Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cookin' it old school!

The title says it all-- we are cookin' it old school. Really old school...

This is Experiences in Homemaking by Helen  H. Laitem and Frances S. Miller, a 1944 home ec textbook. It's a general textbook rather than a cooking-focused one, so readers can also enjoy chapters with discussion topics such as "How can I help my younger brothers and sisters to develop socially?" (Hint: The answer is not "Encourage social interaction with a well-placed 'Kick Me' sign," even though I really hoped it might be.) or "How shall I care for my clothes?" (Hint: The answer is not "Step over the pile rather than on it.")

The world of this book is a little ... shall we say... uptight.

It's also kind of depressing. In fact, the sections on food selection and preparation seem to have waaay more pictures of the terrible things that will happen to rodents if they are deprived of various vitamins and minerals than actual recipes.

Even the included recipes come with their own warnings:

Yes, it's a pretty plain French toast recipe (with no flavoring beyond the eighth of a teaspoon of salt), but it is still dangerous.

No, not because of the saturated fat in eggs or (presumably whole) milk, but because "It fails to give variety in texture to our breakfast, and it does not give exercise to the muscles around the teeth. For these reasons French toast is best served only occasionally."

I had no idea I was supposed to choose breakfast foods not only for nutritional value, but also to exercise my tooth muscles... whatever that may mean.

The book also encourages exciting kitchen maintenance tasks... washing the inside of the refrigerator once a week. Oh, what fun! Apparently it needs to be fully emptied and refilled for this task too, which I'm sure is great for food safety. Leave the eggs on the counter for half a hot summer afternoon while you smear bacteria around the fridge interior!

I guess the alternative explanation is that her family could only afford a fridge OR food, so she went with the fridge and now reverently washes it every week, fantasizing about the day when she will actually be able to put something in it. 

Either way, if I were a student in the '40s, this is the kind of picture that would make me want to turn in my bellybutton, as mom used to say as an alternative to swearing at the end of a rough day.

Luckily, I found a picture that made present-day me cheer just a little, then check to make sure there was no one to overhear me cheering for an old textbook:

Yeah! Salads! A platter heaped up with all of the most popular old-timey salad variations imaginable! Cubed gelatin thingies! A ring of something filled with peas!  Deviled eggs! Celery! That's what I came here for!

Unfortunately, though, the book is just a tease. While it's perfectly happy to show me these dubious delights, the recipes are nowhere to be found. I will leave you with this sad little salad recipe, just a page after this picture but not, as far as I can tell, among those on the platter:

I know Cabbage-Pineapple Salad is inexplicably common in these old cookbooks, but I always cringe a little extra when it involves marshmallows.

I can just hear the girls who learned from this textbook presenting this dish to their whining future children, yelling, "Eat! Vitamin-C-deprived guinea pigs would be happy to have it!" They could show off the pictures of guinea pigs with scurvy if they wanted the night to get really ugly. 


  1. I always wondered about those people who told me that I had an easier time in school because older siblings protect their younger siblings. They obviously never met my family.

    1. People do tend to romanticize families. We certainly don't fall into that category!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.