Comfort Cooking from the Family Archives: A Midcentury Recipe for Baked Macaroni & Cheese

The San Francisco Bay area may be most well known for its sourdough bread, Ghiradelli chocolate, and all things aquatic found at Fisherman’s Wharf, but in my family, we have another favorite to add to the list too. It’s an heirloom recipe that comes from the kitchen of my adventurous epicurean aunt, Patti, who lived thirty miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge in a foggy seaside utopia called Half Moon Bay.

Always known as an agricultural town, Half Moon Bay, was first settled by the Ohlone Indians and then by Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish transplants in the mid-1800s. Since its early days, this hamlet has been home to commercial tree farms, flower fields, nurseries, and vegetable farms that serve the local, regional and national communities.

There, in her light-filled kitchen decorated with antique blue and white dishware, Aunt Patti experimented with all sorts of wonderful recipes over the course of the latter half of the 20th century. Many meals were inspired by her backyard garden and all the things that she could grow in this cool California climate, but she was also interested in just making good food that prompted smiles and a fun dining experience. Hand-tossed pizza, homemade layer cakes, marshmallow frosting, from-scratch waffles, grilled hamburgers stuffed with all sorts of pizazz – those are just a few highlights of mealtimes at Aunt Patti’s table.

Happy New Year vintage kitcheners! Since the world is still struggling through the pandemic and a multitude of other crises, I thought it would be fun to start 2022 off with a fun food from the family archives that has universal comfort appeal. Today, we are making Aunt Patti’s baked macaroni and cheese recipe that was passed down from her mom, Dorothy sometime during the 1960s.

Aunt Patti was the best kind of gourmet cook – curious, generous and always willing to try new things. If you are a regular reader of the blog, you might remember her handwritten recipe for Citrus Chicken that was featured here in 2018.

Just like the popular comfort foods of bread and chocolate that are embedded in San Francisco’s culinary landscape, this recipe that has danced around Aunt Patti’s kitchen for more than six decades is a reliable crowd-pleaser that’s been known to bring enjoyment even on the lousiest of days. And it’s no wonder – this classic food has been a salve for bad days and good appetites for centuries.

The idea of macaroni and cheese – a pasta baked in a saucy bath of melted dairy proteins – has been recorded in cookbooks since the 1700s. Elizabeth Raffald was the first to print it in book format in 1769. She made hers on the stovetop using macaroni, cream, flour, and parmesan cheese.

Elizabeth Raffald, an 18th-century English domestic worker, cooking instructor and author was the first to bring macaroni and cheese to the printed page in 1769.

Even though the recipe’s origins lay in the cuisines of England, Italy and France, macaroni and cheese nowadays, surprisingly, is most often associated with American cooking. We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for that. In the early 1800s, he was so fascinated by this dish after first trying it abroad, that he recreated it at Monticello and proudly served it at dinner parties. That helped to propel its popularity and expand its reach to other areas of the country. He even went so far as to work out the mechanical properties required to make, cut and dry the pasta just like he had seen it done in Italy.

Fun facts of culinary history aside, once baked macaroni and cheese tantalized the American palate it became a mainstay on the menu of popularity forevermore.

From Aunt Patti with love – Macaroni and Cheese – an heirloom family favorite.

Aunt Patti passed away in the late 1990s, so we don’t have her as a hands-on cooking consultant anymore but thankfully, my family still has all of her handwritten recipes, which makes it feel like she hasn’t altogether left us. When her recipe for macaroni and cheese resurfaced via my cousin this past Christmas season, it was a wonderful reacquaintance with her cooking style, her spirit and her son. And it sparked many discussions. More on that below, but first I wanted to point out the beauty of the actual recipe itself.

I love several things about its physical appearance in particular. 1) That the recipe is written in my Aunt’s hand. 2) That it is splattered and stained with over sixty years of use. 3) That it has the no-frills title of Macaroni Cheese and contains a few humbling spelling errors. 4) That it references my grandmother, Dorothy, in the top-right corner.

Grandma Dorothy, who lived between the years 1914-2012, was a great cook in her own right, but she was shyer than my aunt when it came to talking about food and how she prepared it. Luckily, Aunt Patti was a great recorder and when she fell in love with a recipe she liked, she wrote it down and filed it away in her recipe box. Did Grandma Dorothy invent this recipe, using her thrifty Depression-era cooking skills and staples she had on hand? Did Aunt Patti tweak it a little bit in the 1960s to make it her own? We’ll never know. But the fact that it has been made again and again in the same California kitchen for the past 60 years is proof enough that’s it’s a good one to keep hold of.

There are a bevy of different ways to approach baked macaroni and cheese … from the basic (cheese, milk, butter, flour, pasta) to the fancy (gourmet cheeses, spicy aromatics, infused butter, thick cream, specialty pasta). Aunt Patti’s recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t contain any pricey ingredients or hard-to-find flavors but it does combine two more unusual components not often associated with a cheesy casserole.

The inclusion of sour cream and cottage cheese gives this recipe a rich, tangy flavor and fluffy consistency. It’s cheesy without being greasy and filling without being dense. It reheats beautifully and freezes even better, so if you wanted to make a big batch, double the ingredients and you’ll have a comforting casserole (or two!) for many winter meals to come. And since this recipe is connected to both my aunt and my grandmother, I’m taking the liberty to retitle it to include my grandmother’s last name and my aunt’s maiden name so that they will both be credited. This way, from here on out, the recipe will act as a tribute to two 20th century women who inspired each other in the kitchen. In turn, I hope their recipe inspires you too.

Macaroni Cheese of the Ladies’ Race

Serves 6-8

7 oz (1 3/4 cup) elbow macaroni or ditalini pasta

2 cups small curd cottage cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 egg, slightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

dash pepper

8 oz (two cups) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook macaroni on the stovetop in boiling salted water for 12 minutes. While the macaroni is cooking, mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

Fold in cooked pasta. Spread mixture evenly in a casserole dish. Top with paprika or cracked black pepper or neither – whichever you prefer.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the top of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Let it rest on a cooling rack for just a few minutes before serving.

Aunt Patti would have suggested pairing this casserole with a simple side salad of home-grown lettuces, but it’s really delightful just enjoyed on its own too. The sharpness of the sour cream in combination with the creaminess of the two cheeses offers a silky flavor profile that is a dynamic, satisfying meal unto itself.

Since this recipe festively made the rounds in the kitchens of almost every single one of my family members and then their friends and their family this Christmas, it has sparked quite a few discussions.

