Cooking, Then and Now

Do you like to cook? Whether you do or not, I’m sure you enjoyed someone else’s cooking during this holiday season. Food is a big deal for my family. As the chief cook, I’ve spent quite a bit of time of time in the kitchen during the last two weeks. In addition to the tried and true recipes my family members expect, I like to unveil at least one new dish.

This year my search for cookie recipes led me to an ancient resource. As I scanned the books on my shelf, I came across Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, published in 1950 by General Mills. This family heirloom, handed down from my mom, describes American family life during that decade.

Betty Crocker dedicates her cookbook, “to homemakers everywhere who like to minister to their dear ones by serving them good food. Cooking for your family is the age-old way to express love and concern for their welfare.”

Most women of the 1950’s were not employed outside the home. Their days were spent cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. The book contains tips on how to keep your husband happy. For instance, “The clever wife has a simple appetizing cocktail (cold in summer, hot in winter) ready for her weary husband when he comes home from work.” By the way, all of the drinks listed are non-alcoholic. I never knew there were so many ways to jazz up tomato juice.

The book gives pointers on meal planning and purchasing quality food. The appearance of the meal when served is important. Cooks should add “finishing touches” in the form of garnishes. Dinner was an event, that demanded proper dress and manners. This was the same time period as the Leave it to Beaver TV show, when Ward, the dad, wore a suit around the house. June, the mom, always wore a dress, pearls, and high heels.

Quite a contrast to today’s culture where meals consist of pre-prepared foods hastily gobbled down in front of the TV. (Microwaves were not invented yet.) Does your family sit in the dining room for dinner? Recently I’ve noticed many people are no longer doing their own grocery shopping. They order food online and pay a professional shopper to gather it and have it ready for pick up.

My favorite part of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book are the snippets of food history included. At the time of publication, appetizers were new to American cuisine. According to Betty, the custom of appetizers began in ancient Rome. People munched on chicory, endive, or celery to excite hunger. Later the Europeans elaborated on the custom, by advancing to caviar and anti-pasta. By 1950, Americans were becoming more cosmopolitan and refined. The hostess who served appetizers was considered chic because the activity of moving around in the living room before a meal put guests at ease.

Although I didn’t actually prepare anything from my historic cookbook this holiday season, it was a great conversation piece. A lot has changed about American kitchens over the past seventy years but people are still eating and enjoying food!

Have your culinary methods of cooking and serving food changed over the years? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Bon Appetite!