How Much do Americans Spend on Candy, 1920 and 2020?

gumdrops on plateOccasionally I see data in an old book that piques my curiosity – and next thing I know I’m searching for recent comparison data. This is one of those times.  According to a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

We are told that American spend over $200,000,000 a year for factory-made candy. 

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) (1920) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr

Which led me to wonder, how much did the average American spend on candy per year in 1920? According the 1920 U.S. Census, there were 106,000,000 people in the U.S. in 1920, so the average person spent $1.89 dollars per year on candy. According to Dave Manual’s Inflation Calculator, $1 in 1920 would be the equivalent to $12.50 today, so the average person in 1920 ate $23.65 worth of candy in today’s dollars over the course of a year.

This led to my next question, How much candy do American’s eat today? I found data for how much they spent on Halloween candy (but not for the entire year) -so the overall amount would be more. The data were for 2019, which I’m assuming is about the same as 2020.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, U.S. consumers are expected to spend $2.6 billion on candy or more than $25 on average.

How Much Candy Are You Buying for Halloween? This Survey Might Surprise You,” U.S.A. Today (October 5, 2019)

So the bottom line this at in Americans are spending more on candy today than they did a hundred years ago. In 1920, if the spending was adjusted for inflation, they spent an average of $23.65; today, just for Halloween, they spend more than $25.00 per year.

Traditional Gingerbread Men Cookies

Gingerbread men on baking sheet

Making cut-out cookies is one of my favorite holiday traditions, so I was thrilled to see a recipe in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook for Gingerbread Men.

These delightful molasses and spice cookies are decorated with raisins or currants, and are a little thicker and chewier than some gingerbread cookies. They’d be lovely on a holiday cookie tray.

Here is the original recipe:

Recipe for Gingerbread Men
Source: Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. II) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr (1920)

The caption under the illustration in the old textbook says, “Some suggestions to please the children.” Today Gingerbread Men often are topped with lots of colorful icing, and very sweet. Would children in 2020 be pleased by Gingerbread Men decorated with only raisins or currants? My gut feeling is that many today wouldn’t fully appreciate  this old-time flavorful, healthier option – and would miss the icing. Which is a pity. The Gingerbread Men were wonderful.

Here is the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Gingerbread Men Cookies

  • Servings: approximately 18 cookies
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups flour

raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 375° F. Put shortening, brown sugar, egg, and molasses in mixing bowl; mix together. Add baking soda, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and flour; stir to combine. Roll to 1/4 inch thickness. (If too sticky to roll, add more flour.) Cut into shapes using a Gingerbread Man cookie cutter. Put on prepared baking sheet. Raisins or currants may be used for eyes, mouth, and buttons. (Cut raisins into several pieces if they are too large.) Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the cookies are set. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

http://www.ahundredyearsago.com

Save on Food Costs: 1920 Advice

squashFood is expensive today – and it was expensive a hundred years ago. Here is what someone a hundred years ago said about how they minimized their food costs:

We save on food costs. Twenty-five percent of the known incomes, allows $660 a year for food. I allow $540 or $45 a month, for a family of four. It means a very plain table. It means, too, that food costs are lessened by our flock of 12 to 15 chickens which returns 50% above its yearly cost, and by a garden from which I can vegetables and fruits. We pay in labor for part of our food – caring for the garden and the chickens.

From an article titled “Getting the Most Out of Your Dollar,” (Good Housekeeping; May, 1920)

Old-fashioned Corn Meal Griddle Cakes (Corn Meal Pancakes)

Stack of Corn Meal Griddle Cakes on Plate

Saturday morning, and I still hadn’t made a hundred-year-old recipe for this week. I wanted to make something easy, yet tasty. And, week-ends are the perfect time for pancakes, so I flipped through my hundred-year-old cookbooks looking for an easy pancake recipe. I found a recipe for Corn Meal Griddle Cakes that fit the bill.

