1920 Advice on How to Keep Milk Clean and Fresh

Source: Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920)

Other than putting the jug of milk in the refrigerator immediately after I get home from the supermarket, I don’t think much about how to keep the milk clean and fresh. A hundred years ago, people worried a lot more about maintaining milk quality. Here’s what it said in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

There are many very important things to know about milk, but nothing is more important than to know how to care for it in the home. Because it is such a perfect food, it is a very good place for germs to grow. 

Be sure to wash the bottle before pouring out any milk. Get into the habit of doing this. You do not know what kind of dirt may have come in contact with the bottle after the milk was put into it. 

If milk is left in the bottle replace the cap or, better, provide a clean one. A cup or glass may be inverted over the bottle. Do not pour the milk into another utensil unless necessary. If necessary, be sure that the container is absolutely clean. Milk very readily absorbs the odors and flavors of other food in the refrigerator, and this is another good reason for covering it.

Sometimes milk is not delivered in bottles but is dipped from a can and poured into pans or pails. Be sure that the pans are scalded and kept covered until the milk id delivered. Do not put milk tickets into them, or leave them uncovered on the doorstep. If milk is bought at the grocery store one should not walk through the streets with the pail uncoverered. 

As soon as the milk is delivered the bottle should be washed and put into the refrigerator. If allowed to stand in a warm room it sours very quickly. 

All milk containers should be rinsed with cold water as soon as empty. They should then be washed with clean, soapy water and rinsed with scalding water. In the summer time it is a good plan to boil the pans and pails with soda water for fifteen minutes.   

Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. II (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr 

[The book also contained directions for making a homemade cooler for those who did not have a refrigerator – but that is potentially another post, another day.]

1920 School Christmas Party

Woman and child looking at Christmas tree
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II), 1920

A 1920 home economics textbook contained a running story about the activities of a “household arts” class. Here’s some excepts from the section about preparing foods for a Christmas party for younger children at the school: 

When the Christmas party was planned each of the classes did its share to help. The household arts classes helped to fill the boxes and stockings with homemade candy and tied up many pop corn balls. 

Christmas food and decorations on a table

The girls enjoyed wrapping their boxes and pop corn balls in bright-colored papers to hang on the tree. Miss Washburn, the art teacher helped the girls make them attractive. Christmas gifts, however small, she said always give more pleasure when special care is given to the wrapping and tying. There was no danger in covering the pop corn balls with colored paper for they were first wrapped in waxed paper.  

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr


How Much do Americans Spend on Candy, 1920 and 2020?

gumdrops on plateOccasionally I see data in an old book that piques my curiosity – and next thing I know I’m searching for recent comparison data. This is one of those times.  According to a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

We are told that American spend over $200,000,000 a year for factory-made candy. 

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr

Which led me to wonder, how much did the average American spend on candy per year in 1920? According the 1920 U.S. Census, there were 106,000,000 people in the U.S. in 1920, so the average person spent $1.89 dollars per year on candy. According to Dave Manual’s Inflation Calculator, $1 in 1920 would be the equivalent to $12.50 today, so the average person in 1920 ate $23.65 worth of candy in today’s dollars over the course of a year.

This led to my next question, How much candy do American’s eat today? I found data for how much they spent on Halloween candy (but not for the entire year) -so the overall amount would be more. The data were for 2019, which I’m assuming is about the same as 2020.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $2.6 billion on candy or more than $25 on average.

How Much Candy Are You Buying for Halloween? This Survey Might Surprise You,” U.S.A. Today (October 5, 2019)

So the bottom line this at in Americans are spending more on candy today than they did a hundred years ago. In 1920, if the spending was adjusted for inflation, they spent an average of $23.65; today, just for Halloween, they spend more than $25.00 per year.

Save on Food Costs: 1920 Advice

squashFood is expensive today – and it was expensive a hundred years ago. Here is what someone a hundred years ago said about how they minimized their food costs:

We save on food costs. Twenty-five percent of the known incomes, allows $660 a year for food. I allow $540 or $45 a month, for a family of four. It means a very plain table. It means, too, that food costs are lessened by our flock of 12 to 15 chickens which returns 50% above its yearly cost, and by a garden from which I can vegetables and fruits. We pay in labor for part of our food – caring for the garden and the chickens.

From an article titled “Getting the Most Out of Your Dollar,” (Good Housekeeping; May, 1920)

A Thanksgiving Tale

slice of carrot pieHAPPY THANKSGIVING

Here’s a fun, old Thanksgiving poem that you might enjoy:

A Thanksgiving Tale

They sat on a shelf in the pantry-way cool.
Said Pumpkin to Mince Pie, “You crusty old fool.”
They squabbled and each of them thought himself best,
Till Pumpkin said, “Wait for Thanksgiving — the test.
I’ll bet you my pie plate that I’m eaten first;
While you, sir, uneaten with envy will burst.”

Thanksgiving Day came, and along with it, John,
Who ate everything his keen eyes fell upon. 
“A piece of each one,” Said this lad to the pies;
And, then I’ll determine which one wins the prize.”
But Johnny, alas! was unable to tell. 
For Johnny felt suddenly, — not at all well. 

Those wicked, old pies had continued their fight, 
Till Johnny’s poor tummy grew pained at the sight;
And Johnny said tartly, both pies were so bad,
No worse one than either could ever be had.
But I think to myself that young John was mistaken.
‘Twas mixing his pies so, gave Johnny that achin’.

