1915 was a year marked by labor strife over the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, noisy debates over women’s rights and birth control, distress over the disruptive effect of new technology like the telephone and the automobile, turmoil overseas, and mistrust and outright hatred of immigrants. Sound familiar? I swear I'm talking about 100 years ago. Really.
The more time I spent digging around in hundred-year-old newspapers as I researched my novel Girl Waits with Gun, which is based on a true story, the more I recognized our own, modern world.
Only the recipes were different. I found odd ingredients, weird and disturbing names, and strange ideas about what sick people ought to eat. Some of it might deserve to make a comeback; have a look and decide for yourself. Recipes back then never named a temperature — just get the oven hot — and were often vague on measurements. Consider this a general guide to your great-grandmother’s weirdest comfort foods.
This is the most normal dish on this list (it's in the picture up top!). This one is actually in Girl Waits with Gun, and really was the favorite food of the middle sister, Norma. Mix shredded cabbage with salt and let stand for 30 minutes to draw out the water. Squeeze the liquid out. Meanwhile, cook some pasta. In a frying pan, cook onions, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds in oil, and add the cabbage. Cook until cabbage is golden and add pasta. A little sausage or bacon would not harm this dish at all.
Every bit as good as it sounds. Combine a cup of good cream, three-quarters cup sugar, three eggs, and enough flour so it can be rolled out thin. Cut into diamonds and fry in hot lard.
Eggs In Prison
Nothing puts me more in the mood for brunch than the thought of prison eggs. Line muffin tins with bread crumbs and cold, cooked meat, break an egg in the center, and bake.
Just hearing the name is certain to cheer up a family fallen on hard times. Pour two cups boiling water over two cups cornmeal, and add a little butter and salt. When cool, add two eggs and some milk. Fry and serve with butter, syrup, and despair.
This is not what you think it is. Line a pie dish with bread and butter, top with fresh berries or stewed fruit, bake 20 minutes, and sprinkle sugar on top.
This one is what you think it is. Scald five to six pigeons or other small birds, and pick them clean. Truss them and stew them, leaving the heads and feet on. Arrange them in a nest of rice fried in hot lard, and pour gravy over them. (What you do with them after that is your concern.)
One problem with cake is that it doesn’t have any potatoes in it. You can remedy this by adding a cup of cold mashed potatoes to a standard cake recipe. Just cream it in with the butter and sugar and proceed as usual.
Another problem with cake? No pork. Finely chop a pound of good fatty salt pork, cook it in a pint of strong coffee, then add four cups brown sugar, nine cups flour, a pound of raisins, a tablespoon of baking soda, and a bunch of nutmeg and cinnamon. Bake until it’s done.
Salads would be so much better if they were just made of cheese. To gelatin soaked in cold water, add chopped olives and pimento, half a cup grated cheese, salt and pepper, and then fold in a cup of cream. Pour into molds and serve on lettuce leaves with mayonnaise.
Don't like the wiggle? Line a dish with small shrimp and canned peas, top with a mixture of melted butter, flour, salt, and milk, and heat until shrimp are thoroughly still. Serve over crackers.
To clear the complexion, make a sandwich of buttered bread, lettuce, and horseradish. Recommended by doctors.
Believed to treat stomach problems. Simmer a handful of clean moss in three cups milk, strain through a cheesecloth after 20 minutes, add sugar and vanilla, and let it cool into a weird green jelly-like substance that will only terrify the patient. Serve with cream and sugar.
Combines two of the most recommended foods for invalids: toast and water. Soak a piece of toast in salted boiling water for ten minutes. Drain and serve cool or hot in place of tea or coffee.
Everyone likes a bread named after a stomach ailment. Recommended for people who have trouble digesting yeast (never mind the gluten). Combine one pint flour, two teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt, and water and milk to moisten. Let it rise, yeast-free, for ten minutes, then bake for forty.
For invalids who can’t tolerate milk. Rather than not give them milk, just do this complicated and strange thing instead: Heat a cup of milk on the stove. When it starts to steam, add four tablespoons of sherry. Bring it to a boil, which will cause the curds to separate from the whey. Strain out the curds and serve the whey to the confused and dyspeptic patient.
What, you don’t make your own cough drops? Two cups sugar, two cups vinegar, butter the size of an egg. Boil and pour into cold water so it hardens, then drop it into a buttered tin to cool. Pull it into ribbons and cut into pieces.
So if you're not lining up to make these, I don't blame you. But if you are? Godspeed. I suggest the company of a good read while you do.
Images: Giphy (5); seesternrea/flickr