Fast food? No such thing in 1930s


In historical terms, I had never really thought about how young our country was in the 1930s. The United States Regional Cook Book, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, copyright 1939, made me realize this simply by the index of the book.

Broken down in sections for the Scandinavian part of the country, the Wisconsin Dutch and the Michigan Dutch, I saw titles for recipes I had long ago forgotten hearing about from my great aunts and great uncles, such as ‘stollen’ and ‘kalf tong’ and others which were clearly derivative of the immigrant-settlement territories, and nearly all were rooted in family farm living.


Heritage played a part in the southern section, where this entry caught my interest: “Much as the South may disagree on fried chicken and eggnogs everybody insists on three things; biscuits must be buttered and eaten while piping hot. The corn meal must be white and the corn bread must be unsweetened.” It is followed by a recipe for Possum and Sweet Taters.

Also in that same section of this very old book we find Mammy’s Sour Milk Biscuits along with Beaten Biscuits, which instructs that an old tree stump and a hatchet or flat iron helped these biscuits achieve perfection, explaining “the traditional way to beat biscuits was on a tree stump, using a hatchet or a flat iron. Many homemakers still have wooden blocks called biscuit blocks used to beat the dough.”

The Kentucky section of the recipe book offers Kentucky Burgoo, a recipe which makes 1,200 gallons, and is listed as a celebrated stew which is served in Kentucky on derby day, at political rallies, horse sales and other outdoor events.

Originally hand-written by J.T. Looney, he was well-known as the man to contact to prepare Burgoo for large gatherings. Clearly a very different time, the book describes, “It is a very picturesque sight to see Mr. Looney, aided by many negro assistants, preparing this dish over open fires in huge kettles which are kept simmering all night.”


The recipe, which called for 200 pounds fat hens, 2,000 pounds potatoes and 5 bushels cabbage, was to be mixed a little at a time and cooked outdoors in huge iron kettles from 15 to 20 hours. “Use squirrels in season — one dozen squirrels to each 100 gallons.”

“Burgoo is literally a soup composed of many vegetables and meats delectably fused together in an enormous caldron, over which, at the exact moment, a rabbit’s foot at the end of a yard string is properly waved by a colored preacher whose salary has been paid to date. These are good omens which fortify the burgoo.”

This colorful description is said to be from Carey’s Dictionary of Double Derivations.


Under the New England section of this old cook book, I found Rinktum Ditty, listed under delicious egg and cheese dishes, which is made with 1 tablespoon butter, one small onion, chopped fine, 2 cups cooked tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, a little pepper, 2 teaspoons sugar, one-half pound grated cheese, and one egg beaten. It is to be served on buttered toast on Good Friday.

Under Michigan Dutch, I have a feeling certain recipes were those used on butchering day for such things as Kalf Tong and Overgebleven Vleesch which was a dish using ‘leftover meat’ to which mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables are to be layered in a cooking pan.

Creole coffee, served black and strong, is best served with crisp anchovy canapes, according to the Creole section of this colorful book. The Mississippi Valley section lists rich recipes for plenty of wild poultry and game as well as such things as braised celery and squaw corn. The Wisconsin Dutch offers instructions for Stollen and Schnecken.

An entire section of Scandanavian is interesting in its implementation of heavy cream and hand-turned fresh butter in fancier desserts and coffee cakes under the names of such things as Krans and Krumkaker, a rolled wafer.

Fast food

These were the days in which every meal was made from scratch and enjoyed heartily as a family. Fast food was a totally foreign concept. For my father’s family, ‘fast’ was bread and milk with sugar sprinkled on top, a staple that he turned to many times when he simply wanted a quick bite between chores.

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  1. I am 55, and have had the pleasure of growing up with a grandma who cooked everything from scratch, and a mother who tried hard to desperately feed a family of 5 on a teacher’s salary. Yes, some nights we had “rice in a bowl” – Minute Rice cooked, spooned over a pat of butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and milk poured over. I never ate “real” rice until I went to college in NYC.
    I had to smile about the squirrels. A past boyfriend, who comes from a hunting family (coal mining area), had a mother who would cook anything except squirrel. She’ called them “rats with bushy tails”. Squirrel is, when prepared correctly, quite tasty.


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