Influence of Rainfall on the Composition of Tomatoes


I’ve often thought that fruits and vegetables seem “waterlogged” when I harvest them after a rainfall. I recently discovered why the composition varies when I read an article in a hundred-year-old trade magazine for the canning industry called The American Food Journal. I also enjoyed seeing how a scientific study was written up in the early 1900’s. Here’s a few excerpts:

Influence of Rainfall on Composition of Tomatoes

It is the experience of many canners that tomatoes are unusually “sloppy” in seasons of excessive rainfall. They find this is evident both from the amount of water that separates on the peeling table on in the can during or after processing.

The composition of tomatoes varies through rather wide limits because of the environment in which they are grown. Arrangements were made with the Bureau of Plant Industry and the Maryland Experiment Station by which the laboratory secured samples of tomatoes of known varieties grown on plants set aside by these institutions for that purpose. During the growing seasons of 1914 and 1915 tomatoes were picked as fast as they ripened (usually two or three times a week).

In both the years mentioned the rainfall was higher before the tomato season than during the season, and the ground was well saturated at the time the tomatoes began to ripen.

There was considerable variation in the composition of successive pickings, which could not be explained by variation in rainfall. There appears to be a general tendency for the soluble solids to decrease in amounts as the season advances. Tomatoes ripening in September and October may contain less solids than those ripening in August because of the cooler weather.

We are not warranted, therefore, in concluding that the high rainfall and the relatively high soluble solids in the first part of the season are evidence of a relation between the two. The question would have been simplified if we had, as we hoped to have, a heavy, soaking rain preceded and followed by dry weather. However, it appears improbable that the “watery” condition of tomatoes observed after a heavy rain is due to a greater percentage of water in the tomatoes.

The American Food Journal (February, 1916)


Hundred-Year-Old Ways to Tell Whether a Cake is Done


I’m often surprised how little has changed over the past hundred-years.  I recently was browsing through a hundred-year-old home economics textbook, and came across a section on how to tell whether a cake was done. As I read,  I’m mentally noting the similarities between then and now – cake springs back when lightly touched, toothpick comes out clean. And, then suddenly the text thrusts me into a whole different world of how to test whether a cake is done. . . .

Tests to Determine Whether a Cake is Done

Experienced cake-makers have various tests to determine when a cake is done. One touches the top lightly with her finger, and if the dent made springs back quickly she knows the cake is done. If the dent remains, she knows the cake batter is still too soft.

Another housewife depends entirely upon a broom-splint or one of the modern toothpicks. She thrusts one of these into the center of the cake, and if it is the least bit sticky when it is taken out she knows that the cake needs more baking. A box of toothpicks is rather a necessary part of kitchen equipment – not to be used as the name indicates, but for testing cakes and similar uses. It is much more sanitary to use a toothpick than a broom splint, unless a wisp-broom is kept expressly for this purpose.

How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie A. Long (1914)

Hundred-Year-Old Advice for Getting Multiple Foods Ready to Serve at the Same Time

Image source: Reliable Recipes (published by Calumet Baking Powder Co., 1912)
Image source: Reliable Recipes (published by Calumet Baking Powder Co., 1912)

When cooking a meal do you struggle to get all the dishes ready to serve at the same time? Here’s some hundred-year-old advice that might help:

A menu being decided upon, it needs an accurate sense of time, forethought, and promptness, to have a number of dishes ready at the same time, or in proper sequence if several courses are served. Such questions as the following must be answered:

  1. What steps in preparation can be taken ahead of times, as washing, paring, cutting, etc.?
  2. What dishes take the longest to cook?
  3. Which must be served the moment they are done?
  4. Which can be kept hot for some time without injury?
  5. Which can be finished and cooled perhaps several hours before?
  6. What is the order of serving?

The fact is obvious that in preparing a meal you cannot finish the dishes one at a time, but that steps individual to each dish must be interwoven with each other, and the cook must have them all “on her mind,” and is often doing half a dozen things at once.

