The introduction to the “Fish” chapter in a hundred-year-old cookbook explains why we should eat fish:
If more fish and less meat were used in the daily meals, it would help to reduce the cost of living. Fish provides the same nutrients as meat at a much smaller cost, and furnishes a food that is not only palatable but easily digested.
Whitefish, haddock, halibut, cod, flounder, smelts, perch, pickerel, sunfish and crappies belong to the white-fleshed family. Salmon, shad, lake trout, butterfish, and herring being to the red-fleshed family.
As the white-fleshed fish is considered more easy of digestion than the red-fleshed, it should be selected for invalids, convalescents or those suffering from weak digestion.
Fish should be eaten while fresh and in season; then it provides a delicate protein food. Stale fish is poisonous, so great care should be used in its selection. Fish contains albumen, and as albumen (which is like the white of egg) coagulates at a low temperature, it should be cooked at a temperature below the boiling point for water.
The Housewife’s Cook Book by Lilla Frich (1917)
I find the last sentence about cooking fish at a temperature below the boiling point of water a bit befuddling. Have you ever heard that it was important to cook fish at low temperatures? I often put fish in the oven at 400° F. or sear on top of the stove using high temperatures.
I get ideas for posts from many sources. The inspiration for today’s post was a comment by a reader, Mona Gustafson Affinito, last week. She is writing a book set in the early 1900’s about her father called My Father’s House. She asked:
Have you run across tea wagons? My sister remembers fondly visiting the neighbor lady who served lovely little sandwiches and cookies, beautifully laid out on a tea wagon. My mother requested one for years, but, sadly, never got it. I’m trying to understand why as I work on “My Father’s House.”
This week I was flipping through 1917 issues of Good Housekeeping, and low and behold, there was a photo of a tea wagon illustrating an article on “Outdoor Meals.”
The caption of the photo contained the only mention of the tea wagon, but Mona, I hope it helps.
A century ago luncheons with friends often had beautiful tablescapes designed by the hostess. There are many lovely tablescape ideas and examples in hundred-year-old magazines. Here’s a suggestion for how to create a Peasant Table:
The “Peasant Table” is always in favor for luncheons, especially informal affairs. The one pictured has a long runner of white linen decorated with a crochet insertion and finished with a crochet edge. A grass receptacle in the center contains a flower holder in which tall spikes of zinnias appear to be growing in a natural clump. Four plain brass candlesticks frame the floral centerpiece. A brass bowl at each end flanks the candlestick, and it contains a floating pool of zinnia leaves and blossoms. Individual blue and white flower holders to match the blue and white dishes, contain zinnias also. Crochet doilies are used at the plates instead of linen, to relieve the plainness of the runner.
It’s fun to read household advice columns in hundred-year-old magazines. Ever wonder whether whole-wheat flour keeps as well as white flour? Well, here’s an old Q&A which answers that very question:
Will Whole-Wheat Flour Keep?
Is it true that whole-wheat four becomes rancid a few days after milling? This statement was made in public by a representative of a well-known milling company. Why is not this flour more generally milled and why is the price higher than that of white flour? L.W.L., New Mexico
It is not true that whole-wheat flour becomes rancid a few days after milling. I have kept whole-wheat flour more than four months in hot weather without damage. It should be kept in a cool, dry place, such as a well-ventilated cellar, in a heavy wood container. The same remark is true of whole corn-meal. Whole-wheat flour is not more generally milled because so few people ask for it. Just as soon as people demand whole-wheat flour and whole corn-meal, the mills and the grocers will supply it. It costs more than white flour because there is so little demand for it. The price should be considerably less than that of white flour.
Sometimes I’m amazed by the things that people worried about a hundred years ago. For example, they worried about whether bananas were good for them. Here some excerpts from a hundred-year-old magazine article:
Consider the Banana
Perhaps no staple article of food is more the subject of strange fancies or more misunderstood – more overpraised for qualities which it does not posses and blamed for defects not its own – than that standby of the corner fruit stand, the banana.
“Is it true that a banana contains as much nutritive value as a half-pound of steak?” “Is it true that a raw banana is as indigestible as a raw potato, and must be cooked before it is eaten?” “Is it true that the combination of bananas and milk is poisonous?”
In spite of prejudice and misunderstanding, however, the majority of people accept its worth, for the consumption of bananas has increased by leaps and bounds. Less than fifty years ago the first bananas were brought to Boston. Today it is estimated that seven billion are consumed annually in the United States – an average of six dozen of this fruit for each man, woman, and child in the land.
Do not chose bananas that look pretty rather than those that are ripe. The banana of a clear lemon-yellow color, which brings the best price in the market, is most certainly not yet a ripe fruit. The pulp of such a banana is composed very largely of starch, and while it is an exaggeration to say that it is as difficult to digest as the starch of a raw potato, it is greatly improved in this respect by permitting the ripening processes.
When the banana is perfectly ripe, the clear yellow peeling has changed to brown or black, and more of the starch in the pulp has been converted into sugar. Such bananas have a far better flavor and aroma than the unripe yellow fruit.
Whatever bad reputation the fruit has acquired as regards to its indigestibility is due, undoubtedly to the fact that many people eat the unripe fruit. Then there is the tendency to eat the whole banana quickly without sufficient mastication.
Nature has given us in the banana a sanitary, sealed package. The banana is cheap; when properly ripened it is easy to digest; moreover, it contains sufficient roughage and laxative properties to be free from the constipating tendency of which many highly concentrated modern foods are guilty.
Its flavor is bland and characteristic, yet not sufficiently pronounced to become tiresome.
For more than a hundred years people have known about calories. Cooks a century ago worried about providing enough calories for people who did hard physical labor. A 1915 home economics textbook showed that a lumberman needed more than twice as many calories each day than a shoemaker.
According to the book:
The man who is working at hard physical labor needs more food than the man who sits quietly at his work. Moreover, one working actively out of doors can take foods which are difficult of digestion for the person of sedentary occupation.
Creating lovely food presentations can be a time-consuming task – and it really adds nothing to the taste or value of the food. Is it important to present food in attractive ways?
Here’s what a home economist in training had to say a hundred years ago:
The Value of Attractive Food
Having kept house before I took my domestic-science training I used to think that the use of pretty dishes and garnishes, and the serving of foods in unfamiliar but pleasing guises, were clever but a useless way of showing off before company.
Now I now know that these things have an actual physiological value. For instance, my sister, fifteen and anaemic, had a very capricious appetite and could not be induced to eat sufficient nourishing food, things that have an actual physiological value.
From my study of physiology and kindred subjects I learned how very closely the nerves of sight and smell are connected with those affecting the digestive organs, and how the very sight of attractive food causes certain digestive processes to begin.
Thus certain nourishing soups that sister ordinarily would not touch were eaten when served in a pretty china cup with a spoonful of whipped cream, the cream adding to its nutritive value, and a leaf or a flower at its side.
She needed eggs but refused them boiled, poached, or before my enlightenment, fried. Later she ate dozens of them worked up into attractive desserts or smuggled into unfamiliar dishes made appetizing and attractive enough to tempt her into sampling them.
She not only ate food which she would otherwise have refused, but, because she enjoyed eating it, she digested and assimilated it and became a new kind of girl.
M.W., Teachers’ College (Ladies Home Journal, February, 1917)