Today there’s lots of discussion about whether it is better to measure recipe ingredients by volume (teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, etc.) or by weight (typically grams). A hundred years ago cooks apparently wanted to go back and forth between volume and weight measures. Here’s a table from a 1917 cookbook which shows approximately how many cups (or other measures) of various ingredients were the equivalent of one pound.
In 1917, food prices were rising rapidly in the U.S. because of World War I and the demand for food in Europe. Magazines were filled with articles about how to cope with the high food prices. One article encouraged readers to substitute rice for potatoes. Here’s a few excerpts:
Who Cares for Potatoes?
When there are cheaper foods that can take the place of Irish potatoes, why do we worry over their increasing cost? Besides, mankind has not always had potatoes to eat. The potato became widely popular only about one hundred years ago. It was the middle of the sixteenth century that the Spaniards found the potato in Peru and took it back to the Continent where it was cultivated as a curiosity.
In our own country we know the potato was cultivated in the temperate sections, for we have record of Sir Walter Raleigh’s taking it in 1585 from North Carolina to Ireland, to be cultivated on his estate near Cork. Its cultivation first became general in Ireland (whence its name) and not until a little more than a century ago did it come into widespread popular usage.
Certainly we are not wholly dependent upon the potato for a well-balanced dietary since our ancestors thrived without it. To be sure, the potato has justly soared its popularity because of its cheapness, its food-value, its palatability, the convenience with which it can be shipped and stored, and the ease with which it can be prepared in a surprisingly large variety of attractive ways.
It is true that men and women are largely creatures of habit, but the time has come when the women, as controllers of at least seventy-five percent of the incomes of the men of the nation, must look to our habits to see whether they are expensive and whether they need to be altered.
Starch is not the only necessary constituent of a substitute for potatoes. The potato is rich in vitamins. This property, however, is possessed by most fruits and vegetables, and by milk.
Rice would more than fit the bill, as it contains nearly three times as much energy-building material as the potato. If we substitute it for potatoes, me must have at the same meal vegetables or fruits that will supply the needed potassium and bulk. Such vegetables and fruits are: Cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, celery, string beans, parsnips, rhubarb, rutabagas, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, bananas, apricots, lemons, oranges, peaches pineapple, strawberries.
In purchasing rice we have a chance to economize by buying the broken kernels, which sell for several cents a pound cheaper than the whole grain, and have exactly the same food value.
Not that we wish to taboo potatoes–far be it from that–but since their price is relatively high we can save money by using potato-less menus.
Good Housekeeping (March, 1917)
People have strong opinions about whether bread crusts are worth eating. I was surprised to learn that people have been questioning the value of bread crusts for a long time. Here’s a question and response that I found in a hundred-year-old magazine:
Is the Crust of Bread Less Digestible than the Inside?
No! The crust is satisfactorily digested when properly chewed. Part of the protein of the crust is present in a more soluble form and some of the starch has been partly digested to dextrin through the action of the heat in baking. The crust is fully as nutritious as the crumb or the inside of the loaf.
Ladies Home Journal (February, 1917)
A hundred year ago, just like now, expectant mothers worried about their diet. Here is some hundred-old-advice:
Diet for the Expectant Mother
The ever-great importance of diet is multiplied many times during pregnancy. If children are to be born healthy, mothers can not be starved. If we accept this fundamental, the rest of our course is easy. The mother needs not only the amount of food necessary for her own sustenance and to keep up her own bodily functions, but also a very large increased amount for the growing child.
The food of the expectant mother must be real food. There is no place during the period of pregnancy for the ornaments and finishings of the menu. Every mouthful that she eats should be adapted to the purpose of real nutrition and not merely serve to tickle the palate, or to comply with the follies of fashion. To this end the diet should exclude practically all desserts. These are not so harmful in themselves as they are in taking the place of the necessary things. Cakes, ices, sweets, pudding, and other such accessories are to banished entirely from the table.
It is desirable to omit from the diet during pregnancy tea, coffee, and chocolate. If the craving of the mother is great for these stimulants, then the least harmful of them should be chosen, namely cocoa or chocolate. The more milk the preparation contains, the better for the mother.
The breakfast should always have a fruit; the particular kind is not so important. It is well to interchange them, having a citrus fruit one day and a malic fruit the second day. Apples, pears, and peaches are examples of fruits in which malic acid is predominant; oranges and grapefruit are examples of fruits in which citric acid is predominant. After the fruit a bowl of cereal ground from whole wheat or whole Indian corn or whole oats is to follow. The bread for breakfast should be baked from whole-wheat flour or whole Indian corn meal.
For luncheon, the bread used should be of the same kind as that for breakfast. In addition to this a fresh egg, best coddled or soft boiled, or a lamb chop with a steamed or baked potato carefully cleaned before cooking and eaten with the skins with milk for a beverage is advised.
