Category Archives: Books

Family Heirloom: Gift Book for Christmas

This post is dedicated to those of us who are tempted to give an Amazon gift card for a present. Here is a hint on how to make a gift book into a family heirloom.

My Gift Book

Our family frequently gave gift books for Christmas presents.  My mother and father almost always wrote inscriptions in the front of the book and dated and signed them.  I treasure those gifts, particularly this one which probably accounted in large part for my life long fascination with Greece and the culture of the Golden age.  I read that book so much that the hard cover is long gone.  Here is the title page, and the very treasured inscription written by my father, Christmas 1947 when I was eight years and nine months old.

Grandma Vera’s Gift Book

What a nice surprise it was to discover that this tradition went back two generations before me. I found books that my great-grandmother, Harriet Morgan Stout gave to my grandmother and to my great-uncle–writing an inscription in each.  Even more fun, my Grandmother, Vera Stout (Anderson) did what many young people do–she “wrote” on the pages. The inscription indicates that she would have been six years old when she received this book, but the book seems a bit young for a six-year-old, and she surely would have known better than to draw in a book by that age!

The book is beautifully illustrated and teaches us much about how children dressed and what they played with. Some things have not changed–skipping rope and blowing bubbles. Some toys have disappeared–whipping tops and hoops.

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Great-Uncle Will’s Gift Book

Vera’s older brother William Morgan Stout (Willy or Will), received a very different book for Christmas 1886 when he was 13.  The inscription is in the handwriting of my great-grandmother, but my mother added the “age 13”.

Review of Davy and the Goblin in American Magazine advertising section January 1888.

Review of Willy's Book

Review of Davy and the Goblin in January 1888 issue of The American Magazine.

This is a very odd book. The author, Charles Carryl, was known as the Lewis Carroll of America–writing humorous fantasy, perhaps as an escape from his day job as a stock broker.

This book published in 1894, obviously aims to cash in on the popularity of Alice In Wonderland which was first published in 1865, and continued to be a best seller.  Carryl tells some original stories, like Davy’s confrontation with the giant Badorful, but he also riffs on familiar tales like Sinbad the Sailor, Jack and the Bean Stalk, and Robinson Crusoe.

The illustrations are black and white, but surely would appeal to an adventure-minded young man.  Thirteen year olds today might find this a bit young for them, but I can imagine my great-uncle “Willy” eating it up.

Willy's gift book.

Willy Stout’s gift book, Davy and the Goblin meet Giant Badorful, 1887

I post this in the hope that it will influence you not only to give books to family members, but always, ALWAYS, write the date, their name, an inscription and your name. It will enhance the value of the book in the century or two to come.  Amazon gift certificates may disappear in the cloud, but books will stick around for a long, long time.

Sick Food: Barley Water For Invalids

No, not food that is sick. Food you eat when you are sick, like barley water.  A better term is the chapter heading in one of my vintage cookbooks: “Invalid Cookery.”

1925 Cook Book

1925 Cook Book Cover

I had noticed this intriguing chapter title in the 1925 book, The Home Makers’ Cooking School Cook Book by Jessie M. DeBoth (cover title: Buffalo Evening News Cooking School Cook Book).  This book, which qualifies as an heirloom, belonged to my great aunt, Maud Stout Bartlett.  As I’ve explained before, a number of newspapers across the country carried Miss DeBoth’s column on cookery, and each published a book of recipes, putting their own name on the cover.

I’ve had a cold that knocked me down this past week, and I kept thinking if I had the energy to get up, I’d cook something from the chapter on “Invalid Cookery.”  Now I’m back up and at the computer, and still feeling the need of comfort food, although not feeling good enough to actually cook anything complicated..

Sick Child

Child in Sick bed, photo from The London Blitz, 1940, Photo by Cecil Beaton, public domain

We all have our sick food favorites, some the same from childhood. Mine include Vernor’s ginger ale (it has to be Vernor’s and if I have to explain why, you’re not from the mid-West); pudding of any kind, but particularly rice pudding; tea with lemon juice and honey; white bread toast to dunk in the tea–or spread with applesauce. Soup and club crackers. It has now been scientifically proven that chicken soup actually IS good for you when you’re ill.

From Mrs. DeBoth’s Cook Book

Back to the book. The introduction to the chapter “Invalid Cookery” is preachy and thorough– as is every chapter introduction in this book. It encourages the housewife by saying,

Caring for the invalid falls to the lot of a large majority of homemakers at some time.  Very often the homemaker has much to do with the recovery of the invalid.  Special foods must be cooked, appetites must be coaxed back to normal, and the patient must be catered to in every possible way.

