Cooking With Ida–Cake Baking

Hello, again History Lovers,

A post from two weeks ago featured the cottage industry of Mrs. Alta Dunn, Cooking For Cash. Mrs. Dunn’s catering business supplied a friend and businesswoman with a weekly order of home-baked bread, desserts, one-dish meals, and dressed meats. She also filled orders from other folks from time to time. The article spoke quite a bit about her baking and even included one of her cake recipes. Curious about how Mrs. Dunn’s recipe compared to other recipes of that time, I did some research in Ida Bailey Allen’s Cooking Menus Service cookbook of 1924. Below I have posted Ms. Allen’s technical advice for cake baking. The ingredients are not so different from today’s however all the mixing and whipping would have been done by hand. Mrs. Dunn was from a rural area in the west and she likely did her baking in a wood and/or coal oven.

Enjoy!

COOKING MENUS SERVICE–Cakes by Ida Bailey Allen

Cooking Menus Service 1924 by Ida Bailey Allen

“It is not the materials alone, nor is it the manipulation alone which makes good cake, but a careful combination of the two. Every cookbook gives many cake recipes, but if these are analyzed it will be seen that the cakes themselves are closely related and belong to one of two families—(a) the sponge-cake family, (b) the butter-cake family. If one can make a good sponge cake and a good butter cake the entire field of cake making lies ahead, for the difference between one cake and another is more that of a slight change in consistency, flavoring, or filling and frosting than any basic variation in the actual cake batter itself.”

Making a Cake

“The proper order of procedure in making any cake is as follows:

  1. Read the recipe carefully.
  2. Prepare the pans.
  3. Assemble the ingredients.
  4. Assemble the utensils.
  5. Prepare the oven.
  6. Measure the ingredients and make the cake.

It is quite essential that these steps be followed in the order given, each being relatively important to the next. Reading the recipe gives the worker an intelligent grasp of what is to be done and how, and as some cakes might be spoiled if kept waiting before baking, it is obvious that the next point in order is the preparation of the cake pan: the reasons for the remaining steps are self-explanatory.”

Mixing a Butter-Cake Batter

“The mixing should be done sitting down. Measure the shortening; if it is very hard, the mixing bowl should first have been warmed with hot water, but the fat itself should not be melted. The shortening should then be creamed or beaten until soft, preferably with a flat wooden spoon; the sugar is then worked into it, flavoring added, and then the egg yolks or the whole egg, well beaten, according to the recipe.

Sift the flour, measure, and put back in the sifter with the salt and baking powder. Measure the liquid in the cup used for the fat. Put a little of the flour into the cake mixture, stir in some of the liquid, and proceed in this way until all are in. The direction in which you stir makes no difference. Then fold in the egg whites, whipped until stiff, with an over-and-over motion, if they are to be added last. They should be beaten until the mixture will remain in the bowl inverted.

The cake should then be put in the pan, the mixture being made higher at the edges and corners to ensure even rising. It is then ready to be baked.”

Mixing a Sponge-Cake Batter

“In sponge cakes in which no shortening is employed an entirely different method of manipulation is required. For some sponge cakes the egg yolks and sugar are beaten together until light, the flavoring added, the flour and salt well sifted, gently folded in and the whites of the eggs, which have been beaten until stiff and dry, folded carefully into the cake batter last of all. Or in some instances, the whole eggs, yolk and whites together, are beaten with the sugar. The first method gives a cake that is lighter than that made by the second but the cake will dry out more quickly.

An egg-beater of the whisk type is preferable to one of rotary or Dover style due to the fact that with the whisk more air is incorporated into the mixture, making it lighter and fluffier in texture. A large bowl should be used in the making of the sponge cake to allow plenty of room for long sweeping strokes of the beater. A very delicious and firm smooth sponge cake is sometimes made by cooking the sugar with a little water until it threads—230 degrees F.—then pouring this over the thoroughly beaten yolks and eggs, adding the flour and the whites of eggs beaten until stiff.”

Preparing the Cake Pans

“Ordinary layer-cake pans should be oiled, a brush being used for this purpose, every crevice and corner receiving its share of the oil. If this is thoroughly done there should be no difficulty in removing the cake after baking. A smooth surface texture is secured by dusting the pan thickly with flour after oiling, then tapping it sharply on the table to remove any loose particles of flour, or fine granulated sugar may be used instead of the flour, the loose particles being removed in the same manner.

Cakes containing a large amount of sugar or molasses will burn more readily than the less sweet varieties. To avoid this, line the pan with waxed or oiled paper.”

Filling the Pans

“Have the cake pans less than two-thirds filled with batter. For layer and loaf cakes spread evenly over the surface of the pan, pressing it well into the corners, and have the batter a little thicker around the sides of the pan than in the center. As the tendency of cake batter is to rise more in the center than at the sides this procedure will ensure a smooth, even surface after baking.”

Baking a Cake

“The first rule to be remembered in cake baking, as indeed in all other baking, is that infinitely more food is spoiled by the use of too much heat than by too little. Large cakes require a slower oven than small ones. Gentle slow baking results in lighter cake, a delicately browned surface, and smooth fine grain. Always place cakes in the lower part of the oven at first so that the under-heat may help them to rise to their fullest height before browning. If put on the upper shelf the heat thrown down forms a crust that prevents proper rising.

The time of baking may be divided into three periods of equal length. During the first the oven should be only moderately hot to allow the cake to rise, during the second the heat may be increased to form a crust and brown the surface and during the third and last it should again be reduced to thoroughly cook the cake to the center.

