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1920s cooking

I’ve started off the new year with a resolution to cook through the past century; 1920s-2010’s. Food history has always fascinated me and looking through old cookbooks is such a thrill to me. 

I also discovered a few fun facts on my own. A few that stand out are about wine and Chinese food. Of course, the 1920s was during prohibition. Despite this, recipes with wine or liquor remained popular with American palates. This is when rum flavor extracts became popular. As for wine, they started to add a significant amount of salt to their wine sold for cooking to keep people from drinking it! And guess what? The cooking wine you can buy in the vinegar section at the grocery store…it still has a large amount of salt! I found this out when I over-salted one of the following recipes because I didn’t realize the cheap cooking wine I used had the second ingredient of salt! Ick.  I wish I could remember the link to the article I read, but here is a different good one to here.

In the 1920s, Chinese food was really gaining popularity. Both as a fine dining experience, or a cheap but filling meal in a small restaurant. In the big cities, hipsters were trying to recreate “authentic Chinese” dishes like Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yung. I’m just kidding about authentic. I learned that these dishes are purely American made by Chinese Americans using available ingredients in the U.S. at the time and catering to American tastes. I also learned why there was an explosion of Chinese restaurants around this time. Laws came into effect that basically stated that people from China were not allowed to immigrate to or stay in the United States UNLESS they were opening a restaurant. So….Chinese restaurants! Read this fascinating article about it. 

The recipes I made this week were cheap, filling, and used many of the same ingredients. Like celery! I think for the first time, I actually used a whole head of celery in a week. Also, ham, onions, jarred pimentos. Funny thing about pimentos. Evidently, they’re not as easy to find in 2019 Denver. At my usual store for grocery, they did not have pimentos. I considered roasted red peppers but thought it was worth a trip somewhere else for the sake of authenticity. I went to the Wal-Mart by my house thinking it was a sure thing. No pimentos. So I bought a jar of roasted red peppers. It was a little annoying. So I’m walking out, and just when I was thinking that my Wal-Mart thinks it’s better than everyone, my bag breaks. My jar of roasted red peppers broke and splattered on the floor. One of the workers comes and reassures me right away and asks if I would like to go get a new jar. Humbled. Thank you, Wal-Mart. $3.75 for a jar of peppers is a lot of money for the 1920s!

So, this week I made:

Ham and Bean soup with homemade biscuits

Chicken a la King

Egg Foo Young

Ham and Bean Soup

This soup is good and cheap. My understanding is that you could find a variation of ham and bean soup in most area of the country in the 1920s. I couldn’t find a ham bone from a company with integrity in how they raise their pigs. I had to use only a ham I found that was Niman Ranch. A ham bone would add a huge depth though if you use it. I also used dried black-eyed peas. Cook dried beans in the crockpot with enough water to cover them. Do 2 hours on high and then 2 hours on low. Then drain them and use like canned beans. Cheaper and better texture. In the recipe below I just put canned beans because I know most likely you all aren’t cooking dried beans in your crockpot. I usually don’t either.

  • 1 ham bone
  • Oil (I used avocado)
  • 1 lb. thick cut ham
  • 2 onions
  • 2 quarts vegetable broth
  • 2 cans black-eyed peas or any kind of white bean like Great Northern
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat a large soup pot on medium-low. Add about 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan.
  2. Add the chopped onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium for about 4 minutes.
  3. If using the ham bone, add that to the pot and pour in the vegetable broth. Turn the heat down to a little above low and simmer for as long as you have time for 30 min? 1 hour?
  4. Add the beans and the ham and bay leaf. Simmer on medium-low for about 30 more minutes.

Serve with homemade biscuits. (recipe below) This soup could definitely be cooked in the crock pot ( but not in the 1920s). If you’re not playing pretend, just do it in there. Add all the ingredients, turn it on low, go to work.

Homemade Easy Biscuits

Ok, so this was the first time I had ever made biscuits. I’ve always been one of those people who say “I cook but I don’t bake”. However, I have to admit, whenever I do bake I feel really happy about it. And there is something about making a homemade bread item to go with soup that makes me much more excited about the meal. So I googled something like “1920s easy homemade biscuits”. I honestly can’t find the recipe I used but since I’m not really a baker, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. And my biscuits were crumbly and not flaky. So I googled “why are my biscuits crumbly” and I learned that my butter wasn’t cold enough. I’ve found this new recipe that stresses the importance of cold butter. It even has you grating frozen butter into the mixture. I also learned in my googling that even distribution of the fat is what gets you those flaky layers too. I posted the recipe below but you can go here to find the original recipe and article on delish.com.

  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, very cold, plus more for brushing
  • 1 c. cold buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 425º. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  2. Using a box grater, grate butter over the flour mixture and quickly toss with your hands to incorporate. Then, using a wooden spoon, make a well in the middle of the dough and pour in 1 cup buttermilk. Stir until just beginning to come together, then dump out onto your work surface.
  3. Bring your dough together into a rectangle, about 1” thick. Fold the dough into thirds, like folding a letter to put into an envelope. Using a rolling pin, gently pat back into a 1” thick rectangle, and repeat the folding process two more times. Work fast so the butter does not melt.
  4. Once the dough is folded three times, roll into a 1” thick rectangle again. Using a 2½” round biscuit or cookie cutter, quickly press down (don’t twist!) to cut out the biscuits and place onto baking sheet, about a half inch apart. Bring together dough scraps and cut out more biscuits.
  5. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter and bake until flaky and tops are lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Chicken a la King

YUM! This was so good. Even though it was too salty because of the cooking wine and the biscuits crumbly. It was still SO GOOD!

