Should whole, 2%, 1%, or skim milk be used in 100-year-old recipes?

Milk 5

Do you even get a question that stumps you? Well, I recently did. A friend asked whether whole, 2%, 1%, or skim milk should be used when making the hundred-year-old recipes that I post on this blog.

I replied that I use whatever kind of milk I have in my refrigerator–and that they all seem to work just fine. But, the question kept nagging at me. None of the milk varieties that are readily available today are exactly the same as the milk of a hundred years ago.

Cream floated on the top of milk a hundred years ago. Homogenization to prevent the separation of the cream from the milk was not widely available to until the 1920’s and 1930’s. Consumers may have stirred the cream into the milk before using–but they also may have skimmed much of the cream off for other uses before using the milk for cooking. Also, some consumers may have purchased semi-skim milk since farmers occasionally skimmed the cream off the milk to make butter before selling.

I have seen a few hundred-year-old recipes that call for “rich milk.” I take this to mean that the milk is creamier than most. This suggests to me that the recipe is calling for milk from cattle breeds that produce particularly high levels of cream (Jersey, Guernsey), but it might refer to whole milk.

A hundred years ago, there was wide variation from area to area in whether milk was pasteurized.  Unpasteurized milk was used rural areas, as well as in many towns and cities. Commercial pasteurization began in the 1890’s. In 1907, Chicago was the first U.S. city to require it;  in 1947, Michigan was the first state to mandate it.

The differences in the diets of the cows a hundred-years-ago affected the taste of the milk. The cows ate a diet that varied across the course of the year –  pasture during the warm-weather months; hay, corn, and oats during the winter months.  Growing up on a dairy farm, I can clearly remember how the taste of the milk changed each spring when the cows first went out to pasture.

Whew, there are so many things to think about. I still don’t know  whether whole, 2%, 1%, or skim milk is the closest to the milk called for in hundred-year-old recipes. But, I’m going to quit worrying about it, and start cooking.

Rhubarb and Pineapple Conserve

Rhubarb and pineapple conserve

It never seems quite like spring until I make a few rhubarb recipes, so when I saw a recipe for Rhubarb Conserve in a hundred-year-old issue of Good Housekeeping, I just had to give it a try. In addition to the rhubarb the recipe called for a pineapple (as well as for the juice and grated peel of an orange).

Source: Good Housekeeping (May, 1916)
Source: Good Housekeeping (May, 1916)

The recipe turned out wonderfully, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. The conserve tastes more like a pineapple conserve than a rhubarb one with lovely sunny notes of pineapple that are slightly muted by the tartness of the rhubarb.

And, it wasn’t a bright red color like I anticipated. Instead the conserve is a blend of delightful shades of yellow, green, and brown. The rhubarb I used had a little red in the stalks–but much of the length was green. This may have affected the color. I also did a little research and discovered that rhubarb jam recipes often call for strawberry gelatin or other added coloring agents so I now think that the conserve color is exactly right given the ingredients I used.

Conserves are typically served with meat, and this conserve is lovely with pork or poultry, but I also enjoy using it as a marmalade on toast and English muffins.

Rhubarb Conserve meat

When I worked on this post, I pondered whether I should use the old name or whether that was misleading. In the end, I decided to add “pineapple” to the recipe title, but to keep the keep the word conserve.

The bottom line: Whatever this recipe is called, it is delightful and something that I would make again.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Old-fashioned Rhubarb and Pineapple Conserve

  • Servings: 5 one-half pint jelly jars
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

1 pineapple (approximately 4 cups shredded pineapple)

4 cups rhubarb, chopped

juice of 1 orange

grated rind of 1 orange

2 1/3 cups sugar

Core pineapple and remove flesh from skin, then shred into small pieces. Place in a large sauce pan.  Add rhubarb, orange juice, grated orange peel, and sugar. Let sit for 1/2 hour to allow the juice to start flowing; then using medium high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and boil gently for 30-40 minutes or until the mixture is the consistency of jam. Stir frequently — especially towards the end of the cooking time.

A good way to tell if the mixture is the right consistency is to lay the spoon that is used for stirring on a plate. Allow the liquid clinging to the spoon to cool for a few seconds, and see if it has a jam-like consistency.

Pour mixture into hot one-half pint jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe jar rim and adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

School Gardens a Hundred Years Ago

Childrens garden heading 5 1916

Photo caption: The first year the garden was all corn and potatoes.
Photo caption: The first year the garden was all corn and potatoes.