I’ve learned that macaroni and cheese means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve learned that there are two camps – those who prefer a homemade recipe like this one and those who prefer a boxed stove-top kind. I’ve learned that some people like extra cheesy, extra creamy macaroni swimming in sauce, and I’ve learned that some people prefer a lighter more souffle-like texture. I’ve learned that some people like to add a bunch of flavor enticing extras like bacon, chives, jalapenos, buttermilk, herbs and even apples to the mix. And I’ve learned that some people are purists and prefer nothing more than the likes of the original four ingredients first prescribed by Elizabeth Raffald’s 18th-century recipe. Like, pizza and all the zillion different ways you can top it, I’ve learned that strong opinions swirl around the kitchen when it comes to this type of comfort food.

I’ve also learned things about my own preferences and how I like to approach food these days. I love that this recipe is connected to a particular place and a particular set of women. I love that an old piece of paper with its compilation of interesting ingredients still continues to connect family and now you, here on the blog, sixty years after it was written. And I love that this recipe acts as an impetus to storytelling for the cooks who came before us. That to me is the real comfort of this comfort food.

If you try this recipe, I encourage you to comment below with your thoughts on this whole matter of macaroni and the cheese it swims with. Both Aunt Patti and Grandma Dorothy would have been pleased as punch to hear your thoughts, just as I am now. Passions and opinions are most welcome here!

Cheers to favorite family recipes, to the kitchens that keep them, and to the conversations that continue to float around them. And cheers to 2022. I hope your kitchen greets you with joy every day of this brand new year.

Literal Joy at Year’s End

If I could comb through all the posts this year where I wrote the actual word “joy,” it would probably be embarrassing. Overuse of anything is never exciting. That usually signals that a dependence or an artifice or a crutch is involved. A thing that is trying to act as something else… a salve or a mask or a comfort. Could the kitchen really have provided all that this year?

The Oxford dictionary defines joy as both a noun and a verb. It’s defined as a person, a place, a thing. But also it is defined as an action, an occurrence, a state. It’s a tangible word and a guiding light all in one. It’s an immediate touchpoint and a faraway beacon. It’s a feeling. It’s an aspiration. It’s an anticipation. It’s joy. JOY!

In other words, it is as easy and as complicated to describe as any three-letter word can be.

This year, the Vintage Kitchen said hello to our biggest year yet. Our blog posts met more new readers from around the globe than ever before.

And the kitchen shop grew in leaps and bounds. In just one extra special day, of all the days, the shop welcomed over 15,000 visitors and grew in awareness and engagement tenfold over the course of twelve months. So much kitchen love!

We sent packages as far away as New Zealand this year and as close as 10 miles down the road in our home city of Nashville, TN. We globetrotted our way around the kitchen from Hungary to India, to Ireland to Indonesia to Israel and back home again to America. We prepared fish dishes, chicken dishes, dessert dishes, brunch dishes, and vegetarian vegetable dishes. We answered a plethora of questions about dishes. About your dishes. How much, how old, how rare? And we had the pleasure of learning more about unique artifacts from New Mexico, Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and California as fellow vintage lovers shared their personal collections and the stories behind them.

Read about the enigmatic Rico-Ward family and their linen collection here.

This year, we celebrated with several enthusiastic press mentions …

and we reveled in each and every one of the comments that shoppers sent to us upon receiving their vintage packages in the mail. With each new journey and each new milestone, my cup of joy runneth over. It’s not only a celebration of effort acknowledged but also a testament to the genuine care and stewardship of our community’s love of history and the objects in it. Whether it be a story, a recipe, or a tangible object, each item that passes through the Vintage Kitchen finds not only a new home but also a new layer of story, one that will ultimately mark, affect and carry forth a fresh perspective of old character for new generations to come.

In November, we had to make the very tough decision to temporarily close the shop down for the holiday season while we embarked on our biggest adventure of the year – a South to North move. This temporary pause in shopkeeping not only reminded me how much I truly love this land of the Vintage Kitchen and all the aspects of it, but it also reminded me that once you find true joy and purpose it will never completely leave you. I was so happy to see that even though the shop was closed for a bit and a big source of my creativity was stunted because of it, communication from this lovely vintage kitchen community never let up. You kept in touch.

While we are staying in a temporary waterside cottage awaiting some big plans for a big announcement coming soon, I knew everything was going to be okay in regards to leaving the shop unattended for a bit when, on the very first day that we arrived, I spotted a beacon in the cottage bookshelf. Tucked in between the potted plants and the Polish pottery, there was a cookbook. And not just any cookbook. There was…

Joy of Cooking! Irma Rombauer knew her own series of trials and tribulations throughout her life but she cast those aside in her middle years and went after the pursuit of a passion. She found it in the kitchen. It was the one place she would come to know best in the world. And in that kitchen, following that passion, she made joy…

All the editions of Joy of Cooking through the years.

Throughout the rest of her life, Irma witnessed firsthand, the endless amounts of joy that good food and good cooking brought not only to herself but also to every kitchen it touched. Maybe it was just a coincidence that this cookbook just happened to be in the cottage, just at the right time taht I needed to see it, but given the fact that there are millions of cookbooks floating around in the world, and the cottage could have been the holder of any one of those, the notion that it was a vintage JOY was pretty comforting. I like to think that it was a little sign from Irma herself, sent with love and a little message about joy in cooking, of cooking, for cooking and how it prevails always, no matter what kitchen you find yourself in.

So it is with complete love and gratitude, that I say THANK YOU so much to everyone who contributed to bringing joy to our little section of the world this year. Thank you for being both the noun and the verb. Thank you for keeping in touch. Whether you submitted a comment, made a recipe or purchased a piece of history from the shop, thank you. I hope you’ll always be a part of our joyful landscape and that we can continue to inspire each other year after year after year.

Cheers to a new year full of new potential and bright possibilities in the kitchen and beyond.

Happy New Year!

Dinner & Dessert Under the Stars of Israel: Two Vintage Recipes and A Modern Day Craft Project

Sea and sky. Blue and white. Stars and snow. Dinner and dessert. That’s the theme of our next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2021. Destination #24 in this multi-year series takes us to the holy land of Israel for a bit of holiday festivity, Hanukkah style!

I thought that Israel was going to be right up there at the very top of the list of the oldest countries in the world, but surprisingly there are some discrepancies when it comes to naming the oldest places around the globe, and then also the specific order in which they should appear. That’s because there are quite a few ways to calculate this information and it all differs. Based on records, archeological findings, the official forming of civilized governments, one list could say that China is the oldest country in the world while another list says that it’s Greece.

The pastel color palette of Israel acts as a timeless backdrop to the bold and dynamic culture of this storied country.