To find out whether a cake is done, insert a metal or straw tester gently in the center of the cake, leave it a second, then withdraw. If it comes away perfectly clean the cake is sufficiently baked, but if it is at all sticky continue the baking for a few minutes longer.

When done, the cake shrinks from the sides of the pan and springs back if lightly touched. It gives forth no steaming or crackling sound.”

Cake Baking Hints

  1. “Cake should never be moved in the oven until it has reached its fullest height.
  2. If cake appears to be browning too rapidly reduce the heat and cover the cake with a sheet of paper.
  3. If cake habitually bakes too quickly on the bottom, set the pan containing it in another pan, which may, if desired, be partly filled with sand, the being a non-conductor of heat.
  4. The oven may be cooled quickly, if necessary, by putting a pan of cold water into it.
  5. The cake which cracks open during the baking indicates either that too much flour has been used in it or that it has been baked in too quick an oven and is therefore browned before it rises to its fullest height.
  6. A coarse-textured cake denotes the use of too much baking powder or of insufficient beating.
  7. A cake which falls after baking indicates too little flour, too much shortening, or that it was removed from the oven before being thoroughly cooked.
  8. A wire cooling rack or tray will be found very useful for cooling cakes, cookies, and biscuits, and indeed all baked products. Being slightly raised on wire feet it allows a current of air to pass all around whatever is placed on it, so that there is no soggy under-surface caused by collected moisture. A very good substitute is a wire oven shelf rested on four cups or muffin pans.”

Cake Frosting

“The terms “icing” and “frosting” are practically synonymous and may be used interchangeably. Frostings or icings may be either cooked or uncooked, made with water, milk, or fruit juice as the liquid, but always have either sugar, syrup, or honey as the main sweet ingredient.”

~FWM

The above article was originally published in Cooking Menus Service 1924 by Ida Bailey Allen, Doubleday, Duran & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

The Two Paintings I Would Like Best To Own Series–Part 6

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today Mrs. N.B. of West Virginia shares with us the paintings in her home that she loves best. They are merely cutouts from a magazine but their beauty brings her joy.

Enjoy!

I Should Keep These

Changing Pasture ca. 1880 by Dutch Artist, Anton Mauve

After reading the announcement of our Farmer’s Wife contest for March I walked through the house to see what two pictures I would keep if I were compelled to throw out all but two. I chose Changing Pasture by Anton Mauve and Lady Rouse Broughton by George Romney.

The first is so suggestive of peace and trust—the old herder moving slowly on, with his sheep following, trusting to his guidance and care. It is a picture one can look at a hundred times a day and still enjoy it.

Lady Rouse Boughton 1787 by English Portrait Painter, George Romney

The second I love for its beautiful coloring. I can almost feel the silk of the Lady’s dress. Lady Rouse Broughton (while only a copy) is often admired even by children. Changing Pasture is also a copy. Each of these was reproduced in a magazine several years ago. –Mrs. N. B., W. Va.

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 359; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cottage Industry Series–Cooking For Cash

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s article is another example of the hard work and ingenuity farm women demonstrated while supplementing their family farm income. Mrs. Alta Dunn uses her cooking and baking skills to establish a catering business in a small western town. Quality products and fair pricing are of supreme importance to her. Mrs. Dunn only planned to continue her enterprise during the tough economic times of the early 1920s, I hope at some point their farm became profitable.

Enjoy!

Cooking For Cash

In common with other farm wives, I have needed money for household and personal use, and needed it badly, since the slump in crop prices. What could I do best? The answer came promptly—cook. Then, in a flash, the inspiration came. A businesswoman friend in my hometown had seemed to enjoy my occasional offerings of homemade cookery very much. Why not ask if she would not like to be supplied regularly with some of it. I did. She would, gladly.

First, I made out a list of the foods I wished to prepare for her, figured what each would cost as nearly as possible, and then tried to find out what such articles sold for at the local bakery and at the bake sales of homemade delicacies held frequently by the women of the different churches. Though I considered my product as good as the best, for I used the best materials and never offer for sale anything that is not strictly up to standard, my idea was to strike a compromise between these two in price. Bake sale prices seemed to me to be too high to be just.

I took this list to my friend and we went over it together, item by item, I explained to her just what the quantity and quality of each would be, and that it was my intention to fix a price that she could afford to pay and which would also allow me a fair wage for the time and labor involved. I knew that if the arrangement were to be satisfactory to both and to continue, we must have a thoroughly businesslike understanding from the first. She agreed with me on this. When I bought goods from her store, I bought a certain quantity or weight at a fixed price. I felt that I should be equally exact in selling to her. Despite my need for money, I had no mind to wreck an old and valuable friendship through the unbusinesslike methods which women all too often employ when dealing with each other informally, that is, not over the counter.

When our arrangement was first made, my customer had a standing order for two loaves of bread, a cake or cookies and a dressed chicken to be delivered every Saturday. However, it later proved more satisfactory to both of us to have this an elastic order, modified from week to week, as she can call me by phone at any time. Thus, if she goes out of town for the weekend or I have an unusual press of work, as in haying or threshing time, by mutual consent no order is to be delivered.

Friday, I devote myself to baking. The bread for my customer is a part of my weekly baking for family use, so it makes but little extra work. For a large double loaf weighing two and one-fourth pounds—and dough for bread to sell is always weighed before baking on small spring scales so that there is no guesswork about weight—I received twenty-five cents. This is at the rate charged by the local bakery. Though my bread is superior to bakery goods both in nutriment and palatability, I considered it best to meet their price, as people of moderate income do not usually care to pay fancy prices for such staples.

