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WWI Wednesday: Housekeeping in Wartime

Cooks - National Kitchen
The National Kitchens were opened during World War One to provide affordable, nutritious meals for war workers and poorer people © BBC

This earlier post on rationing in wartime discusses the change in eating habits and heating methods, and now we’ll look at some recipes that filled the newspapers and cookery books of the day.

Leek and Pork Pie

Cut up small one bundle of leeks, wash, and place them in salted boiling water. Let boil twenty minutes, and drain thoroughly. Cut up one pound of salt lean pork in small equal pieces, boil for twenty minutes in enough water to cover; then empty meat and liquor into a deep greased pie-dish; add leeks, half a breakfastcupful of soaked drained crumbs, one beaten (dried) egg, and mix thoroughly. Cover with a potato crust and bake for one hour in moderate oven.

Baked John Dory

Remove the head, clean and trim the fish, lay it in a fireproof dish, with a sprinkling of pepper and salt and two ounces of margarine or dripping cut small. Let it bake for twenty minutes in a moderate oven. Fry four chopped mushrooms, lay them evenly on the fish, bake ten minutes more, and serve in the same dish.

Oatmeal Bread

1/2 lb flour, 1/4 lb porridge (made by cooking 1 oz oatmeal in 1/2 pint water until a very stiff porridge), 1/4 oz yeast, 1/2-1 tsp salt, 1/2 gill warm water.
Cream the yeast with a little of the warm water. Mix all the ingredients together, add more water if necessary, and knead well on a floured board. Keep in a warm place until the dough is about double in size. Knead again lightly and put into a floured tin. Set in warm place to prove for about 1/2 to 3/4 hour. Bake in a hot oven.

Pot au Feu

(Note.–I give this recipe for completeness sake; but it is rather reckless unless you have a lot of meat coupons).
Put two pounds of brisket into a deep pan, cover the meat with cold water, and bring it slowly to the boil. Skim off all fat. Fry two sliced onions brown; cut up finely a small cabbage and two carrots; add these, with salt, minced parsley, and herbs to taste, to the brisket, and simmer quietly for three to four hours.

Trench Pudding

Have two tablespoonfuls of rice boiled in half a pint of milk and water, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice tender. Mix in two ounces of shredded cocoa butter (or suet) and one dried egg, with a few chopped dates or a little sugar, and steam them in a greased basin.

War Christmas Pudding

2 oz flour, 4 oz soaked bread, 6 oz suet, salt, spice, 4 oz sultanas, 2 oz peel, 1/2 lb apples, 2 oz grated carrot, 1 dried egg, 1/2 gill milk, 2 oz treacle, half a lemon.

The Great War Cook Book: From Trench Pudding to Carrot Marmalade by May Byron and Eleri Pipien

The Planning and Preparing of Thanksgiving Dinner in Gilded Age America


I was humbled and honored to be contacted to contribute to an article on the Smithsonian Magazine’s website about the luxurious Thanksgiving dining habits of the Gilded Age. Read When Thanksgiving Meant a Fancy Meal Out on the Town to learn more about it!


For the ordinary middle class housewife of the Gilded Age, the planning and preparation of Thanksgiving was just as time-consuming and arduous as it is today. Also like today were the plethora of women’s and culinary magazines, and cooking lectures and demonstrations to bolster the housewife’s confidence in her ability to turn out a delicious and nutritious spread. The Boston Cooking School, founded in 1879, was boosted into the mainstream with the publication of The Boston Cooking School Cook-Book by its principal, Fannie Merritt Farmer, in 1896. The cookbook and the school were part of the rise of health consciousness and culinary science at the turn of the century, spearheaded by women reformers–and you can read more about that in Laura Shapiro’s fantastic book, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. The following is a selection from The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, which was edited by Janet McKenzie Hill, another famed cookbook writer and proponent of domestic science.

The selection and preparation of the food for the Thanksgiving dinner is a matter of varying interest in American households, but it is the only meal of the year that, in its general makeup, is fundamentally the same throughout the land.