But particulars aside, there are a few countries that keep popping up on everyone’s top tier lists depending on which site you are consulting and for what reason. Japan, Iran, China, Greece, Egypt and India usually make the top ten agreed-upon selections. Israel, France, Italy and San Marino sometimes get included too, but not always.

This is a model replica of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus that is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Granted, the landscape of Israel is centuries old with ancient cities like Jerusalem and Jaffa always at the ready to offer historic context, but it wasn’t until 1948 that Israel declared its independence, becoming the first Jewish state in over 2000 years. 1948 is also the same year the Israeli flag, as we know it today, became official even though the design was first created in the late 1800s. That makes Israel both wonderfully ancient and modern all at once.

The first version of the Israeli flag was designed by a Lithuanian-American rabbi, Jakob Askowith and his son, Charles in 1891 for a temple in Boston, MA. They selected the blue and white colors which represented benevolence and purity, included the Star of David, and a Hebrew word for a specific warrior in Israeli history. Other versions designed by other people emerged in the 19th century too, including a flag that featured lions and stars, but it was the Askowith’s design that resonated with people most. Little tweaks here and there would be made to the flag and the Hebrew writing would be dropped from the original layout, but by the time, the Askowith’s flag was flown at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, it was a cherished icon recognized by the Jewish community worldwide.

View from the Tower of Electricity Building during the 1904 World’s Fair, St Louis, MO. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Since it’s Hannukah, I thought it would be fun to tie this food post in with a homemade craft project that celebrates one of Israel’s most iconic symbols of faith and flag – the Star of David – an instantly recognizable emblem deeply associated with Jewish culture.

The last time we combined a craft project with a recipe from the International Vintage Recipe Tour it was during Week 9 when we traveled to China via the kitchen in March of 2020. That was just when the Coronavirus was gaining steam, the country was going into lockdowns, and when a major tornado blew through my city streets and destroyed half the buildings in my neighborhood.

Chinese floating paper lanterns

In that turbulent post, we made floating lanterns based on an annual Chinese celebration, known as the Hungry Ghost Festival which honors the spirits of departed ancestors. As the world was losing loved ones to the virus and losing freedom to lockdowns, and my neighborhood was grieving the destruction of a broken-down landscape, I clung to the idea that memories of love and light could guide us through the dark in the form of an actual, physical light. The paper lantern may have been fragile in appearance but it was mighty in hope and sentiment.

This time, our craft project also centers around light and strength and spiritual guidance. It comes at a time when things in the world are still universally difficult due to the continuing pandemic, and it comes at a time when the Vintage Kitchen, is going through a big change as we relocate to a new space. I love how art from two very different cultures can become a beacon of comfort during chaotic times. Especially when tied in with cooking and creativity in the kitchen.

Today, we are making a Star of David wreath out of winter twigs, fresh greenery, and grosgrain ribbon. It’s a simple project that is suitable for all ages and skill levels and can be made in under 30 minutes. While it is ideally suited for the Hanukkah holiday, it also can be displayed all winter long both indoors and out as a reminder of faith, hope, community, and care. Make a big one for your door or a series of small ones as place settings on your table and you offer all who enter your home or relax at your table, a bit of love and (star)light this holiday season.

First recorded in the 3rd century in Italy, the Star of David was a universal symbol that was also referred to as the Shield of David. During the Middle Ages, the Star was believed to contain mystical and magical powers and by the 1600s was adopted into the Jewish community as a decorative mark of distinction.

Clockwise from top left: A gold pendant from Spain, antique Star of David shutters in Jericho, resurrection sculpture in Israel, star of david on a temple in Indiana, glass window in Germany, and ancient jug fragment with impressed Star of David

Even though it originally started out not being connected religiously to any one group or another, the Star of David, with its six points and two intertwined triangles, is now most commonly associated with Judaism, and the Jewish community as a whole. In the 20th century, it also became a powerful symbol of heroism in relation to the Holocaust when Jewish people were forced by the Nazis to wear the Star of David like a badge on their clothing. It takes courage to be an icon, to display an icon and to believe in an icon. The Star of David manages to be a reminder of the past and a symbol of the future all in one.

When it comes to making your own Star of David wreath, creativity reigns supreme especially if you wanted to incorporate this festive week of Hanukkah. But the two most important components to include are the colors blue and white. Since it is the holiday season, I added accents of juniper berries and star anise for scent and color. Once the initial framework is built, the sky is the limit when it comes to decorating.

To make this Star of David wreath, all you need is…

  • kitchen string
  • six straight twigs or tree branches all cut to the same length (this wreath was made using twigs that were 10″ inches in length)
  • a hot glue gun
  • fresh greenery, winter berries and/or fresh herbs/spices for decoration
  • grosgrain ribbon in shades of blue

Start by clipping your twigs to equal size.

Next, make two triangle shapes with the twigs…

Glue each end of each twig together to permanently form the shape and then place one triangle on top of the other in opposite directions and glue the triangles to each other wherever they touch.

Next, wrap each joined section (wherever you dabbed a bit of glue) with kitchen twine to cover the glue spots and add extra support to your star. Glue decorative greenery (or whatever embellishments you would like to add) to the bottom left corner of the star. Let the glue dry for a few minutes. Attach the ribbon at the top of the star and you are ready to hang up your wreath.

vintage

Simple, natural and easy to style both indoors and out, a Star of David wreath looks just as wonderful hanging from the knob of a kitchen cabinet as it does from a front door. Make a few stars and hang them on the wall in your kitchen or from the light over your dining table and you’ll have a starry scene to inspire this next part of the post… the cooking of two vintage Israeli recipes.

Israeli-inspired Meditteranean Fish circa 1970.

On the menu today, it is saucy Mediterranean Fish for dinner and a homemade lighter-than-air Walnut Torte for dessert.

Like the Star of David wreath, both recipes are simple to make. What is lovely about both foods, and most Mediterranean cooking, in general, is that each dish is light yet flavorful and can easily be shared with a crowd if you are entertaining friends and family for the holiday season.

The farmers market in Tel-Aviv, Israel

Throughout time, Israeli food has been inspired not only by staples gathered and grown in the local landscape but also by the millions of immigrants that have populated the country from Eastern Europe, Africa and its neighboring countries. Poverty in the middle half of the 20th century, and the scarcity of certain types of food during those decades (mainly meat products) encouraged more creative and colorful cooking using more accessible ingredients like grains, fruits and vegetables as a substitute for animal proteins.

This Mediterranean fish dish features the best of all those influences. It contains olives (one of the seven ancient agricultural products that still serve as a foundation for the traditional Israeli diet), local fish from the Mediterranean sea, the middle Eastern condiment tahini, and wine (ideally made from local Israeli grapes). The combination of all these unique flavors is light, creamy, and nuanced. Similar to crab dip, this Israeli-inspired fish dish is warm and saucy in composition, comfort and consistency, and is absolutely delicious when served with challah bread.