That is a proposition that I am sure every husband would agree to, and every homemaker might wonder just who was going to “cater to [ME when I get sick] every possible way.”

Not only must you prepare the right food, but the appearance of the food affects the appetite.

Sick person breakfast tray

From American Food Roots website.
In “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent,” Fannie Merritt Farmer called for setting a pretty breakfast tray to stimulate the appetite. / Courtesy of Little, Brown and Co. and the USDA National Agricultural Library

A simple dish of pudding can be made to look so attractive that the person for whom it is intended will be glad to take it no matter what it is.  Daintiness is of primary importance.  The tray must be attractive.  The portions should be small.  A large serving may look so overwhelming that the patient will not try to eat it.  When hot liquids are served, they should be brought in a covered pitcher to be kept hot.  By pouring it in the room, there is not the danger of spilling in carrying.  Nothing so quickly mars the appearance of a tray as a saucer into which some of the liquid of the cup has been spilled.

Oh, dear! Heaven forfend that I should slop some liquid into a saucer!

Monotony should be avoided, even if only the garnish on the food is changed.  When the diet is so limited that great variation is not possible, it sometimes helps to change the dishes with which the patient is served.  A bit of parsley in place of other garnish makes the plate look a little different.  Cress, too, makes an attractive garnish.

The author of this book, does not apparently have a high opinion of the brain power of the reader.

Special care should be taken that no liquid food is ever served in the glass which has contained medicine.  Even if the glass has been thoroughly washed, it may have a slightly unpleasant taste or odor.

Okay, got it! Be dainty. Don’t spill stuff. Add some parsley. Don’t put the lemonade in the paregoric glass. But what should I prepare?  Some suggestions sounds okay, but some just sounds downright weird.


When I was a child, and my children were small, I made rennet custard.  My vintage cook book calls for Junket tablets in an eggnog, which sounds awfully good, but I didn’t have any Junket (a brand name) rennet tablets on hand, so I couldn’t try that.

Barley Water

Nor did I have pearl barley on hand for barley water.  (See UPDATE below) But I know that barley water was a headliner in feeding injured soldiers during the Civil War, and it hung on into the twenties. By the way, have you been watching Mercy Street on PBS? Set in a Civil War hospital, where the head nurse spends quite a bit of time worrying about what the soldiers are eating.

In case you want to try it:

  • 2 Tablespoons pearl barley
  • 1 Quart cold water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • A little sugar if desired.

Wash the barley, pour the water over it and soak for several hours.  Add salt and cook in a double boiler for at least three hours.  Strain through cheese cloth or a fine strainer, flavor with lemon, and add sugar if desired.

Note: Most current day recipes call for cooking barley for 45 minutes–but that is for eating it as a grain. Also, pearl barley has had a lot of the nutrients removed (which apparently Ms. DeBoth hadn’t caught on to, so its benefit to invalids is a bit questionable.)

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton has a similar recipe for barley water , but a more intriguing one proposes barley gruel made with red wine. Mrs. Beeton’s book, published just before the Civil War, must have been quite influential. I found her book at the intriguing site called Ex-Classics and from another site that contains her whole book, Mrs.

Mrs. Beeton’s barley water recipe.

INGREDIENTS – 2 oz. of pearl barley, 2 quarts of boiling water, 1 pint of cold water.

Mode.—Wash the barley in cold water; put it into a saucepan with the above proportion of cold water, and when it has boiled for about 1/4 hour, strain off the water, and add the 2 quarts of fresh boiling water. Boil it until the liquid is reduced one half; strain it, and it will be ready for use. It may be flavoured with lemon-peel, after being sweetened, or a small piece may be simmered with the barley. When the invalid may take it, a little lemon-juice gives this pleasant drink in illness a very nice flavour.

Time.—To boil until the liquid is reduced one half.

Sufficient to make 1 quart of barley-water.

UPDATE: I could not stand the suspense, so finally got out to buy some pearl barley and try making barley water.  I used Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, because it sounded a little more logical to me.  The tiny amount of barley in relation to the water, gives the barley water a pinkish-brown hue. I got just over a quart of liquid at the end.  I added to one glass, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of sugar (channeling my grandmother Vera Anderson who would put the maximum amount of sugar in anything).  Neither of the recipes specify drinking it warm or cold, but I drank it cold, thinking that would be more soothing for a sore throat.

 It really is not bad. You get a bit of the flavor of the grain, plus the lemon and slight sweetness.

