Percentage of U.S. Household Expenditures Spent on Food, 1919 and 2019

Chart showing household expenditures on food in 1919 and 2019 by income level. Regardless of income, people spent a higher percentage of their income on food in 1919 than they did in 2019.

It seems like food is expensive today, but we actually spend a much lower percentage of our total household expenditures on food now than what our ancestors did a hundred years ago. For example, a typical medium income family in 1919 in the United States spent 30% of total expenditures on food, while today a medium income family spends only 14% on food.

Here is additional information about the data that I used to prepare this chart:

1919 – The 1919 data are from a table in a 1919 book by Mrs. Christine Frederick titled Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home. It was published by the American School of Home Economics (Chicago). See the table below for the 1919 data. The table had information for six income levels. I used the lowest and highest income levels in the table in the book as the “low income” and “high income” respectively when preparing the chart at the top of this post. In the original table, the 3rd and 4th income levels (the middle levels), each spent 30% of their household income on food, so I used 30% as the middle level for 1919. The author of the book says that the expenditure information was collected and compiled “through an extensive survey made through a periodical (p. 284).”

Source: Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home (author: Mrs. Christine Frederick), 1919

2019 – Data are not yet available for 2019 household expenditures. The most recent year available is 2017, so I assumed that expenditures were similar in 2019 to what they had been in 2017. The data are from the Statistica site. The 2019 household expenditure data were presented by quintiles. Here are the food expenditure data for each quintile:

  • 1st quintile: 15.6%
  • 2nd quintile: 14.4%
  • 3rd quintile: 14.0%
  • 4th quintile: 13.0%
  • 5th quintile: 11.2%

For the comparison chart, low income was considered to equal the 1st quintile, medium income equaled the 3rd quintile, and high income equaled the 5th quintile.

Old-fashioned Feather Cake

square piece of feather cake

A recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook for Feather Cake piqued my interest. Was the cake really as light as a feather?

The short answer: No. The longer answer: This cake might not be as light as a feather, but it’s still delightful.

Feather Cake is a spice cake with nuanced tones of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It has a lovely texture – though it was not a particularly light cake. The cake was easy to make, and the recipe made a small 8 -inch square cake that is perfect for a small family.

Here’s the original recipe:

recipe for feather cake
Source: The Old Reliable Farm and Home Cook Book (1919)

Baking powder is a combination of baking soda and cream of tartar. This recipe calls for both baking soda and cream of tartar (rather than just using baking powder) – which suggests that even though this recipe appeared in a 1919 cookbook that its origins might be much earlier.

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

Feather Cake

  • Servings: 7 - 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup raisins (optional) (I didn’t use raisins when I made this recipe.)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan. Put all ingredients (except for the raisins) in a mixing bowl. Beat until well blended. If desired, stir in the raisins. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Frost if desired.

Old-fashioned Rhubarb Fanchonettes (Rhubarb Tarts with Meringue Topping)

It’s peak rhubarb season here – so it’s time to try new rhubarb recipe. . . Well, actually, this being A Hundred Years Ago, it’s time to try a “new” old recipe. I found a great recipe for Rhubarb Fanchonettes in a 1919 magazine. Fanchonettes are basically Rhubarb Tarts with Meringue Topping.

The Fanchonettes are a perfect spring treat. The small, individual tarts are a nice size for a snack or dessert. The rhubarb filling is delightfully tart and balanced by the sweet meringue topping.

Here is the original recipe:

rhubarb fanchonettes recipe
Source: American Cookery (March, 1919)

I found some aspects of this recipe fussy and  challenging. For example, I couldn’t figure out why the rhubarb needed to be cooked twice, so I just cooked the rhubarb until tender and then stirred in the other ingredients, but didn’t reheat. And, what are brownie tins?

Here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Old-fashioned Rhubarb Fanchonettes (Rhubarb Tarts with Meringue Topping)

  • Servings: 12 - 15 Fanchonettes
  • Difficulty: moderate
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5 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 tablespoon grated orange peel (I used lemon juice.)

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons flour

2 egg yolks, beaten

pie pastry (Enough for a 2-crust 9-inch pie – more may be needed if pre-rolled sheets are used. I re-rolled pastry scraps several times to make all of the small fanchonette shells.)

