Preparing meals back in the old days

Once upon a time — all children’s stories began this way, in our childhood times my sister always labeled “in older days” — there were no McDonald’s, no Wendy’s, no Taco Bells or Burger Kings or even pizzas.

Hard to believe, isn’t it, in these times of some kind of restaurant on every corner and in between.

Old days

Those were the days when homemakers prepared breakfasts, lunches, after-school treats dubbed tea times, and dinners or suppers, whichever you preferred to call the evening meal. No matter what you were doing and where you were in late afternoon, you were at the table at six o’clock with your hands washed and starving to death, of course.

If you didn’t like what was being served, tough. You had to eat at least one bite. You didn’t believe what you were told — that one day you’d like that particular dish — and as an adult you often thought of that as you chowed down something you gagged over as a child.

All of which brings us to The Art of Cooking and Serving by Sarah Field Splint, containing “549 Tested Recipes” and published by Procter and Gamble in 1927. Just about every recipe calls for Crisco, which is logical since Crisco was, and still is, manufactured by Procter and Gamble.

This “once upon a time” column is not about the recipes. It is about a time when homemakers needed to know about “Table Service in the Servantless Home,” or “What to Serve and How to Serve It.” The publishers desired “that this book be a rounded-out cooking guide of the greatest possible value to the average homemaker.”

Breakfast

Take a look at breakfast: “It is the meal that starts the day, right or wrong, for each member of the family. You, the homemaker, must manage to have the table looking pretty, wear your most serene manner and serve food that looks absolutely irresistible. You will use a small breakfast cloth or a runner or placemats which may be all white or embroidered or in gay colors. Napkins are small, matching the color of the cloth or runner.

“For breakfast in the house without a maid, you will put the fruit course on the table before the family assembles so as to save yourself as many steps as possible after the meal has begun.”

Does any of this sound even slightly familiar to the current or even past generation? Today’s breakfasts are harried affairs with boxed cereals, milk in cartons on the table — you know the scene — or you stop at the nearest McDonald’s on the way. No serene manners are evident!

Luncheon

Now to luncheon — not lunch. “There is no happier way of entertaining one’s women friends than at a luncheon. Men, as a rule, are not devotees of this pleasant indoor sport. Naturally, if one has no maid, one does not attempt a luncheon on a very large scale. But let us suppose the worst: no “accommodator” is available and your one person must perform in the triple role of cook-waitress-hostess. Use a luncheon cloth or runners or placemats. (A large white damask cloth is suitable only for dinner.) Never candles at luncheons, only at dinners.”

Dinner

There is much more, of course, but we must still have dinner, after grabbing a pizza for luncheon.

“The family dinner should be the clearing house for the best of day’s experiences of each member of the family. Dinner should be a relaxing meal, an end of the day affair to which each person contributes his most cheerful and amusing yarns. On no account must it be the place where the day’s troubles and disappointments are unloaded.”

There is so very much more that this column could go on forever. But one more thing: Toward the end, there are menus for “Company Dinner with a Maid” and “Company Dinner Without a Maid” and “Picnics for A Motor Lunch.”

Haven’t we come a long way — or have we?

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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