Mediterranean Fish

serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 green pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped

4 individual fish fillets such as salmon, flounder, or cod (I used cod)

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, peeled, and chopped (if making this in the off-season use whole, canned tomatoes)

1/2 cup fish stock (if you can’t find fish stock substitute with vegetable stock and a few dashes of fish oil)

3 tablespoons tahini

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 egg yolks light beaten

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

8 stuffed olives

4 slices bread (I recommend challah bread)

Vegetable oil for frying

1 clove garlic

Heat half the oil in a large skillet and cook the onion and green pepper until wilted.

In another skillet heat the remaining oil and cook the fish until lightly browned on each side.

Transfer the fish into the skillet with the onion mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste and half the lemon juice.

Spoon the tomatoes over the fish and add the fish stock. Cover with aluminum foil or parchment and cok over low heat for ten to fifteen minutes. Be careful not to overcook the fish.

Combine the tahini and remaining lemon juice in a small mixing bowl. Beating with a whisk, add the salt, and pepper to taste. Add the wine. Carefully pour the liquid over the cooked fish into the tahini mixture and beat well.

Beat in the egg yolks and parsley and spoon the mixture over the fish. Place the entire pan under the broiler until the mixture just begins to brown. Scatter the olives over the fish.

Quickly fry the bread in oil and rub lightly with garlic. Place a slice of bread on each plate and smother with fish. Serve immediately.

Satisfying in all the ways that a saucy smothered bread can be, this fish dish looks remarkably creamy yet contains no actual cream. I really loved it for the way each ingredient brought its own pizazz to the ensemble. The olives offer salt, the tomatoes – color and acidity, the parsley a bit of fresh green, the tahini – a roasted earthiness, and the wine brilliantly married all the flavors together. Festive with its red, white, and green color palette, this is a fun dish to share amongst friends and family during the holiday season, as well as a quick fix if you find yourself short on time.

Likewise, dessert promises to be just as effortless…

Oranges are a popular citrus fruit grown in many backyard gardens in Israel. As a result of being fruit lovers and home baking aficionados, many Israeli home cooks creatively incorporate ample amounts of local fruit into their culinary endeavors.

Similar in consistency and texture to zucchini bread, this walnut torte is light and delicate with a fluffy consistency. Not too sweet, and slightly tangy thanks to the citrus, *it contains matzoh meal which can be hard to find in typical grocery stores. If you have difficulty like I did, just purchase a box of plain matzoh crackers and grind them to a fine powder and use that as an equal substitute for the flour. It comes out perfectly either way.

Israeli Nut Torte

Serves 8

6 eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice and grated rind of 1/2 orange

1/2 cup matzoh meal (*see note above)

2 tablespoons cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, add sugar gradually, and beat until the mixture is light in color. Add the lemon juice, orange juice, and orange rind. Mix in the meal, flour, salt and walnuts.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold into the walnut mixture.

Bake in an ungreased pan, eight-inch springform pan for forty-five minutes or until the cake rebounds to the touch when pressed gently in the center.

Fruit is such a lovely addition to the holiday menu. Not only does it offer a break from the more rich flavors of cookies, pies and pastries but this cake, in particular, is especially enjoyable because it gives you a break from butter. Gathering its fat solely from the walnuts and the eggs, it is one of those desserts that adds just enough at the end of the meal to sweeten your night.

Because less is sometimes more, especially when bombarded with all things holiday at this time of year, I especially liked that this cake recipe did not call for a frosting or a glaze or a drizzle of anything on top. Of course, you could get creative and add your own extra flourish in the way of a sweet topper, but I opted to remain true to the vintage intentions of this recipe and just garnished the cake with fresh mint leaves on top and a few orange and lemon rind roses on the side.

If I made this next time, in the early fall for example, when walnuts are just coming into season, I might mix up a small bowl of confectioners sugar and orange juice and pour a thin drizzle over the top of the cake to glaze it. I might add a teaspoon of cinnamon or nutmeg to the batter to add some tantalizing aromatics to each bite, and perhaps I would add a ribbon of crushed walnuts around the side of the cake. But for the time being, at this moment in this holiday season, this cake recipe is just fine and lovely just as it is. Simple, easy, delicate. A classic star of the Jewish table. I hope you’ll love it just as much!

Cheers to the Askowiths for designing a flag that featured a star that continues to shine and inspire, to Israel for its light and lively food scene, and to all the Hanukkah celebrators out there. Chag Sameach!

Join us next time for Week 25 in the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Italy in search of food, family and a good book!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving turkey 2021

Happy Thanksgiving from the cottage kitchen!

Even though we are not operating at full capacity this holiday season due to our relocation, our gratitude for this little community of vintage kitcheners is ever-present.

The love and support that was felt through the sharing of recipes, the showing of heirlooms and the inspirational stories gleaned from the cooks that came before us, helped keep our hearts light and our spirits high throughout the year. For that, I am forever grateful. Thank you so much for making each day a joy, here in the Vintage Kitchen, throughout 2021.

Hope your Thanksgiving is full of delicious moments and delightful recipes. We look forward to celebrating a brand new space with you next holiday season!

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Cheers to gratitude and to Ralph Waldo and to you for making life better and brighter here in the Vintage Kitchen.

Homemade Citrus Cider: The Simmering Scent of the Holiday Season

For the past three nights it has been flurrying. It hasn’t been cold enough during the day at the cottage yet for the snowflakes to stick around or to pile up, but three miles up the road it is a different story. There, the slight rise in elevation provides the slightest advantage – a few extra degrees of cold temperatures yields a fairytale frosting on all the trees.

A week into adapting to our new northern climate, it is starting to feel somewhat strange and far away when we say that we used to live in the South. There, as soon as the weather dipped to 50 degrees we were ready to celebrate cold weather season with abandon… sweaters, scarves, soups, stew and all the hot chocolate one could drink in a semi-tropical city. Tonight it’s going to be 28 degrees in Pennsylvania. This is the frigid and fitting pre-Thanksgiving weather we’ve been waiting for for over a decade. So what’s on the menu? A hearty New England-style soup? A big bowl of chowder? Boston baked beans? No way. Tonight we are making something Southern.

Irony aside, two components that make this a distinctly Southern recipe as opposed to a more traditional New England apple cider are the inclusion of a few additional citrus fruits and fact that the recipe came from a vintage cookbook called Wild About Texas.