After adapting the recipe a bit because the batter was too dry (it wasn’t even really a batter) when I followed the original recipe, the Griddle Cakes turned out well. They had a nice taste and texture that reminded me a bit of corn meal muffins.

This recipe made me wonder how spelling and terminology has changed over the past hundred years – though I ended up deciding that perhaps it reflected regional variation more than change over time.  If I’d written this recipe, I would have combined “corn” and “meal” into one word “cornmeal.” And, I’d have called them “pancakes” rather than “griddle cakes.” Yet when I google whether corn meal is one word or two – it appears that either way is acceptable. And, there are modern recipes for griddle cakes..

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Corn Meal Griddle Cakes
Source: New Royal Cook Book (Published by Royal Baking Powder Co., 1920)

Something is off with the amount of liquid called for in this recipe. When I made it, I ended up with a crumbly mixture rather than a batter, so I added small amounts of additional milk several times until I had a thick batter. By the time, I had a satisfactory, batter I’d added almost an additional cup of milk beyond what was call for in the recipe.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Corn Meal Griddle Cakes (Corn Meal Pancakes

  • Servings: 4 - 5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/3 cups corn meal

1 tablespoon shortening

1 1/4 – 1 3/4 cups milk

1 tablespoon molasses

2/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, then stir in the cornmeal. Remove from heat, and stir in shortening, 1 1/4 cups milk, and molasses. Add flour, salt, and baking powder; beat until well-mixed. If the mixture is too dense, add additional milk until there is a thick batter.

Heat a lightly greased griddle to a medium temperature, then spoon batter onto the hot surface to make individual pancakes. Use back of spoon to spread the batter into 3-4 inch circles. Cook until the top surface is hot and bubbly, and then flip and cook other side.

[Note: I made this recipe in a large saucepan that did not contain a stick-free surface. I added ingredients and beat the mixture in the pan. However, all the beating and stirring has the potential to damage the coating of some pans, so it might be preferred to heat the water to boiling, then pour it over corn meal that is in a mixing bowl – and then proceed from there using a mixing bowl rather than a saucepan.]

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A Thanksgiving Tale

slice of carrot pieHAPPY THANKSGIVING

Here’s a fun, old Thanksgiving poem that you might enjoy:

A Thanksgiving Tale

They sat on a shelf in the pantry-way cool.
Said Pumpkin to Mince Pie, “You crusty old fool.”
They squabbled and each of them thought himself best,
Till Pumpkin said, “Wait for Thanksgiving — the test.
I’ll bet you my pie plate that I’m eaten first;
While you, sir, uneaten with envy will burst.”

Thanksgiving Day came, and along with it, John,
Who ate everything his keen eyes fell upon. 
“A piece of each one,” Said this lad to the pies;
And, then I’ll determine which one wins the prize.”
But Johnny, alas! was unable to tell. 
For Johnny felt suddenly, — not at all well. 

Those wicked, old pies had continued their fight, 
Till Johnny’s poor tummy grew pained at the sight;
And Johnny said tartly, both pies were so bad,
No worse one than either could ever be had.
But I think to myself that young John was mistaken.
‘Twas mixing his pies so, gave Johnny that achin’.

Ellen M. Ramsay (American Cookery, November, 1919)

Old-fashioned Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding

Molded Thanksgiving Gelatine Pudding on a plate

I’ve always loved the days and days of cooking and baking in preparation for Thanksgiving. Homemade pies and more pies, a huge turkey with stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce. . .

My mother and grandmother used to also make fussy molded gelatin desserts (they called them salads) that took hours to prepare because it had to be made in layers where each layer was chilled until it set before the next layer was added. But, I’ve let that tradition go. Gelatin desserts have never been quite my thing. And, for many years they were out of style. People joked about gelatin desserts; and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to be teased about my cooking.

