Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Delivered in the Mail a Hundred Years Ago

farm produce heading 5 1916

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Caption: Here is a “home hamper.” If you live in New York, Brooklyn, or elsewhere on Long Island, it is delivered to your door for $1.50. The four boxes each hold about four quarts. (Source: Ladies Home Journal – May, 1916).

I can get great locally-grown produce at the farmer’s market, or I could join a community supported agriculture (CSA) group and pick up wonderful local foods at a nearby drop point — but I dream of curated farm-fresh food coming right to my door on a regular basis.  I long for the good old days. A hundred years ago families in the New York City area could get fresh fruits and vegetables from Long Island in the mail.

Here’s some quotes from a 1916 article about it.

The farm-to-family-fresh idea is Edith Loring Fullerton’s, and a very clever idea it is. Mrs. Fullerton believed that a basket of fruits and vegetables, freshly picked, sent straight from the farm would appeal to the city housewife.

Evidently it did, for the “Home Hamper” is a great success.  The hamper itself is an oblong crate twenty-four inches long, fourteen wide and ten deep; it contains six baskets and weights from thirty to thirty-five pounds. In it the housewife finds such staples as potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, sweet corn, soup and salad vegetables, and in season strawberries, peaches, cantaloupes, eggplants, etc.

With the parcel post the hamper idea is being rapidly taken up by woman farmers, some of them adding eggs, poultry, butter or flowers to the hamper lists.

The housewife finds that not only does the hamper reduce the cost of living, but the difference between freshly picked vegetables and those picked unripe to ripen in transit is greatly appreciated by her family.

Mrs. Fullerton is one of the vice presidents of the new cooperative organization of woman gardeners — the Women’s National Agricultural and Horticultural  Association, which has for one of its objects to “bring together the producer and consumer.”

Ladies Home Journal (May 1916)

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Caption: Freshly picked, and thoroughly washed and cleaned, carefully bunched and sorted, these vegetables, just right for use, are ready for packing into hampers. The hampers leave the farm at six thirty in the morning on Tuesdays and Fridays, reaching the housewives a few hours later.

I want to think that delivery services are faster and more efficient now than in the early 1900’s but apparently parcel post packages were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service much quicker and more dependably a hundred years ago than now (at least in urban areas). Parcel post began in the U.S. in 1913, and was seen as a way for farmers to get supplies, and for consumers to get farm produce. Trains, horse-drawn wagons, and trucks quickly transported the perishable parcel post hampers into the city from the outlying agricultural areas.

School Gardens a Hundred Years Ago

Childrens garden heading 5 1916

Photo caption: The first year the garden was all corn and potatoes.
Photo caption: The first year the garden was all corn and potatoes.

Some schools have wonderful school gardens that support good nutrition and the development of healthier children. I was surprised to discover that schools a hundred years ago also had gardens. The May, 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal told the story of one such school, the Elihu Greenwood School, in the Hyde Park district of Boston. Here’s some excerpts:

The pupils first wrote letters to the men who owned unused land near the school, incidentally finding out how important English composition is in the business world. Permission to use the vacant lots having been granted, enthusiasm ran high. It was winter, and the only thing that could be done was to measure the ground-which every boy and girl did- and then draw plans.

The land was rocky, and the first thing to do when spring came was to clear it of stones and rubbish.  This work took more time than was expected so planting plans had to be changed. Potatoes and corn were the only crops the first year.

The breaking of the land having been accomplished, the next winter brought greater plans. The flower garden, beside the fence and bordering the vegetable garden, was 5 feet wide band 1200 feet long.The vegetable garden was divided into twenty-three plots.

Photo Caption: The second years they grew all the common and some of the uncommon vegetables.
Photo Caption: The second years they grew all the common and some of the uncommon vegetables.

The time spent in the garden could not be taken out of school work, and the children counted it as a “privilege” to begin school at half-past eight, that they might have the extra half hour in the garden. During vacation thirty-one pupils took charge of the garden, and were paid from three to four dollars a week.

Everything was for sale at reasonable rates. One could walk around the garden and say, “I should like this head of lettuce,” or “that cabbage,” or could wait at home for the visit of a boy or girl with a little cart of fresh vegetables and flowers.

It was demonstrated that garden work could be an integral part of the school curriculum in natural science, geometry, arithmetic and physical culture, as in garden work every muscle of the body is used

Caption: Gardening included training in salesmanship. Corn was sold by the foot.
Photo caption: Gardening included training in salesmanship. Corn was sold by the foot.

A Hundred-Year-Old Thanksgiving Picture Story: The Turkey and her Haughty Cousins

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, November 27, 1914: <<no entry>>

Source: Good Housekeeping (November, 1911)
Source: Good Housekeeping (November, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Thanksgiving, 1914 has already come and gone; but, since this is Thanksgiving Day in 2014, I thought that you might enjoy this hundred-year-old picture story.

The Turkey and her Haughty Cousins

turkey story 2

turkey story 3

turkey story 4

turkey story 5

turkey story 6 (1)

(Good Housekeeping, November, 1911)


Harvesting and Storing Potatoes a Hundred Years ago

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, October 2, 1914:  Picked taters this afternoon.

Late Potato Varieties a Hundred Years Ago--Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)
Late Potato Varieties -Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:


I guess it’s back to reality today. I hope that you’re at least thinking about all the fun you had yesterday at the Milton Fair while you’re stooping to gather potatoes. It sounds like tiring, back-breaking work.


