How to Use a Cookbook

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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)


The Avocado: A New Fruit in the Northern States

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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

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.

The Value of Good Table Manners

Source: A Text-Book of Cooking by Carlotta C. Greer (1915)
Source: A Text-Book of Cooking (1915)

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)

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Built-in Farmhouse Sinks a Hundred Years Ago

Source: Women's Home Companion (March, 1916)
Source: Women’s Home Companion (March, 1916)

Kitchen decorating tends come and go. Currently “farmhouse” sinks are popular. They are deep sinks which have a finished front that also serves as the front of the cabinet which houses it. Sometimes they are called apron sinks.

Farmhouse sinks have been around for a long time, and a hundred-years ago a Woman’s Home Companion reader submitted a suggestion to a household tip column about how to make an attractive built-in sink.

Under the Kitchen Sink

Our kitchen is very small. There was absolutely no place to keep scrub pails and such unsightly paraphernalia except under the sink, which had open plumbing. So, in order to hide these things from view, I had a carpenter build lattice-work beneath the sink and drain board, with a door. This is painted white and makes a light, airy place in which to store many housekeeping necessities. As one of my friends said, it’s the most effective “piece of furniture” I have in the house!

Women’s Home Companion (March, 1916)

Stylish Aprons a Hundred Years Ago

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Source: Ladies Home Journal (March, 1916)

Are some aprons more stylish and youthful-looking than others? I never thought about it until I saw an article in the March, 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal titled, “The New Girlish Apron: Daintily Made in Handwork.”

I always think that I look like my grandmother when I wear an apron – but perhaps my aprons are just dowdy.

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Sharpless Bread Maker

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A hundred-years-ago, Good Housekeeping had a monthly feature on “Tested Helps for Housekeepers” which showcased new kitchen gadgets and appliances that had received the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

One item that got the seal of approval was the Sharpless Bread-Mixer:

This machine will make bread of uniformly excellent quality in inexperienced hands. The principle of operation is radically different from other machines or from that used in making bread by hand. The liquid ingredients and softened yeast are placed in the lower section and the flour above, separated by a sifting-screen. Turning the crank sifts through just as much flour at one stroke as the beating paddles can thoroughly mix with the liquid.

Thus, as soon as all the flour is sifted through the bread is “mixed” and ready for its first raising. The whole process requires less than a minute for five pounds of bread, and when raised the can be immediately molded into loaves for baking.

Many housekeepers ask if machine-made bread is better than that made by hand. It is invariably better when compared with that made by inexperienced cooks. . . It is therefore safe to say that home-made machine bread will be an improvement over the hand-made variety in ninety percent of homes. . .

The price is $8.00 delivered.

Good Housekeeping (March, 1916)