1919 “Cooking for Profit” Correspondence Course

Source: Cooking for Profit (January, 1919)

Did you ever want to start your own food-related business?

People had similar desires a hundred years ago. The January, 1918 issue of American Cookery magazine had an advertisement for a correspondence course on “Cooking for Profit.”

Today lots of rules and regulations affect the operation of businesses serving or selling food. A hundred years ago there were few regulations.  But people in both 1919 and 2019 had many similar questions when  considering  whether to start a small food-related business – How do you cook foods that people want to buy? What is needed to ensure that the business will be successful? , etc.

Hundred-Year-Old Advice on How to Save Money by Substituting Fats

Today we worry about whether fats are good fats or bad fats. Is a fat saturated or unsaturated? Does it contain trans fats? Does it contain mono- or polyunsaturated fats? Will it increase or decrease cholesterol levels?

A hundred years ago people had different questions about fats. They asked questions like:

  •  How can I get the most calories for the least cost? (Amazingly more calories were seen as better back then.)
  • Does the fat provide sufficient vitamin A? (Fats with more vitamin A were considered better.)

Here’s what a woman wrote in a 1919 magazine article about how she selected fats to serve her family:

When it became necessary to pay two cents for every tablespoon of butter we used in our family, and I knew that we were paying that sum just to satisfy our palates with that specific flavor, I then and there decided that something must be done. I knew that a calorie of energy is as valuable from one source as another and that, measure for measure, other fats than butter would give the same energy.

In choosing a butter substitute, I found that oleomargarine, made largely from beef-oil, contains some, at least of this Fat Soluble A, and if I increased the family milk supply so that the children were getting nearly a quart each day, oleomargarine could replace some butter. I then I could give the family butter only where its flavor was most desirable and expected, and realize that it matters little whether we use lard, cottonseed oil, suet, or the most expensive imported olive oils, from the standpoint of fuel obtained, I could use any clean and wholesome fat in cooking with a perfectly clear conscience.

I found it economic and patriotic, too, to clarify every bit of fat, mixing hard and soft kinds together to get a degree of hardness satisfactory to use in bread, cakes and pastry and in all my cooking. Of course, it costs in time and labor, but save in food and money, and just now there is less food than time or labor.

from “How My Family Saved Fats” by Jessamine Chapman Williams (American Cookery, February, 1919)

The article said that oleomargarine was made from beef oil (tallow?). Today oleomargarine is just called margarine, and is generally vegetable oil product.

There’s Excess Flour and Sugar in Europe – No Worries, Eat Cookies

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Imperial War Museums), Women at a flour mill, public domain

1919 magazines were filled with articles about World War I, and how the U.S. and other countries were returning to normalcy following the end of war.

During the war, Americans conserved food and were able to send huge amounts of flour and sugar to Europe to feed the troops and others in need.

At the end of the war there was lots of sugar stockpiled in Europe, and people wondered what should be done with it.  Here’s what the February, 1919 issue of American Cookery had to say about this:

Cookies! Yanks Eat Millions

More than 6,000,000 old-fashioned American cookies have been manufactured in France and distributed with the compliments of the American Red Cross to the soldiers in service, the wounded in hospitals and to scores of canteens. Within a month it is expected that 700,000 will be made a day. At present the output is 200,000 a day.

It is the belief of Red Cross officials that the manufacture of cookies will not be affected by the cessation of hostilities.

It is pointed out that there is a six-months stock of sugar and one and a half years’ supply of flour in storage for making the cookies.


“Mineral Matter in the Diet” Poem

Poem titled: Mineral Matter in the Diet
Source: The Journal of Home Economics (April, 1919)

A hundred years ago, there was a lot of food-related research, and people were beginning to understand the important role of vitamins and minerals in our diet. I was amazed to even find a poem in the Journal of Home Economics which encouraged cooks to prepare foods which contained lots of minerals.

Troubleshooting Cake Problems

cake with icing
Image source: Recipes for Everyday (1919)

Ever have a cake that didn’t turn out quite right? Well, here’s some hundred-year-old advice for troubleshooting cake problems (and, amazingly, much of it is still applicable today).

Here’s what Janet McKenzie Hill wrote in a 1919 cookbook titled Recipes for Everyday:

Heavy or fallen cakes are caused by having too slow an oven; by using too much sugar or shortening; by using too little flour; by having such a hot oven that the outside bakes so thoroughly that the inside cannot rise; by moving the cake in the oven before the cell walls have become fixed; or by taking the cake from the oven before it is thoroughly baked.

Thick-crusted cakes are caused by too hot an oven, by using too much sugar and shortening, or too little flour.

Coarse-grained cakes are the result of using too much leavening material, or of having too slow an oven. They are also caused by insufficient creaming of shortening and sugar, or insufficient beating of the batter before adding the egg whites.

A”bready” cake is caused by using too much flour.

A cake rises in a peak in the center when the oven is too hot during the first few minutes of baking.

A cake will crack when it contains too much flour, or when the oven is so hot at first that the outside bakes before the center can rise.

1919 Advice About Substituting Foods in U.S. to Help Needy Children Abroad

Source: Public Domain Wikimedia – Imperial War Museums.

So many people around the world today are food insecure. A hundred-years ago people also often lacked sufficient food. Here is some advice in the January, 1919 issue of American Cookery magazine. World War I had just ended two months prior the publication of this magazine, and food was still in short supply in Europe.

The Needs Abroad 

Fats, including butter and milk, are short the world over. Butter and milk are necessary to child life. The dairy herds have been terribly depleted throughout Europe. Eighty thousand more children died last year in France than the year before.

To help restore these herds we must ship cereals to feed them. Use more potatoes, and less than normal of bread or cereals.

Butter in England is $2 a pound. Eggs are $2.25 a dozen. Milk is impossible to get in many places.

Let us help all we can!

Canned Foods and the Growth of Cities

Image of canned food from a 1919 magazine
Source: Wilson & Co. Advertisement in American Cookery (January, 1919)

In 1919, people felt a bit smug about how easy it was to have sufficient food during the long, cold winter months; and, were thankful that they didn’t live back in the “old” days when it was often challenging for people to have access to sufficient food during the winter.

I recently came across an article in a 1919 magazine that went so far as to claim modern cities were able to develop as a result of the availability of canned foods.

With the enormous increase in size and number of cities, during the past century, the problem of winter sustenance has assumed tremendous proportions. It has been met by elevating to the first place of importance a method of food preservation that had always been of least value – exclusion of air.

The tin can and the glass jar are inventions which made this possible, and without them, modern city life, if not actually out of the question, would have been vastly more difficult. If one will but try to conceive what his mid-winter menu would be like, stripped of all the articles that come to him in glass or tin, he will hardly question any estimate which we may feel inclined to make as to the importance of canned foods in the civilization of today.

With all due allowance for their undoubted benefits, however, the tin can and the glass jar have not shown themselves altogether free from reproach. They must shoulder full responsibility for the growth of the factory system of food production, which, at its best, fall short of being an unqualified boon to the consumer.

American Cookery (January, 1919)