Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Sense of (Pro)portion

Occasionally you will read, in a food column or elsewhere, the breathless revelation that Americans eat too much. Our current dining habits are often contrasted with those of our ancestors, and the writer(s) point out, correctly, that recipes that in 1920 were intended to feed six or eight people are now, with the same quantities, designated for four.

Okay, we do eat too much. But what isn’t taken into account is that the meals placed on tables, back when stay at home moms could spend all afternoon in the kitchen, contained far more dishes than today’s. All you have to do is read the recommended menus found in any vintage cookbook to see that this is the case.

Granted, those menus were the ideal and not always the attainable. Early 20th century housewives were no more willing and able to put one of Mrs. Beeton’s or Miss Farmer’s elaborate meals on the table every night than today’s cook can whip up one of Martha Stewart’s.

(Nothing against Ms. Stewart, mind you; I admire her, but I read her recipes in the same spirit I watch Kristi Yamaguchi perform on the ice. Sure I can skate, and I even have my old ice-skates down in the basement somewhere, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to try a triple lutz anytime soon. At least not while my deductible is so high).

But even allowing for a certain necessary simplification, dinners used to start with soup or an appetizer, and went on to include a meat dish, potatoes or noodles, at least one vegetable dish and often two, hot bread of some kind, a salad and a dessert. This bounty started to dwindle in the sixties, I think, and nowadays who serves even three courses?

For a normal (ie, weeknight, non-special) dinner, the spousal unit gets a chop or a steak or a chicken breast, potatoes of some sort (he’s three quarters Scotch-Irish and one quarter German, so spuds are mandated), and either a green vegetable or a salad. C’est tout.

If I have time and I remember, he gets hot biscuits as well, and half the time he wouldn’t even get those if they didn’t come in a can.


Sisiggy said...

Growing up my family believed in having "courses" -- even during the week. I miss those long, relaxing meals. Though the soup course eventually dwindled to something like a juice glass of tomato juice or a half of grapefruit.

Ya know, in a way, that soup course did wonders -- much like drinking a cup of bouillon 10 minutes before dinner.

I have an elderly aunt who, until just recently when her age made it impossible, would serve a meal that featured cocktails, then a soup course, salad course, pasta course, meat course, dessert course and, finally, a coffee/liqueur course.

We Italian...of (ahem) course.

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't put as many dishes on the table as my mom did and if I did my family couldn't even begin to eat a small portion of them.. serving courses.. yeah my mom was good for that too but my family would laugh me out of the kitchen and tell me to just bring on the meat and taters and get it over with.

Ladytats said...

them germans love their potaters.

my german grandparents, father and husband, all insist(ed) on potatoes at meals. my grandfather even required potatoes at breakfast.

nancyc20 said...

MMMMMMMpotatoes for breakfast.

I don't think I've ever made a biscuit from scratch. My brownies from scratch are mix is FAR better than mine. But I make a mean soup from scratch!!!!

Think I'll go make a potato salad.

Shay said...

I make biscuits from Bisquick but that's as scratchy as I get.

Anonymous said...

I guess I can't call them courses because I serve them in the tupperware they are going to get re-heated in. But, I do try to have the protein, the vegies, etc. by the pyramid ready to go. Now, some nights, that's fish sticks and tater tots, with applesauce and a tortilla heated up in a pan....
I'll never forget the face of the grad student working for me who came by one night with lamb chops and wild rice, fresh tomatoes, etc, that he and his girlfriend were turning into dinner. DH and I were both sick from kids, one kid had bad snot-cold, one had bad snot-cold and teething, so we were having fish sticks and tater tots with Bud-light, while watching Lawrence Welk on PBS. The grad student was just devastated. His girl-friend wasn't sure she ever wanted to have kids....
a sharon in wyo,