Fresh

Source: Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920)

Other than putting the jug of milk in the refrigerator immediately after I get home from the supermarket, I don’t think much about how to keep the milk clean and fresh. A hundred years ago, people worried a lot more about maintaining milk quality. Here’s what it said in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

There are many very important things to know about milk, but nothing is more important than to know how to care for it in the home. Because it is such a perfect food, it is a very good place for germs to grow. 

Be sure to wash the bottle before pouring out any milk. Get into the habit of doing this. You do not know what kind of dirt may have come in contact with the bottle after the milk was put into it. 

If milk is left in the bottle replace the cap or, better, provide a clean one. A cup or glass may be inverted over the bottle. Do not pour the milk into another utensil unless necessary. If necessary, be sure that the container is absolutely clean. Milk very readily absorbs the odors and flavors of other food in the refrigerator, and this is another good reason for covering it.

Sometimes milk is not delivered in bottles but is dipped from a can and poured into pans or pails. Be sure that the pans are scalded and kept covered until the milk id delivered. Do not put milk tickets into them, or leave them uncovered on the doorstep. If milk is bought at the grocery store one should not walk through the streets with the pail uncoverered. 

As soon as the milk is delivered the bottle should be washed and put into the refrigerator. If allowed to stand in a warm room it sours very quickly. 

All milk containers should be rinsed with cold water as soon as empty. They should then be washed with clean, soapy water and rinsed with scalding water. In the summer time it is a good plan to boil the pans and pails with soda water for fifteen minutes.   

Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr 

[The book also contained directions for making a homemade cooler for those who did not have a refrigerator – but that is potentially another post, another day.]

Old-fashioned Fish Loaf

Sliced fish loaf on plate

When I saw a recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook for Fish Loaf, I knew that I needed to give it a try. Now that the holidays are starting to wind down, I’m ready for comfort foods. Maybe most people won’t consider Fish Loaf a comfort food, but for me it fits into that category. I have vague memories of eating (and enjoying) Salmon Loaf many years ago, and I wanted to see if this recipe was similar.

The old recipe called for using any canned fish (or flaked, cooked fresh fish) so there’s lots of flexibility- though I chose to go with salmon.

This recipe was very easy to make – and it tasted just like the Salmon Loaves that I remember from my childhood.

Recipe for Fish Loaf
Source: A New Snowdrift Cook Book (1920)

One teaspoon of salt seemed like a lot to me since the canned salmon that I used already contained some salt, so I when I updated the recipe, I reduced the amount of salt to 1/2 teaspoon.

Snowdrift was an old-time shortening that I don’t think is sold any longer.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Fish Loaf

  • Servings: 4 - 5
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 pound can fish or 2 1/2 cups flaked, cooked fresh fish (I used a 14.75 ounce can of Salmon.)

3 eggs

1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (I tore 1 slice of bread into small pieces.)

1 tablespoon melted butter or shortening

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350° F. Separate the eggs. Put the egg whites in a mixing bowl, and beat until stiff. Set aside.

Put the egg yolks in another mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Flake the fish and add to the bowl with the beaten egg yolks.  Add bread crumbs, butter or shortening, salt, pepper, and parsley; stir to combine. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Put in a greased loaf pan, and place in oven and bake until firm (about 40 – 50 minutes). Remove from oven and cut into slices. If desired, serve with peas, cream or white sauce, egg sauce, or tomato sauce.


1920 School Christmas Party

Woman and child looking at Christmas tree
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II), 1920

A 1920 home economics textbook contained a running story about the activities of a “household arts” class. Here’s some excepts from the section about preparing foods for a Christmas party for younger children at the school: 

When the Christmas party was planned each of the classes did its share to help. The household arts classes helped to fill the boxes and stockings with homemade candy and tied up many pop corn balls. 

Christmas food and decorations on a table

The girls enjoyed wrapping their boxes and pop corn balls in bright-colored papers to hang on the tree. Miss Washburn, the art teacher helped the girls make them attractive. Christmas gifts, however small, she said always give more pleasure when special care is given to the wrapping and tying. There was no danger in covering the pop corn balls with colored paper for they were first wrapped in waxed paper.  

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr


Old-fashioned Eggnog

glass of eggnogEggnog is one of my favorite holiday drinks, so I decided to make a hundred-year-old eggnog recipe to see how it compared with the modern version. The old recipe made a lovely eggnog that had a hint of vanilla and nutmeg. It was less sweet and thinner than the typical modern eggnog – but, in my opinion, that was a good thing.

Eggnog is considered very festive today, so I was surprised to find the old recipe for it in a 1920 home economics textbook, in a chapter titled “Illness in the Home.”  Back then it was common for cookbooks and textbooks to include a chapter on cooking for invalids – and eggnog was considered a nutritious, easy to eat and digest food for someone who was sick.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Eggnot
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley & Wilhelmina H. Spohr

This recipe makes one fairly small serving. A hundred years ago, it was probably served in an 8-ounce (1 cup) glass.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:


  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 egg (I used a pasteurized egg.)