Published in 1989, Wild About Texas was put together as a fundraising endeavor by the ladies of the Cypress Woodlands Junior Forum, a philanthropic group that was (and still is) dedicated to improving the lives of children, senior citizens, and the disabled in the Houston area. Representative of the varied cuisine that makes up the Lone Star state’s food landscape, this cookbook combined a range of recipes that included Tex-Mex, creole, cowboy cooking, southern fare, southwestern flavors, and south of the border spices, along with highlighting local fruits and vegetables that grow naturally well within the Texas landscape.

What was especially fun about this cookbook, apart from the beautiful watercolor illustrations of wildflowers peppered throughout, was the Forum’s focus on selecting local recipes that were ideal for sharing and entertaining. Many of the dishes featured serving sizes suitable for a crowd and also smidge of storytelling. A favorite recipe of Lady Bird Johnson’s made an appearance (spoon bread!), easy to throw together party pleasers were included, curious concoctions like Hillbilly Bean Soup were shared, and a discussion on local wines encouraged further exploration.

Watercolor wildflower illustrations painted by Austin artist Rosario Baxter.

It was in the beverage section that I ran across the apple cider recipe. Beautifully described as a holiday simmer, it’s an especially lovely drink for this time of year when friends and family are visiting for the holidays or neighbors are dropping by to say hello and you’d like to have something hospitable on hand. Similar to a party punch, it was recommended to make this recipe in a large batch (serving for 25), but if your get-togethers aren’t quite as elaborate, you could half this recipe and keep it in the fridge for quite a few days. Either way, it’s a warm welcome on a cool day, a versatile indoor/outdoor treat, and a cup of cheer that can be served hot or cold depending on which type (or temperature!) of climate you live in.

Considered a national beverage, the founding flavor of this recipe is apple cider which has been a part of the American culinary landscape since the early settlement days when water was feared to be contaminated and cider and beer were the most common drink available. In those days, the first apple trees of North America were saplings carefully transported from England by the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. As a result of their careful treatment and adaptability, apple trees became one of the first revered crops in early America, a must-have staple of homestead gardens around New England. Whether you lived on a sprawling farm or a tiny in-town city lot, an apple tree was a common sight no matter the neighborhood. By the 1900s, apple trees were grown around the country, a source of continued curiosity and study on ways to improve growing conditions and create new varietals.

From the Cornell University Library archives this apple tree was photographed in 1911. Certain varieties can reach up to 30 feet tall!

The oldest, still-operating, still-family run cider mill in the country dates to the early 1880s and is located in Mystic, Connecticut, a stalwart symbol, that America’s love affair with this autumnal beverage has never left our hearts nor dissatisfied our palates.

Photo courtesy of B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill. Read more about them here.

Traditional apple cider is made just from the juice of pressed apples, but spiced cider contains the addition of aromatic spices, most commonly cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg. This vintage holiday simmer recipe contains other fruit juices too. Ones that feature trees commonly grown in the south – oranges, pineapples and lemons, so it’s a delicious mix between two distinct regions in the U.S., each celebrating the combined flavors and scents of the season.

So simple to make, it takes only about 5 minutes to put together and about 30 minutes to simmer on the stove. Guaranteed to warm the spirit and the belly, what is especially great about this recipe is that there is no added sugar. The sweet-tart balance between the oranges, pineapple, lemons, and apples is all that’s needed. It also acts like a natural stovetop potpourri, lightly scenting the air with the fragrance of cinnamon and clove.

Holiday Simmer

Makes 25 cups

2 quarts apple cider

2 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

2 (46 oz) cans of pineapple juice

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon whole cloves

In a large pot over high heat, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove spices and serve hot.

Kid-friendly in its as-written state, you could also turn this into an adult beverage by adding a splash of brandy to each glass if you prefer an extra dose of cheer to brighten your holiday spirit. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, and reheated as needed. If you live in warm climate, this is also lovely served cold but make sure you initially simmer all the ingredients as directed, as the natural sugars carmelize in the cooking process and dissolve the spices for a more rich, well-rounded flavor.

Add an extra bit of holiday flourish on your mugs or glasses with an orange slice and pine spring garnish. Or if serving this for a crowd punch bowl-style, float some apple and orange slices in the bowl along with a sprinkle of star anise, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and allspice berries for a hint of seasonal color. Whether you are bundled up and huddled around an outdoor fire pit or sitting under a swaying palm tree at the beach, I hope this adds just the right bit of sweetness to your holiday season.

Cheers to the South and the North and all the foods that bring the two together!

The Adventure Begins!

Last weekend, we packed up the Vintage Kitchen, said bon voyage to Nashville and headed north on a big, new adventure. Replacing the city skyscrapers that have been our tour guides around town for the past five years, the tall highway trees fat and billowy with autumn color, escorted us north as we ventured 885 miles towards an exciting new future.

Four states and 15 hours later, we arrived! The destination…camp country. Also known as Phase 1 of a two-part plan, our temporary resting spot for the next two months is a 1940s-era waterside cottage in Pennsylvania. Here, some big little details will get sorted out that will eventually carry us onto Phase 2 – our final destination where a big surprise that has been brewing over the past couple of years will finally be revealed.

In the meantime, the cottage and the lake it sits on, is packed full of interesting things. There are kayaks in the shed, a fire pit in the yard, and plenty of wildlife to keep the binoculars busy. The lake is home to deer, ducks, geese, turtles, herons and a wide variety of songbirds. So far I’ve spotted chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, tufted titmice, woodpeckers and an unidentified grey and black-hatted bird that I suspect might be a nuthatch fluttering amongst the trees. At night, we can see the stars, clear and bright, for the first time in half a decade. The cottage comes with a dock too, which is endlessly fascinating for Indie who hasn’t stopped smiling at the lake since we arrived.

Not alone in her unabashed joy, as it turns out, this area of Pennsylvania is best known for its plethora (literally dozens) of summer sleepaway camps that have been attracting kids from surrounding metropolitan areas like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. for the past one hundred years. These vintage postcards from the 1930s and 1940s hint at some of the fun that happens here…

I can totally understand the appeal. The rolling hills, the dense pockets of trees and the waterways that wind and weave their way practically around every corner are a paradise for nature lovers of all ages. Even in the off-season on a November day like yesterday, when it was 42 degrees and raining, there was a sense of refreshing exhilaration in the landscape. It might have been the exciting news that snow flurries were in the forecast for part of the day or the fact that its been half a dozen years since I’ve been surrounded by so much nature, but whatever the joy that has buoyed our spirits these days, this part of the state has turned out to be quite unexpectedly enchanting.

The cottage kitchen is a tiny one, but there is room enough to make and share a few vintage recipes while we are here in this pending place between past life and future dreams. So stayed tuned. Even though the shop is on a temporary break while we transition, the blog will be here sharing stories and snippets throughout the season.