Medieval Recipe for Barley Water

Finally, if you want to go back to Medieval days for a recipe for Barley Water for Invalids:

This is an excerpt from Libre del Coch
(Spain, 1520 – Robin Carroll-Mann, trans.)
94. Barley-water for Invalids. You will take barley and cook it the night before, according to the quantity that you wish to make. Then take a pullet or cockerel, and break its bones and then make a pot boil with water that is clean; and moderately, in such a manner that when you cast in the pullet or cockerel, the water only covers it; and [this is] if it is little, of necessity you will have to cast in more water if the pullet is larger, and it is necessary that it cooks longer; and it must cook or boil constantly, and never cease to boil. And do not cast in salt until the last, when you know that there is no more than a dishful of broth, because it will be more flavorful. And having done this, after the patient has supped, you will take a few peeled almonds and grind them with a little of the white meat of the pullet in a mortar; and blend them with the broth of the cockerel or pullet; and when you have strained it, put this milk in a little pot; and if you wish, cast in a tiny bit of starch; you can cast it in at the same time as the milk; and then take the barley or ordio when it is cooked, and take a hemp-tow which should not be very thin, and put it in that ordio or barley, and press down the hemp-tow very well, in such a manner that all the liquor comes out of the barley; then take that milk that you removed, and strain it through a sieve, in such a manner that little of the starch passes through it; and then strain everything again, the barley and all; and it should be a little clear and thin. Because in resting overnight it will turn thick. And I wish to say this now: let it cook the night before with sugar; and in the morning, when the patient is going to drink it, make it boil a little, and that will make it of great benefit; and when you give this barley-water, cast a little sugar over the dish; and if you don’t wish to cast in starch, do not cast it in, [and see] that nothing goes into it.

The things you can find on the Internet!!

What I Will Not Cook

I’m going to pause here, but promise that I’ll bring you some more–but probably NOT “Toast water” (a piece of stale bread soaked in boiling water). And NOT Irish moss (it’s a seaweed and is controversial because it is the source of carrageen which some health experts warn against.) So while cold and flue season is still upon us, I’ll be back with more Invalid Cookery in the future.

Source in addition to those linked above: A Manual for Invalid Cookery. (1880) (available on line)

Home Economics Education in the 1920s and 1930s


Very likely the type of hotplate Miss Anderson used to teach home economics in 1925.

When I read that my mother, Harriette Anderson (Kaser) taught home economics her first year of teaching, and all she had in the way of equipment was a hot plate, I wondered what she taught.

Of course she was teaching a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with cooking. The newish science of home economics (in 1925) covered a good deal more than food. The objective was to turn young women into scientific home makers–able to use the latest and greatest discoveries in health and nutrition, new kinds of sewing machines, and how to be a home manager instead of just a house slave.

The fact Miss Anderson had only an electric hotplate to teach on in 1925 was not entirely unreasonable. In their homes, these girls may still have been cooking on wood stoves,  and using an ice house dug into the side of a hill to store perishables. Although ice boxes with delivery of ice would be widely used in urban areas, home refrigerators had only been introduced in 1914. There were no small electrical appliances. The first stand electric mixers were introduced in 1919. Even the simple toaster did not come along until 1926, and electric stoves were not popular until around 1930. And that did not matter to these farm families, because before the federal  Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in the 1930s, they had no electricity anyway.

Home Economics is Born

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was credited with fueling the north’s passion for the Civil War. But her sister Catharine Beecher wrote a book that may have had more lasting effects. In 1841, she published Treatise on Domestic Economy and in 1869, American Woman’s Home (co-authored by sister Harriet). According to the history of women in the kitchen, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove,

“…she put forth a vision for the home economics movement, a movement that would not come to fruition until the turn of the twentieth century…Her most fervent cause was education for women, and she started many schools for women where ‘domestic science’ was a formal branch of study.  With education and professionalization, Catharine believed housework could be transformed from drudgery into a sacred job on equal footing with the professions of men.”

Catharine herself was never a traditional housewife because her fiancé was lost at sea and she never married. Coming from a family with servants, she may never have cooked. Her books were saturated with the Calvinistic religion of her father and the intellectual philosophy of the circle of New England literati and abolitionists and her extraordinary family members who gathered at the Beecher Hartford Connecticut home at Nook’s Farm.

Although she was a pioneer in this field, I can’t see the fundamentals of Miss Beecher’s teachings permeating the fun-loving 1920s that formed my mother. Catharine was a scold who was intent on improving women, particularly the lower classes so that they could fulfill the “great mission” of “self denial”. Food was not for enjoyment, but for character building. Furthermore, her religious background formed a philosophy where women were subservient to men and she did not believe in women voting. They should be educated–as teachers.

