Spending a Day with a 1941 Menu

I’m trying something new this month. If it works out well, I might make it a monthly experiment.

I chose a full day’s menu from the early 1940s and we followed it from breakfast to supper. The menu was from the 1941 edition of The New American Cook Book. There is a section toward the end that gives instructions on how to menu plan, and it provides numerous menus for all sorts of situations and occasions.

I chose the moderate menu aimed at folks who made $2,000 to $3,000 a year. A family of four in this income range could expect to spend about $12.25 a week in grocery costs with the provided menus. After reading about all of the income categories, this seemed to be aimed at a middle class family.

I enlisted my husband’s help with this project. We decided that we would follow the menu as closely as possible. We chose to use a couple convenience foods because we felt that a housewife in 1941 would also do so if the items were readily available and could shorten her time in the kitchen. We only used convenience or pre-packaged foods if something similar would have been available or if the recipe would have been very similar. For example, we used canned soup and a shredded coleslaw mix. By doing that, we saved quite a bit of time in the kitchen and I think a woman in 1941 would have done the same if she could afford to do so.

The Menu

Breakfast

This was a lot of food for us. Usually we would have muffins OR cereal OR fruit. I noticed that most of the menus had big breakfasts.

Lunch

I’ll be honest—one of the reasons I chose this menu was because of the split pea soup. I adore a hot bowl of split pea soup, but no one else in my family likes it much. They humored me, though, and I love them for it.

We did choose to use canned split pea soup because I think the appeal of spending less time in the kitchen would have prompted a woman in 1941 to do the same, especially if the soup was for a quick lunch by herself or to pack in a lunch box. I am including the recipe here for you, though, in case you want to try it.

The apple and pimiento salad on lettuce was an unexpected combination. Our house was divided on how it tasted. My husband and I really liked its cool, refreshing flavor. I think it would be perfect on a hot day. I’m not sure I would have paired it with a hot soup, though. Of my kids, only the four year old liked it.

The fruit salad mayonnaise is simple. Fold 1/3 cup of whipped cream lightly into mayonnaise.

This was a really tasty lunch if you liked the soup and salad. It was also pretty quick to make thanks to the canned soup.

Dinner

The dinner menu was more of a challenge for us. We chose cubed ham for the meat in the main dish. I think the meat scallop recipe would be useful for leftovers. We chose the stock option for the recipe and ended up having to add a bit more than the recipe called for.

The sweet potato recipe sent us to a similar potato recipe which I will share here.

Our grocery store is not a great place to shop if you want to find stewed prunes for a prune pie, so we used a store bought apple pie. I justified this in a few ways. First, women would have adapted these menus according to their family’s likes and dislikes, so I think switching to an apple pie would not have been a stretch. Second, I think pies would have been something a women in 1941 could have purchased to save time. Not everyone would have had ready made pies available nearby, but some would. And finally, we wanted to save some time ourselves.

Results

This was a fun experiment. The menu included quite a bit more food than we are used to, especially in the morning. There was also more bread than we usually eat. It did keep us filled up most of the day. We didn’t snack much. If we wouldn’t have used canned soup and store-bought pie, we would have spent much more time in the kitchen. The food was good and filling, but it was a bit more bland than we are used to. I think that is fine on some days, but my spice loving family would need something more flavorful after a while.

I think we’ll try this again in the future. Maybe an Easter set of menus next month? Or a BBQ picnic day? Or maybe another of the categories in the cookbook I used this month? Let me know if you’d like to see more.

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