But this year is different. I’m roasting a chicken instead of a turkey, and might not make any pies. And, when I saw a recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding, I suddenly realized that there was something else I wanted to do differently this year. I wanted to make a fussy molded gelatin salad. The hours spent adding layers of gelatin would revive a tradition, and fulfil my need to spend time in the kitchen in preparation for Thanksgiving.

There was only one problem. The recipe for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding was the strangest molded gelatin recipe I’d ever seen. The recipe used unflavored gelatin and called for making homemade fig juice, which was mixed with coffee, to flavor the gelatin. The gelatin was then layered with chopped dates, raisins, and walnuts.

And, the old recipe also called for making a homemade custard sauce (another somewhat tedious cooking activity) to serve with the Gelatin Pudding.

The verdict: This rich Gelatin Pudding is very different from modern gelatin dishes, but it was good in its own unique way. And, the custard sauce was lovely with just a hint of caramel. To use my husband’s words, “This is better than I thought it would be.” I’m taking that as a compliment.

And, I had fun making the recipe. So the bottom line is that this recipe was a winner in more ways than one.

Here is the original recipe:

Recipe for Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding
Source: Good Housekeeping’s Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries (1920)

I found it very confusing that the gelatin pudding part of the recipe called for “1/2 teaspoonful ground mixed spices,” but the actual list of spices was down in the custard sauce part of the recipe where it says, “For the mixed spices in the pudding use cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and ginger.” Why weren’t the spices just listed in the pudding section of the recipe? And, there were five spices in the list, which doesn’t easily match the 1/2 teaspoon of mixed spices called for, since if 1/8 teaspoon of each spice was used, the total amount of  mixed spices would equal 5/8 teaspoon not 1/2 teaspoon (4/8 teaspoon). I decided to just use a scant 1/8 teaspoon of each, assuming that would be close enough.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Thanksgiving Gelatin Pudding

  • Servings: 12 - 16
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

1 cup dried figs, chopped

4 packets (0.25 ounce) unflavored gelatin

1 cup cold water

1 cup dark corn syrup

1/8 scant teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 scant teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 scant teaspoon mace

1/8 scant teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 scant teaspoon ground ginger

3 cups strong coffee

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups dates, chopped

1 1/2 cups raisins, chopped

1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped

Put the figs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water, then heat using medium heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove from heat and strain. There should be about 1 cup of fig juice. (Reserve the chopped figs.) If needed, add water to get 1 cup of juice.

In the meantime, put the 1 cup cold water in a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the water, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Put the corn syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, and ginger in a large saucepan, and heat to boiling while stirring. Add the gelatin that has been soaked in water, the coffee, and fig juice. Bring back to a boil while stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice, and cooked chopped figs.

Wet a 9-cup gelatin mold with cold water, then pour a 1-inch layer of the gelatin mixture into the mold. Refrigerate until the molded gelatin in set (about 1-2 hours). (Keep the remaining gelatin at room temperature so it stays liquid.)

In the meantime, put the dates, raisins, and walnuts in a bowl, stir to mix.

After the layer of molded gelatin has set, add a layer of the date/raisin/walnut mixture (about 1/3 of the mixture). Pour gelatin on top of this layer, and refrigerate until firm. Repeat two more times.

To serve: Quickly dip the mold in hot water, then unmold onto serving plate. Serve with the custard sauce.

Custard Sauce

1 egg

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon corn starch

2 cups milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the egg slightly, then add the corn syrup and corn starch; beat until smooth. Set aside.

In the meantime, put the milk in a saucepan. Heat using medium heat until hot while stirring constantly. Then place a small amount (approximately 1 – 2 tablespoons) of hot milk into bowl with the egg mixture, stir quickly. Add this mixture to the hot milk and stir. (This helps prevent the egg from coagulating when the egg is introduced to the hot liquid.)  Return to stove and cook, using medium heat while stirring constantly until the mixture begins to thicken or coat a spoon. . Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Chill at least 3 hours.

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