I am never an early adopter, but I always check out the latest kitchen equipment and gadgets. I recently was dismayed to discover that I only own some of the gadgets that were highly recommended in a 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal. I obviously have some catch-up to do.
When I walk into a supermarket, I informally evaluate it. Is the produce fresh? Are the clerks friendly? Does it stock all of the grocery items that I regularly buy? Is the location convenient? Does it have good prices? . . . And, if it doesn’t meet my standards, I might go to a different store the next time I shop.
Similarly, a hundred years ago people also evaluated their grocery stores; but that’s where the similarities end. A hundred-year-old home economics textbook had a Grocery Scorecard that students could use to evaluate their grocery stores – but frankly I’ve never considered the proximity to stables, or most of the other old-time criteria.
I tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, but when I’m honest with myself, I must admit what while some things were better a hundred years ago, I think I prefer modern food stores.
Selecting silverware or other flatware is very personal, yet an indication of preferences and tastes. Before I got married I can remember agonizing over which pattern to select. Today, the decision might be easier since most people purchase inexpensive stainless steel flatware, but the design still gives clues to the buyer’s personality. Some styles are very formal and traditional; others informal and trendy. Similarly, a hundred-years-ago people wanted to select the “right” silverware.
Here’s some excerpts of the advice in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:
Silver and plated silver for knives, forks, and spoons, coffee and tea sets, all add to the charm of the table. Figure 70 shows some good designs in spoons. A simple design is easy to clean.
Three sizes of spoons, tablespoons, teaspoons, and coffee spoons, and two sizes of forks are all sufficient, with a few larger spoons for service and desserts.
Triple-plated ware lasts for years, if well cared for, and comes in good designs.
Pewter, familiar in olden days, is being used again in Colonial designs, and makes an attractive tea or coffee set, is less costly than solid silver, and has a better tone and color than plated ware.
Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)
I came across some fun pictures in a hundred-year-old magazine of a wedding cake and a tablescape idea for a spring wedding. Enjoy!
Old recipes call for separating egg whites from yolks much more frequently than modern recipes. For example, a few days ago I needed to separate four eggs to make the hundred-year-old Lemon Meringue Pie recipe that I recently posted. The yolks went into the lemon custard filling and the whites into the meringue.
Old cake recipes also often call for separating the eggs and beating the whites before adding them to the batter to get a lighter, fluffier cake. . . and so do some old omelette recipes. . . . My list could so on and on.
Here are directions in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook for separating eggs:
Separating Whites from Yolks
Break the egg over a bowl, turn the small end down, and pull the shell apart, slipping the yolk from one half of the shell to the other once or twice, so that the white will drop into the bowl. If any of the yolk is mixed with the white, the white will not beat well on account of the fat present.
The Science of Home Making: A Textbook in Home Economics by Emma E. Pirie (1915)
Cookbooks, then like now, often contained measurement equivalents – but the information in the old cookbooks sometimes leaves me scratching my head. What the heck is a gill?
How do you use a cookbook? I tend to use it as the starting point when making a recipe–the inspiration, the essence–and then adapt and adjust as needed. Some of my friends feel that a recipe describes what should be done to successfully make a dish, and won’t think about making changes on the fly.
Standardized recipes and measurements were a fairly new concept a hundred years ago, and a home economics textbook addressed how to use a cookbook to ensure consistent results. Here are some quotes:
To get all the help even the best cookbook can give, one must know how to carry out the directions given. For instance, what is meant by a cupful or a spoonful. Modern cookbooks all use level measurements. This mean for dry materials, a spoonful or cupful over which the edge of a knife is passed; for wet materials, as much as the cup or spoon will hold.
The manufacturers of kitchen supplies are at last realizing that women are serious in the demand for uniform-sized cups and spoons to use for measuring.
If exactly the same materials are put together under exactly the same conditions the result will be the same–as it is in all other industries.
Of course, changes can be made in certain things, and here she will show her judgment. Spices and flavorings can be substituted one for another, or left out altogether, or added to the recipe that lacks them.
A trained laboratory worker with a fine eye and exact mind proves a capable cook, unless he or she is without a sense for flavoring.
As the housekeepers grow more exact and accurate the cookbooks will improve to meet their demands, until cooking is a much more exact operation than is now possible.
How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie A. Long (1914)