1920 Advice for Preparing a Meal Tray for a Sick Person

Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. 2) 1920 by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr

Serving food on a tray is a nice way to show love and caring when a family member is sick.  A hundred-year-old home economics textbook had the following advice:

There is one thing that you can do and no doubt will enjoy doing, – preparing an attractive tray to carry to a person who is not well enough to come to the table. Of course, if the person is very ill, the doctor must tell you what to prepare, but there are many times when a person who does not “feel like eating” will be tempted to eat if some easily digested food, daintily prepared, is served. 

The tray should be made attractive with a clean cloth or doilies, and dishes that look well together. Nicked or cracked dishes should not be used if there are others to be had. Try to think of all of the utensils that are needed to eat what is served so that the person will not have to ask for anything. Butter, sugar, and salt should not be forgotten if they are to be used, and a glass of cold water is nearly always desired. On the other hand, do not carry any unnecessary things. Try to keep hot food hot by having dishes warmed and the food covered. It is just as important to serve cold food cold. Be careful not to spill anything. 

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. 2) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr

1920 Lea & Perrins Sauce Advertisement

Advertisement for ea & Perrins Sauce
Source: Good Housekeeping (June, 1920)

I have a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in my refrigerator. I use Worcestershire Sauce to give Sloppy Joes their tangy taste – but apparently I’ve never really appreciated its ability to make foods more gourmet. According to this 1920 advertisement for Lea & Perrins Sauce, it gives canned meat, soup, fish, and vegetables a real “chef” taste.

I wonder when the word “Worchestershire” was added to the name. Back in 1920, Lea & Perrins was just called a sauce.

Flower Arrangements for the Table

3 vases with flowers
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. 2) (1920)

Sometimes little things – like putting a vase with a few cut flowers on the table where I eat – energize me, and make an okay day seem like a great day. People a hundred years ago also appreciated cut flowers. According to a 1920 home economics cookbook, in a chapter titled Serving Luncheons:

Fresh flowers give a lovely touch to the dining table, but they must not obstruct the view of persons sitting opposite each other (Fig. 69). Flowers may be kept fresh for several days if the water is changed daily. 

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. 2) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr 

Hundred-Year-Old Advice About the Use of Candy in the Diet

pieces of Mint Chocolate Fudge on plateCandy is tasty, though it probably isn’t the healthiest food. Here’s what a 1920 home economics textbook said about candy:

The Use of Candy in Diet

Candy, is an energy-giving food, but unfortunately perhaps, it is not (at all times) a most desirable energy-giving food. Sugar exists in candy in concentrated form. Such sugar is irritating to the organs of digestion.

Sugar is contained in large quantity in some fruits, especially in dried fruits: figs, dates, prunes, etc. These fruits are a much better source of sweets for children than is candy, because they do not contain as much sugar, and have, in addition, valuable food materials in the form of ash. Note the large quantity of carbohydrates and ash in raisins.

Candy should never be used to excess or at the wrong time. A little eaten at the end of a meal is not harmful to the normal person. At that time the sugar is diluted because it is mixed with other foods. When diluted it does not irritate the digestive tract to the extent that it would if eaten between meals with no other foods. It is well to drink a generous quantity of water when eating candy or other sweets. Since molasses, honey, and maple syrup are not so concentrated as is sugar, they are desirable sweets for children – provided they are used moderately at the right time, and are mixed with other foods.

School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer

The old book mentions the role of “ash” in the diet. Today ash would be called minerals.

Hundred-year-old Food-related Math Problems

Basket with apples

Word math problems are a great way to engage students in learning how to apply the skills they have learned. Interesting problems encourage students to think creatively about how to solve problems that have applications in the real world.

Both in 2020 and 1920, there were many word problems that are based on food-related topics. However, there are major differences in the problems. Based on a quick scan of food-related problems on Pinterest, restaurant menu, food truck, pizza fraction, and food cost problems are currently popular. Food-related math problems in a 1920 home economics textbook also addressed cost, but with a slight twist. The focus of these hundred-year-old problems was on how to get a given number of calories for the least cost.


  1. A quart of milk gives 675 calories; a pound of lamb chops, 1600; a pound of eggs (eight or nine), according to size, 670 calories. With milk at 17 cents a quart, lamb chops at 48 cents a pound, and eggs at 60 cents a dozen, which food is the cheapest per 100-calorie portion?
  2. Cream of wheat has a fuel value of about 1600 calories and costs 15 cents a pound. Compare the cost of a 100-calorie portion of cereal with that of chops, milk, or eggs.
  3. Large oranges cost 60 cents per dozen. What is the cost of a standard portion?
  4. A good juicy apple yields about 100 calories. Dried apples give about 1320 calories per pound Find the difference in cost of 100-calorie portions, if fresh apples sell at the rate of 3 for 10 cents and dried apples cost 15 cents a pound.

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


1920 Tip: Use Paper Cups to Hold Picnic Salads

potato salad in a paper cupCooks have shared tips across the years. A hundred years ago Good Housekeeping magazine had a tips column called Discoveries. Readers could submit tips, and were paid one dollar for each tip that was used.

Here’s a tip for how to serve salads at a picnic:

Picnic Salad

When going on little picnic suppers – especially in a machine, where one eats by the roadside or in the car seat – individual paper drinking cups are most satisfactory as containers for salads. The salad may be packed in the individual paper cups and garnished attractively with a sprig of parsley in one side. They always call forth favorable comments and are not messy to handle and each person has his own portion easily handed out.  – Mrs. R.H., D.C.

Good Housekeeping (June, 1920)

1920 Directions for Building a Fire in a Coal Stove

drawing of coal range showing a direct draft
Source: School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer

A hundred-years-ago many people used a coal stove for cooking. Here are directions in a 1920 home economics textbook for building a fire in the stove:

Fire Building in a Coal Range

It is necessary to have the fire box, ash pan, and other parts of the stove clean before building a fire. After cleaning, place a generous layer of loosely crumpled paper over the bottom of the fire box, then about four layers of kindling wood, placed so that there are air passages between the pieces, and on top of the wood put two shovelfuls of coal. Regulate the dampers for a direct draft, replace the stove lids, and brush the surface of the stove. 

Before lighting the fuels, polish the range in the following manner: 

To the nickel of the stove apply whiting and ammonia or any satisfactory metal cleaner. 

To the iron of the stove apply oil. Light paraffin oil may be used for this purpose. Apply the oil with cotton waste, or a soft cloth. (Care should be taken not to apply an excess of oil.) Polish with soft cotton or woolen cloth. One should remember, however, that oils must be used with caution. It should never be applied to a stove containing burning fuels. If the stove cloth, saturated with oil, is not destroyed after using, it is well to keep it in a covered tin can or stone jar. 

After polishing the stove, light the fuels. When the wood is reduced to glowing embers and the coal is burning, add more coal. If this burns well, change the dampers to make an indirect draft. 

School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer

drawing of a coal range showing an indirect draft
Source: School and Home Cooking (1920) by Carlotta C. Greer

The direct draft makes it easier to get the fire started, but once it is burning well, the damper is changed to allow the hot air to circulate throughout the oven and cook the food.

I’ve never used a coal stove so I have little knowledge of this topic – yet the order of steps didn’t seem right to me. I understand that the only time that the fire is typically allowed to go out is when the stove is cleaned – but why are the paper, kindling wood, and coal arranged in the stove prior to polishing the stove’s surface? I would think that all cleaning and polishing should be completed before putting the paper, wood, and coal into the stove – but I’m probably missing something. Does anyone know whether the steps in old book are the typical order for preparing a stove for lighting?