Cheers to holiday cooking, cozy cottages and camp country!

Exciting News! Big Changes Are Coming!

Just as we are about to turn the corner into November, and ready ourselves to say goodbye to the entire climatic year of 2021, here in the Vintage Kitchen, we are also getting ready to wholeheartedly say hello to something entirely brand new.

If you follow us on social media this may be old info, as we announced our new adventure there yesterday, but I always feel like the blog deserves its own special day and time for such significant sharings. After all, this is where the whole love affair with storytelling began almost ten years ago. Since then, the blog has acted like a diving board launching us into history and the discovery of it from all angles and depths. It’s been habit over the course of the decade to save the best, most interesting stories for the blog, and this one falls right in line. After years of dreaming and planning, it is with complete joy, that I share our biggest (and best!) news yet. The Vintage Kitchen is relocating! Thanks to you and this wonderful vintage community, we have grown by leaps and bounds over the past five years and are now looking forward to expanding into a new (really old!) space that allows for more intricate layers of stories to be told.

Where are we headed? What does it look like? Over the next two months, I can’t wait to share all the details with you as we gleefully embrace this long-awaited and long-anticipated dream.

While we begin this new chapter in the life and times of the Vintage Kitchen, the shop will be taking a small break during November and December but will be back up and running in early 2022. We will truly miss not being a part of the hustle-bustle festivities of the holiday shopping season, but I am happy to say the blog will still be actively posting stories and recipes from history over the course of the next two months – not to mention sneak peeks of our new beginnings. I hope you’ll stop by to read about all things fun and delicious.

In the meantime, cheers to new adventures, to a holiday season that is full of love and life, and to being drunk in the best Baudelaire way…

“One should always be drunk, that’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue. You choose. But get drunk. – Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

And P.S. If anything has caught your eye in the shop, the last day to place holiday orders for 2021 is Tuesday, November 2nd. Happy shopping and thank you so much for helping grow the Vintage Kitchen.

Announcing Our Annual One Day Shop Sale: This Saturday 40% Off All Items!

https://shopinthevintagekitchen.com/

Exciting news fellow kitcheners! Our annual one-day-only shop sale is right around the corner. Mark your calendars for this Saturday, October 16th when everything in the shop will be marked 40% percent off.

https://shopinthevintagekitchen.com/

This is our only sale of the year, and because of that we make it a BIG one. Traditionally, this sale is held every All Souls’ Day in November, but we have encountered a special situation this year that pushed the date up by a couple of weeks. More on that news front coming soon, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll have fun exploring the shop and finding that one particular treasure (or two!) that speaks to you.

https://shopinthevintagekitchen.com/

This sale has become a favorite Fall tradition around here, as it marks a festive time for early Christmas shoppers and also for home chefs ready to jump-start their holiday cooking adventures. Whether it’s a casserole dish, a cookbook, a table linen, a garden pot, a plate, or a kitchen companion that carries your imagination away, we hope you find something to fall in love with this Saturday.

https://shopinthevintagekitchen.com/

The sale runs from 12:00am -11:59pm on October 16th, 2021. Sales prices will be automatically applied at checkout for an easy-breezy shopping experience. New items are being added to the shop all this week, so keep your eyes peeled for favorites.

Cheers and happy shopping!

Corn Pudding and A Virtual Visit – Colonial Williamsburg Style!

The groaning board. It sounds like a little bit of a fairy tale word, doesn’t it? Like some sort of subject the Brothers Grimm would have written about? Or maybe something along the lines of an object come to life – Disney style – just like Lumiere, the candelabra, and Sultan, the footstool in Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps at one point in time, tucked inside a book of Mother Goose rhymes there was a sing-song story about a grumpy kid and a clever drawing to match titled simply The Groaning Board.

Illustration by Blanche Fisher Wright from The Real Mother Goose circa 1916

Fanciful speculation aside, the groaning board is no flight of fancy. It’s a real term dating back to the medieval ages that describes a table (or in some cases a board balanced between sawhorses) that was filled to capacity with foods about to be consumed. The groaning part is in reference to the table itself and the noise it might make under the weight of all that hefty pewter and ironstone dishware that was popular in the 1600s and 1700s. Today, we’d think of this type of food presentation more like a buffet, where diners are given an array of delectable options all at once and encouraged to help themselves.

The timeless appeal of a table full of food;) Photo by Luisa Brimble.

Even though centuries have passed, and the way we describe such a style of eating has changed, both situations would be accurate in defining overall sentiment. Whether it is modern-day, colonial times, or medieval traditions, a table full of a bevy of dishes has always represented abundance, decadence, and a carefree spirit of unbridled eating. Cheers to that!

Throughout colonial times, special groaning board dinners were a tradition enjoyed every year during the holiday season. After all the hard work of harvesting had been completed, a groaning board dinner satisfied hearty appetites and celebrated a much-needed break in the yearly schedule.

Acting as a blank slate and a muse, the essential component of preparing any groaning board dinner is a big, empty table.

One of the few remaining places in America where groaning board dinners are still a part of the regular vernacular is in the historic Virginian city of Williamsburg. Each year a traditional groaning board dinner is still hosted in one of the hospitality venues within the historic district known as Colonial Williamsburg.

Giving visitors from all over the world a chance to experience a colonial feast of plentiful proportions just as their ancestors may have enjoyed centuries ago, is just one way the living history museum helps connect people to the past through food.

The start of a feast – groaning board style. Photo by Taylor Biggs Lewis Jr.

Fried chicken, prime rib, filet of fish, oyster soup, cherry trifle, Sally Lunn cake and an assortment of vegetables, puddings and casseroles were typical feasting fare when it came to groaning board menus. And Williamsburg never disappointed in that department. 

Shields Taven. Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

A foodie town from the start in 1699, hospitality has always been a big part of this small town’s spirit. Some would even say it is the birthplace. In 1705, an Act Concerning the Entertainment of Strangers was in effect throughout the colony that extended courtesy, kindness, and hospitality to all visitors and travelers. This act was created in order to discourage greed and malicious intent from growing within the colony and to protect the colonists themselves from being taken advantage of by outside entities.

Back then, there was no kinder way to offer a warm welcome than to spoil a stranger with a hot meal, a comfortable place to rest, or a restorative beverage. This obliging, open-door concept and willingness to trust the goodness of people before suspecting the worst created a playground for food enthusiasts determined to offer others a gracious dining experience.

