For those who aren’t food historians, what food to bring to a Gatsby Garden Party might have you concerned. For your reading enjoyment, I present more information than you could possibly desire.

And, the couples’ night is April 25th…

1920s America was an fascinating time for food. When else would it be possible to juxtapose Prohibition (popular no alcohol sentiment co-existing with underground speakeasies), exotic culinary experimentation (Chinese food was popular), opulent wealth (Delmonicos & 21), extreme poverty (tenement kitchens), social nutrition movements (home economics & Ladies Aid Organizations) and vegetarian alternatives (Dr. George Washington Carver was creating recipes for mock chicken made from peanuts).

What effect did Prohibition on American the food and dining habits in the 1920’s?

“When Prohibition went into effect in America on January 16, 1920, it did more than stop the legal sale of alcoholic beverages in our country…[it] increased the production of soft drinks, put hundreds of restaurants and hotels out of business, spurred the growth of tea rooms and cafeterias, and destroyed the last vestiges of fine dining in the United States…Hotels tried to reclaim some of their lost wine and spirit profits by selling candy and soda pop The fruit cocktail cup, often garnished with marshmallows or sprinkled with powdered sugar, took the place of oysters on the half shell with champagne and a dinner party opener….The American wine industry, unable to sell its wines legally, quickly turned its vineyards over to juice grapes. But only a small portion of the juice from the grapes was marketed as juice. Most of it was sold for home-brewed wine. Needless to say, this home brew was not usually a sophisticated viniferous product, but sales of the juice kept many of the vineyards in profits throughout Prohibition. Prohibition also brought about cooking wines and artificially flavored brandy, sherry, and rum extracts. Housewives were advised to omit salt when using cooking wines, as the wines themselves had been salted to make them undrinkable…Some cooks gave up on alcoholic touches, real or faux, altogether…The bad alcohol, the closing of fine restaurants, the sweet foods and drinks that took alcohol’s place, the artificial flavors that were used to simulated alcohol, all these things could not help but have a deleterious effect on the American palate.”
Fashionable Foods: Seven Decades of Food Fads, Sylvia Lovgren [MacMillan:New York] 1995 (p. 29-30)

“Prohibition, with its tremendous impact on the eating habits of the country, also had a great deal to do with the introduction of Italian food to the masses. Mary Grosvenor Ellsworth, in Much Depends upon Dinner, (1939), said this about Prohibition and pasta: “We cooked them [pastas] too much, we desecrated them with further additions of flour, we smothered them in baking dishes and store cheese. Prohibition changed all that. The Italians who opened up speakeasies by the thousand were our main recourse in time of trial. Whole hoards of Americans thus got exposed regularly and often to Italian food and got a taste for it. Now we know from experience that properly treated, the past is no insipid potato substitute. The food served in the speakeasies–with Mama doing the cooking and Papa making the wine in the basement–was not quite the same as the food the Italians had eaten in the Old Country. Sicilian cooking was based on austerity…But America was rich, and protein rich country, and the immigrants were happy to add these symbols of wealth to their cooking–and happy that their new American customers liked the result. Meatballs, rich meat sauces, veal cutlets cooked with Parmesan or with lemon, clams ctuffed with buttered herbed crumbs, shrimp with wine and garlic, and mozzarella in huge chunks to be eaten as appetizer were all foods of abundance, developed by Italian-Americans…”
Fashionable Foods (p. 37-8)

Home cooking & family entertaining
What did average Americans eat in the 1920s? Food historians tell us we had a sweet tooth, a taste for the exotic, and a well-developed sense of ordered creativity. Translation? Fruit cocktails, Pineapple upside-down cake and Jell-O molds. Tea sandwiches, fancy salads, and chafing-dish recipes were also “in.” City kitchens were wired with electricity meaning foods could be safely refrigerated at home. General Electric (and other companies) published cooking brochures touting frozen foods and safe meat storage.

Conversely? Modern vegetarianism also began the 1920s. Peanuts were promoted as healthy protein alternatives to animal meat. Raw foods were likewise promoted. Ladies Aid Societies and Domestic Scientists worked hard to introduce balanced, nutritional meals to poor, laboring people and help newly arrived immigrants adjust to American markets.

Need recipes & menus?
Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book [1918] is available full-text on the Web.

Party refreshments may be served buffet style as described for formal afternoon tea. In this case, the menus described for club refreshments may be used. If, however, the party is of such nature as to call for the formal service of a late evening supper, the guests seated at the table, or served buffet style, menus of the following type may be used.

Menus for Party Suppers
Hot or Jellied Consomme Bread Sticks
Chicken a la King
Cream Cheese Sandwiches Brown Bread Sandwiches
Olives Salted Nuts Candied Ginger
Nuts and Date Salad Mayonnaise
Strawberry Bavarian Cream Little Pound Cakes Russian Wafers
Coffee

Chicken Broth Whipped Cream Rolls
Crabmeat Croquettes Peas Brown Bread-and-Butter Sandwiches
Jellied Tomato and Pimiento Salad Olives Celery Hearts
Nesselrode Pudding Macaroons
Coffee

Fruit Cocktail or Strawberries in Halves of Melons
Jellied Tongue Harlequin Salad
Buttered Baking-Powder Biscuits
Olives Salted Nuts
Biscuit Tortoni Angel Cake Squares Bonbons
Iced Coffee” (p. 883-4)

New American food introductions:
[1920] Boysenberries, La Choy Food Products, Baby Ruth & Oh Henry! candy bars,
[1921} Land O’Lakes (brand butter), Betty Crocker (General Mills), Eskimo Pie (ice cream novelty), Chuckles (fruit jelly candies), White Castle (fast food chain), Bickford’s Cafeteria (family food chain), Lindy’s (NYC restaurant famous for cheesecake), Sardis (NYC restaurant of the stars)
[1922] Clapp’s Vegetable Soup (first commercially prepared U.S. baby food), Pep (breakfast cereal), Mounds & Charleston Chew (candy bars)
[1923] Pet Milk (canned product), Macoun apples, Welche’s grape jelly, Popsicles, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, Sanka Coffee
[1924] Caesar Salad, Wheaties (breakfast cereal), Bit-O-Honey (candy bars), fruit-flavored Life Savers, Beech-Nut Coffee, Stouffer’s restaurants (NYC)
[1925] Mr. Goodbar (candy bar)
[1926] Good Humor (ice cream novelties), Safeway & IGA (supermarket chains), Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham, Liederkranz cheese, Milk Duds (candy)
[1927] Lender’s (bagels), Gerber’s (baby food), Pez (breath mint/candies), Mike & Ike (coated fruit-gel candies), Kool-Aid (powdered drink mix), homogonized milk, Marriott’s Hot Shoppes (chain restaurant)
[1928] Progresso (brand foods), Nehi (orange beverage), Velveeta cheese, Peter Pan Peanut butter, Butterfinger (candy bars), Barricini Candy (NYC)
[1929] Po’Boy sandwiches (New Orleans), Columbo Yogurt, Oscar Meyer wieners, Karmelkorn, 7-Up
—SOURCE: The Food Chronology, James Trager [Henry Holt:New YOrk] 1995 (p. 426-460)

All information taken from the Food Timeline

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