For a two-layer cake, frosted, I charge $1.25; the same cake baked in a loaf and frosted brings $1. The rule for these cakes if white or marble cake is desired, is: 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 cups flour, flavoring, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 4 egg whites stiffly beaten. If baked in layers, I scant the flour a trifle. For marble cake, I take one-third of the batter for the white part; and add coloring to another third, and chocolate or mixed spices to the remainder. If chocolate or gold cake is desired, I use the same rule, substituting 2 whole eggs or 4 yolks for the beaten whites. This makes a delicious, tender cake if carefully mixed and baked.

I use a cream and powdered sugar frosting either white, pink, maple, or chocolate. Any fruit juice may be substituted for cream, beating until frosting is the right consistency to spread.

Large angel food cakes, fruit cakes, plum puddings, and fancy cakes for special occasions are priced according to materials used and labor of making. Birthday cakes, much ornamented, sometimes bring as high as $3, but there is no more profit in them than in the above simple cakes, as they cost so much more both in time and ingredients.

These prices are given merely as a suggestion. They may not be high enough for some localities—or too high for others. I live in the West where long freight hauls from distributing centers make pastry flour, baking powder, extracts, and various other materials considerably higher than in the Middle West.

Since I have been catering for this businesswoman, orders from others have come and the list of goodies has expanded to include salad dressings, boiled ham, salads, cheese, and other delicatessen dishes. I have never yet had a complaint of any kind about my products and I could dispose of more of this cookery if I had time to prepare it without neglecting my other home duties.

If work of this kind is to be profitable it must be carefully managed. In my own case, most of the extra cookery is worked in along with that for home use. My own family is small and that of my chief customer also. This makes it possible for me to divide a large rule for chili con carne, spaghetti and cheese or with tomatoes or in various combinations, baked beans or other “made dishes,” and so provide sufficiently for a meal for both households.

These dishes which form the basis for a one-dish meal are cooked in brown earthenware casseroles and also delivered in these. My first customer has an electric range, so it is a simple matter to reheat food of this sort, as it is ready to slip into the oven when delivered. The made dishes are as a rule prepared on Saturday morning. This provides a substantial noon meal for my own family and insures having my customer’s dish fresh for her evening dinner. Chickens are dressed Friday and kept on ice.

It is surprising how many cakes and cookies and doughnuts may be made by one pair of deft hands in one day by early rising and good management of time and fire. To save time in delivery we “route” the list so as to avoid doubling back if possible. My husband drives the car and either my son or I run inside with the orders. Later I go back to collect. As our town is very small and orders are delivered to places of business, this is more expeditious than collecting as we go along. Where delivery is made to residences, this plan would of course not be practicable.

Though this is merely a sideline with me which I do not expect to continue after “times get better,” such a modest venture as is here outlined might very readily be developed into a profitable little catering business. –Alta B. Dunn

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1922, Page 786; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Club Work–Alum Creek Is No Longer Lonely

Hello, again History Lovers,

When the church burned to the ground, the social life of rural farm women in West Virginia came to an abrupt end until an enterprising woman of the Alum Creek community began a farm woman’s club. It wasn’t long before one club branched out into three clubs. After four years with no sign of the church being rebuilt, the farm woman’s club took the initiative to begin fundraising for a new place of worship. Through their hard work and dedication, the building project was finally brought to fruition.

Enjoy!

The Women Got Together, Ate Together And Then They Built A Church

When the Baptist church at Alum Creek, West Virginia burned, the social life of the women in this locality—and a remote one it is—appeared to be swept away by the flames. The women had always depended upon seeing each other at meetings, ice cream festivals, and singing school, all held in the church house. A year slipped away, during which time the women had become lonely and lonelier in their little homes in the hills and there was no sign of the church being rebuilt.

At the end of the year, Mrs. Emma Gillispie, one of the well-known women of Alum Creek, began to consider seriously a suggestion for a farm women’s club. She took into her confidence a close friend and after debating the subject for two months, they started a campaign.

This self-appointed committee invited all the womenfolk within a radius of four to six miles to spend an entire day at the home of Mrs. Gillispie. Such a thing had never been heard of before on Alum Creek except for quilting bees and apple peelings and then the husbands were always included for mealtime on such occasions. Nearly all accepted the invitation.

During the noon dinner, the subject of recipes came up for discussion, prompted by two entirely new dishes which Mrs. Gillispie had prepared–with some fear and trembling. It takes courage sometimes, to introduce new recipes after all the women in a certain locality have cooked the way their great grandmothers did all their lives.  But the fifteen guests were interested in the new dishes and every one of them sought all the minute details as to their preparation. If anything, the hill-folk of West Virginia are hospitable. The stranger and friend alike are always welcome at the board, be there little or much upon it. But the women never before had thought of extending their hospitality just this way. All of them at this particular party, however, enjoyed the day so thoroughly that when it was time to return to their homes, they each extended an invitation to all of the others for an all-day’s visit again soon and date and place for the next get-together were settled then and there.

A few days before the next party, Mrs. Gillispie asked the prospective hostess for the privilege of preparing the cakes. Her request was granted with the result that in these two beautifully baked prizes, there were two more sought for and found recipes. This plan continued from month to month until one day Mrs. Gillispie mentioned in a casual way something about government-approved recipes and standard methods of cooking. This aroused much interest and demand for standard recipes.

