Canned Foods and the Growth of Cities

Image of canned food from a 1919 magazine
Source: Wilson & Co. Advertisement in American Cookery (January, 1919)

In 1919, people felt a bit smug about how easy it was to have sufficient food during the long, cold winter months; and, were thankful that they didn’t live back in the “old” days when it was often challenging for people to have access to sufficient food during the winter.

I recently came across an article in a 1919 magazine that went so far as to claim modern cities were able to develop as a result of the availability of canned foods.

With the enormous increase in size and number of cities, during the past century, the problem of winter sustenance has assumed tremendous proportions. It has been met by elevating to the first place of importance a method of food preservation that had always been of least value – exclusion of air.

The tin can and the glass jar are inventions which made this possible, and without them, modern city life, if not actually out of the question, would have been vastly more difficult. If one will but try to conceive what his mid-winter menu would be like, stripped of all the articles that come to him in glass or tin, he will hardly question any estimate which we may feel inclined to make as to the importance of canned foods in the civilization of today.

With all due allowance for their undoubted benefits, however, the tin can and the glass jar have not shown themselves altogether free from reproach. They must shoulder full responsibility for the growth of the factory system of food production, which, at its best, fall short of being an unqualified boon to the consumer.

American Cookery (January, 1919)

Old-fashioned Graham Pop-overs

I recently made a hundred-year-old recipe for Graham Pop-overs. The pop-overs did not rise as much as anticipated, but nevertheless they were a delightful bread that seemed more like a muffin than a pop-over. The Graham Pop-overs had a slightly nutty flavor, and were wonderful when served warm with butter or honey.

Graham flour is a coarsely ground whole wheat flour that contains the endosperm, the bran, and the wheat germ. Modern graham flours sometimes have most of the wheat germ removed to prolong shelf life and to help keep it from going rancid.

Year ago graham flour was considered a health food, and I regularly see recipes that call for it in hundred-year-old cookbooks.

Graham flour is named after its inventor Sylvester Graham. He began making graham flour in the 1830s, and promoted it as part of a health movement which encouraged eating vegetarian meals and unseasoned foods.

It might take a little effort to find graham flour. I had to look for the flour at three stores before I finally found it.

Here’s the original recipe:

And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks.

Source: Recipes for Everyday (1919)

Graham Pop-overs

  • Servings: approximately 12 Pop-overs
  • Difficulty: moderate
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3 eggs

2 cups milk

2 cups graham flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons shortening, melted

Preheat oven to 450° F.  Beat eggs, then add milk. Beat in graham flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and shortening. Beat until just combined. Put batter into well-greased custard cups (ramekins) – or a muffin tin may be used. Fill each cup 1/2 full. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Do not open oven to help ensure the pop-overs rise completely. Reduce heat to 350° F. (The oven may now be opened to test for doneness.) Bake another 5 – 10 minutes or until the pop-overs are lightly browned and spring back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and immediately remove from custard cups/muffin tin.

The pop-overs baked more quickly than indicated in the original recipe, so I reduced the baking time.

Alcoholic Beverage Recipes a Hundred Years Ago

Source: The Blue Grass Cook Book by Minnie C. Fox (1917 edition)

The 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquors. It was ratified on January 16, 1919, and prohibition went into effect a year later. The hundredth anniversary of this event is a good time to take a look at recipes for alcoholic beverages from the 1910s.

Bathtub gin, speakeasies, and flappers would be on the scene soon, but in 1919 people were celebrating the move toward temperance. At the time when the 18th Amendment was ratified, it was widely supported throughout much of the U.S. This amendment was the culmination of many temperance efforts by individuals and organization during the preceding decades.

Cookbooks published during the 1910s mirrored the trends of the times – and most contained no recipes for alcoholic beverages with the occasional exception of a recipe or two for egg nog for invalids – cooking for invalids was a common topic in cookbooks of that era –  that called for adding a couple of tablespoons of whiskey or other liquor.

The one cookbook that I’ve found that contains numerous recipes for alcoholic beverages is a 1917 edition of a Kentucky cookbook called The Blue Grass Cook Book by Minnie C. Fox. The two recipes included in this post are from that cookbook.

