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)
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)
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)
Sometimes I’m surprised by the large variety of foods that were available a hundred years ago. Apparently even farm families were beginning to eat non-local foods during the winter months. The February, 1915 issue of Farm Journal contained a serving suggestion for avocados.
The avocado or the “alligator pear, “ is at once one of the oldest and newest of fruits. It is an old standby in tropical countries and yet is one of the latest fruits introduced into the northern states. Just why it has not been more generally taken up and considered a staple rather than a luxury is not plain. It costs about the same as grapefruit. However, grapefruit is usually eaten as a fruit, while the avocado serves more or less as a vegetable—usually more. It may replace lettuce, though it is more tempting when served on lettuce leaves.
We in the North get our avocados from southern Florida or California. The avocado may be served in various ways. Often it is simply cut in half, lengthwise, and the stone removed. A quarter or less of a lemon or lime is put beside it, and it is then eaten with a spoon, as you would eat a cantaloupe. Some add a little powdered sugar.
Are table manners less important now than a hundred years ago? Sometimes I think so; other times I’m not sure.
Here’s what a hundred-year-old book had to say about table manners in a chapter titled Dining Room Courtesy:
The Value of Good Table Manners
No matter how cultivated in mind and spirit one may be, if there is an absence of refinement of manners, the higher qualities are likely to be overlooked. The basis of all good manner is tact, i.e., a kindly consideration of others.
Graceful and easy table manners and a knowledge of how to serve and be served add to the comfort as well as to the pleasure of one’s associates in the dining room.
Most of the rules of table conduct have been adopted because they lend ease and grace or because they are sensible; others have been established by custom and long usage.
Source: A Text-Book of Cooking by Carlotta A Greer (1915)