The club, although it was not yet called a club, was growing slowly, with one or two members a month. Also, the fame of the good times and excellent cookery were beginning to permeate other remote sections, for by this time there had developed a keen though healthy rivalry in cookery. Another competition was going on brought about by the suggestion of Mrs. Gillispie’s teammate, in the promotion of quilt patterns. Following the noon dinners now at the monthly meetings, the women would engage in piecing their quilts and as always happens when women sew together, patterns, and ideas were exchanged.

It was just about this stage of affairs that a woman’s magazine made its appearance at the home of one of the members. It was a sample copy and none of the club women could recall ever having seen one before. This magazine discussed constructively such things as plain dressmaking, gardening, and other matters of interest to women and provided food for much valuable discussion at one of the meetings.

Nearby communities, two of them, caught the club contagion and in little more than a year following that first memorable get-together, two other organizations were started. By the close of the second year, the three clubs were competing and within another six months, they all three came together for a picnic and simple exhibit.

No longer were the women of Alum Creek and her neighboring sisters lonely. No longer did they have to wait for their special club days to get together if they wished—however, the club day was always observed. Occasionally, the entire families were brought together for picnic affairs and upon such occasions, the men were ofttimes appalled at what the women had learned (from magazine reading).

Naturally, there came times of slump in interest but the organization was kept intact. And it was at one of these family events on Alum Creek four years later that the women said: “Why can’t we have a church?” The men looked stumped and also failed to answer the question. Each wife then began to “hammer home” the question to her husband in private. The club agreed to hold a fair and sell food and quilts to start the building fund. They realized $50 from that sale. They kept on working. The new Alum Creek church is just completed and the women now have both spiritual and social. After all, women usually get what they want. –Nora B. Ragsdale

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1923, Page 407; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Progressive House Cleaning vs. New England Style Spring Cleaning

Hello, again History Lovers,

Every once in a while an article comes along that fairly jumps off the page with enthusiasm and character. So it is with this article submitted by Martha Elizabeth (sadly no last name nor where she was from was given) to The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women in 1922. With great flair, she turns what she calls the New England style of Spring Cleaning on its head by recommending that housewives work away at housecleaning projects throughout the year as opposed to a marathon rework-the-whole-house project in the spring just when its time to start planting the garden. Her advice is very logical. Martha Elizabeth says that the purpose of her article was to help other women “so we might feel more lovingly about our [housework].”

Enjoy!

Progressive House Cleaning

That Is To Say, Progession Through Fifty-Two Weeks

Women who have been reading The Farmer’s Wife for, well, let us say seven years, will perhaps turn up their noses at “another article on house cleaning—as if we do not know how to clean house!”

Of course, we know how to clean house, we women who have had houses for years, but every season along comes a crop of newlyweds and among these girls who were either at school during housecleaning time in their mothers’ home or who, not having direct responsibility, did what they were asked or told or expected to do, “theirs not to question why, theirs but to do or die,”—and let it go at that. Now cobwebs have invaded as they always invade and the young things are waking up to realize that here is a job indeed and they’d better be up and at it. But first, they will dive into the pages of the ever-reliable Farmer’s Wife to see if it has any help for them.

It has. But the help can only be very general for what is to be done in an old-fashioned, three-story-and-basement house built along in the 1860s does not need to and cannot be done in the two-room shack of the pioneer or the rambling ranch house or the compact little bungalow built in 1921. Still, dirt is dirt—a perfectly all right thing in its place which is not anywhere within reach of a broom or brush, or vacuum cleaner.

I have called this little spiel Progressive House Cleaning because I used to follow this system and it worked so well that I gave up forever and a day the old-fashioned general upheavals [of Spring Cleaning] that drove the menfolk to despair and put the women in bed for a week o’ Sundays. Please do not think me untruthful or a snob when I say that I used to clean house all year and when spring came, except for renewal of walls or floors, there was really nothing to do but take off storm doors and windows and “let a little sunshine in.”

This that I have just said, would shock a New England housewife of even as late as 1900 but I wonder if New England and old England and all the rest of English-speaking humanity have not progressed in the matter of house cleaning as well as in other matters.

Really, the woman who KEEPS her house sweet and clean does not need upheavals. She does certain things at certain times and each comes along in its own place and order as certainly as do horseradish and marbles in the spring and oysters in the R-months.

I found this good list of things that one faces in a general-upheaval house cleaning: floors, rugs, hangings, furniture, beds, bathroom, kitchen sink, icebox, pantry, cellar, attic, porches, windows, stairs, fireplace, furnace. This leaves out the walls and closets—I wonder why.

In my Progressive House Cleaning, I kept furniture in good condition by always repairing immediately when accidents happened and by the steady use of a good cleansing polish; beds were never permitted to be in anything but a sweet, speckless condition; for example, when a mattress needs renovation, it needs it, and housecleaning time is not a good time for such extra specific jobs as this; porches need painting when they need it—I never chose garden planting time to have that done; the attic, when I owned that inconvenient convenience, I never permitted it to get into a musty-fusty condition for it was fun on rainy days to “get into” boxes and bags and set things to rights as I discovered wrongs; windows I took care of as they needed it which was with more or less regularity all the year round; I always had the window screens mended and given new coats of paint when they were taken out, not just before they had to be put in, so my work with storm windows became spring work.

You see what I mean. It is easier to keep the house in good condition than to let it slump and then have to have a volcano to pry things loose in the spring. I believe most of us follow this first good way.