For the main dish of the dinner fowl of some kind is considered de rigueur. Trussing the fowl, to be baked or roasted, into a compact shape, frequent basting with hot fat, undiluted with water or similar liquid, followed by dredging with flour, and cooking—after the initial searing over—at a very moderate heat, for a proper length of time, are the main points upon which a successfully cooked fowl depends.

The time of “cooking varies with the age and size of the fowl. A young ten pound turkey calls for three hours of oven heat; a chicken of about four pounds needs one hour and a half to two hours of cooking. Dry, tasteless wings, legs and second joints are the sure results of too hot an oven. As a rule cooking is carried on at too high a temperature.

For bread dressing let the bread be stale; moisten with melted butter and use nothing further of a liquid character; milk, stock, water or eggs make a compact, dense dressing, not easy of digestion. Thyme is the proper sweet herb for the dressing with fowl; reserve sage for pork and geese, and sweet basil for fish. For a change try poultry seasoning—a mixture of sweet herbs and spices—put up for this special purpose. Following tradition many housekeepers wish to introduce oysters into the Thanksgiving dinner, and so add them to the dressing for the turkey. This is a mistake, for the cooking is necessarily too prolonged for anything as delicate as an oyster. It were better to present the oysters in soup or scalloped. Oyster croquettes might be essayed, but these are the work of an artist and will rarely be attempted by ordinary cooks.

Egg-shirrers in the brown earthen ware, now so plentiful and inexpensive, offer an attractive means of serving scalloped oysters individually. Here, again, the crumbs should be moistened with melted butter, without the addition of water or other liquid, and the cooking should not be prolonged. Send from the oven after the family are seated at the table. If the family be large, and the turkey be carved at the table, the oysters, in individual dishes, may be put into the oven just as the turkey is taken out; they will be light, puffy, browned on top and boiling at the edges by the time the turkey, vegetables and giblet sauce are served.

In some country places partridge are a possibility for the Thanksgiving dinner. The naturally dry flesh is much improved, if the birds be filled with a dressing of a largely fatty nature; salt pork, bacon or butter may supply the fat. Salt pork, chopped coarse, may be used, alone. Shake the remnants from the birds before sending to table.

Cranberry sauce and cranberry jelly are given in our seasonable recipes. For occasional use one may select either, but for common, every day and day after day consumption the sauce is preferable. For jelly sugar is mixed into the hot pulp and the whole, without cooking, is turned at once into a mold to -set. For sauce, the sugar is cooked with the cranberries, and the high degree of heat, in conjunction with the acid of the berries, inverts the sugar and thus, in a measure, predigests it.

In making jelly, the cooked berries are pressed through a sieve. Set the strainer—a perforated tin sheet in a tin, dipper like frame—in part of a double boiler of suitable size, then use a pestle. With these utensils the pulp is quickly and thoroughly pushed through the sieve into the boiler below; with a wire sieve and a wooden spoon only a little pulp can be pushed through the sieve, the process is laborious and, eventually, the flame is pulled from the sieve. The same thing results, when an attempt is made to secure purees of vegetables, fish or meat with these latter utensils. Every woman who makes a cream soup, even once a month, should provide herself with a wooden pestle and a proper strainer. With suitable appliances cooking is a delight, without them it is unsatisfactory drudgery and a strain on the nerves.

Vegetables are largely in evidence on the Thanksgiving dinner table. All boiled vegetables should be removed from the water the instant they are cooked. Onions and vegetables of the cabbage family are more digestible, if the cooking be discontinued while the vegetables are still slightly crisp. It is, also, well for those with whom these vegetables seem to disagree, to remember that one onion or floweret of cauliflower may be eaten without inconvenience to the digestive system and even with positive advantage, when a second onion or bit of cauliflower would derange the working of the system.

As a green vegetable, to serve with the turkey, neatly trimmed heads and roots (unharmed by nails) of choice celery, cut in lengthwise halves or quarters, will be enjoyed by almost everyone. If a dressed vegetable be preferred, green or red peppers, in narrow shreds, might be mixed with shredded celery. No dressing other than a simple French mixture is suitable for this occasion.

