There’s been a history of giving up meat during Lent for a long time. I’m not sure exactly what was allowed a hundred years ago – and it probably varied depending upon someone’s religious and ethnic background – but this 1920 Lenten menu clearly suggests that it was common to eat fish instead of meat during this time of year.
I recently came across a hundred-year-old recipe for Cocoa Cookies that I just had to try. This recipe was actually a cut-out cookie recipe. The cookies had a crispy exterior with a softer, cake-like interior, and just the right amount of sweetness. They are lovely with coffee (or milk).
Here is the original recipe:
When, I followed the recipe, the cookie dough was extremely dry and crumbly, so I added a second egg to make the dough a better consistency that could be rolled.
And, here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:
Cocoa Cookies (Chocolate Cut-out Cookies
1/4 cup butter or shortening (I used butter.)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 400° F. Cream butter (or shortening) and sugar; then stir in milk and eggs. Add the baking powder, salt, and cocoa; stir until combined. Add the flour and stir until well mixed. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick; then cut into shapes. Place on greased baking sheets. Bake 9-12 minutes or until lightly browned.
When I cook vegetables in water, I usually add a little salt to the water. Apparently people a hundred-years-ago wondered whether it was a good idea to add baking soda when cooking vegetables.
Baking Soda in Cooking Vegetables and Fruits
The baking soda will soften the water in cooking beans or cabbage, and the vegetables will cook quicker and more thoroughly, but the alkali has a destructive effect on the vitamins present in these vegetables, and in all fresh foods. Scientists tell us that these vitamins are more important to nutrition than the foods themselves are when deprived of them, and that we lose the good of the food if the vitamins are destroyed. Try adding a little vinegar to the water for beans or cabbage; this will soften them quite as well, and our friends, the vitamins, are not injured by acids, only by alkalis.
Source: American Cookery (February, 1920)
French Onion Soup topped with toast and Swiss or Gruyere cheese is my favorite “restaurant soup,” so I was intrigued when I saw a recipe for French Onion Soup in a hundred-year-old cookbook. I could immediately tell the old recipe wasn’t exactly like a modern one because the soup was topped with toast and American cheese.
I have a somewhat negative stereotype of American cheese (and it just isn’t the same as Swiss or Gruyere cheese), so my expectations weren’t very high for this recipe. But I was pleasantly surprised. The resulting soup tasted similar to modern French onion soups–and the melted American cheese was yummy (and not the least bit jarring) when immersed in the soup. My husband even said that he liked how the cheese was “less stringy” than the cheese on the typical French Onion Soup.
Here’s the original recipe:
Old cookbooks often just use the generic term “cheese.” This is the first time I’ve seen a hundred-year-old recipe explicitly call for American cheese. According to Serious Eats, James Kraft patented a method for making process American cheese in 1916, and it apparently was widely available by 1920.
This recipe is from a promotional cookbook for Snowdrift published by The Southern Cotton Oil Trading Company. Snowdrift was a shortening made from cottonseed oil. When I made the recipe, I substituted butter for the Snowdrift.
And, here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:
French Onion Soup
3 tablespoons butter
6 medium-sized onions, thinly sliced
1 quart soup stock (I used beef broth.)
1 slice of bread for each bowl of soup
1 slice American cheese for each bowl of soup (Use 2 slices per bowl if the slices are thin.)
Melt butter in a Dutch oven or stock pot, then add onion slices. Using medium heat sauté until the onions have softened and caramelized while stirring occasionally. It will take approximately 45 minutes for the onions to caramelize. Add the soup stock, and bring to a simmer.
In the meantime, lightly toast bread. Cut toast into squares small enough to fit the soup bowls; then cut the American cheese into squares slightly smaller than the toast. Top the toast with the squares of American cheese. Put under the boiler until the cheese melts (about 1 minute); remove from oven.
To serve: Ladle soup into bowls, and top with the toast squares/melted cheese.
During this cold and flu season, I frequently see tips for staying healthy. A hundred years ago people also want to avoid spreading diseases. Here is a list in a 1920 home economics textbook of precautions to take against infection and spreading disease:
- Use individual towels, combs, brushes, and clothing.
- Use individual drinking cups.
- Do not put fingers or hands to the mouth or face.
- Do not put money, pencils, pins, or anything else but food and drink into the mouth.
- Use a handkerchief to cover a sneeze or cough.
- Do not carry a handkerchief in the hand or leave it lying about. Put it where it will not be seen.
- Use gauze or clothes that may be burned when you have a cold; then burn them after use.
- Never kiss anyone on the mouth.
- Never spit on the floor of any building, or on the sidewalk.
- Avoid crowds of all kinds when there is an epidemic.
- Isolate yourself when there is an epidemic.
- Disinfect all dishes, clothing and other things which have been used by a person who had had a contagious disease.
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley & Wilhelmina H. Spohr
When I recently saw a hundred-year-old recipe for Fried Parsnips, I decided to give it a try. As winter begins to wind down, I’m enjoying some of the less common vegetables.
The parsnips are cut into large chunks. After they are cooked, each piece is dipped into a batter and then fried. The Fried Parsnips had a delightful earthy, sweetness which was accentuated by the crispy coating.
Here is the original recipe:
I could not figure why the cooked parsnips were supposed to stand in the butter for half an hour, or why the batter was to sit for half an hour – so I didn’t include extended wait times when I updated the recipe.
I also substituted butter for some of the Crisco, and any shortening or lard works for frying.
Here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:
2 pounds parsnips (6 – 8 medium parsnips)
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
shortening or lard
Peel parsnips and cut into 2 1/2 inch chunks. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until tender (approximately 20 – 25 minutes). Drain.
While the parsnips are cooking, make the batter. In a mixing bowl place the egg, milk, flour and 1/4 teaspoons salt. Beat until smooth; set aside.
Melt butter in skillet, then add cooked parsnips. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then gently roll in the melted butter. Remove parsnip pieces from the skillet, then add enough shortening or lard to the skillet so that there is 1/2 inch of shortening once it is melted.
Dip each piece of parsnip in the batter to coat, remove from batter, let any excess batter drip off, then put the batter-coated parsnips pieces into the hot fat. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom, then gently roll several times to brown other sides. When browned, remove parsnip pieces from the skillet with a fork. Drain on paper towels, then serve.
Sometimes we look at the past through rose-colored glasses, and everything seems very idyllic. But, actually a hundred-years ago, factories were in full swing, and people were rapidly shifting from traditional ways of doing things to more modern ways that often utilized commercially-produced products. Sometimes this was good; other times it may not have been. For example, in the early twentieth century, a rapid shift was occurring in how infants were fed.
Breastfeeding was in decline, and was viewed as something done by women in the lower socio-economic classes.
The real decline of wet nursing came, of course, with the rise of formula bottle-feeding, which began in the 1910s. Bottle feeding was convenient (especially for women busy outside the home); it was “scientific”; and it was “modern” – it was what mothers who were “with it” did. From that point of view, only primitive or unenlightened women breastfed.
Source: Breastfeeding History (Made in America: A History of American Culture and Character)
A hundred years ago, magazines contained advertisements for baby bottles that made mothers feel good about bottle feeding. An advertisement for the Hygeia Open-Mouthed Nursing Bottle emphasized how much babies liked the nipple design and how easy it was to clean.
In comparison, today new mothers are encouraged to feed their babies breast milk. It is generally considered superior to formula (and high-quality breast pumps are now available that can make it more convenient to pump and store milk). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 82.3% of the babies born in the U.S. in 2015 started out breastfeeding. At six months, 57.6% of babies were still breastfeeding, though only about 25% were breastfeeding exclusively.