1937, Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, blue cover
Food Historian Annie Grey writes that we began abandoning rich offal dishes not only because we grew squeamish, but WWI and WWII took away our kitchen help. “So when you start to lose a lot of servants during war times, it becomes more difficult. The skill level declines, because people only cook with the ingredients they have access to,” Grey tells us.
Many pre-WWI American cookbooks still assumed households had kitchen help or serving assistance with formal gatherings. By 1930, The National Museum of American History tells us that more than 11 million women were in the workforce. None of these hard working ladies had cooks or maids, and quick, inexpensive, and simple foods were the norm. A GE cooking pamphlet suggested that “cooking with cold” was the new and easy way to eat. “A 1929 advertisement described the process: “chill new flavor and sooth coolness into every course.”
My friend Joanne described her mother’s cooking as, “Food from cans or from magazine spreads on Jello, and meatloaf with bacon and ketchup on top. (We still eat that here.) Every week we had scrambled eggs once for supper. I put mine on the ledge under the table and the cat ate them. We came home for lunch in grade school, and it was always Campbell’s soup and toasted cheese.”
The history writers from this time tell us Jello was the most popular food of the period. The National Museum of American History’s Taylor Foundation Object Project even put together a potluck from recipes published in the many government and industrial cooking pamphlets. They judged the garnishes wonderful, but the flavors didn’t’ always suit today’s palate. But of the notes from many bloggers from the same era, Jello is only mentioned once.
From Ireland Nelly writes, “My mother was an indifferent and unimaginative cook but she did make very good pastry. We ate a lot of bread, potatoes and tinned vegetables. Helpings were small.” John says, “I remember bald boiled potatoes on my plate. I don’t remember much else. Except that her cookbook was from the Red Roses flour company, probably just a Canadian thing.” Most were simple foods. Many were fried, “They almost always involved a good helping of Crisco shortening,” George wrote.
Patti tells us that sometimes the chef was “…my Dad (who) did all the cooking. He took pride in his dishes and most were things I could barely pronounce but everyone loved. Some had a Spanish flavor as he grew up in Key West. My favorite was shredded beef and veggies called Ropa Vieja which translates to “old clothes.” Margaret writes, “My mom cooked family recipes, but mainly for special occasions. (lasagna was traditional) She mostly cooked what we could afford, some meat but mostly casseroles or meatless dishes. None of us like meat that much anyway. At the end of the month when money was running out (dad was a teacher and only paid once a month), we would eat mac and cheese or SOS.”
Sometimes home cooking was site specific. My mother grew up in Milwaukee and when cooking from a recipe used the Milwaukee Settlement House Cookbook. Other family’s ate from the “Joy of Cooking,” “Fannie Farmer,” “Betty Crocker,” or “Better Homes and Garden’s” cookbooks, the best of the era. On the west coast, the Lane Company’s “Sunset Cookbook” and its variations began their rise.
As the 1930’s came to a close, war was on the horizon and post-depression economical soups and stews were on the stove. With just mom doing the housework, washing, ironing, and cooking everything that could be kept simple was. Many meals became ritualized like Margaret’s Lasagna or roast chicken on Sundays. Tools became streamlined. The rounded shapes showing that there were new, forward ways of thinking. A sense of change was in the air.
Cookbooks and cooking:
https://www.kancoll.org/books/perry/ (1920’s Cooking)
https://www.emmymade.com/ (Hard Times Cooking)