  • Chicken thighs- cut into large chunks
  • Mushrooms- thick sliced
  • 1/2 jar pimentos
  • 3 stalks celery- sliced
  • 1 onion- diced
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth- save the rest for another recipe
  • 2 tablespoons flour (use cornstarch if you don’t have flour)
  • Oil for cooking
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper- a bay leaf if you have one
  • curly or Italian parsley- chopped for garnish
  1. Heat a little oil in a large fry pan. Salt and pepper the chicken, add to the pan once it’s hot.
  2. Cook the chicken over medium-high heat and don’t stir too much. You want it to brown. After about 6 minutes, remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Your pan will have brown stuff on it called “frond” from the chicken. Over medium heat, add the sherry and scrape up all the brown stuff on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the butter and all the veggies (mushrooms, pimentos, celery, onion, bay leaf if you’re using it). Cook until quite soft.
  5. In the meantime- cook the biscuit according to package instructions.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low. Mix together your chicken broth and flour, mix very well.
  7. Add the chicken broth-flour mixture to the pan with the veggies. Turn heat to medium if necessary. Stir well. You want it to bubble for 1 minute in order to get the flour taste out and to thicken.
  8. Add the heavy cream. And reduce to medium-low. Add the chicken back to the pan. Cook for about another 5 minutes. Taste to see if it needs salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the chicken a la king over biscuits. Like biscuits and gravy. Most recipes will tell you to serve it over rice or potatoes. I used biscuits because it sounded really good and if this was 1929 (or 2019), I wouldn’t let them go to waste.

What the pan looks like after the chicken and before the vegetables. Frond (flavor).

Egg Foo Young

Yummy again. It was a stir-fry omelet with soy sauce gravy. So yum. I imagined the hipsters of the 1920s trying out this “adventurous” dish at home.

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 oz. ham
  • 2 teaspoons high heat cooking oil- (I like avocado)
  • ½ cup bean sprouts- canned or fresh
  • ½ cup water chestnuts- sliced
  • ½ cup bamboo shoots- sliced in half
  • ½ cup green onions- plus more for garnishing
  • 2 tablespoons pimentos- or 1 whole roasted red pepper- chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 cup white rice- (I like Jasmine)
  • ½ cup oyster sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce + more for stir frying veggies
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic- I often use the jarred kind
  • 1 teaspoon ginger- I used the jarred, you can use 1 inch chopped fresh ginger or just use the powder which is what they probably would have done in the average American kitchen.
  • ½ cup chicken broth- or water will work too
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional, but it makes it WAY good. Use fresh ground if you can)
  1. Cook the rice according to package instructions. What works best for me is add double the water as rice, (2 cups in this case), rice and heat uncovered on high. As soon as it boils, cover and turn off. After about 7 minutes, turn the burner to low and cook another 10-13 minutes. Fluff with a fork and cover again with the heat off until you’re ready to eat.
  2. Heat a large wok or fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the 2 teaspoons high heat cooking oil.
  3. Add the ham, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, green onions, and pimentos. Stir-fry for about 5-7 minutes. Stirring often. Add a few shakes of soy sauce.
  4.  Add the 1 teaspoons of sesame oil to the pan with the ham and veggies. Then add the egg mixture. Let it cook over medium heat, push in the edges from time to time for a few minutes. Cover with a lid for about 5 minutes, then check. The eggs should still look a little wet, but mostly cooked through.
  5. While the egg is cooking, make the brown gravy. Mix together the broth ( or water if using), oyster sauce, soy sauce, sherry, and cornstarch.
  6. Add the above to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring frequently. You want it to boil for one minute to get the corn starch taste out and to thicken to a gravy consistency.  Season with white pepper.
brown gravy ingredients
gravy before bubbling and thickening

finished gravy

Serve your Egg Foo Young with the rice, and brown gravy with green onions to garnish.

What I loved and learned about 1920s recipes is they were delicious and cheap, and many used combos of similar ingredients. So for instance, you would use your whole jar of pimentos, the entire head of celery (head?), or all of the onions from the bag. Here is another article of 1920s recipes. Doesn’t the recipe for the Prosperity Sandwich look delicious?

ps- bonus recipe! It’s not the 1920s without pimento cheese on celery! my grandma always had a jar of Kraft pimento cheese in her fridge. That was really the only snack available besides saltine crackers. This homemade one is barely even homemade but really good in a pinch.

  • 1/2 cup shredded white American cheese- I used Velveeta Shreds “mozzarella style”. LOL. This is more authentic than you think. “American” cheese was gaining popularity in the 1920s.
  • 1/2 container cream cheese- I have no idea if cream cheese was around then. Probably?
  • one small jar pimentos
  • a dash worcestershire
  • celery
  1.  Mix all together.
  2. Spread on celery.

1 thought on “1920s cooking”

  1. I wish you had a Fareway. They still sell pimento, but you actually get more for your money by using roasted red pepper. A little trick to make the unused portion last longer in the refrigerator- put a tsp of vinegar on top of the peppers in the jar.
    Fareway also sells ham shank which make great soup economically. I have them split the ham shank bone which helps the niutrients and flavor come out during cooking. I use my pressure cooker to cook beans faster, but asking them overnight speeds up cooking, also.

    Like

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