Place rhubarb pieces and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil using medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer until the rhubarb is tender while stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat and strain to remove excess liquid. (It is okay if there is still a little liquid after draining). Measure the cooked rhubarb; there should be approximately 2 cups. (Excess rhubarb can be sweetened and eaten as stewed rhubarb.) Return to pan. Stir in lemon juice, sugar, salt, and flour. Quickly stir in the egg yolks. (If the rhubarb is still very hot, stir a small amount of the cooked rhubarb to the beaten egg yolks while stirring rapidly to avoid coagulation of the yolks; then quickly stir the egg yolk mixture into the remaining rhubarb.) Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425° F. Roll pastry dough and cut into pieces. Fit each piece into a small pie pan; trim and flute edges to make the fanchonette shells. (I used a fairly shallow muffin pan to make the fanchonettes.) The number needed will vary depending upon size, but approximately 12-15 should be enough to hold all the filling.

Fill each fanchonette shell with cooked rhubarb mixture. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F. Continue baking until the rhubarb comes to a slow rolling boil. Remove from oven, and top each fanchonette with a heaping tablespoonful of Meringue (see recipe below). Spread Meringue to edge of fanchonette. Bake at 325° F. for 10 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned.


2 egg whites

4 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites in a bowl, and beat until stiff peaks form. Gradually add sugar while continuing to beat.

Hundred-year-old Tips on Ways to Spend Less Time in the Kitchen

spatula in green bowl

Here are some hundred-year-old suggestions for ways to spend less time in the kitchen.

Waste no minutes in the kitchen:

  • Dough, batter, whipped cream, or egg white may be scraped from a bowl with a spatula in half the time required with a spoon or other utensil.
  • Hot baked puddings and custards will not stick to the baking dishes if the dish be first rubbed over with fat and then dredged with sugar.
  • Cakes, loaf or layer, are quickly removed from loose-bottom aluminum cake-pans and the washing of the pans is a very simple matter.
  • Use a “magic cover” when rolling out soft dough of any sort. When through work, scrape the cloth with a knife, if necessary, then shake out of doors. Wash the stockinet on the rolling pin often.
  • A Scotch bowl of cast-iron with bail for lifting used for no other purpose than frying, tends to simplify this mode of cooking. If the fat be strained after use and returned to the bowl after it has been carefully wiped out, no delay is occasioned when frying is again in order.

American Cookery (February, 1919)

Old-fashioned Fried Spring (Green) Onions

fried spring onions

Now that winter is rapidly becoming a distant memory, I’m enjoying the first of the local 2019 vegetables, spring (green) onions. They are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B2, and thiamine. They also are a good source of copper, phosphorous, magnesium, chromium, and other minerals; so I was thrilled to find a hundred-year-old recipe for Fried Spring Onions.

The Fried Green Onions are served with bacon in a light gravy. They were easy to make and tasty.

Here is the original recipe:

recipe for fried green onions
Source: The Old Reliable Farm and Home Cook Book (1919)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Fried Spring (Green) Onions

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

6 bunches spring onions (about 2 1/2 cups of green onions cut into 1-inch pieces)

3 slices bacon, diced

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups boiling water

Clean spring onions, then cut off roots and the top part of the onions. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

Place the bacon in a skillet; then using medium heat fry bacon until browned while stirring occasionally. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside.

Place the onion pieces in the hot fat in the skillet and saute until tender while stirring occasionally (about 5-7 minutes). Push onion pieces to side of pan and stir in the flour. Slowly add the boiling water while stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, add bacon pieces. Gently stir to combine the bacon and onions. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

1919 Heinz Vinegars Advertisement

Advertisement for Heinz Vinegar
Source: Good Housekeeping (April, 1919)

Some things haven’t changed much over the past hundred years. For example, in both 1919 and 2019, Heinz emphasized that the company offered several varieties of vinegar.

The 1919 Heinz Vinegars advertisement said that “Malt, Apple, and White” varieties were available, and that they were “one of the 57” Heinz products.

The current Heinz brand tagline is “A Vinegar for Every Need.”

Is it grammatically correct to pluralize “vinegar” or is “vinegars” an archaic term?