Here’s what a hundred-year-old book said about harvesting and storing potatoes:

There is a great difference in the keeping qualities of varieties; as a rule the early kinds are hard to keep from sprouting in the latter part of the winter, and the late kinds keep the best.

Early potatoes are generally dug as soon as they are big enough for cooking; for winter use it is very desirable to have the tubers well ripened; if not ripe the skin will peel off when handled, and they do not look good.

When potatoes are high in price it may pay to dig them by hand, for which purpose tined garden forks are desirable. When potatoes are cheap they can be plowed out; though when plowed out some tubers will get covered up; most of these may be brought to the surface by the use of a straight tooth harrow.

Early Potato Varieties
Early Potato Varieties

If the tubers are keeping well in the ground, it is a good plan to delay the digging until the cool weather of autumn, when they may be carried directly from the field to the cellar. If they are rotting in the ground or are “scabby,” they should be dug at once, and if the cellar is cool they may be put at once into it, otherwise it is a good plan to pit them in the field until cool weather comes.

Pitting in mild weather is done by putting the tubers into heaps and covering them with straw or hay and a few inches of loam. The straw should be allowed to stick out along the top of the heap for ventilation, so as to allow the moisture to pass off.

In the colder weather of late autumn, the covering, of course, should be heavier, and when potatoes have ceased to sweat there is no need of ventilation. In milder sections, potatoes are stored through the winter in such pits, but it is impracticable farther north.

If kept in the cellar the bins are improved by having slatted floors and sides, so that there may be some circulation of air through them to prevent heating at the bottom. The bins should not be large nor more than five feet deep.

Vegetable Gardening (1914) by Samuel B. Green

Squash Varieties a Hundred Years Ago

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, September 27, 1914: <<no entry>>

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1910) by Samuel B. Green
Picture Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914) by Samuel B. Green

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sigh. .. Another day with no diary entry. so here’s a trivia question:

Question: Did Grandma’s family eat butternut squash? . . . zucchini?

Answer: no

I found a picture of squash varieties in a hundred-year-old book on vegetable gardening—and was surprised that it did not include either butternut or zucchini squash.

I then did a little research and was amazed to discover that neither butternut nor zucchini was available in the US a hundred years ago.

The Silvia International website states:

Butternut squash, also known in some countries as the butternut pumpkin, is the most popular of the winter squash, and was originally developed in Massachusetts in the 1940s.

Photo source: Wikipedia
Photo source: Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia:

The first records of zucchini in the United States date to the early 1920s. It was almost certainly brought over by Italian immigrants and probably was first cultivated in the United States in California.

Photo source: Wikipedia
Photo source: Wikipedia

Farm Electricity Plants a Hundred Years Ago

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, August 5, 1914: Ditto

Source: Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine

Caption: The washing of the greasy, smoked lamp chimneys and the dangerous practice of carrying a lantern into the hay mow are done away with. Source: Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine (October, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The previous day Grandma wrote that she, “Forgot what I did today.”

Since nothing was happening in Grandma’s life that merited mention in her diary, and since I’m still fascinated with how technology was changing a hundred years ago, I’m going to go off on another tangent.

In 1914 electricity was widely available in larger towns—though it had not yet come to McEwensville. However, some farmers were beginning to install generators and batteries that could be used to produce electricity.

I don’t really understand how the systems worked, but here’s what an article in the October, 1914 issue of Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine said:

The Farm Electricity Plant

For the operation of the little plant, less skill is required than to run the simplest automobile. It contains a gasoline engine of 1 1/2 horsepower, an electric generator or dynamo, a storage battery of 16 small cells, which can be placed on a shelf 8 inches wide by 5 feet long and a simple switchboard. The generating part weights but 160 pounds.

The cost of lamps and wiring will be about $3 per lamp, more or less, depending on the conditions and grade of materials employed. An estimate of materials and wiring may be obtained from a local electrician or contractor. Or the farmer may buy the materials and do the wiring himself at odd times. This is a simple matter with the aid of a good book on wiring.

Injured While Loading Hay

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, July 22, 1914: I’m feeling awful sore in my lower region. Have a sore nose and two sore front teeth. /Was loading hay this afternoon. While at work on the last load the train rounded the bend. I glanced in that direction. This next moment I was lying on the ground with the breath knocked out of me.

The train that surprised Grandma would have come down these tracks.
The train that surprised Grandma would have come down these tracks.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:


Whew, are you okay? Do you think you should go to a doctor (or a dentist)? It sounds like a bad mishap—and like you‘re very lucky that you weren’t hurt worse.

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think that it was a mishap with the rope and pulley system used to lift hay or straw from the wagon, and take it up into the hay mow. There was a huge hook at the end that held the hay that was being lifted. If care wasn’t used (or if the rope broke) hundreds of pounds of hay would fall back onto the wagon. This would jolt the wagon—and could throw a person standing on it.  The falling hay could also potentially hit a worker.


There were train tracks that ran along the edge of the Muffly farm—and the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad had regularly scheduled passenger trains that used the tracks. I suppose Grandma was surprised by the train—and somehow failed to properly attend to whatever she was supposed to be doing with the pulley system.

For more information about hay pulleys you might enjoy this previous post:

Hay Pulleys and Ropes

You may also enjoy this link to a YouTube video what shows people using the old-fashioned pulley system to unload hay. (Thank you Jim in Iowa for finding this link and sharing it when I did the previous post on this topic.)