The Roaring Twenties: 1920’s

The Roaring Twenties

“If alcohol was banned, what made the roaring twenties so “roaring?”

“The young flapper with bobbed hair, short skirts, a slim silhouette, and a cocktail in her hand (and maybe a cigarette) presents the image of the Roaring Twenties, familiar in movies and novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. But it’s not the boozy cocktails that made the 1920’s such a rip-roaring time.

The Woes of Prohibition

“The Twenties came in “roaring” after several decades of subdued “Victorian mores.  The music, dancing and the stock market appeared as if it was just waiting for its proper time. People had money and wanted to spend it on new electrical gadgets appearing in the marketplace such as toasters, refrigerators, and stoves that were in demand. Restaurants were eager to get their share by offering expensive rich cuisine. However, this party was short-lived.

Long term temperance movements fueled by religious fervor had been at play since the 1830’s to solve the real or perceived social problems that were occurring and keeping with its character, the Progressives wanted to solved these problems.  Out of control Immigrant drinkers from Ireland and Germany who habitually visited pubs, taverns, and beer halls had offended some “native” Americans who also supported the temperance movements.

In 1920, a federal law and constitutional amendment was enacted to stop the manufacture, importation, and sale of alcohol. This act simply drove alcohol consumption underground. Commercial distilleries ceased operations; but new categories erupted,  namely bootleggers and moonshiners.  These new distillers often produced products far more dangerous than the commercial alcoholic distilleries had produced.

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. Soft drink production increased and the wine industry, unable to sell its wines legally, tried to turn its vineyards over to juice grapes which became unprofitable. Restaurants and hotels went out of business and with them went the remnants of fine dining. They were replaced by the growth of tearooms, cafeterias and illegal speakeasies. The wine industry took long to recover.

Source:  —Fashionable Foods: Seven Decades of Food Fads, Sylvia Lovgren [MacMillan:New York] 1995 (p. 29-30)

Speakeasies, Finger Foods, and Cocktails

One phenomenon that arose out of the Prohibition woes were called Speakeasies that sprang up everywhere in the cities. Many were drab saloons in basements or tenements and patrons slunk into these underground establishments by the millions to drink and to listen to the new music called jazz. “One exception was the 21 Club in New York City that featured two bars, a dance floor, dining rooms on two levels and underground passages leading to a secret wine cellar.”

The term speakeasy is thought to have come from the patrons having to whisper (or, speak “easy”) when attempting to enter the obscure and illegal bar.”

“To help drive up sales, some speakeasy bars began offering more than the popular cocktails of the day, e.g., the elegant martini.  Rather than heavy meals, their inebriated customers were given small bites to snack on while mingling in the illicit dens’ loud, crowded rooms.”

The origin of the cocktail began in the 1910’s but the custom has continued to this day. “The rise of these events led to an increasingly wide array of finger foods. Hosts paraded out such culinary delights as lobster canapes, caviar rolls, crabmeat and shrimp cocktails, oyster toast, jellied anchovy molds, deviled eggs and cheese balls.”

“By some accounts, the cocktail had even earlier beginnings. At an Elmsford, N.Y. tavern in 1777, barmaid Betsy Flanagan decorates the bar she tends at Halls Corner with discarded tail feathers from poultry that has been roasted and served to patrons. An inebriated patron demands that she brings him “a glass of those cocktails” and Flanagan serves him a mixed drink garnished with a feather.” Source: Chronology, p. 175.

French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York for the first time in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: “…the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable.”—The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 307)

Source: Prohibition, Speakeasies and Finger Foods. Suzanne Evans, History, http://www.history.com/news/prohibition-speakeasies-and-finger-foods. A&E Television Networks, July 13, 2012

The New Kitchen

Look at your kitchen and pretend the refrigerator, the pop-up toaster or toaster oven, and the gas or electric range were not there – that was the kitchen of the cook’s life before the 1920’s. Thankfully, during this decade a plethora of appliances became widely more available and affordable to the average cook. Refrigerators with small freezer sections gradually replaced iceboxes. In 1920, only 10,000 refrigerators were sold; by 1929, annual sales had risen to 800,000. Companies furnished recipes to tell cooks how to use these appliances like frozen desserts as frozen foods were not yet commercially widely available.

At the same time, gas ranges began to replace wood-burning stove in most homes. Pop up toasters provided some entertainment value. These appliances helped women who had recently joined the workplace or remained after World War 1 a great deal of convenience in the kitchen. Clarence Birdseye soon followed with frozen vegetables. Bon Appetit, September, 1999. 

Calling Dr. Hay – Quack,  Quack?

Many people  (often doctors) believe in what legitimate nutritionists refer to what is called pseudoscience. An American physician, Dr. William Howard Hay wrote a book called Health via Food that claimed that the fermentation of undigested starch causes poisoning from within. (often referred to as autointoxication).  Dr. Hay who recommends taking an enema or strong catharic every day, agrees with Dr.John Harvey Kellogg  (refer to Dining Through the Decades, the 1900’s),that meat is not a desirable food and says,  “Ideal heath cannot be attained with any other line of foods than those outlined by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”

Digestion of starch requires alkaline conditions all along the digestive tract” he writes, extrapolating from the fact that human saliva which contains a starch-digesting enzyme, amylase, is alkalilne. “Acid at any stage of starch digestion  will permanently arrest this” “Arresting digestion means the onset of fermentation with disease not far behind. ” Don’t eat starchy foods with anything else and you’ll have no need for medicine of any kind,” says Dr. Hay, and his injunction against mixing starch and protein at the same meal  and he warns at alkalines (meaning fruits and vegetables), should be consumed separately willl be proposed and promoted by other pseud-scientist for a number of years. Note: There is no research that supports this thinking that has  persisted for decades under the name of “food combining,”

Diners

In 1872, a street vendor named Walter Scott from Rhode Island converted a horse-drawn freight wagon into a self-contained food service venue. He parked his wagon outside business offices and offered simple hot meals, sandwiches, pie, and coffee.  By 1880, the street wagon had been banned so they were converted to larger wagons that offered sit-down service.  From the 1920’s to World War II, the industry grew at a tremendous pace. For some reason, one new trend in the 1920’s was to to design them in the form of animals as shown in the picture below.

The Greatest Thing – White Bread?

You’ve heard the expression, “it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread” which may be said, “the greatest thing, period”. Previously, an Iowa salesman named Otto Rohwedder had invented a machine that sliced loaves of bread, but bakers thought the bread would go stale and did not accept his idea. But in 1928, Frank Bench, a baker decided to give it a try and it suddenly became popular and women loved it. Sales at his bakery increased by 2000 percent in only a short time. Another invention by a St. Louis baker, Gustav Papendick created a machine that also wrapped the loaf to prevent it from drying out and the toaster became a perfect partner. Source: Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink

“Americans weren’t the first to buy into the idea that white bread was better. In Western civilization since the days of ancient Rome, people from all backgrounds associated soft white bread with upper-class eating habits. The whiter the bread, the better.” Source: The American Plate: a Culinary history in 100 bites, Libby H, O’Connell,  p. 153

Betty Crocker – The Ideal Woman?

In 1921, The Washburn Crosby Company that was to become the largest predecessor of General Mills Inc. ran a promotion for Gold Medal Flour for any consumers who could correctly complete a jigsaw puzzle of a milling scene. The name Betty Crocker was created to personalize customer responses. Crocker came from the recently retired director of the company, William G. Crocker and Betty was chosen because it seemed like a friendly sounding name. “Female employees were invited to submit sample Betty Crocker signatures; the one judged most popular is still used today.”

The company began to sponsor cooking schools in the country and hired a staff of 21 home economists to devise ways to demonstrate their flour. Later they established the Home Service Department and ultimately, the Betty Crocker Kitchens.

Betty Crocker found a voice when the Washburn Company presented a daytime cooking show called “Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air” on a local radio station. Due to its success and was later expanded to 13 stations and in 1927, the school became a program on the NBC network that continued for 24 years with more than one million listeners enrolled.

According to Fortune magazine in 1945, Betty was the second best-known woman in America, after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Betty was also known as the First Lady of Food.

Betty became a TV personality in the early 1950’s and on one show viewers saw her teach George Burns and Gracie Allen how to bake a cake. Life was simple then. The name was coined in 1921, but the first portrait appeared in 1936. She was first depicted as a serious, unsmiling image, more of a housewife approach. She looked like someone’s grandmother or aunt until 1950 when she began to smile. It wasn’t until 1996 that she had the biggest smile. Over time she evolved from the housewife look and evolved to the look of a professional business woman who worked outside the home.

The Betty Crocker Red Spoon began appearing on packaging in 1954. It is the most recognizable symbol of Betty Crocker today. The logo appears on 200 Crocker products and appear on her famous 250 cookbooks, including the popular 11th Edition of Betty Crocker Cookbook.

Source: http://www.bettycrocker.com

Home cooking & family entertaining

In 1929, life was looking good. We had electricity, refrigerators, sliced bread.  Convenience had arrived with canned foods and frozen foods were beginning to hit the market.

All these could now be purchased in new one-stop supermarkets. The Alpha Beta had everything in alphabetical order making everything easy to find.  The A&P (the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) was doing about $1 billion a year in business. The USDA was finally inspecting meat and there was one car for every five people. Anyone who really wanted a drink could get one. Prohibition did not completely end until 1933, but it was realized that the “great experiment was not so great and was a big mistake. America was in a party mood, but it didn’t last long. In October 1929, the stock market crashed leading to another decade of another kind of misery – The Great Depression. The decade’s giddiness from unprecedented wealth — and a surfeit of Martinis, no doubt — came to a gut-crushing halt on October 29, 1929, when the Dow Jones plummeted a then staggering 30.57 points.

TIDBITS and TRIVIA

As a result of the immigration movement in the early years, San Francisco followed the ethnic movement by opening a restaurant called Far East Cafe, serving wonton soup (dumplings in chicken broth with shrimp, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots) and other Cantonese American dishes.  1920

“Americans heard their first radio broadcast. In 1926, the first advertising jingle was broadcast for a now familiar breakfast cereal, called Wheaties. All this in the midst of the passing of two important Constitutional Amendments – alcohol prohibition and granting the right to vote for women.” Source: Linda Civitello, Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, 2nd Edition, p. 302 1920

Heart disease becomes the leading cause of death in American after 10 years of jockeying with the lead with tuberculosis. Coronary disease accounts for 14% of U.S. deaths, and the figure will increase to 39% in the next 50 years. 1921

Several states legislate sanitary dairy practices like pasteurization in order to deal with U.S.  milk that often reaches consumers with a high bacterium count. Contaminated raw milk transmits undulant fever, infectious hepatitis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and other diseases. 1921

The Popsicle has its beginnings in New Jersey, lemonade-mix salesman Frank Epperson is demonstrating his product. He accidently leaves a glass of lemonade on a windowsill overnight, wakes in the morning to find it frozen around a spoon in the glass, and applies for patent on his “Epsicle.” He then sells the patent to Joe Lowe, who will then market it under the name Popsicle. 1924

U.S. refrigerator sales reach 75,000, up from 10,000 in 1920, as prices come down and consumer incomes rise. 1925

“Mrs. [Esther Ford] Wait is a prohibitionist–that is, she believes in prohibition if it can be enforced. ‘But as it can’t,’ she said, ‘I have nothing against a drink or two at bridge parties or serving cocktails to my friends when they come to dine. Justice Ford…cited his daughter as an example of a nice, young modern girl who goes to cocktail parties…’Cocktail drinking and cigarette smoking by women are questions of manners, not morality.'”1925
—“Boys Need Chaperones Most, Says Mrs. Wait,” Washington Post, June 16, 1925 (p. 9)

California entrepreneur Julius Freed opens a fresh orange juice stand in downtown Los Angeles with sales of about $20 a day.  His real estate broker, Bill Hamlin who found Fred his location, used his chemistry background to formulate an orange drink with a smooth, frothy texture. Patrons liked it and always said: “Give me an orange, Julius” and Freed’s sales leap to $100 a day. Hamlin quits the real estate business to develop the Orange Julius business and by 1929 had 100 Orange Julius stands nationwide, selling nothing bu the 10 cent drink and grossing nearly 3 million dollars. 1926

“I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it,” reads E.B. White’s caption to Carl Rose’s New Yorker magazine cartoon December 8 showing a child refusing to eat broccoli. The vegetable has only recently been introduced into the United States from Italy by D’Arrigo Brothers, an enterprising grower in northern California’s Santa Clara Valley. 1928

Seventy-one percent of U.S. families have incomes below $2800, which is generally considered the minimum necessary for a decent standard of living. The average weekly wage is $28, and the nation’s economy worsens after Wall Street’s Dow Jones Industrial Average plummets in October. 1929

Bon Appetit!

 

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