#Foodie Friday: Women, Food & the Jazz Age

By: Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator

Photo: Library of Congress

There’s been a whole lot of jazz about the Jazz Age lately. With all the buzz over the recent release of The Great Gatsby, it seems that this high-rollin’, party loving, decadent era in our nation’s past has officially been resurrected! So we decided to join the celebration and focus this week’s Foodie Friday post on what women were cooking, eating and serving their families in the roaring 20s.

General Electric "Monitor-Top" refrigerator, introduced in 1927

Modern American consumer culture arose on the backdrop of the late 19th century, a time in which America experienced rapid urbanization and industrialization, which was making fundamental shifts in cultural attitudes towards women. With the advent of early modern kitchen technologies like refrigerators, which started popping up in some middle-class households as early as the early 20s, the conventional methods that women used to prepare food for their families became a thing of the past. In 1923, the cheapest refrigerator on the market cost about $450. At this time approximately 80 percent of American families lived on an annual income of less than $2,000. With new mass production methods that had arrived by the later portion of the 1920s, the cost of refrigerators had reduced significantly. By 1929, Americans were buying more than 800,000 refrigerators a year.

Whereas cooking and preparing meals had been a time-consuming and tedious task in previous decades, the 1920s witnessed a move towards simpler meals that were also comparatively quicker to prepare. Many middle class housewives who did their own grocery shopping and cooking relied on easy-to-prepare dishes and used newly available packaged and commercially processed foods. Molded salads were a favorite during the twenties.Vegetable salads (made by mixing gelatin with mayonnaise, carrots, peas and celery), was all the rage as well.

Molded Salad Ingredients:

Canned Pineapple

Other desired fruits

Jell-O Gelatin (introduced in 1897)

Here are just a handful of the canned foods and other processed foods that began to spring up in the 1920s:

Other kitchen technologies that became more popular during this era also helped to reshape the way women cooked for their families. Gas and (to a lesser extend) electric stoves largely came to replace wood and coal burning stoves and by the 1930s approximately half of all American homes had gas stoves.

Many interesting cookbooks and food ads targeted at women were popular during this time as well. Many lady’s magazines like “Ladies Home Journal” featured ads and recipes that were easy to make. During the early 1900s and into the 1920s, “suffrage cookbooks” became a popular trend. The cookbooks merged pots and politics to further the suffrage cause and attract more supporters. They also served as a way to abate the fear in the minds of some men that voting women would abandon their domestic lives.  In late 1908, the Washington Equal Suffrage Association published the Washington Women’s Cook Book.

Clam Fritters

Clean a half dozen large clams, remove heads, chop fine, add one beaten egg to a tablespoon of milk and a little flour. Season with salt and pepper, then fry in a skillet in form of pancakes.

Grapenuts Soup

Half cup grapenuts put to soak in pint of rich cold milk. Heat very slowly to avoid curdling; almost to boiling point. When thoroughly softened, strain and add pinch of salt.

Cream Potato Soup

For six persons. Put in a double boiler one quart milk, add two medium sized potatoes already cooked well done in one pint of water, also a small onion fried light brown in two level tablespoons of butters, salt and pepper. Thicken if desired with one teaspoon flour stirred smooth in cold water. Let come to boiling point.

Don’t forget to tune in for next week’s #Foodie Friday.





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