If I had a house to clean from top to bottom, having had to let it go because my little family had kept my hands full or because someone had been sick or for some other reason, I should begin my campaign on paper. I would make a plan and schedule because this would help me to marshal all my forces, be systematic, do things in a logical order, not double on my own tracks, and manage so as to keep part of the house always perfectly comfortable for the family at mealtimes and rest times. It is a fact that some women delight in having an orgy of disorder at housecleaning time. It seems to be a good time to indulge in something which the well-ordered days did not permit to come to the surface, so they reduce the house to one glorious mess and then enjoy the misery of restoring it to its usual good condition. No wonder the menfolk take to the woods!

To return to the suggested plan and schedule. I should first make a simple little list of the rooms and then, without stirring out of my chair, visualize each room and write down just what I thought needed doing to that particular room. When the whole list was made out, I should study it and would discover that there were certainly similar things that had to be done for several or all of the rooms: painting or papering or rug-cleaning or curtain-washing or shade-mending. Discovering this would help me to plan just when was the best way to have these little—or big—separate jobs taken care of.

Then I should, still sitting with my paper and pencil, make a list of what I should need to work with. “Would you put down so common a thing as soap?” I most certainly should for I might thereby discover or remember that the last order of soap was just about out and it was high time to place another order. Here is a good list of cleaning agents:

Soap, kerosene, washing soda, borax, lye, ammonia, whiting, rottenstone, bath brick, steel wool.

Then we shall need brooms, brushes, carpet-sweeper, vacuum cleaner, and rags and cloths of many sorts and kinds. It is AWFUL to be on a stepladder cleaning a window only to discover that the cloth is too wet and there is not another dry piece unless someone finds the rag bag and digs one up. One evening spent assembling all the rags needed for the whole campaign would be time well spent.

One part of housecleaning time is EATING. One reason why so many women practically collapse during some of the long, difficult jobs that housekeeping may involve, is because they think it part of their devotion and perhaps somewhat religious not to “bother about eating.” If they treated their prize chicks like that–! Part of the real fun of housecleaning should be to see how easily and jollily one can pull it through. Lay in picnic eats. Huge crocks of cookies and doughnuts; a big pan of gingerbread; several dozen rolls that can be heated in the steamer or oven; an especially fine ham; an extraordinarily good meatloaf; some of the very best of the canned goods and preserves: these things to have at housecleaning time and they can be ready beforehand.

Women should learn the secret of the rest-lunch. When we are under a prolonged strain of work, we should eat little and often. A tin container filled with some tasty sandwiches which can be easily fished out and eaten while one perches on the upturned mattress for a five-minute rest is a magic-worker. It is foolishness to think one can go and go and tug and tug and not pay the piper. When I have to do a long stint of hard work, I eat a little every two hours and gain great help thereby. I call it stoking the inner fire.

This is not a practical article, you see. It is just a neighborly chat. Your home demonstration agent is on the wire—call her up and have her tell you how to make that old bureau new, how to convert great-grandmother’s four-poster into a garden seat, how to finish the kitchen floor so it will be at once sanitary, easy to clean and lovely to look at, how to change the color scheme of the gloomy room, how to upholster with the lovely cretonnes (heavy cotton upholstery fabric) of the day. All I have tried to do is to give you a little hunch or two which will take the Ouch! out of housecleaning. The psychologists account for everything these days by calling this, that, and the other, “a state of mind.” If this be so, and there may be something in it, then let you and me rejoice that Mother Nature out-of-doors is having her spring cleaning: the springs are carrying winter’s accumulations out to the ocean: the big winds are blowing the flu and doldrums and the dumps away to the poles; the rains are cleansing the trees and bushes and grass as lovingly as ever a mother washed her babe; old things are passing young things are being born…Oh, come! Let’s tie a towel around our heads or put on our prettiest dust cap and go to it!

A neighbor read this before I sent it to The Farmer’s Wife and remarked that I certainly had not burdened my readers with information. I never meant to! I just wanted to talk the Big Job over with Us and Company so we might feel more lovingly about it. And we do, don’t we? –Martha Elizabeth

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1922, Page 828; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cottage Industry–Educated By A Grindstone

Pedal Powered Grindstone

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s post is an introduction to a new series I will call Cottage Industry. Through my research, I have come to realize that farm women from a century ago and beyond needed ways to supplement their farm income. Frequently they raised a flock of chickens and sold the eggs or they would use the cream from their milk cows to make butter–both of which they would sell either to individuals or to local markets. Other women used their particular sewing, baking, canning, or gardening skills as a way of bringing in additional income. I am inspired by the industry and creativity of these rural farm women and will share their Cottage Industry stories as they come along.

Today’s story tells of a young widow who used an available grindstone to keep her kitchen knives sharp. Beginning by happenstance, her sharpening skills grew into a thriving business that enabled her to afford to put her sons through college. While growing up, her sons had helped her with the business venture and appreciated the educational opportunity it afforded them.

I would love to know where that grindstone is today. Enjoy!

Educated By A Grindstone

“I’ll be fifty-seven tomorrow,” smiled Mrs. Plaegar, rocking on the veranda of her white and green farmhouse, “and it seems as though it were only a few years ago when the boys were small.”

She sighed again.

“Those were the years when it was hard pulling. My husband died when the children were very young. The farm was heavily mortgaged and we had to stretch the pennies until they fairly squealed. My friends told me I ought to work in my spare time and besides, what could I have done? I could not sew. My fingers had become too clumsy with farm work to handle a needle delicately and work of other kinds would demand that I leave the farm which I could not do.

