Questions About Milk a Hundred Years Ago

Questions about milk
Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

I enjoy reading the questions at the end of chapters in old textbooks. They provide so much insight into what the book author considered important. These questions in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook at the end of a section about milk made me realize that the issues and concerns were somewhat different back then.

In case you are wondering, here is what it said earlier in the book about clean milk:

Clean milk is the only safe milk. Dirty milk may contain disease germs that cause typhoid fever, tuberculosis, or other diseases. Clean milk comes from clean cows kept in clean barns. The milk must be handled by persons with clean hands and clean clothes, and it must be placed in clean pails, bottles, or pans. 

If milk is purchased from a store or dairy wagon it should be in bottles, tightly covered. The bottles must be kept in a cool place where there are no flies. If a bottle of milk is put in the refrigerator it must always be tightly covered. 

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews 

Frozen Tom and Jerry (Ice Cream)

ice cream in dishFrozen Tom and Jerry is an ice cream that is named after a classic cocktail called a Tom and Jerry. The cocktail is a hot holiday drink that is similar to hot eggnog, but contains both rum and brandy. Frozen Tom and Jerry is a delightful ice cream that has a hint of rum and brandy, and is perfect for  a hot summer day.

I found the recipe in the 1921 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. According to my daughter, Frozen Tom and Jerry could be served at a party, and no one would guess that the recipe was a hundred years old. (I think this is a compliment.)

I was intrigued that this recipe (as well as others in this cookbook) called for alcohol. Since prohibition began in the U.S. in 1920, and alcohol was prohibited, few 1921 cookbooks list any alcoholic beverages as a recipe ingredient. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book is an exception and there are numerous recipes which call for alcohol – maybe because it was an update of a pre-prohibition cookbook. I wonder where cooks were supposed to purchase the brandy and rum used in the recipe.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Frozen Tom and Jerry
Source: The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1921 Edition)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Frozen Tom and Jerry (Ice Cream)

  • Servings: about 1 1/2 quarts
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 cups milk

3/4 cup sugar

6 egg yolks, beaten

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons rum

1 tablespoon brandy

In a large saucepan, put milk, sugar, egg yolks, and salt; stir to combine. Using medium heat, cook the mixture while stirring continuously until the mixture is hot and steamy, and coats a spoon. It should be removed from the heat before it boils. Strain; then put in the refrigerator to chill. When cold, stir in the cream, put in ice cream freezer and freeze. When the ice cream is frozen and close to being done, add the rum and brandy. Continue freezing in the ice cream freezer until the rum and brandy is thoroughly mixed into the ice cream (about 2-3 minutes).

When I made this recipe, I used a 1 1/2 quart automatic ice cream maker that used a bowl which is frozen in the freezer overnight, but a regular ice cream maker would also work.

1921 Chicago Asbestos Table Mat Co. Advertisement

Advertisement for Chicago Asbestos Table Mat Comany
Source: The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1921

This 1921 advertisement for asbestos table mats reminded me of how much our knowledge base has changed across the years. A hundred years ago many products contained asbestos; today we know that it is dangerous.

Yet I’m old enough to remember when asbestos products were considered safe. The dining room table in my childhood home had a mat that looked almost identical to the one in the picture – and I’m now realizing that it may have contained asbestos which is a bit scary.

Some things it’s best not to think too much about. I think that I’ll focus on memories of the wonderful family gatherings around that dining room table, rather than focusing on the table mat (which may not have actually contained asbestos).

Old-fashioned Stewed Prunes

stewed prunes

Hundred-year-old cookbooks sometimes contain very basic recipes, such as a recipe for stewed prunes. I’m a little surprised when an author puts such a simple recipe in a cookbook – though I also find it fascinating how basic foods have changed over the past hundred years. Back then (and even when I was young) prunes were very dry and needed extensive soaking and cooking to make tender stewed prunes; whereas today many supermarket prunes are very moist when taken out of the package and need to be stewed for only a few minutes.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Stewed Prunes
Source: The New Cookery (1921) by Lenna Frances Cooper

One-half pound of prunes is about 1 cup of prunes. I’m not clear why the directions refer to 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon for each two cups of prunes. Maybe the author was referring to the volume of prunes after they are soaked. In any case, when I updated the recipe, rather than trying to estimate the volume of the prunes, I assumed that the recipe calls for adding 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon (if desired).

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

Stewed Prunes

  • Servings: 3 - 5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1/2 pound prunes (approximately 1 cup prune)

1 cup water (more may be needed if the prunes are very dry.)

1/4 cup sugar, if desired

1 tablespoon lemon juice, if desired

Put prunes and water in a saucepan. If desired, stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat until it simmers. Cook until the prunes are tender and the liquid is syrupy (about 15 minutes – if the prunes are moist; longer if they are very dry). Remove from heat, and, if desired stir in the lemon juice.

Good Cooks Are Composers

Quote by Henry Finck
Source: The New Cookery (1921) by Lenna Frances Cooper

The foreword to a 1921 cookbook begins with this quote. Nice quote – but I was curious about who Henry T. Finck was and why I should care about what he thought.

A quick google search turned up information about Henry Finck. He was both the music editor and the epicurean editor at the New York Evening Post. According to Oregon Encyclopedia:

Music critic Henry T. Finck spent his childhood on an apple orchard near the Christian agricultural colony of Aurora in the lower Willamette Valley. The first Oregonian to graduate from Harvard, Finck was a prolific writer and critic of contemporary music. He also wrote about horticulture, romantic love, travel, food, and his Oregon boyhood.

Old-fashioned Coffee Cake

piece of coffee cake on plate

Coffee cake is a wonderful sweet treat to have with coffee (or without), so I was pleased to find a hundred-year-old recipe for Coffee Cake. The cake turned out well. It was moist and tender with a nice cinnamon and sugar topping.

Here’s the original recipe:

Coffee Cake Recipe
Source: The New Dr. Price Cook Book (1921)

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

Coffee Cake

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


2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons shortening, melted

1 cup milk

Topping Mixture

3 teaspoons flour + additional, if needed

1 tablespoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons sugar + additional, if needed

3 tablespoons shortening

Preheat oven to 375° F. Put all of the cake ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat to combine. Put batter in a greased and floured 9-inch square cake pan.

In a separate bowl, place the flour cinnamon, and sugar. Stir to combine. Add the shortening, and mix together until the texture is crumbly. It may helpful to use your hands to get the shortening mixed in.  (When I made the recipe I added more flour and sugar than called for in the original recipe, to make it more crumbly).

Spread the topping mixture over the top of the cake. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick comes out clean.

1921 Table Etiquette

set table on porch or patioPhoto source: Ladies Home Journal (July, 1911)

Here’s a few table etiquette rules that appeared in a 1921 home economics textbook: 

Table Manners

  • Never go to the table unless hands and face are clean and hair is in order. 
  • Stand behind your chair until the hostess takes her seat. 
  • The napkins should be laid across the lap without being entirely opened out. Never stick the corner inside the collar. If the napkin is to be used again, fold it neatly before leaving the table. 
  • Always sit erect in the chair while eating. Keep the arms and elbows off the table. 
  • Never eat hurriedly. 
  • Do not talk when the mouth is full of food. 
  • Ask politely for dishes to be passed, rather than reach across the table. 
  • Never complain about the food. If it is not the kind desired, it need not be eaten. 
  • If it is necessary to leave the table before the others are ready, ask to be excused by the hostess. 
  • Do not talk about disagreeable things during the meal. 

Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews