The American Plate: 1910’s

The Supermarket

A Hungry Nation on the Move

The decade reflected high living, high prices, the introduction of income taxes, women’s suffrage, World War 1, an influenza pandemic that killed between 20 million and 50 million people and prohibition. “Secretary of State Williams Jennings Bryan, a Prohibitionist, served grape juice instead of wine at a 1913 dinner for the British ambassador. By 1919, the Temperance League had won out and the sale and distribution of alcohol was banned. In 1920, saloons were shuttered, and distilleries closed.”

Cooking For Health???

Coca Cola had entered the food market in 1910; at the same time, Nathan franks entered the culture that now included, railroads with deluxe dining, grocery stores, frozen foods and refrigerators.

By 1912 an organic substance (later named vitamin) is discovered by American chemist, Casimer Funk. 

In 1894, the USDA published its first food recommendations through a Farmers’ Bulletin, suggesting diets for males based on content of protein, carbohydrate, fat and mineral matter. In 1916, Caroline Hunt, a nutritionist, wrote the first USDA food guide, Food for Young Children. Milk and meat, cereals, vegetables and fruits, fats and fatty foods, and sugars and sugary foods made up five food groups. Then How to Select Foods addressed recommendations for the general public based on those five food groups in 1917. (Can you believe the fat and sugary foods groups ???

Crisco Sandwich? 

“Proctor and Gamble introduced Crisco, the first solid vegetable shortening. The product is hard to sell to women who had been taught to cook with lard and/or butter. To promote its produce, the manufacturer suggested glazing sweet potatoes with brown sugar and Crisco and spreading sandwiches with Crisco mixed with an egg yolk.” YUM!!!

Convenience: Self-service Grocery Stores

In 1912, change began to replace the grocery store with self-service “supermarkets”.  Previously, a shopper would hand a list to the clerk to retrieve the items from shelves behind the counter – a time-consuming process. George Hartford established the first Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. which he called the A&P “Economy Store”. A clerk still took the orders, but the store did not offer credit or delivery and saved costs with lower prices. In Memphis, Clarence Saunders continued the trend in 1916 when he began the Piggly Wiggly chain. Customers followed a serpentine route past all 600-plus items on shelves (a huge selection for the time) but there were still long lines. Still, this process began the key factors  in the emergence of distinctive packaging, advertising, and brand recognition. Everything from pasta to tamales went into cans, the technology for electric refrigeration was developed, and the frozen-food industry got its start.

People Were Talking About….

Clarence Birdseye, who after spending a winter in Newfoundland, noticed that fish caught and left in the frigid air froze immediately and tasted good after being thawed and cooked. This inspired him to pioneer the commercial frozen food industry.

George Washington Carver and the 300-plus products he developed based on peanuts and the 118 products based on sweet potatoes. His research gave southern farmers ruined by boll weevil infestations a reason to plant crops other than cotton.

Luther Burbank and his 12-volume work, Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries and Their Practical Applications. Burbank’s  extensive cross-breeding of plants led to the development of the Burbank,  or russet potato, which would make Idaho famous.

Household Appliances

This decade was the era of household appliances.  “Middle-class households were used to having at least one live-in servant. As household help began to leave for better jobs, housewives had to do for themselves – a monumental task. For example, the laundry which was a two-day affair. The arrival of mechanical help is heaven sent. An item as mundane as a porcelain range – no more blackening, no more polishing removed one two-hour chore. By 1911 electric chafing dishes, skillets, grills, toasters, percolators, waffle irons, and stand-up mixers were introduced along with the very welcomed electric ranges, and basic refrigerators, invented in 1915.”

Must have been a very Merry Christmas for these ladies!

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