The woman at home will devise many ways of easing and shortening the labor just before the meal is served, avoiding haste, and anxiety in this way. A dessert can be prepared and be cooking as breakfast dishes are washed, and at the time left overs are put away they can be arranged ready for serving, as in the case of poultry or meat to be served cold.

Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1913)

Hundred-Year-Old Walnut Brownies Recipe


Old-fashioned Brownies with Walnuts are an ultimate comfort dessert, and I found a delightful recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook. They were moist and  chewy. The top of the Brownies was less crusty than many modern brownies – but the Brownies were wonderful. And, my husband and I devoured the entire pan  within 24 hours.

This recipe was in one of my favorite hundred-year-old cookbooks, Lowney’s Cookbook. It is a general cookbook (though it was published by a chocolate manufacturer), and I tend to think of it as being an old-time equivalent of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  Here’s the hundred-year-old recipe:

Source: Lowney's Cook Book (1912)
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

This recipe was one of the signature recipes in the old cookbook. Of course Lowney’s  Premium Chocolate is long gone, so I substituted unsweetened baking chocolate. I was also surprised that the recipe didn’t call for baking powder or baking soda – but the recipe turned out just fine without it.  I baked the brownies at 350° F. and it took longer than 15 minutes for them bake.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Walnut Brownies

  • Servings: 36 brownies
  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened baking chocolate, melted

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter in a mixing bowl; stir in sugar and chocolate. Add eggs, flour, and salt, and stir until combined.; then stir in walnuts. Spread in greased 8-inch square pan.  Bake for  approximately 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cut into 36 squares.


Wallpapered Dining Rooms a Hundred Years Ago

Ladies Home Journal (October, 1911)
Ladies Home Journal (October, 1911)

Wallpaper was very popular a hundred years ago – and there were lots of lovely papers that worked perfectly in dining rooms. Here’s some advice for using striped wallpapers:

French-striped papers come under the head of plain papers. They look well and are particularly appropriate in Colonial homes. They may be used in the bedroom, dining room, hall or reception room, and look equally well with either plain or figured hangings. They look better, however, with white woodwork than any other kind.

Dining Room LHJ 10 1911

Hundred-Year-Old Canning Jar Labels

Source: Milton (PA) Evening Standard (August 23, 1911)
Source: Milton (PA) Evening Standard (August 23, 1911)

A hundred years ago people didn’t have markers that could be used to write labels on canning jar lids. They also didn’t have printers to print labels  or even clear tape that could be used to attach labels to the jars. Back then newspapers often printed labels that could be cut out and pasted on jars of freshly canned food.

I generally prepare posts for this blog fairly quickly – but today’s post is an exception. It’s taken me over five years from the time that I first thought about doing this post to actually posting it.

I recently was browsing through a hundred-year-old magazine and saw this tip:

Sometimes the women folks can’t remember when they put up certain cans of fruit. Paste a dated slip of paper on the side.

Farm Journal (August, 1915)

The old tip reminded me that back in 2011, which was the first year I was doing this blog, that I’d scrolled though some old microfilms of hundred-year-old issues of the Milton (PA) Evening Standard,  and had been surprised how the newspaper regularly printed labels for commonly canned foods – cherries in July, tomatoes in August, grape juice in September . . .

I copied a page with labels for tomatoes from the newspaper and planned to do a post on it – but somehow I never actually got around to writing that post and quickly forgot about it until I saw the Farm Journal tip.  So here is the post – better late than never.

One-Hundred-Year-Old Cookbook Glossary

Hundred-year-old ookbook glossary
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

I recently came across a glossary in a hundred-year-old cookbook that defined 62 words. I was surprised that several  words that are commonly used now (for example, mayonnaise) needed to be defined in the early 1900s;  that the meaning of several other words had shifted across the years (for example, hors d’oeurves); and that noir was an important food-related word back then.

Even since then I’ve been pondering the following question: If I wrote a cookbook in 2016 and decided to include a glossary, which 62 words would be the most important words to define?

Hundred-year-old Cookbook Glossary 2