What Did People Eat in the 1920s?
The roaring twenties were sort of like a revolution in some ways, and in others...well, not so much. When I think of the 1920s, I always picture cute, short-haired flapper women adorning the arm of a much larger man in a zoot suit. They're probably sipping on some type of bath-tub gin in a speak-easy in the heart of New York City. But...what were they eating? What did people eat in the 1920s?
You might be asking these very questions if indeed you are planning to throw a roaring '20s party, or maybe you're so enchanted with the decade that you'd just simply like to know what a menu from that era might look like. Well, you've come to the right place, daddy!
The United States went through some pretty well-known and noteworthy changes in the 1920s, including the Prohibition and Suffrage. And in the midst of all of this, you can bet that the way the people in the US ate changed, as well. In the late teens, we were told to conserve food for the War. Many people actually called this the "hooverization" and not necessarily "food conservation." Food was asked to be kept and donated to the military, in order to feed our troops and our allies in World War I. Some key parts to this campaign to conserve food included "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays." I guess one could say that on Monday, the family would be eating vegetarian-style meals and on Wednesday breads and pastas were out of the picture. So when the 1920s came roaring in, food conservation was a little less of a concern and people began to indulge in the joys of life, including alcohol (illegally) and food!
Pulling the food in this article directly from an authentic source, you will find one menu below. And further down, you can find the recipes for all items in this menu. My source is actually an antique cookbook from the 1920s that was my great grandmother's (you can see a picture of it to the right and below). I've always loved thumbing through it and seeing what people ate, and now you can get a taste for the roaring '20s too!
Pulled directly from the 52 Sunday Dinners Cookbook from 1927 (originated and published by Woman's World Magazine Co. Inc: Chicago, USA), here is a genuine example of what a typical Sunday dinner in the 1920s looked like:
A Typical 1920s Menu
A January Meal:
- Clam Broth
- Baked Ham (soaked overnight and then rolled in liquor and breadcrumbs, baked in the oven)
- Stuffed Celery (celery stuffed with cream cheese and red pimentoes)
- Carrots and Peas (boiled and served around the ham)
- Fried Cauliflower
- Potatoes with cheese
- Walnut Bread
- Caramel Custard
Appetizer: Clam Broth
- 6 cups milk
- 1 cup chopped fresh clams (or 1 can minced clams)
- 1 Tbsp butter
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Heat in double boiler milk to boil.
- Add clams, butter, salt and pepper to milk.
- Simmer 5 minutes and then serve with crackers.
Sides: Carrots and Peas
- Bag of carrots (scraped, cleaned, and cut into 1/2 pieces)
- 1 can or 1 bag of small peas
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Boil carrots until tender.
- Mix peas, butter, salt & pepper into carrots.
- Make a border around baked ham on a large platter.
Main Dish: Baked Ham
- 1 ham (size of your choice)
- 1 bottle rum or whiskey (again, your choice)
- 1 small bottle of cloves
- 3 cups breadcrumbs or crushed crackers
- Soak ham overnight in plenty of water after scrubbing well and rinsing (if already cleaned, skip the scrubbing part)
- In the morning, change the water and boil the ham for 25 minutes per pound, until ham is tender.
- Take off the stove and let stand in the liquor until cold. Then peel (if necessary), stick cloves all over it, and roll in crackers or breadcrumbs.
- Half an hour before serving, bake in hot oven.
Sides: Stuffed Celery
- 1/2 cup cream cheese
- 1/2 cup red pimentoes
- Bag of celery, cut into 6" pieces
- Mash cream cheese together with pimentoes.
- Use mixture to stuff pieces of celery and pile log cabin fashion on a small serving plate.
Sides: Potatoes with Cheese
- Potatoes (3 to 4 baking size)
- 2 Tbsp grated cheese (of your choice)
- 2 tsp butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup milk
- Flour (to thicken milk)
- Wash the potatoes, pare them, and then cut in either thin slices or cubes.
- If in cubes, cook for 5 minutes in salted water and drain.
- Put in layers in buttered baking dish with 2 tbsp cheese, salt and papper and a few dots of butter between each layer.
- Thicken a cup of milk with butter and flour as for Creamed Salsify and turn over potatoes. add more if needed to fill the dish.
- Sprinkle top with grated cheese, salt & pepper, and bake until brown and the potatoes are tender.
Sides: Fried Cauliflower
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Frying Oil of your Choice (we recommend vegetable oil)
- Boil well-washed cauliflower for 15 minutes, or until about half done, in slightly salted water.
- Drain, cool and break into small branches.
- Make batter of flour, beaten with egg yolks, and 1/4 tsp salt. Add water to make usual thickness of batter.
- Beat egg whites very stiff and add.
- Put cauliflower branches on skewer, dip in the batter, then fry light brown in oil.
- Lift from oil and put in colander to drain.
- Dust with salt and serve hot.
Dessert: Caramel Custard
- 1 quart milk
- 4 beaten eggs
- 1 cup sugar carmelized (instructions for carmelized sugar below this recipe)
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Cook milk in double boiler with beaten eggs, carmelized sugar, and pinch of salt until thick.
- Add vanilla and chill. Serve Cold.
To Carmelize Sugar:
Stir in iron skillet over stove until sugar dissolves and becomes a syrup of rich caramel color, add 3 tbsp water and cook to a thick syrup.
You can obviously see from the 1920s menus above and the ingredients in the recipes that people in that era cooked food very similar to what we make now. Shocking, isn't it? Of course some of the methods, ingredients, and appliances in order to cook the recipes has changed over time, but the concepts are quite similar today as they were in the roaring '20s.