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What Did People Eat in the 1920s?

Updated on September 7, 2016
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Kitty is a self-proclaimed home and hearth goddess. One of her favorite things is creatively cooking and baking for her family.

One of the Many Food Ads Campaigned by Hoover
One of the Many Food Ads Campaigned by Hoover | Source
A Little Boy Holding Out His Plate in the 20s
A Little Boy Holding Out His Plate in the 20s | Source

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:

Source

A Typical 1920s Menu

A January Meal:

Appetizer:

  • Clam Broth

Main Dish:

  • Baked Ham (soaked overnight and then rolled in liquor and breadcrumbs, baked in the oven)

Sides:

  • 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

Dessert:

  • Caramel Custard

Appetizer: Clam Broth

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups milk
  • 1 cup chopped fresh clams (or 1 can minced clams)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Crackers

Instructions:

  1. Heat in double boiler milk to boil.
  2. Add clams, butter, salt and pepper to milk.
  3. Simmer 5 minutes and then serve with crackers.

Sides: Carrots and Peas

Ingredients:

  • Bag of carrots (scraped, cleaned, and cut into 1/2 pieces)
  • 1 can or 1 bag of small peas
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Butter

Instructions:

  1. Boil carrots until tender.
  2. Mix peas, butter, salt & pepper into carrots.
  3. Make a border around baked ham on a large platter.

Main Dish: Baked Ham

Ingredients:

  • 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

Instructions:

  1. Soak ham overnight in plenty of water after scrubbing well and rinsing (if already cleaned, skip the scrubbing part)
  2. In the morning, change the water and boil the ham for 25 minutes per pound, until ham is tender.
  3. 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.
  4. Half an hour before serving, bake in hot oven.

Sides: Stuffed Celery

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup red pimentoes
  • Bag of celery, cut into 6" pieces


Instructions:

  1. Mash cream cheese together with pimentoes.
  2. Use mixture to stuff pieces of celery and pile log cabin fashion on a small serving plate.

Sides: Potatoes with Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 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)


Instructions:

  1. Wash the potatoes, pare them, and then cut in either thin slices or cubes.
  2. If in cubes, cook for 5 minutes in salted water and drain.
  3. Put in layers in buttered baking dish with 2 tbsp cheese, salt and papper and a few dots of butter between each layer.
  4. 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.
  5. Sprinkle top with grated cheese, salt & pepper, and bake until brown and the potatoes are tender.

Sides: Fried Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Instructions:

  1. Boil well-washed cauliflower for 15 minutes, or until about half done, in slightly salted water.
  2. Drain, cool and break into small branches.
  3. Make batter of flour, beaten with egg yolks, and 1/4 tsp salt. Add water to make usual thickness of batter.
  4. Beat egg whites very stiff and add.
  5. Put cauliflower branches on skewer, dip in the batter, then fry light brown in oil.
  6. Lift from oil and put in colander to drain.
  7. Dust with salt and serve hot.

Dessert: Caramel Custard

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart milk
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup sugar carmelized (instructions for carmelized sugar below this recipe)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla


Instructions:

  1. Cook milk in double boiler with beaten eggs, carmelized sugar, and pinch of salt until thick.
  2. 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.

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  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 23 months ago from the Ether

    Thanks, Kristen.

  • Kristen Howe profile image

    Kristen Howe 23 months ago from Northeast Ohio

    Great hub Kitty! Voted up for interesting!

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 2 years ago from the Ether

    GetitScene - thanks so much!

  • GetitScene profile image

    Dale Anderson 2 years ago from The High Seas

    I'd forgotten how good this hub was so I came back fro another look

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 2 years ago from the Ether

    Thank you, vicki!

  • vickiholder profile image

    Vicki Holder 2 years ago from The beautiful Ouachita Mtns. in Arkansas

    I am new to HP and just came across this hub. I love vintage things so I found this fascinating.

  • profile image

    Woody 3 years ago

    Thanks for this most interesting article. My dad was born in '20, so I'm sure some of these recipes may have found their way to his families table, they had 9. I'm not sure how often they had ham, especially during the depression, but they did grow, raise, and hunt their own food. He's still alive at 94!

    So after soaking the ham in rum, I can imagine the rum being used afterward with a unique ham flavor! Very well written, thanks Kitty!

    Woody

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 4 years ago from the Ether

    Thanks, eddy. You're always too kind. :)

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

    I am saving this true gem. Thank you so very much for sharing this one. I loved it and share plus vote up..

    Take care and enjoy your day.