Pastry in some form is usually given a place in a Thanksgiving dinner. Keep in mind that the best pastry (puff) calls for equal, weights of flour and shortening. Plain pastry is made with shortening equal to half the weight of the flour; flaky paste calls for any proportion between the two. By measure, two cups of flour or one cup of shortening equals half a pound. With these proportions in mind, one who can use a rolling pin with a light hand ought to be able to provide fair pastry for the Thanksgiving pies. Pastry may be mixed with advantage a day or two in advance, but leave the final putting together of paste and filling into pies until the day on which they are to be eaten. For pies with two crusts, let the paste, both under and upper, lie loosely on the plate, and extend one-fourth an inch beyond it. When filled brush over the edge of the lower crust with cold water and press the edge of the upper crust upon it. Do not press them down upon the plate. Pastry shrinks in baking and, when the pie is baked, the crust will be inside the plate.

The matter of decoration suitable to the Thanksgiving table has been called to our attention. Fruit with autumn leaves, hop blossoms, clematis or milkweed seeds are eminently suitable for this purpose. Parsley is in its glory at this season. Some of the thick mossy varieties have a silvery look that makes them exceedingly attractive. As a border for a handsome silver tray of autumn fruits nothing could be more satisfactory and appropriate than this or any other variety of parsley. Failing this, light and dark plumes of celery would not be amiss.

The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics (November 1913)

An Autumn Supper


Eating dinner

Why sigh if summer be done, and already grey skies, like a pall, hang over fog-choked London town? The sun may shine, wild winds may blow, but every evening brings with it the happy dinner hour. With the autumn days foolish men play at being pessimists, and talk in platitudes of the cruel fall of the leaf and death of love. And what matter? May they not still eat and drink? May they not still know that most supreme of all joys, the perfect dish perfectly served? Small indeed is the evil of a broken heart compared to a coarsened palate or disordered digestion.

“Therefore have we cause to be merry!—and to cast away all care.” Autumn has less to distract from the pleasure that never fails. The glare of foolish sunlight no longer lures to outdoor debauches, the soft breath of the south wind no longer breathes hope of happiness in Arcadian simplicity. We can sit in peace by our fireside, and dream dreams of a long succession of triumphant menus. The touch of frost in the air is as a spur to the artist’s invention; it quickens ambition, and stirs to loftier aspiration. The summer languor is dissipated, and with the re-birth of activity is re-awakened desire for the delicious, the piquante, the fantastic.

Let an autumn dinner then be created! dainty, as all art must be, with that elegance and distinction and individuality without which the masterpiece is not. Strike the personal note; forswear commonplace.

The glorious, unexpected overture shall be soupe aux moules. For this great advantage it can boast: it holds the attention not only in the short—all too short—moment of eating, but from early in the morning of the eventful day; nor does it allow itself to be forgotten as the eager hours race on. At eleven—and the heart leaps for delight as the clock strikes—the pot-au-feu is placed upon the fire; at four, tomatoes and onions—the onions white as the driven snow—communing in all good fellowship in a worthy saucepan follow; and at five, after an hour’s boiling, they are strained through a sieve, peppered, salted, and seasoned. And now is the time for the mussels, swimming in a sauce made of a bottle of white wine, a bouquet-garni, carrot, excellent vinegar, and a glass of ordinary red wine, to be offered up in their turn, and some thirty minutes will suffice for the ceremony. At this critical point, bouillon, tomatoes, and mussels meet in a proper pot well rubbed with garlic, and an ardent quarter of an hour will consummate the union. As you eat, something of the ardour becomes yours, and in an ecstasy the dinner begins.

Sad indeed would it prove were imagination exhausted with so promising a prelude. Each succeeding course must lead to new ecstasy, else will the dinner turn out the worst of failures. In turbot au gratin, the ecstatic possibilities are by no means limited. In a chaste silver dish, make a pretty wall of potatoes, which have been beaten to flour, enlivened with pepper and salt, enriched with butter and cream—cream thick and fresh and altogether adorable—seasoned with Parmesan cheese, and left on the stove for ten minutes, neither more nor less; let the wall enclose layers of turbot, already cooked and in pieces, of melted butter and of cream, with a fair covering of breadcrumbs; and rely upon a quick oven to complete the masterpiece.

