Sunday, February 6, 2011
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.