Some schools have wonderful school gardens that support good nutrition and the development of healthier children. I was surprised to discover that schools a hundred years ago also had gardens. The May, 1916 issue of Ladies Home Journal told the story of one such school, the Elihu Greenwood School, in the Hyde Park district of Boston. Here’s some excerpts:

The pupils first wrote letters to the men who owned unused land near the school, incidentally finding out how important English composition is in the business world. Permission to use the vacant lots having been granted, enthusiasm ran high. It was winter, and the only thing that could be done was to measure the ground-which every boy and girl did- and then draw plans.

The land was rocky, and the first thing to do when spring came was to clear it of stones and rubbish.  This work took more time than was expected so planting plans had to be changed. Potatoes and corn were the only crops the first year.

The breaking of the land having been accomplished, the next winter brought greater plans. The flower garden, beside the fence and bordering the vegetable garden, was 5 feet wide band 1200 feet long.The vegetable garden was divided into twenty-three plots.

Photo Caption: The second years they grew all the common and some of the uncommon vegetables.
Photo Caption: The second years they grew all the common and some of the uncommon vegetables.

The time spent in the garden could not be taken out of school work, and the children counted it as a “privilege” to begin school at half-past eight, that they might have the extra half hour in the garden. During vacation thirty-one pupils took charge of the garden, and were paid from three to four dollars a week.

Everything was for sale at reasonable rates. One could walk around the garden and say, “I should like this head of lettuce,” or “that cabbage,” or could wait at home for the visit of a boy or girl with a little cart of fresh vegetables and flowers.

It was demonstrated that garden work could be an integral part of the school curriculum in natural science, geometry, arithmetic and physical culture, as in garden work every muscle of the body is used

Caption: Gardening included training in salesmanship. Corn was sold by the foot.
Photo caption: Gardening included training in salesmanship. Corn was sold by the foot.

Old-Time Endive Salad with Homemade French Dressing

Endive Salad

Endive was a popular early Spring bitter green a hundred years ago. This divine tangy homemade French vinaigrette dressing served on crisp endive greens creates a flavorful, nutrient-rich salad.

Even though I found this recipe in a hundred-year-old cook book, it probably was considered a tad old-fashioned in 1916. Cooks a hundred years ago worried that tossed salad greens looked disorganized, and sought to impose order to salads using  scientific salad making techniques that,  for example, embedded ingredients in gelatin. Thank goodness strange food trends get reoriented over time. In 2016, this old recipe seems amazingly modern–and Endive Salad would be perfect with grilled salmon, chicken, or other dishes.

Here’s the hundred-year-old recipe updated for modern cooks:

Old-Time Endive Salad with Homemade French Dressing

  • Servings: 5 - 6
  • Time: 15 minutes active prep
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 head curly endive

1/2 teaspoon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne red pepper

1/2 teaspoon finely minced onion

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Chopped chives (for garnish)

Wash the endive and pat dry with paper towels, then tear the endive into bit-sized pieces and put into a large bowl. Set aside.

To prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the mustard, salt, paprika, red pepper, onion, olive oil, and vinegar.

Pour the dressing over the torn endive and gently toss. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then drain off any excess dressing and place the marinated endive in a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped chives.

Here are the original recipes:

Source: Lowney's Cook Book (1912)
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)

Source: Lowney's Cook Book (1912)

French Dressing apparently was very popular a hundred years ago. Lowney’s Cook Book, a cookbook published in in 1912, had three French Dressing Recipes – none of which are anything like the cloying bright orange bottled dressing that’s in all the supermarkets today. I made French Dressing, Number 2. In my opinion, the original recipe was too salty, so when I updated the recipe, I only used half as much salt as was called for in the old recipe.

Old-Fashioned Spice Cake Recipe

Spice Cake

Can a dessert be a comfort food? If so, Spice Cake is one of my favorite comfort foods.

I found a Spice Cake recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook, and just had to give it a try. It was perfect, and brought back memories of luscious Spice Cakes at long-forgotten family reunions and church pot lucks.

This easy-to-make cake has a perfect spicy blend of  cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Brown sugar is the only sugar used in this recipe, which gives this cake a lovely caramel note.

If I had one complaint about this recipe, it’s that it did not make quite enough batter to use my “go-to” 9-inch X 13-inch oblong cake pan. Instead I used a 9-inch square pan, and that worked well. Hmm. . . now that I think about it, perhaps the smaller cake  is an advantage rather than a negative.  It was just the right size for my husband and me.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Old-Fashioned Spice Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup raisin or chopped dates (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°  F. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan. Combine all ingredients (except for the raisins or dates) into a large mixing bowl. Blend until well blended. If desired, stir in the raisins or dates. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Frost if desired. Good with a maple-flavored frosting.

And, here’s the original hundred-year-old recipe:

Spice Cake Recipe b
Source: Lowney’s Cook Book (1912)