“Well, things went on for a while. I continued to do the manual work to which I was accustomed. I had always liked a man’s work better than a woman’s and I had quite a knack for handling tools.

“One tool I liked especially was an old grindstone in the barnyard on which I sharpened my knives. One day a neighbor, viewing with envy my shining and keen steel knives said, ‘I wonder if you would be willing to sharpen my knives? You do such splendid work and I would gladly pay you.’

“I consented and that was the beginning of a little business. Other women brought me their knives and scissors and I charged according to the size of the utensils. I used to send the boys to gather them in for me and sometimes they would bring home three or four dozen which they had labeled with the names of the owners. The next day they would return them, bright and sharp. And how farm women need keen tools!

“As my somewhat unique business increased, I bought a polishing machine and I soon received more orders than ever. One order which pleased me especially was from a hotel. They told me their employees were most deficient at polishing steel knives and if I did good work, they would be willing to give all their work to me. With housewives, too, this task is a dreaded one and my bank account began to increase accordingly. I followed up every opportunity and, of course, business brought more business.

“My business never forced me to neglect my farm duties. I always did the work on my own premises where I could oversee the work of the farmhands.

“The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family.” –I.R. Hegel

"The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family."
~FWM

Saving and Spending Minutes–Efficient Housekeeping 1923

Finding time is as good or better than finding a dollar. It is the busy people who generally acquire both.

Hello, again History Lovers,

In today’s world, Mrs. Elizabeth Wright might have posted her cleaning and organizing hacks on TikTok. However, in order to share household tips in her day, she wrote to The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women where her letter was published in the March 1923 issue–just as homemakers were beginning to think about spring cleaning. The personal reward for her hard work was to have more time to do the things she loved outdoors.

Enjoy!

“When I first began doing my own work, I realized that I must be saving minutes if I would have any time left from my manifold household duties for things outside. May I tell you of some of the time savers I then attached to myself?

One of them was learning to dust with two dust rags instead of one. It was a little awkward at first but I soon found that I could manipulate a dust rag in each hand. I would make my left and right slide from opposite directions along bookshelves, door casings, table legs, arms and backs of chairs, and presto! My dusting was done in half the time. After two years of practice, I am almost expert enough to dust the picture molding with one hand and polish the floor with the other! This specialty in the line of timesavers caused much amusement among my friends, some doubting Thomas’s requiring a demonstration, after which they adopted the method for their own daily schedule.

I found this same two-handed principle worked in many things. In polishing silver, I use flannel mittens instead of rags and rub them with each hand. It also works magic in washing windows, scouring, and any other occupation in which one’s left hand has been accustomed to soldiering.

The next time saver I got hold of was avoiding the accumulation of mail, papers, and so forth. By forming a habit of looking over and disposing immediately of all not to be kept for reference or passing on, I eliminated the trouble of a second inspection, which would have been necessary if the things had been laid away and forgotten. Especially do I clean up empty envelopes, circulars, and other printed drift that the mail brings but no one needs.

Then I started the habit of keeping in the living room a work-basket, so as to have some pick-up sewing always handy. Putting in a few stitches now and then, when chatting with friends, will develop many embryo garments into finished ones. If the machine work is completed on undergarments, the hand-finishing goes quickly, done in this way. Then I always keep a magazine handy to read during moments snatched, here and there, while waiting for someone or something.

When setting or clearing a table I always use a large tray to carry the dishes. [A wheeled tray of course is ideal.] When the dishes are washed, I replace on the tray those that are to be used at the next meal; this saves putting them back and forth into the China closet. I scrape and stack the dishes before washing them, separating the glass and silver and by rinsing all of them in hot water the burden of drying is minimized. Polishing the glass and silver will be about all that is necessary. I fasten a small piece of rubber tubing to the bottom of each faucet and this lessens accidental chipping of dishes that might strike them.

White oilcloth on all my shelves and tables saves much labor. It is easily wiped and always looks fresh. When doing work that necessitates making any trash or stains, I protect my work table or the floor with old newspapers and gather up the debris in them. I keep all scraps of soap in a small tin can with a top well perforated. Boiling water poured over or run through this gives a nice suds and soap wastage is lessened.

It is a great convenience to have in the kitchen a bag for clean wrapping paper and string; also, a bill file, a pad of paper and pencil, a box containing some pins and needles, coarse thread for basting, a small pile of muslin and a pair of scissors. I keep fat drippings in a glass jar, also mayonnaise and cracker crumbs. I always have on a shelf in the kitchen a row of big and little jars and dishes for such uses.

I find it also of the greatest convenience to have a number of bags handy of different thicknesses of material. A canvas bag for crushing ice. Flannel for broom bags; small paper bags for parsley, mint, lettuce, or celery, into which they can be put when washed and then kept crisp on the ice. Also bags for straining things, for cottage cheese, and so forth. I keep a supply of these bags on hand made from scraps or sugar sacks as there is no limit to their usefulness. There is a large bag hanging in my pantry for soiled table and kitchen linen.

On a shelf in my linen closet there is also a row of clean (boiled) bottles and jars, culled from the periodical cleaning out of the medicine closet, and wonderfully convenient they are, when an empty jar or bottle is needed in a hurry.

I found out that in making beds one can save a lot of steps and time by finishing entirely the spreading of covers on one side of the bed, before going to the other side.

In the bathroom closet, I keep an extra broom, dustpan, and small ironing board. This has saved me many steps back and forth when they might be at different ends of the house when needed. If one has not a closet to hold them, keep them behind a curtain hung on a rod a foot or two from the wall, where a shelf can also be placed to hold bathroom conveniences and include in these a small jar to hold bits of soap, that can be made into liquid soap for shampooing or laundry work and bottles of disinfectant and cleaning powders.

