The Gallery: Economic, Sanitary, Attractive, Appetizing

Take a moment to read the above advertisement for “Better Butter,” c 1914.

I’m becoming convinced that the terms “Hygienic” and “Sanitary” were the “All-Natural” and “Organic” of the 19teens: buzzwords that not only reflected the culture of a time, but were also important tools for advertising.

In a way, it’s not a surprise.  For decades children had died of swill milk;  germ theory was slowly being accepted by the turn of the century; and, without antibiotics, there was still not a cure for most contagious illnesses.  There was a focus on the best preventative medicine: good hygiene.

An article on the history of Washing DC’s bread factories, Bread For The City: Shaw’s Historic Bakeries, has more to say on the topic:

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, food sanitation had become a nationwide obsession, culminating in Upton Sinclair’s famous The Jungle, about the horrors of the meatpacking industry. Bread-making was also a topic of concern. An article in the New York Times in 1896 excoriated small traditional bakeries in that city (‘The walls and floors are covered with vermin, spiders hang from the rafters, and cats, dogs, and chickens are running around in the refuse…’) and asserted that ‘the cause of this trouble is that small bakeries are owned by ignorant persons. The large bakeries are conducted in an exemplary manner.’

It seems to have been part of a campaign to get people to buy all their bread from large factories. An 1893 article in theEvening Starobserved that ‘Home-made bread is a back number. Machine-made bread takes the cake. The twentieth century bakery is a thing of beauty and the up-to-date baker is a joy forever.’ At the popular Pure Food Show at the Washington Convention Hall in 1909, D.C. bakeries put on a massive exhibit that filled the K Street end of the hall. Visitors could observe machines doing the work in a modern factory setting; dirty human hands never touched the bread. In that same vein, a 1919 advertisement for Dorsch’s in The Washington Times urged consumers to give up their old-fashioned reliance on the corner store: ‘Why buy bread at the grocer’s, fresh for each meal, when it is possible to get goodwholesome, and fresh bread that tastes as good at the last bite as it did when you first cut into the warm loaf?'”

The shift from stuff made at home = bad and stuff from a factory = economic, sanitary, attractive, appetizing is interesting to think about.  I understand why it happened: to be able to buy a gallon of milk, a pat of butter, or a loaf of bread in the grocery store that is clean and consistent is a beautiful thing.  But, I think society’s shift back to a love of the homemade has provided a much needed balance.

The Gallery: For Cholera. For Dysentery.

These pages come from a handwritten, leather bound journal that was given to me for Christmas.  It belonged to a friend’s grandmother; the inside cover is signed “Annie S. Bush” and “Warren Koons.”  According to my friend, Warren is a relation of her grandmother, and Annie Bush was Warren’s first wife.  She was born June 20, 1854 and died Sept 1, 1883.  I suspect Warren picked up the book after his wife died (her signature appears to be written earlier) and wrote in it until his untimely death in 1910.  Warren and his second wife were brutally murdered by their son-in-law: read the New York Times article here.

In addition to home remedies like these, the book is full of beer and wine recipes; baked good reciepts from Annie; and a study of wild mushrooms.  I’ll be sharing more pages over the next week.

The Gallery: The Idea Was to Live in the Past.

Brooklyn Sanitary Fair 1864: The New England Kitchen.

My mom was in town over the weekend, and being the history nerd duo that we are, we decided to go see “Healing the Wounds of War: The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair of 1864” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  I know a “Sanitary Fair” doesn’t sound like much fun, but apparently it was in the 19th Century.  From the BMA website:

“During the Civil War, sanitary fairs were held to raise money for the war effort in major cities in the Northeast. These large-scale fairs were social events that combined entertainment, education, and philanthropy…The money was used for clothing, food, medical supplies, and other provisions for the Union Army.”

There were arts and crafts for sale, “curiosities” on display, and opportunities to flirt.  But my favorite? “The New England Kitchen.”

