Role of Potatoes in Diets a Hundred Years Ago

Potatoes were an important part of the diet a hundred years ago. Here’s what a cookbook said:

Housewives are always interested in new ways of preparing the potato as it appears on the average menu 365 times in the year. There are innumerable ways of preparing potatoes for the table.

When potatoes are practically the only vegetable used in the household, they should always be cooked in their skins, so that all the mineral salts may be retained. When salad plants and other vegetables are used freely, the skins may be removed before cooking, although it is not economy to do so. Sometimes convenience and palatability decide in favor of the latter.

Potatoes, combined with milk and cheese, provide a dish fully as nourishing as when combined with meat. This is interesting to know when meat prices are high.

The Housewife’s Cook Book by Lilla Frich (1917)

Hundred-year-old Directions for Cooking Macaroni

Source: Wikipedia

What did macaroni look like in 1918? I’m a bit foggy about what macaroni looked like a hundred years ago, but I found directions for preparing it in a century-old magazine that provides a few clues.

To cook macaroni successfully is not difficult. Break into short lengths. If it comes from a sealed package, it does not need washing; if it is “loose,” it should be rinsed in cold water. Drop into boiling salted water, adding a level tablespoonful of salt to a quart. Stir to prevent sticking, but be careful not to break the pieces. If the dish is greased before the hot water and macaroni are put in, it will not stick so readily. Cook until tender, then toss the macaroni into a colander and let cold water run through it. This process is called blanching, and is to prevent it from sticking together.

American Cookery (August – September, 1918)

Food-Related Humor a Hundred Years Ago

Image Source: Larkin Housewives’ Cook Book (1915)

In the early 1900’s magazines often had humor pages. What is considered funny has really changed over the past hundred years, and often the humor in those magazines falls flat (or is even offensive) by modern standards. But, some hundred-year-old humorous stories still make me smile. Here are a few food-related humor items:

Little Elizabeth and her mother were having luncheon together, and the mother, who always tried to impress facts upon her young daughter, said, “These little sardines, Elizabeth, are sometimes eaten by the larger fish.”

Elizabeth gazed at the sardines in wonder and then asked, “But, mother, how do the large fish get the cans open?”

American Cookery August-September, 1918)

“Waiter,” said the indignant customer, “what does this mean? Yesterday I was served for the same price with a portion of chicken twice the size of this.”

“Yes, sir,” answered the waiter. “Where did you sit?” “

Over by the window.”

“Then that accounts for it. We always give people who sit by the windows large portions. It’s an advertisement.”

American Cookery (October, 1918)

A  hobo knocked at the back door, and the woman of the house appeared.

“Lady, I was at the front . . . “

“Poor man!” she interrupted. “Wait till I give you some food, and then you shall tell me your story.” After she had given him a hearty meal she anxiously inquired, “What brave deed did you do at the front? “

“I knocked, “he replied meekly, “but couldn’t make nobody hear, so I came around to the back.”

American Cookery (October, 1918)

Hundred-year-old Advice for Buying in Quantity

Basket of Apples (1895) by Levi Wells Prentice (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Today people often buy food in bulk to save money. A hundred years ago people also wanted to purchase food wisely. Here’s some advice in a 1915 home economics textbook:

For a large family with room for storage it is cheapest to buy supplies in quantity. There is, however, even for the small family a real saving in careful buying. For example, if certain package goods are offered for fifteen cents per package or two for twenty-five cents, buy two if they can be used. The two and one-half cents saved on each package may seem a small saving, but in terms of percent it amounts to sixteen and two-thirds percent, or one-sixth of the whole.

A penny saved is a penny earned, and when it is done by careful buying it is far more easily earned than if some sacrifice is made to save it. In buying canned goods a reduction is often secured by taking a dozen cans or a case at a time.

Frequently a whole basket of fresh fruits and vegetables such as peaches and tomatoes can be purchased for little more than the price of a small quantity. If a whole basket is more than is needed for immediate use, one can preserve the surplus by cooking or canning it.

Science of Home Making: A Textbook in Home Economics (1915) by Emma E. Pirie

Try the “New” Salad Oils: 1918 Good Housekeeping Magazine Recommendations

Source: Good Housekeeping (August, 1918)

Oils are a component of most salad dressings, but in 1918 cooks were urged to reduce their use of fats to support the troops in World War I. And, even if they could get olive oil, it was expensive. An article that year in Good Housekeeping recommended that cooks use the “new” salad oils. Here’s some excerpts:

New Salad Oils

This is the time of year, above all others, when the palate craves the coolness and pungency of salads. Since the salad dressing is often the making of the salad, it is the chief consideration. The main ingredient of most salad dressings is the fat. We have been asked to be sparing in our use of all fats, but fortunately for us the new vegetable oils have come to our rescue.

Olive oil is becoming scarce in this country, and is, in consequence, high in price, but there are plenty of good substitutes in the cottonseed, peanut and corn oils which have been placed on the markets.

While to the lover of olive oil none of these makes quite so good a dressing as the olive oil itself, it is not difficult to prepare satisfactory dressings, and the untrained palate often finds them even better. The more refined and desirable these vegetable oils are for salad oils, the more tasteless they are. They are, therefore, excellent conveyors of condiment. If the flavor of olive oil has become a necessary and fixed habit, a dressing can be made by using one-third olive oil to two-thirds of any substitute oil. For this purpose purchase a heavy, highly-flavored oil oil.

Good Housekeeping (August, 1918)


Conserve Food for the Troops: Diet

Source: Good Housekeeping (September, 1918)

I’ve dieted over the years for many reasons: to look better, to be healthier, to be a good example for others. But there’s one reason I never considered: dieting to support our soldiers.

According to a hundred-year-old issue of Good Housekeeping, we should diet to support the troops. During World War I, a lot of food needed to be shipped to Europe to feed the troops, and there were food shortages in the U.S. The magazine had a regular feature with Kewpie cartoons. The Kewpies were supposed to be baby cupid figures and were very popular at the time. (There also are Kewpie dolls.)  The title of the Kewpie cartoons in the September, 1918 issue was “The Kewpies and Food Conservation.”

Hundred-Year-Old Advice on Selecting Meat to Purchase

When shopping for meat, do you ever find it difficult to select the “best” meat? Here’s some hundred-year-old advice:

Selecting Meat

In selecting meat one must consider: (1) the taste of the family with regard to kind and cut; (2) the cost, being sure to note carefully the amount of waste, such as bone, rind, and rough fiber, or fat that cannot be used; (3) the fuel that will be required in cooking; (4) time and labor required for preparation.

The number of individuals in a family influences one in the choice of cuts and the method of cooking. Steaks for broiling should be comparatively thick; therefore, if the family is small a sirloin steak is too large unless only half of it is cooked at a time. A large roast may be used if carefully reheated in various forms.

In addition to the cut, there are certain standards of quality to be observed. The meat from fat animals is of higher food value and of better flavor than that from thin animals. If a cut of meat is excessively fat, there is, of course, a waste, but meat from a comparatively fat animal will be of the best quality. A cut from the round of the best beef is better than the choicest cuts of inferior animals.

Good meat is odorless except for a certain fleshy smell, not tainted, strong, or musty. Meat must be dry on the surface – thick plump, and firm, but not hard to the touch or coarse in fiber; it should feel like velvet and should be easy to cut with a sharp knife. The bones of old animals are white and hard; of young ones, reddish and soft.

Good meat should be well marbled with fat; roasts and chops from mature animals should have a layer of fat on the outside from one-fourth to one-half inch thick.

The Science of Home Making: A Textbook in Home Economics (1915) by Emma M. Pirie