Ellen M. Ramsay (American Cookery, November, 1919)

Mrs. Scott’s Seasonal Cook Books

Front page of Mrs. Scott's Seasonal Cook Books (Autumn, 1920)

EBay is a great source of hundred-year-old cookbooks. One “cookbook” that I purchased is a four-page newspaper supplement called Mrs. Scott’s Seasonal Cookbooks, Autumn 1920. When the supplement is folded, a quarter of the front page becomes the cookbook cover. It was originally published in a Philadelphia newspaper, The North American.

The cookbook contains 80 or so recipes that use seasonal ingredients. Recipes include Creamed Turnips (which I made earlier this week), Sweet Potato Puffs, and Christmas Sugar Cookies – as well a few recipes, such as Economy Fruit Cake, Smothered Guinea Fowl and Smothered Rabbit, that definitely seem like they are from another era.

The brittle yellowed newsprint pages somehow survived a hundred years. How could something so pedestrian have lasted so long? Somehow I just need to create a story for this little newspaper cookbook. . .

In my imagination, the original owner saved the newspaper supplement and tucked it away in a kitchen cabinet with the intension of making some of the recipes – but it was quickly forgotten. Years later her daugther was cleaning out the house, and came across the newspaper cookbook, and threw it into a box with many other things that needed sorting. She took the box to her own home, and set it in a corner of the living room for awhile. But somehow she never got around to sorting the items in the box, and as holidays approached, she decided to move the box to the attic, where it lay forgotten for another fifty years.

Then, another generation passed, and the son of the daughter of the original owner was cleaning out the attic and came across the box. When he opened it, he saw Mrs. Scott’s Seasonal Cookbooks, Autumn 1920, and thought, “Whew, this is old. I’d better keep it.” He took it to his home and put it in a file cabinet where it again was forgotten for years. Then, when dowsizing, he once again found the old  newspaper cookbook, and decided to sell it at a garage sale where it was purchased by a man who enjoys selling things on EBay. I then saw the cookbook on EBay, and bought it . . . and now it’s anyone’s guess what the next chapter might be for this cookbook, but I’m rooting that it will somehow, however improbably, survive another hundred years.

A Lunch Box Romance

Image of title of story
Source: American Cookery (April, 1920)

I love to read rich decriptions of food written by skilled food bloggers – even when it’s a bit over the top. Extravagant food descriptions aren’t new. Here are some excerpts from a fictional story that appeared in a 1920 magazine:

A Lunch Box Romance

From early youth Lucena Cottle had thirsted in secret for a romance and now she was face to face with her thirtieth birthday and none had come her way. Sidtracked by circumstances in the home of her widowed cousin-in-law, Mrs. Drusill Fifer, who took boarders for a livelihood.

However, as it chanced, the rank and file of Mrs. Fifer’s boarders- slangy young clerks, mostly whose brains ran to “swell” ties, “grand” movie shows and the like – made slight impression upon the fancy of Lucena. One, only one, was there whose stock stood high with her, and the, sad fact, was as helplessly shy as she, herself.

Dutton Filbert was not stylish, and his ties never bothered him. He was with an automobile company, and no doubt wore greasy overalls when at work, but he was always neat in the house, and Lucena liked his twinkling brown eyes.

The task of filling Mr. Filbert’s lunch basket daily was Lucena’s and one that she executed with zest. For, of all branches of cuisine duty, the preparing of sandwiches was one she especially loved and excelled in. No crude structures of slab-like bread and ragged gristly meat were those turned out by Lucena. Her’s – to see them was to taste them, and to taste them was to call for more. And no day-in-day-out sameness of construction dulled the appetite of the fortunate partaker thereof. One day, sliced cold, roast beef, thin, even, finely lean with narrow edging of delicate fat, nestled between the smooth, daintily battered slices of white bread and brown. Another day plentiful shavings of sweet, boiled ham, mustard-embellished, took the place of beef; or minced chicken, mingled with gravy, or scrambled egg, skillfully blended with chopped bacon of the alluring streak-of-fat-and-streak-of lean kind, serves as filling.

There were jelly tumblers of creamy rice pudding, and meringue custards, and marvelous mixtures of savory and spicy things baked in little brown casseroles; there were crisp, golden-brown turn-overs, fat and bulgy, merely hinting by a splash or two of candied red or orange-tinted juice, at the delights of their interiors, and cakes, never alike, two days in succession, but ranging widely from thin-edged wafers to wedges and triangles of loaf and layer cakes.

Mr. Filbert fully realized he was a lucky man.

One day Lucena got together a new gingercake that was a dream of joy – a sublimated thing, spice-breathing, raisin-spotted, of a spongy lightness and a delightsome dark red-brown hue. She placed two large blocks in Mr. Filbert’s lunch basket, and when next she overhauled the latter, she found not so much as an edge or a corner left. She did, however, find a bit of paper folded up in the napkins, which bore the following tribute:

Oh, gentle lady, who dost make
Such heart-enthralling gingercake,
Accept from me my thanks sincere
For treat the best I’ve had this year;
I’d like to ask you, if I may,
Please make another one someday.


After that they took a walk and had a talk; and about the week next there’ll be a wedding.

Lucena laughed and said, “I don’t know what you call a courtship. It was all straightforward and right, and it came about through the medium of the lunch basket.”

American Cookery (April, 1920)