As Williamsburg grew and became an elegant epi-center for politics and progressive ideas, the colonists were very proud of the city they created and were anxious to show it off. It was reported by the mid-1700s that visitors were fought over and fawned over by Virginians from all corners of the city. Pleasantries and invitations were extended around every bend, a continual sense of hospitality floated in the air, and a convivial atmosphere especially surrounding food and the act of eating was present at each and every meal. “And this is the constant life they lead and to this fare every comer is welcome,” wrote a visitor to Virginia in 1746.

The St. George Tucker House circa 1718.

With an eye always focused on the spirit of those founding years, restaurant owners, tavern managers, and innkeepers throughout the past three centuries have strived to present and recreate a collection of authentic meals that represent America’s culinary roots.  The first cookbook surrounding the cuisine of Colonial Williamsburg was Helen Bullock’s The Art of Williamsburg Cookery, published in 1938.

Helen Bullock’s Williamsburg Art of Cookery, first published in 1938. It was reprinted many times over the course of the 20th century with a variety of covers from plain brown to colorful patterns like this one. The contents have always remained the same including Helen’s choice to write the entire book in Colonial vernacular.

Since then, the staff of Colonial Williamsburg has continued to encourage home cooks to try their hand at making conventional colonial fare with a variety of publications, tutorials and a growing online recipe archive.

The Williamsburg Cookbook – 1981 edition

Because many of the foods featured in the Williamsburg cookbooks are traditional staples, especially in the southern United States (recipes include pot roasts, pies, stews, gumbos, stuffings, puddings, bread, casseroles, and more) they have traveled time flawlessly. Appealing to generation after generation of cooks and eaters, these long-lived regional dishes have become beloved mainstays in the hearts and homes of food aficionados around the country.

Dishes like this roast duck with fruit stuffing still grace holiday menus today. This photo is from the 1981 edition of The Williamsburg Cookbook.

Such is the case with one of our blog readers, Roberta, who recently mentioned a favorite recipe from a 1970s era Williamsburg cookbook that her family has made (and loved!) for decades. ”The Williamsburg Cookbook belonged to my mother and then was passed on to my sister, who frequently makes the corn pudding recipe during the holidays and for parties. It was a hit, the first time my mom made it in the 1970s and continues to be a party-pleaser to this day,” Roberta shared. This is exactly the kind of heirloom recipe that we love to feature here in the Vintage Kitchen – one that is trusted, adored, and anticipated year after year after year. So it is my pleasure in this post to present Roberta’s family’s treasured corn pudding recipe from The Williamsburg Cookbook, first published in 1971. It is definitely groaning board approved not necessarily in weight but because you’ll want to make a big dish of it and then share it with all your friends and family.

There are many different ways to make corn pudding. Some recipes call for more sugar, less eggs, more milk, less cream, or the inclusion of flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent. Some recipes call for creamed corn instead of fresh, sour cream instead of milk, creamed cheese to make it extra velvety or baking soda to make it extra fluffy. But all recipes contain the same basic ingredients of corn, eggs, milk, butter and sugar. And all produce a similar custard-style pudding in the end.

Helen’s 1937-1938 recipe!

This late 20th-century recipe is a slight modification from the original Virginia family recipe that was first printed in Helen’s cookbook circa 1938. The difference between the two is just an exchange of flour to bread crumbs but all the other ingredients remain the same.

So simple to make, it requires just a handful of pantry ingredients and is a little on the lighter side in comparison to other corn pudding recipes thanks to the use of light cream instead of heavy cream and just a smidge of sugar instead of several. Bake it in a casserole dish and easily tote it along to your next party, potluck, or buffet-style dinner, as Roberta’s family is apt to do, and we guarantee your dinner mates will love it too.

Corn Pudding (serves 6)

3 eggs

2 cups whole kernel corn (If using frozen corn, allow to thaw before incorporating with other ingredients)

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dry bread crumbs ( I used panko-style bread crumbs.)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups milk

1/2 cup light cream * (see note below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2 qt. casserole dish. Beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the corn, sugar, salt, bread crumbs and butter.

Add the milk and cream (*Note: If you can’t find light cream at your grocery store, you can make it yourself using whole milk and heavy cream in a 1/3 milk to 2/3 heavy cream ratio. Always use milk to substitute. Do not mix heavy cream with water, as it will break down the fats and make your pudding runny).

Pour corn mixture into the prepared casserole and place dish in a pan of boiling water.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until custard is set. Serve hot.

With a flavor like sweet cornbread and a consistency like fluffy scrambled eggs, it is no wonder this pudding/custard/casserole is one of Roberta’s favorites. Savory and delicate, it is comforting like macaroni and cheese, light and airy in texture like a souffle, and thanks to the whole corn kernels satisfyingly substantial without being heavy.

(Special note: For all those efficient holiday cooks out there , it is not recommended that you make this dish hours or even a day ahead of time with the intention of popping it into the oven just an hour before serving. The bread crumbs will soak up most of the liquid in that case and the finished effect will be much more firm than pudding consistency. The beauty of this recipe is its soft, pillowy composition so we recommend that you make it fresh right before you bake it).

Intended as a side dish, it is a perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving turkey, roast chicken, or baked ham making it a dependable holiday favorite. Or serve it alongside roasted vegetables, carrot fritters, or stuffed squash for a meatless meal that is full of fall color. Adventurous cooks might also try adding chopped jalapeno for a little spice, bacon for a bit of smokey flavor, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage for a bit of color. But really, this historic dish needs no special enhancements to make it any more delicious than it already is. There is a reason why this pudding has been a Williamsburg favorite for almost a century. We bet it will be a favorite for centuries more to come too.

Cheers to Roberta for recommending this wonderful new favorite and cheers to Williamsburg for not only paving the road of hospitality but also continuing to cultivate the good and gracious and delicious traditions of our ancestors!

For further fun, and an engaging historical experience, visit Colonial Williamsburg without ever leaving your kitchen by taking one of their beautiful virtual house tours and discover an array of unique sights and stories that made the first colony in America a place called home.

The Governor’s Palace is one of the historic houses available to tour virtually. One of the unique aspects of this tour imparticular is that visitors arrive by nightfall to the sounds of clip-cloppy horses hooves and torches illuminating the walkway. Don’t miss it – it’s quite spectacular!

Read more about the Williamsburg Cookbook in the shop here. Explore similar American historical villages and their recipes here. And bake the day away with two other 18th century recipes featured on the blog… election cake and Sally Lunn cake.

If you have any favorite family recipes that you’d like to share please send us a message for a possible feature on the blog. We can’t wait to hear all about the dishes that make your holiday table groan with delight!

