Gluten Peculiar to Wheat

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

A hundred years ago, much of the wheat (and wheat flour) in the United States was being shipped to Europe to feed the troops in World War I.  Cooks were trying to figure out how to successfully bake bread while using little or no wheat.  Here’s a question and answer about the gluten in wheat which appeared in a 1918 magazine.

Gluten Peculiar to Wheat

Question: Will you please give me a list of the various flours now on the market as wheat substitutes with their gluten content. What combination of these flours will yield the lightest loaves of bread if made without any wheat whatever? Is it necessary to use more yeast than with the same amount of wheat flour? Is it true that breads made from these flours are less digestible than bread made from wheat flour?

Miss A.C.P., Vt.

Answer: Practically none of the cereals, except wheat, contains gluten. Even wheat does not contain gluten until the flour is moistened. Two of the constituents of wheat, glutenin and gliadin, then unite to form gluten. Gluten it the best agent in ordinary flours to hold the gas bubbles which make light or leavened bread. Other cereals which have properties permitting aeration are rye and oatmeal.

All the substitutes for wheat are benefited from the point of view of palatability by mixing in a certain amount of wheat flour. It is probable that more yeast is required with wheat substitutes than with wheat alone. Bread is not necessarily more wholesome when leavened but usually it is more palatable.

Biscuits (crackers) and unleavened breads are perfectly wholesome when well masticated, and are just as digestible as the more porous breads. The breads made from other cereals than wheat are not necessarily less digestible than wheat bread. The chief difficulty is that the art of making other breads has not been fully developed.

Good Housekeeping (September, 1918)

Sour Milk French Toast

Ever wonder what to do with a food once it’s past its prime? A hundred years ago that was often a problem. For example, the homemade bread would often go stale before it was all eaten, and the non-pasteurized milk that most people drank often soured.

The solution was to make a dish that was even tastier than the original foods. The century-old recipe that I found for Sour Milk French Toast calls for – well, you guessed it – sour milk and stale bread.

I had neither sour milk nor stale bread, but decided to give the recipe a try. I used vinegar to “sour” the milk. (Lemon juice would also work.). And, I used day-old homemade bread (though commercially made bread would also work well).

This recipe made a tasty French toast that I’ll definitely make again.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: Larkin Housewives Cook Book (1917)

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

Sour Milk French Toast

  • Servings: 2 - 3 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 -3 slices bread

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice (I used vinegar.)

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/3 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour


shortening or lard

Stir together milk, vinegar, egg, salt, baking soda, sugar, and flour to create a thin batter. Dip each slice of bread in the batter.

In the meantime, heavily grease griddle or skillet with a mixture of butter, and shortening, or lard. (The old recipe suggests that a mixture of butter and lard might add a nice flavor.)  Heat griddle or skillet, and put prepared slices of bread on it. Brown bottom side; flip and brown on other side. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Role of Potatoes in Diets a Hundred Years Ago

Potatoes were an important part of the diet a hundred years ago. Here’s what a cookbook said:

Housewives are always interested in new ways of preparing the potato as it appears on the average menu 365 times in the year. There are innumerable ways of preparing potatoes for the table.

When potatoes are practically the only vegetable used in the household, they should always be cooked in their skins, so that all the mineral salts may be retained. When salad plants and other vegetables are used freely, the skins may be removed before cooking, although it is not economy to do so. Sometimes convenience and palatability decide in favor of the latter.

Potatoes, combined with milk and cheese, provide a dish fully as nourishing as when combined with meat. This is interesting to know when meat prices are high.

The Housewife’s Cook Book by Lilla Frich (1917)

Old-fashioned Fried Green Tomatoes

I think of Fried Green Tomatoes as a classic comfort food – but I never actually tried them until I recently made a hundred-year-old recipe.

This is a food that I should have tried years ago. The Fried Green Tomatoes turned out wonderfully.  They were delightful with a crispy cornmeal coating.

Here is the original recipe:

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

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

Fried Green Tomatoes

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

4 medium green tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch slices

4 cups water

1 teaspoon salt




1/2 cup corn meal

shortening or lard

Combine  the water and  1 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl, then soak the sliced tomatoes in the water for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the water and drain on a paper towel, then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper. Put the cornmeal in a small bowl, then roll each tomato slice in the cornmeal.

Heat 1/2 inch of shortening or large in a large frying pan. Carefully place the breaded green tomato slices in the pan in a single layer. Depending upon pan size, the slices may need to be cooked in several batches. Fry for about 3 minutes or until the bottom side of each slice is lightly browned, then gently turn and fry until the other side is browned. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Old-fashioned Potato O’Brien

When browsing through hundred-year magazines, I came across a recipe for Potato O’Brien. Diced potatoes (that are first boiled) and green pepper are immersed in a hot and bubbly mild cheese sauce. The dish is then browned in the oven.

This version of Potato O’Brien is a little different from most modern recipes (which generally call for frying the potatoes), but it’s delicious. It reminds me a little of Scalloped Potatoes, but with cheese and green peppers.

Here’s the original recipe:

Source: American Cookery (June – July, 1918)

This recipe contained several firsts for me. It’s the first hundred-year-old recipe that I’ve ever seen that called for American Cheese. I googled it, and learned from Wikipedia that:

After the official invention of processed cheese in 1911, and its subsequent popularization by James L. Kraft in the late-1910s and the 1920s, the term “American cheese” rapidly began to refer to this variety, instead of the traditional but more expensive cheddars also made and sold in the US.

Apparently by 1918, American cheese was commonly enough available that it was included in recipes published in magazines.

It’s also the first hundred-year-old recipe that I’ve ever seen that called for skim milk. I’m not clear to me why skim milk is preferred in this dish, so when I updated the recipe I just listed milk as an ingredient.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Potato O'Brien

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

4 medium potatoes (about 2 cups, diced)

1 tablespoon butter

1 green pepper, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup American cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 425° F.

Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Put diced potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Put on high heat and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes).

In the meantime, in a skillet, melt butter using low heat. Add the green pepper;  saute until tender, and then stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. While stirring constantly, slowly pour in milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted. Gently stir in the cooked potatoes. Put into a baking dish and place in the oven. Bake until the top is lightly browned (about 20 – 30 minutes).

One teaspoon of salt seemed like a lot to me, so when I updated the recipe, I used less salt than was called for in the original recipe. I also sauted the green pepper in butter, rather than cooking it separately first.

Hundred-year-old Directions for Cooking Macaroni

Source: Wikipedia

What did macaroni look like in 1918? I’m a bit foggy about what macaroni looked like a hundred years ago, but I found directions for preparing it in a century-old magazine that provides a few clues.

To cook macaroni successfully is not difficult. Break into short lengths. If it comes from a sealed package, it does not need washing; if it is “loose,” it should be rinsed in cold water. Drop into boiling salted water, adding a level tablespoonful of salt to a quart. Stir to prevent sticking, but be careful not to break the pieces. If the dish is greased before the hot water and macaroni are put in, it will not stick so readily. Cook until tender, then toss the macaroni into a colander and let cold water run through it. This process is called blanching, and is to prevent it from sticking together.

American Cookery (August – September, 1918)