There are so many more conveniences that I have discovered and ways of utilizing, what I call the discard, that I cannot tell it all at one time”. –Elizabeth M. Wright

~FWM

Two Pictures I Would Like Best to Own Series–1923

Hello, again History Lovers!

In 1923 The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women invited farm women to write in regarding what pictures they admire and why. Hundreds of women responded describing some of the most famous works of art in the world. Ten of the best letters were published. Over the course of the next several months, my Sunday posts will be some of these letters along with images of the artwork they describe so that we too might be enriched. 

What would you hang above your mantle?

 

Their Beautiful Influence

Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1 (aka Whistler’s Mother) 1871 James McNeill Whistler, American Painter

“Whistler’s wonder Portrait of Artist’s Mother hangs over my living room mantel and is my daily companion. To me, she typifies the highest ideals of womanhood and the sacred privilege of being a mother. Her character is exalted but she remains to me a very human, very lovable, very understanding woman.

When my body is weary from the many tasks which a farmer’s wife always finds to do; when my babies are more than usual fretful and noisy; when my spirit suffers from the overwhelming disappointments of life, then I look at this “Mother” for help and she never fails me. I see the old hands tired and worn with the round of domestic duties which she cheerfully performed, the arms that folded baby heads to her breast, and the sweet old wrinkled face which looked out upon the world with a smile of contentment and a song of joy. As I look at her, I gain new courage to attack the problems of my little world and new faith in the One who gave me these tender baby bodies to care for. I am ashamed of my selfish, discontented attitude and I am comforted for she seems to say to me: “Have courage, child. I have been over the path before you. Yours is the greatest privilege in the world—to be a homemaker and a mother. Remember that each homely duty, no matter how trivial, may be glorified if done with a heart full of love. And it is all a part of the Master’s great plan for your life.”

Dance of the Nymphs 1850, Camille Corot, French Painter

“Corot’s great Dance of the Nymphs is another favorite. I love to imagine them dancing playfully in and out among the trees. They call my spirit away from work and open up new vistas of a fairy country and fairy folk where there is rest for the weary body and recreation for the weary mind. The slender trees, the lovely foliage, the soft grass all beckon me, saying: “We will show you a land of beauty and sunshine, where hopes are realized and dreams come true.” So, I close my eyes and seem to be lifted bodily and carried across mountain and plain and sea to distant lands filled with wonderful sights!

I am prone to forget the spiritual values of life, so engrossed am I with the work-a-day world. Why let the activities of a busy day shut out the higher, better things? These two pictures have exerted a beautiful influence over my life and for that reason, I love them dearly and would not give them up.” –Mrs. J.J.Q., South Carolina

~FWM

The above article was published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 359; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Clubs and Organizations–A Woman’s Rest Room 1923

Hello, again History Lovers!

Public restrooms for women were virtually nonexistent in the 1920s. Even office buildings had only men’s rooms making it thereby “impossible” to hire women. Recognizing a need, organizations in some cities would create a much-needed women’s oasis for travelers, shoppers, and businesswomen. Sadly though in most towns women had to get along without any public facilities at all. To add to the injustice, it was illegal for women to use a men’s room.

Farm Bureau Rest Room

“More than 11,391 farm women and children took advantage of the restroom in the Farm Bureau office, Davies County, Kentucky, in one year.

The large, airy room is located at the rear of the Farm Bureau office. It has been comfortably furnished by the Woman’s Club, the Farm Bureau, and by individual donations. It is provided with a rug, dainty scrim curtains, easy chairs, couch, library table, phonograph, baby beds, and lavatory. The library table holds all the late magazines and a few books by good authors.

Molly Wells, an old southern “Mammy,” croons lullabies to the curly-haired babies left in her charge. She says, “I jes’ naturally love babies and I find it no trouble at all to care fo’ ‘em [sic].” Molly often has eight or ten children from tiny babies to those of school age to look after while the mothers go shopping or attend a meeting or gathering in town.

Besides caring for the children and keeping the room in apple-pie order, Molly posts on the Farm Bureau bulletin board all the “for-sale” and want advertisements which are in the morning paper so those farm women who have brought from the farm fresh eggs, butter, cream, poultry and so forth, for sale, may look up desirable buyers while they rest. They can check their parcels and packages at the restroom. Many of the patrons drive forty to fifty miles for a day’s shopping and appreciate the restroom accordingly.

The room also is patronized by business girls of Owensboro, who come in at noon to eat their lunch, rest or read.

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 364; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cooking With Ida–Making Yeast Bread 1920s


The Whole Loaf
Once upon a time
There was a woman
Who loved
Beauty.
She longed to paint, to make fine music.
But her life was cast in other lines.
Disappointment embittered her soul.
“Shall I live forever in a dream of what I cannot be?” she said.
“Because my time must be given to homely tasks and the care of children, shall I never express beauty?”
She visited a gallery.
She saw a picture—a perfect thing.
Fruit arranged in a basket, and some garden flowers.
And nearby another—a quaint bowl of milk—a loaf of bread and a blue-eyed child.
“I have fruit, and a basket covered with dust,” she said.

It was time to feed the Littlest Child.
He was blue-eyed.
There was a handsome loaf.
On the top shelf was a quaint bowl.
She put it before him—filled with milk.
The scales fell from her eyes—
She had the Whole Loaf.
~Unknown

Hello, again History Lovers!