Photo courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org

A Monumental Story of Real-Life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts: Chapter 3 – The Time Period

{Spoiler Alert: This is a series of blog posts detailing the real-life story of a 100-year-old item that was lost 13 years ago and how it found its way home in 2021. Follow along from the beginning of this story at Chapter 1: It Arrives and Chapter 2: Meet Angela}

Juice joints, flapjacks, Model T’s, Kelvinators and Radiolas. Mass culture, Sinclair Lewis, giggle water and Gloria Swanson. The Harlem Rennaisance, votes for women and the woman – Edith Bolling Galt. Jazzy foxtrots, upside-down cakes, and the Great Depression. This week we are back with another installment regarding the story of the lost one-hundred-year-old item and how it is finding its way back home after a 13-year quest for answers and owners.

Welcome to Chapter Three of a Monumental Story of Real-life Serendipity Told Over Many Parts. If you are a new reader to the blog, you’ll want to start at the beginning with chapters 1 and 2. If you have been following along since the mystery package arrived, let’s do a little recap to catch up.

It’s been just over a month since the second installment was shared. This is what we know so far…

  1. The lost item is 100 years old.
  2. It was found by a random stranger named Angela, in an office supply store in a suburb of Atlanta, GA thirteen years ago.
  3. Over the course of the following thirteen years, Angela searched for the original owner of the item, but to no avail.
  4. In 2021, a Facebook group helped Angela eventually uncover some clues about the item.
  5. In July 2021, Angela read an archived blog post that connected the item to the Vintage Kitchen.
  6. A few weeks later the item arrived in the Vintage Kitchen via UPS in a cardboard mailer of medium thickness.
  7. The lost item is valuable, important and definietly something that someone would miss.
  8. The lost item is now in the care of the Vintage Kitchen where it will be couriered on to its final destination in the coming months.

The time period connected to the mystery item is the 1920s, so today I thought it would be fun to take a look at what life was like in that decade of American history to help give this piece of the past some context. Perhaps it will help all the armchair sleuths out there figure out some more clues as to what the lost item could actually be.

Known as one of the most dramatically diverse decades, the 1920s saw carefree decadence and life-altering depression. It was a dry decade due to Prohibition which lasted from 1920-1933. And it was the dawning of a new age for women as they fought for their independence thanks to the right to vote amendment passed on August 18th, 1920.

Clockwise from top left: First Lady Edith Boling Galt Wilson; 1920s fashion; Votes for Women badge; hairstyles of the 1920s; the awakening of feminism; actress Gloria Swanson.

The 1920s was the first time that a woman carried influential political power in the White House as Edith Bolling Galt assisted her husband, the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson after he suffered a stroke during the last year and half of his presidency. Edith not only cared for him physically but also became his social secretary, his press liaison, and his political interpreter shuttling information to him about problems affecting the world. In short, Edith became a critical component in his decision-making process regarding matters of the country.

During the Roaring ’20s, hairstyles were bobbed, waistlines were dropped and the more fun and carefree your attitude, the closer you were to being called a flapper. On the big screen, Gloria Swanson was dazzling movie-goers in the silent movie Something to Think About. Released in 1920, it became the top-grossing film of the decade, earning $9.16 million dollars at the box office. Book worms were buried in the pages of anything and everything written by Sinclair Lewis – who authored not one, not two, but five bestselling books in the years between 1920-1930. Can you name which five those were? If you guessed Main Street, Dodsworth, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, and Elmer Gantry then you get a gold star for your vintage fiction knowledge!

Clockwise from top left: bestselling author Sinclair Lewis; top song of 1920 goes to Dardanella; Prohibition signs posted at all bars and restaurants; black culture blooms during the Harlem Rennaisance; and everybody’s favorite automobile, the Model T.

The foxtrot song Dardanella, written in 1919 became the runaway hit of the 1920s just as the first radio stations were forming, bringing music, news, and special programming into homes across the country. Black culture was celebrated in art, literature, and jazz music, giving African Americans their first real opportunity for creative expression and social prominence during the Harlem Rennaisance. For thirteen years from 1920-1933, prohibition made it illegal to get a drink at a bar or a restaurant, but creativity reigned supreme when it came to cocktails disguised in teacups in speakeasies, juice joints, and underground nightclubs.

On the kitchen front, food favorites of the 1920s came in the form of flapjacks, pineapple upside-down cake, cod cakes, and anything served with wiggly, jiggly Jell-O. In the absence of legitimate cocktails due to Prohibition, restaurants got creative and served diced fruit in cocktail glasses, instantly coining the term “fruit cocktail” and making it a popular mainstay on menus for the next forty years. The vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and the in-home refrigerator were all introduced as modern necessities on the domestic front and the kitchen sink and all kitchen countertops were standardized to a height of 36″ inches (which is still the standard height today too!).

1926 ad for Kelvinator refrigerators that appeared in the Home Builders Catalog.

In the 1920s, urban lifestyles were on the rise as more people fled the countryside and rural sections of America to live in fast-growing cities. Urbanization offered more opportunities in the way of advancement, both financially and career-wise. 50% of the American population traded in rural life for a city setting during this decade. As a result, a sophisticated and stylized cosmopolitan life emerged giving birth to streamlined design favored in the elegant Art Deco movement that mirrored the glitz and glam of affluent city dwellers and their cityscapes.

Throughout the 1920s, westward expansion offered new travel opportunities via railroad to parts of the country that seemed not easily accessible. It also allowed for products, produce, and consumer goods to move about the country at breakneck speeds introducing regional items to a new broader audience. And car travel, thanks to the affordable Model T, and the burgeoning automobile industry that followed, cars made road trips a new possibility, giving birth to an entirely new tourism-based marketplace that included roadside motels, diners, gas stations and repair shops. For less than $300 in 1924, you could buy a brand-new Model T (exact price: $265.00, which is equivalent to about $4,000.00 today), enjoy a turkey dinner at a nice restaurant ($1.25) and stay in a hotel for as long as you liked at $2.00 a night.

Even though the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression would close out the 1920s, overall the decade was viewed on a whole as being optimistic, creative, and progressive. With a focus on innovation and development as well as the arts, feminism, expansion, and a newfound bohemian spirit, the essence of the mystery item is wrapped up in several layers of 1920s pop culture mentioned here, especially surrounding new opportunities and new ways of looking at life. Several clues directly leading to the mystery item are hidden in this post, so keep your eyes peeled!

As discussed in Chapters One and Two, this item involves many more people than just Angela and the Vintage Kitchen. While the story continues to unfold, we will keep revealing new details about the mystery item as we get closer to reuniting it with the people and place where it belongs. In the meantime, If you would like to take a guess as to what the mystery item might be, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Join us next time for Chapter 4 as we talk travel, and set the wheels in motion for transporting the item to its final destination.