After so pretty a conceit, where would be the poetry in heavy joints or solid meats? Ris de veau aux truffes surely would be more in sympathy; the sweetbreads baked and browned very tenderly, the sauce fashioned of truffles duly sliced, marsala, lemon juice, salt and paprika, with a fair foundation of benevolent bouillon. And with so exquisite a dish no disturbing vegetable should be served.

And after? If you still hanker for the roast beef and horseradish of Old England, then go and gorge yourself at the first convenient restaurant. Would you interrupt a symphony that the orchestra might play ” God save the Queen”? Would you set the chorus in “Atalanta in Calydon” to singing odes by Mr. Alfred Austen? There is a place for all things, and the place for roast beef is not on the ecstatic menu. Grouse, rather, would meet the diner’s mood— grouse with memories of the broad moor and purple heather. Roast them at a clear fire, basting them with maternal care. Remember that they, as well as pheasants and partridges, should “have gravy in the dish and bread-sauce in a cup.” Their true affinity is less the vegetable, however artistically prepared, than the salad, serenely simple, that discord may not be risked. Not this the time for the bewildering macédoine, or the brilliant tomato. Choose, instead, lettuce; crisp cool Romaine by choice. Sober restraint should dignify the dressing; a suspicion of chives may be allowed; a sprinkling of well-chopped tarragon leaves is indispensable. Words are weak to express, but the true poet strong to feel the loveliness now fast reaching its climax.

It is autumn, the mood is fantastic: a sweet, if it tend not to the vulgarity of heavy puddings and stodgy pies, will introduce an amusing, a sprightly element. Omelette soufflée claims the privilege. But it must be light as air, all but ethereal in substance, a mere nothing to melt in the mouth like a beautiful dream. And yet in melting it must yield a flavour as soft as the fragrance of flowers, and as evanescent. The sensation must be but a passing one that piques the curiosity and soothes the excited palate. A dash of orange-flower water, redolent of the graceful days that are no more, another of wine from Andalusian vineyards, and the sensation may be secured.

By the law of contrasts the vague must give way to the decided. The stirring, glorious climax after the brief, gentle interlude, will be had in canapé des olives farcies, the olives stuffed with anchovies and capers, deluged with cayenne, prone on their beds of toast and girded about with astonished watercress.

Fruit will seem a graceful afterthought; pears all golden, save where the sun, a passionate lover, with his kisses set them to blushing a rosy red; grapes, purple and white and voluptuous; figs, overflowing with the exotic sweetness of their far southern home; peaches, tender and juicy and desirable. To eat is to eschew all prose, to spread the wings of the soul in glad poetic flight. What matter, indeed, if the curtains shut out stormy night or monstrous fog?

Rejoice that no blue ribbon dangles unnecessarily and ignominiously at your buttonhole. Wine, rich wine to sing in the glass with “odorous music,” the autumn dinner demands. Burgundy, rich red Burgundy, it should be; Beaune or Pomard as you will, to fire the blood and set the fancy free. And let none other but yourself warm it; study its temperature as the lover might study the frowns and smiles of his beloved. And the Burgundy will make superfluous Port and Tokay, and all the dessert wines, sweet or dry, which unsympathetic diners range before them upon the coming of the fruit.

Drink nothing else until wineglass be pushed aside for cup of coffee, black and sweet of savour, a blend of Mocha and Mysore. Rich, thick, luxurious, Turkish coffee would be a most fitting epilogue. But then, see that you refuse the more frivolous, feminine liqueurs. Cognac, old and strong-hearted, alone would meet the hour’s emotions—Cognac, the gift of the gods, the immortal liquid. Lean back and smoke in silence, unless speech, exchanged with the one kind spirit, may be golden and perfect as the dinner.

The Feasts of Autolycus: The Diary of a Greedy Woman by Elizabeth Robins Pennell