But the ‘get to work and stand up straight’ messages were salted with incredibly helpful hints for forward-looking home making. Move over Martha Stewart–Catharine explained that women could learn how to divide their home into rooms to best use the space, how to make their own picture frames and pant stands, organize their kitchens for maximum efficiency, and properly serve meals.

Home Economics in Ohio Schools

In 1914, a federal law required land grant colleges (including mother’s and my alma mater, Ohio State University)  to extend teaching of home economics and agriculture through county extension agents. That program was in full swing when mother started teaching in rural Ohio in 1925. In 1917, the federal government had started partially funding domestic science teaching in local schools, which probably explains why by the time mother started teaching, most Ohio schools–even a two-room school like Clark, Ohio– had home economics classes.

Harriette Anderson teacher

Clark, Ohio High School, the 1925-26 students. The 19-year-old teacher is on the far right.

But what could she teach to a class with three girls of various ages? Food was certainly going to be a challenge with only a hotplate to operate with. And I can imagine what those farm mothers thought about their girls being taught by some outsider the skills that had been passed down form mother to daughter for generations.

Home Economics for the Twenties and Thirties

In the twenties and thirties, women were being taught that cooking with commercially preserved foods was superior to using fresh or home-preserved. The newest, most modern, most economical and efficient way to cook was to use commercially prepared foods. Food manufacturers jumped on this opportunity and mother’s closet was full of brochures and cookbooks on how to use brand name products. The Singer company helped get sewing machines into classrooms. Pattern-makers catered to home economics teachers.

Since Miracle Whip was not introduced until 1933, this brochure must have come along a little later, but checking historic labels, I think this would have been very early. [Note: I had to leave out a couple of panels. The recipe that goes with the center bottom picture of food is Burgers and coleslaw. Also, the color balance is off–the mayo was just as white then as it is now.]

In a book called A History of Vocational and Career Education in Ohio 1828-2000, I learned that the first state coordinator of Home Economics was appointed in 1918.  I do not know for sure what the teaching guidelines were for home economics teachers in 1925, but by 1930, Ohio had a detailed curriculum guide, Home Economics: Course Study for High Schools in Vocational Home Economics Education.  If you want to see what was expected of women in 1930, check the digital version on this page.

Food teaching centered on nutrition–not fancy food.  The vitamin value of vegetables was not even realized until World War I–not even a decade before mother started teaching.  The recommended reading section of the study guide includes two books by the Boston Cooking School teacher and author, Fannie Farmer. Recipes are plain and seasonings are few.

The study guide is earnest and for the most part probably very helpful to a beginning teacher at a city school, but I doubt that the farm girls of Clark had any need for the etiquette of serving dinner–both with and without a maid; nor would Miss Anderson’s hotplate have accommodated the instructions to have each girl take responsibility for “planning, preparing and serving (with the aid of another member of the class) at least one luncheon of each type for a group of five or six people.” And “planning, preparation and serving a series of suppers (10-14) for the family. Two or three meals a week may be prepared if the project is covered while school is in session.”

The “types” of luncheons to be discussed, with focus for each day underlined were:

  • Vegetable plate luncheon, bread, beverage.
  • Cheese dish, vegetable salad, gelatin dessert, bread.
  • Meat or fish salad, parkerhouse rolls, fruit compote.
  • Croquettes, green vegetables, fruit salad, bread.
  • Meat, or meat extender, vegetable salad, bread, beverage, dessert.

Mother was learning her own ideas of what made the proper meal as she taught her classes. To the end of her life, she complained about any meal that did not include bread. She expected meat, vegetable, starch (potato or rice for instance), bread and coffee and dessert. If these farm families wanted bread, mother had to bake it. There were no bakeries, and commerical sliced bread was not yet available.

In the classroom, she could have boiled potatoes on the simple hotplate like she reported doing on a campfire on her summer road trips during this period. I can imagine her borrowing an iron skillet from Aunt Rhema, in whose house she was staying while she taught at Clark, and frying potatoes, or perhaps she made an omelet. Of course the girls could make a salad, but there was no refrigeration for leftovers, and anyway, fresh salads might have been a hard sell in those days of boiling  vegetables to death. That vegetable plate luncheon would have been an oddity for these meat-loving farm families. And fish? Probably not. In one way, they would have been extremely modern. All produce would have been locally grown and organic.

Teaching home economics in a rural two-room school in 1925 would have been quite a challenge– even if  teacher had more than a hotplate in the classroom.

Will you try any of the recipes in the Kraft  booklet?  For that matter, which side of the divide do you fall on–Miracle Whip dressing or Kraft mayonnaise?