For dinner the bread and milk are the same character as for breakfast and luncheon. A small piece of roast, preferably of beef or leg of mutton or lamb, with potato and one other vegetable, will be added. Vegetables have little value as food, but great value as regulators and they contain an abundance of minerals and vitamins. A salad, best of lettuce or fruit, will make up the dinner.
I am wholly opposed to alcoholic stimulants, once commonly recommended during pregnancy and motherhood. I suppose it can not be denied that these stimulants do add to the appetite, but a healthy woman does not need any stimulus for her appetite while her child is growing.
As to the quantity of the diet, it has already been intimated that it must be greater than that for normal conditions. The average woman of 130 pounds engaged in the ordinary duties of the household and taking the proper amount of outdoor exercise, requires food to furnish about 2250 calories a day. In the beginning of pregnancy an amount of food should be taken to increase this number by at least fifty a day at first, and soon by 100, 150, 200, 250, and finally 300 or 350.
For about a month or three weeks previous to the birth of the child – as the attending physician will indicate – the mother’s diet should be diminished. The child is then fully formed. This will be no further great drain upon the mother and the burden of nutrition is lessened. It would be well if immediately prior to the birth of the child the mother’s diet should be reduced almost to the normal for her ordinary state of health. This precaution will aid the mother to bear the pain and burden of childbirth better than if she were fully fed up to the very moment.
Good Housekeeping (April, 1917)
1917 was a rough year for families. World War I was raging in Europe, and inflation was rampant. Food prices increased that year at the fastest rate they have ever increased in U.S. history. According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report titled Consumers and Food Price Inflation, “Food inflation hit its all-time high of 28.7% in 1917.”
There are lots of articles in 1917 magazines about the high cost of food. Here’s some excerpts from a hundred-year-old article about how to beat the high cost of food.
Woman’s Wit Pitted Against High Food Prices
We’re racing this year against an ever-soaring opponent, an opponent who has no thought of fairness or humanity, no thought of anything but his own variable wish. You all know whom I mean – Mr. High Cost of Food.
He is a strong opponent. We’re finding him pretty hard to beat. When he rises as he as risen in just the last year, we’re apt to forget about beating him, and give up in despair, for most of our incomes have remained stationary, while the cost of food has grown to monster size, and the elephantine cost of food, we shudder with a “What’s the use?”
To win in any race one must know one’s ground. And the ground in my case was food values–what foods give the most nourishment for the money expended, what foods can take the place of others; it was knowing how to market in order to find out what was there, and to get the best of what I wanted; it was saving of food through proper cooking; it was making use of every ounce I had of brains, perseverance and skills.
It isn’t easy to win the race against food prices- I haven’t won yet, but I’m constantly finding new ways of economy, from studying and discovering food facts. But I know I am going to win, for practical knowledge is the best sort of whip. And when I have the whip hand, why fear even Mr. High Cost of Food?
Ladies Home Journal (April, 1917)
I’m never quite sure whether coffee is good for me, so I was thrilled that the December, 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal answered a lot of my questions. Here’s an abridged version of the questions and answers:
Does coffee really keep people awake?
It certainly does! The drinking of coffee sometimes serves a useful purpose in emergencies, such as in the case of a train dispatcher who must be possessed of a clear, active brain in order that human lives may be properly safeguarded. Or, to the nurse on night duty it is often found a very welcome beverage. But, in all such cases, the purpose for which coffee is taken is to insure wakefulness; the very condition that the average man or woman seek to avoid.
How does morning coffee with sugar and cream affect the stomach? With sugar or cream alone? What about black coffee?
When you take your cup of coffee at breakfast one thing occurs in the stomach no matter whether the coffee is taken “straight,” or with either cream or sugar, or both. The thing which universally occurs is a stimulation of the glands or workshops in the lining of the stomach, causing the glands to form more gastric fluid. In other words coffee, from this standpoint, acts very much the same as water.
What is the effect of coffee on the nervous system?
After the coffee leaves the stomach it passes into the bowel, from which it is taken and carried by the blood to all parts of the body. The effect on the nervous system is soon seen. The pulse quickens and the hand of the coffee drinker is no longer steady.
Does cold coffee produce the same stimulating effect as hot coffee up entering the stomach?
Yes! So far as the stimulating effect of the coffee in the stomach or the subsequent effect of the coffee upon the nervous system is concerned, it is immaterial whether one takes the coffee hot or cold. In other words, no matter what the temperature of the coffee may be, the stomach sees to it that the temperature is raised or lowered as the case may require, and that in a very few minutes a temperature approximating that of the body is established.
People compile church and community cookbooks for many reasons: to preserve favorite recipes, for fund-raising purposes, to help community members get to know each other better, etc. But I must admit that I was surprised when the preface in a hundred-year-old church cookbook promised to make readers’ husbands “contented” men.