Old-fashioned Curried Chicken

I recently made a hundred-year-old recipe for Curried Chicken. The recipe turned out wonderfully. The crispy chicken is served with rice and a delightful mild curry sauce that has just a hint of sweetness. This recipe is a keeper, and I’m sure that I’ll make it again.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Recipes for Everyday by Janet McKenzie Hill (1919)

This recipe is from a  1919 cookbook titled Recipes for Everyday that was published by Proctor and Gamble. Many of the recipes, including this recipe, call for Crisco shortening which was produced by Proctor and Gamble. At the time, it was considered a new and modern fat. Crisco was first sold in 1911. It was the first shortening made completely from vegetable oil, and was originally made from cottonseed oil. According to the  cookbook’s author:

The careful housewife fully understands that her success in cooking absolutely depends upon the quality of the ingredients she chooses. A variable cooking fat like lard, often having unpleasant odor and flavor, cannot give the pleasing, appetizing results insured by a clean, pure, tasteless , odorless, uniform fat like Crisco.

And, here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Curried Chicken

  • Servings: 4 - 5
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1 chicken, cut into pieces

cold water

1/2 cup flour + 3 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup shortening (Lard could be substituted for the shortening.)

1/2 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 large onion, sliced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 cup milk

1/2 cup light cream

2 tablespoons currant jelly

1 teaspoon lemon juice

cooked rice

Dip chicken pieces in water, then roll in 1/2 cup of flour to coat. Heat shortening in a frying pan using medium heat. Stir 1/2 teaspoon salt to the melted shortening. Place the coated chicken pieces in frying pan and cook until lightly browned. Turn the chicken to brown all sides.

In the meantime, preheat oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with foil, then put the pieces of browned chicken on baking sheet and place in oven. Bake until the chicken is completely cooked.

After the chicken is removed from the frying pan, strain the shortening. Return 3 tablespoons of shortening to the frying pan; then reheat using medium heat. (The remainder of the shortening can be discarded or used for another purpose.)  Add sliced onions and stir occasionally; cook until lightly browned. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour, curry powder, paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Continue stirring until hot and bubbly, then gradually add milk and cream while stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Add currant jelly and lemon juice; stir until the jelly is dissolved. Removed from heat and strain. Serve the sauce with the chicken pieces and rice.

Apples are a Housekeeper’s Best Friend

A hundred-years-ago apples were one of the few fruits available during most of year. According to a hundred-year-old magazine article titled “Apples for All:”

After all has been said and done, the apple is the housekeeper’s best friend. Berry time comes and goes, the delicious fall fruits have their fleeting season, but the apple comes and stays.

Good Housekeeping (January, 1919)

Times sure have changed. Now I can get berries and many other fruits any time during the year – but apples are still a favorite. I’m currently enjoying the last apples from the tree in my back yard.

Hundred-Year-Old Pot Roast with Potatoes, Onions and Carrots Recipe

On these cold January days, Pot Roast with Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots is the classic comfort food. I used a hundred-year-old recipe to make this dish, and it was just as tasty now as it was a century ago.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Good Housekeeping (February, 1917)
Source: Good Housekeeping (February, 1917)

When, I made this dish, I used a chuck roast instead of soup or stewing meat. Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Pot Roast with Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots

  • Servings: 5 - 7
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 pound chuck roast

water

4 cups small potatoes

2 cups carrots, cut into bit-sized chunks

1 cup onions, sliced

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons flour

sprigs of parsley or celery leaves (I used celery leaves.)

Put the chuck roast in a dutch oven with 1 cup water; using high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Turn several times while cooking; add additional water as needed.  Add potatoes, onions, carrots, salt, paprika, and 2 cups water. Cook for an additional 40 minutes. Put meat on a serving platter, then put the potatoes on one side of the meat and the carrots on the other. Put onions in a small bowl, and serve on the side.

Put the flour in a small bowl. While stirring constantly, slowly add 1/4 cup of water to make a smooth paste.

Bring the meat broth back to a boil, then stir in the flour slurry. Stir constantly until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat. The gravy may be poured over the meat and vegetables, or served on the side. Garnish with sprigs of parsley or celery leaves.