    Eddy.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 4 years ago from the Ether

    I believe they did, mizjo! And yes, a lot of women were stay-at-home mothers/wives with a lot of time on their hands to make meals and clean house, etc. Thanks!

  • mizjo profile image

    mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

    Kitty, people must have eaten well before the Crash and before Prohibition (a full bottle of rum to soak the ham?). And the cooks must have been Stay-At-Home mothers, as there seems to be a lot of preparation in each item of the menu.

    Interesting and absorbing hub, voted up.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    Thanks!

  • Akasha Arshad profile image

    Akasha Arshad 5 years ago from Lahore

    n!ceee....

  • nylarej profile image

    nylarej 5 years ago from Ph

    I love this hub! Very interesting and can be a great educational source for people who have interest in history.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    Derdriu - Thanks so much! They do sound yummy, don't they? The 1940s food hub is coming soon...couple more days and it should be ready. :) Thanks again! Not sure but I think they removed the vote up/down buttons on the food hubs for some reason. :(

  • profile image

    Derdriu 5 years ago

    KittyTheDreamer, What an enchanting, entertaining, and enthralling discussion of a typical 1920 menu! In particular, I appreciate how you give quick background information on the "Roaring Twenties" before providing a sample menu and then a sample recipe. It certainly is amazing how "nowadays" the recipe reads although it probably takes far less time to prepare and serve.

    Baked ham, clam broth, fried cauliflower and stuffed celery: yummm!

    Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing and in anticipation of a similar hub regarding the 1940s, Derdriu

    P.S. You have all the votes (UFABI), but where's the vote-up button?

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    lucybell21 - Thanks, let me know how it turns out! :)

  • lucybell21 profile image

    Bonny OBrien 5 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

    The fried cauliflower sounds really good. I will have to give it a try. Really enjoyed reading this hub.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    leroy64 - In my research, upscale restaurants in cities and some wealthier people could afford refrigeration, while most had iceboxes or none at all. So yes, I guess they were soaking the ham to draw out the salt, as you said.

  • leroy64 profile image

    Brian L. Powell 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

    Was the menus written before refrigeration became common? You soak a ham to draw out the salt. Salting and smoking meat was the most common way to preserve that food before refrigeration.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    Dolores - Yes, I sort of got inspired by your clothing hubs so thanks for the inspiration! I have a lot of cookbooks from the 40s and 50s and yes you're right in that the pictures of the food were extremely weird. One of the recipes is "barbecue jello"...yuck! LOL. Thanks for reading & commenting, as always.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Hi, kitty - I see that you will be writing hubs on food in other decades as well. What an excellent idea! One of my favorite things about older cookbooks, especially the ones from the 50's is the weird quality of color pages. The food all looks strange and many of the recipes seem downright peculiar.

    One of the things about those past decades is that they were limited in the fresh food department and wound up eating a lot of canned foods. Voted up for highly original!

  • kittythedreamer profile image
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    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    sparrowlet - Thanks!

    AP - I love picturing the people in the 1920s, not sure what draws me to the time period so much, as I'm not sure I lived in that time...but anything's possible I guess! One recipe actually had "fat" in it, but I replaced it with oil! LOL

    daFuj - Thanks so much! Glad you liked it. :)

    phoenix - You're too kind. So could I....they knew how to do it in the 20s.

  • phoenix2327 profile image

    Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    Very nice. I could quite happily munch my way through this menu, especially the ham. Sounds wonderful. Am bookmarking this for future reference.

    Voted useful and interesting.

  • daFuj profile image

    daFuj 5 years ago from Colorado Springs

    What an interesting hub! This type of history is lost and you have found a way to recapture it! Nice going!

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

    Cool and unique Roaring Twenties hub Kitty! And what an idea with what they ate as they sipped their boot-leg booze and tripped the light fantastic dancing the Charleston. Those are some great looking ingredients and recipes, but wheres the Lard lol!!

  • Sparrowlet profile image

    Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

    Something I had never thought about before. Interesting hub!

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    Joyce - I have to say that I agree with that! What a meal, huh? 1940s menu to come soon. :)

    angellite - Thanks!

  • Angelllite profile image

    Angelllite 5 years ago from United States

    Interesting!

  • writer20 profile image

    Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

    Very interesting. Boy! did they know how to eat.

    Voted up useful and interesting.

    Looking forward to the 1940s menu, Joyce.

  • kittythedreamer profile image
    Author

    Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

    Thanks, Audrey! The idea just hit me...next comes 1940s food! :)

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

    What a great idea for a hub!

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