Sunday, January 4, 2009
The Woman’s World Book of Fifty-Two Sunday Dinners offers help for the menu-challenged as well as some really nifty Art Deco illustrations. My copy was published in 1927 and promises the reader that it will make the traditional Sunday dinner “the easiest meal of the week” with menus that are nutritious, tasty, and within reach of every purse.
“The fifty-two menus which form this book are ones that busy women all over the country planned to please their families and to render light the labor on the day of rest. These women are housewives of average income, with average materials and conveniences on hand, and many of them send or take the children to Sunday school before getting the dinner; or, even after starting the meal, go to church themselves and complete the work on their return. Certainly they set a shining example to other women, especially the young and inexperienced, and the wholesome and delicious dishes for which they give recipes can be successfully tried without fear of failure, they having cooked long enough to know whereof they speak…It may be noted that the menus aim at a mixed diet, which is the ideal one for health, and that extravagant use of butter, eggs, and other expensive ingredients have been avoided.”
These menus would have been considered simple, informal meals for the average household with no maid or at best a “girl” in the kitchen who may or may not have received any training in cooking. The book suggests that “the hostess may serve the soup, the host the roast, and the vegetables may be served from a side table. A tea-wagon, even a home-made one, is such a wonderful convenience that the housewife who does not possess one should own one as soon as possible. The dishes from one course may be neatly stacked on its lower shelf, and it can be wheeled away and brought back with the next course, much more conveniently than can be done with trays.”
But even for an informal meal, certain rules could not be broken. Tables had to be set just so, courses served in the proper order, and the silver plated crumbing brush and pan (you did get one as a wedding present, didn’t you, dear? What were your relatives thinking of?) wielded before dessert could be presented.
(Of course as I type this I’m spooning chili up out of an oversized coffee mug, with a can of diet Pepsi and a pile of taco chips graciously served on a paper towel as accompaniment.)
The dishes suggested for the first Sunday in January are actually rather frugal; perhaps the Christmas bills were weighing on the cook’s mind. There is no soup course. Stuffed steak is a great way to stretch a cheap cut of meat to feed eight people. The fruit salad with its expensive ingredients could be eliminated or cut in half, and the cheaper plum pudding served instead of the lemon pie.
Even the dehydrated peaches were an economy, if you had peach trees and dried them yourself the previous summer.
The salad course reflects the belief, still current in the South and most of the Midwest, that anything made with gelatin counts as a salad.
The entire menu page, with recipes, can be found on my Flickr account.