Friday, August 07, 2009

Keeping the Toaster Shiny.

When did being “time-poor” in the kitchen become an issue (or an explanation, or an excuse, or a justification ….) ? We are used to exhortations to domestic economy. Cookbooks from every era and every culture have preached the doctrine of saving expense – or at the very least, the avoidance of waste. Waste, even in good times in wealthy households, has generally been viewed – at least in theory – as a sinful thing. Somehow in very modern times we have moved well away from this idea: there is plenty of evidence that in developed countries, up to a fifth of purchased food is thrown away – a situation that would have been unthinkeable until …. when?

But to return to my first question – when did saving time in the kitchen become an issue, and why? We feel - and are regularly told - that we have hectic lives and too much to do, and are too busy and too stressed. But we have – at least in theory – a legislated 8 hour working day only five days a week (an unbelievably lazy working life, historically); we have labour-saving devices in our homes; we can get to work in a blink of an eye, relatively speaking. Most of us would certainly feel that we did not have time for the following little domestic chore, described in a 1930’s American newspaper.

“Every toaster should have its little long-handled brush with which to sweep out the crumbs that accumulate after each use. It is a sign of good housekeeping to find the toaster always as shiny as a new dime, with no burnt-on crumbs, butter stains or finger marks.”

Oddly, this same newspaper page also had a column of ideas and recipes for “Half Hour Meals”. Perhaps the time saved was intended to be used to polish the toaster in time for breakfast. The newspaper was the Middletown Times Herald (of Middletown, NY) of May 28, 1936, and the helpful section called Modern Home News was “Conducted for this newspaper in the interest of its women readers by recognized authorities on all phases of home making.”

Here is one of the suggested menus for “a substantial though quick dinner”:

… starting off with a tomato juice cocktail; then broiled beef patties, fried potatoes (which have been cooked in the morning); asparagus, butter sauce, fruited gelatin (also prepared in the morning). Asparagus should be cleaned in the morning, folded in a wet cloth, and put into the ice-box. When preparing the dinner, start the water for boiliing asparagus first; then slice or dice the potatoes and broil the patties.

This is a bit of a cheat, I think, as the half-hour does not include the morning preparation.

I must return to this time-poor in the kitchen approach sometime soon. In the meanwhile, from the same page of the newspaper, from an article headed Vegetables In Spring Attire, we have the following recipe to encourage Dad and Junior to enjoy their vegetables.

Scalloped Cabbage.
Wash and cut into sections a young cabbage. Boil in salted water until tender. Chop very fine (leftover cabbage may be used to advantage.) Add one egg, well beaten; three fourth cup milk; one tablespoon finely chopped broiled bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put a layer of cabbage in the baking dish; sprinkle grated sharp cheese over the mixture, then another layer of cabbage. Continue until baking dish is filled. Cover top with buttered bread crumbs, sprinkle with cheese and bake for thirty minutes in a moderate oven of 350 degrees F.

Quotation for the Day.
Cabbage as a food has problems. It is easy to grow, a useful source of greenery for much of the year. Yet as a vegetable it has original sin, and needs improvement. It can smell foul in the pot, linger through the house with pertinacity, and ruin a meal with its wet flab. Cabbage also has a nasty history of being good for you.”
Jane Grigson (1928-1990)


Victoria said...

I might be wrong, but I think that screen-watching is the source of most people's time poverty. It's amazing how many people will tell you that they never watch TV. So what do they do with their leisure time? Read a book? Work on a craft? If asked, they'll mostly reply they watch DVDs or downloaded movies. Being time poor seems to be about poor time management.

As for wasting food, I have a theory that because very few of us prepare meals from scratch, food is easier to throw away. By not taking time to prepare meals, we're less imaginative with food and have no idea what to do with left-overs - other than throw them away.

Thank you for providing such interesting views of the past.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks for your good comments Victoria. I agree about time poor being mostly about time management. I think as humans we have an irresistible need to fill up our time and no matter how many labour-saving devices we have, we will still feel we havent got enough time. I think you are right about our attitude to waste, too. It is easier to waste when you havent seen first hand the work that has gone into producing our food

KT said...

I agree! I was amused to notice the "prepared in the morning" elements to the half-hour dinner... Many recipes I find in books and magazines list the "preparation" time, but this only seems to include the actual stovetop or mixing time, not the time needed to chop ingredients...

Unknown said...

While I agree with the comments here, there's something we've forgotten to take into account. In the past, most households were single-income, and women rarely worked outside of the home (and less often in a full-time position). So while working hours are shorter, travel is quicker, and we have innumerable time-saving devices, we also have at least 8-10 hours a day where the house is empty, where previously there would have been a home-maker there ... cleaning the toaster, presumably ;)


Anonymous said...

Poor old cabbage... so often maligned.
I love the idea of the cheesy-bacon-y-bake!
Savoy cabbage,finely shredded, then boiled in barely any water at all - but only until soft and extra bright in colour- drained and flavoured with butter, salt, pepper and caraway seeds warmed in a dry saucepan fixes cabbage's soggy, sour image, and enhances the aroma.
No boarding school memories with this method :)

Liz + Louka said...

What Loquacity says is, of course, correct, but I have to admit that I was better able to keep the toaster shiny as a working single woman than I am now as a stay-at-home mother. My daughter is a lot more demanding than a 9-to-5 job was, even one in which I occasionally had to work through the night.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Liz - you are so right! I am always amused when I hear young women saying they cant wait to "give up work" when they stay home and have a family. Hardest and busiest work you can do, for sure. My toaster is not shiny, and I dont have kids at home any more. Too bad. Am writing blog posts instead.

Unknown said...

In my life, a recipe, to be perfectly honest about the time required, should take into account not only the time it takes to mince the half-cup of onions (or whatever) so casually called for, but that needed to wash the dishes still in the sink from the last bout of cheffery.