“The idea is to present a faithful picture of New England farm house life of the last century. The grand, old fire place shall glow again; the spinning wheel shall whirl as of old; the walls shall be garnished with the products of the forest; and the dinner table, always set, shall be loaded with substantial New England cheer.  We shall try to reproduce the manners, customs, dress, and if possible, the idiom of the time…The period fixed upon is just prior to the throwing overboard of the tea in Boston Harbor.

The idea was to live in the Past, and the Present was ignominiously banished.”  From History of the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair

The Kitchen was a Civil War reenactment of Revolutionary War era foodways.  It was 1864 reenacting 1776.

Awesome. I love this. Love. It.

I really want to reenact the 186o’s  reenacting 1770’s.  I just have to figure out how.

The Gallery: Big Cheese in the White House

“Big Cheese in the White House: Admirers of the President Andrew Jackson presented him with a 1,400-pound wheel of cheese shortly before he left the White House in 1837.  Jackson invited members of the public to eat the cheese; it was disposed of within two hours.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Andrew F. Smith (Editor).

Menus: Roast Bear for Charles Dickens

I recently spent some time rifling through the New York Public Library’s extensive menu collection, and I came across this gem from 1842:

Some of the dishes served included: Larded Sweet Breads and Larded Fillet Beef; Plum Puddings, blazing; and, my favorite, Roast Bear. I think the hosts tried to American things up for Charlie D: “Look at us! We’re so wild in the States! We’re eating a bear!” I hope Mr. Dickens had a good time.

I think this menu has planted the seed of an idea for a future dinner party.

The Gallery: Eating What the Presidents Ate

Left: Wine Jelly.
Recently, I’ve been reading The First Ladies Cookbook: Favorite Dishes of all the Presidents of the United States. It was printed sometime around 1976, in the history-loving fervor surrounding our bicentennial. I’m always a little suspicious of historic books printed in this era, as the research often seems a tad sketchy. But TFLC (as it shall hereby be known) seems fairly trustworthy, and has footnoted its references. I always appreciate a good footnote.

I learned a few interesting facts after glancing over the introduction, “Notes on Early American Cookery.” It speaks of the early housewife, who regulated “…the temperature (of) the Dutch oven so that she would not have a ‘sad cake…'” Meaning: a cake that was baked unevenly, so that it was tragically lopsided and irrevocable burnt. A sad cake! Aw.

I also discovered a thing or two about Gelatin: “Gelatin was made from calves’ feet, or from a product called isinglass, taken from the swim bladders of fishes…In the elaborate molded desserts they gave a meaty or fishy flavor to the pudding.” Jee-sus.

Additionally, I found out Thomas Jefferson was not only quite the gourmand, but also a consummate host. I’ve added this new knowledge to my list of reasons to love Jefferson–in fact, thinking of him makes my heart flutter.

Being a widower, Jefferson would occasionally call upon the aid Mrs. Dolley Madison, the wife of his secretary of state. She seems like she was a real firecracker–she saved all those paintings and popularized ice cream!

A guest at one of Jefferson’s dinner parties recounts his first experience with Macaroni:

“…A pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed in them.”

What was this strong liquor? I need to seek out a recipe contemporary to this account; I’ve become very curious about the evolution of macaroni and cheese in America. After all, “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.”
One of Jefferson’s favorite recipes was Wine Jelly, which is exactly what it sounds like: booze-flavored Jell-o. I think I’m going to try out the recipe, although I will probably use unflavored gelatin for simplicity’s sake, instead of extracting isinglass from the swim bladders of fishes.
Right: Turban of Chicken.
Below: “Sausage Rolls.”
Other presidential favorites: Martin Van Buren loved Huguenot Cake, an apple torte I’ve been jonesing to bake. Grover Cleveland was fond of “Turban of Chicken, Cleveland style,” a molded pate-style ring made from mushrooms and mushed chicken pieces. And Benjamin Harrison’s favorite dish? Pigs in a blanket. Who can blame him?