1 teaspoon sugar

dash of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup milk

dash of ground nutmeg (or grate a small amount of whole nutmeg) (optional)

Put egg in a small mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Add sugar, salt, and vanilla; then gradually add the milk while continuing to beat. Strain, and pour into a glass. If desired, sprinkle or grate a little nutmeg on top. Serve at once.


Old-fashioned Honey and Cocoa Cushions Candy

Pieces of Honey and Cocoa Cushions Candy

Ever wonder how to make a homemade candy that tastes similar to Tootsie Rolls? Well, I had never even thought about making Tootsie Rolls, but when I made a hundred-year-old candy recipe for Honey and Cocoa Cushions, I was surprised to discover that they tasted very similar to Tootsie Rolls.

Honey is the only sweetener called for in the Honey and Cocoa Cushions recipe, so it may be a tad healthier than many candies (at least that is what I tell myself when I nibble on the candies).

It is tricky getting this candy cooked to exactly the right stage, but similarly to taffy, it needs to be pulled, which can be a fun family activity.

pulling candy

Here’s the original recipe:

recipe for Honey and Cocoa Cushions
Source: Mrs. Scott’s Seasonal Cook Books (The North American Newspaper, Philadelphia, Autumn, 1920)

The ingredients list calls for a pinch of baking soda, though it is never actually mentioned in the directions. I assumed that it was combined with the cocoa and water when the thick paste was made. I generally try to avoid using old-fashioned terms like “pinch” when updating recipes – but couldn’t figure out what other term to use for the small amount of baking soda required in this recipe, so kept the original terminology and used the word “pinch” in the updated recipe.

The original recipe calls for cooking the mixture to the soft ball stage. When I made the recipe, the candy didn’t seem firm enough to pull when cooked to the soft ball stage, so I cooked it to the hard ball stage.

The original recipe also calls for cooking the mixture in an iron frying pan. When I poured 1 cup of honey into my 14-inch cast iron skillet, it barely covered the bottom of the pan, so I ended up doubling the recipe. Another option would be to use a smaller pan that is approximately 8-inches in diameter.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Honey and Cocoa Cushions Candy

  • Servings: about 20 pieces of candy
  • Difficulty: difficult
  • Print

(I doubled this recipe when I made it, and used a full-size cast iron frying pan.)

1 cup honey

1/4 cup cocoa

a pinch of baking soda

1+ tablespoon water

Put the cocoa and baking soda in a small bowl. Add water and stir to make a very thick smooth paste. (A small amount of additional water may need to be added to create the paste.) Set aside.

Put honey in a small cast iron skillet (about 8 inches in diameter). Using low heat, bring to a slow boil. Add the cocoa paste, and continue boiling while stirring constantly. Boil until it reaches the firm-ball stage. The firm-ball stage is when a small amount of the syrup is dropped into cold water. If it can be gathered together to form a firm ball (though malleable when pressed), it is at the right stage—or just use a candy thermometer (255 – 265 degrees F).

Remove from heat and pour onto a buttered platter. Let cool until it is cool enough to be handled. Then butter hands and pull the candy until it becomes cold and glossy (about 5 – 10 minutes). Form long thin strips of the candy and place on waxed paper; then cut with a buttered knife or scissors into pieces approximately 1/2 inch long.  If desired, the pieces can be wrapped in squares of waxed paper.


How Much do Americans Spend on Candy, 1920 and 2020?

gumdrops on plateOccasionally I see data in an old book that piques my curiosity – and next thing I know I’m searching for recent comparison data. This is one of those times.  According to a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

We are told that American spend over $200,000,000 a year for factory-made candy. 

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr

Which led me to wonder, how much did the average American spend on candy per year in 1920? According the 1920 U.S. Census, there were 106,000,000 people in the U.S. in 1920, so the average person spent $1.89 dollars per year on candy. According to Dave Manual’s Inflation Calculator, $1 in 1920 would be the equivalent to $12.50 today, so the average person in 1920 ate $23.65 worth of candy in today’s dollars over the course of a year.

This led to my next question, How much candy do American’s eat today? I found data for how much they spent on Halloween candy (but not for the entire year) -so the overall amount would be more. The data were for 2019, which I’m assuming is about the same as 2020.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $2.6 billion on candy or more than $25 on average.

How Much Candy Are You Buying for Halloween? This Survey Might Surprise You,” U.S.A. Today (October 5, 2019)

So the bottom line this at in Americans are spending more on candy today than they did a hundred years ago. In 1920, if the spending was adjusted for inflation, they spent an average of $23.65; today, just for Halloween, they spend more than $25.00 per year.