In today’s post, we are once again Cooking With Ida. The information below comes from two of Ida’s books Woman’s World Calendar Cook Book 1922 and Cooking Menus Service 1924 in which she walks the home baker through the required steps in making yeast bread. The yeast that our foremothers would have used in their baking was either compressed cakes of yeast or the granulated version called Active Dry Yeast (ADY). The granulated variety is available today and our mothers and grandmothers may still be using it however, modern home bakers generally opt for a newer faster rising version of ADY–Instant or Rapid-Rise. (King Author Flour recommends Rapid-Rise Yeast for use in bread machines and SAF Instant Yeast for hand-made bread and baked goods).

By the way, the charming poem The Whole Loaf at the top of this post was printed at the beginning of the chapter on Yeast Breads in Cooking Menus Service. Sadly there is no credit given to the poet. Although there are a number of poems included in this cookbook I am quite certain that Ida was not the poet as none of her other cookbooks include poetry.

By the sponge method, a thick batter is made, using all the required liquid, yeast salt and enough flour to give the batter the desired consistency--it should be about the thickness of a muffin mixture.

Yeast Bread Making 1920s

“The exact science of bread making is a chemical one, consisting of the proper blending of flour, liquid, salt, and yeast into a dough which is raised by the growth in it of the yeast fungi. During that raising the action of the yeast converts part of the starch into a form of sugar and the yeast cells, feeding on this, activates fermentation; and as the dough is fermented and raised, thousands of little cells or pockets are formed in it. During the baking, however, the fermentation is stopped by the heat, the result being the light, porous bread with which we are familiar.”

Proper Kind of Ingredients

“What are the necessary ingredients for making bread? Flour, salt, liquid, and yeast. These four we must have; some variations are possible. The flour may be of more than one variety, but some wheat flour we must have for good bread. The liquid may be plain water, the water in which potatoes have been cooked, or milk, or two of these in combination. The yeast may be compressed or dry yeast according to convenience. Other ingredients may be potatoes, shortening, and a little sugar or syrup.”

Methods for Making Bread

“There are two methods of bread making—(a) the sponge method, and (b) the straight dough method.”

The Sponge Method

At first glance, one might mistake the Sponge Method for the “proofing” process in which the viability of yeast is tested by mixing yeast with a little water and a pinch of sugar and allowing it to “proof” for several minutes to see if the mixture becomes active. A 1920s home cook may well have proofed her yeast before beginning to mix her bread sponge if she had concerns about the freshness of the yeast. The preparation of the sponge required mixing yeast, salt, sugar, and some of the flour into the liquid resulting in a thick batter. The batter was then set away in a warm draft-free place to rise for an hour or longer. At that point, the remaining flour was kneaded into the sponge and the dough was set away again to rise. The advantage of this method was that it required less yeast thereby making a less yeasty-tasting loaf as well as making a fluffier loaf of bread. The drawback was that the dough required two rises before shaping and a third after shaping and prior to baking resulting in a longer bread-making process. Ida continues:

“By the sponge method, a thick batter is made, using all the required liquid, yeast, salt, and enough flour to give the batter the desired consistency—it should be about the thickness of a muffin mixture. A very little sugar or sugar solution may be added to hasten the process of rising. A smaller amount of yeast may be used in bread made by the sponge method than when the straight dough is employed, as yeast rises more rapidly in a semi-liquid mixture than in one which is firm.

After the sponge has become light, that is, after the yeast has become thoroughly “active” and the mixture is filled with consequent gaseous bubbles, the remainder of the flour is added and the mixture kneaded to an elastic dough, either by hand or in a bread mixer, from which point it is treated the same as for a straight dough.”

The recipe below is an example of a bread recipe using the Sponge Method. Interestingly White Bread recipes took precedence in Ida’s book Cooking Menus Service 1924 probably due to the fact that white bakery bread was all the rage so home bakers desired white bread as well.

Cooking Menus Service Cookbook, Ida Bailey Allen, 1924

Straight Dough

“A straight dough is one in which the ingredients are all blended at one time, kneaded, and the dough set aside to rise. By using a larger amount of yeast, bread may be quickly made by the straight-dough method, or it may be allowed to rise for a longer period and less yeast is used. The ingredients after blending must be kneaded until smooth and elastic, then set aside to rise as in the case of bread made by the sponge method.

Whereas the methods of making bread by both dry and compressed yeast are practically identical, the process when making it with dry yeast is facilitated if a soft sponge is first made, so that the little yeast plants may have all possible assistance in their growth. It is also advisable to make such a sponge when preparing coffee cake or rolls, or whenever a fine-textured result is desired, or when rich ingredients are being used, no matter what kind of yeast is chosen (Be aware that this is outdated information and is no longer necessary with the ADY we use today). Success in bread making consists of the use of a reliable recipe; care in keeping the rising dough at a temperature of not less the 70 degrees F., nor more than 95 degrees F.; shielding the dough from draughts and the proper baking”.

The Necessary Equipment

In all of her cookbooks, Ida was a proponent for anything that would help make a housewife’s work easier and more efficient so it was no surprise that she would promote the acquisition and use of a piece of equipment called a bread mixer (photos below). I’m not sure cranking a handle was any better than kneading bread by hand. It would certainly not have been as therapeutic. More from Ida:

The use of a bread mixer facilitates bread making, obviating kneading by hand and actually saving a fourth of the flour. As these mixers may be obtained in both small and large sizes, they are practical for use in every family.”

~FWM