• Hal Decker

100 Years ago.....


Let us look at how food and cooking evolved in days gone by. Let's start it off from the roaring 20's, and see what they had, how they cooked and new products. In the 1920's, food production, storage and availability improved significantly. The introduction of refrigerators enabled healthier and longer storage of perishable foodstuffs, with consequent health benefits as well as time saved due to less frequent purchases. Refrigeration also permitted the transport of perishable foodstuffs over much longer distances by road and sea. Smaller farms were absorbed by larger farms who could afford the expensive farm machinery that lowered costs and improved profitability while increasing production. Food was plentiful and cheap thanks to the large quantities produced by American farms.


The American diet in the early part of the century consisted in large part of meat and potatoes. A lot of time was taken up in preparing and cooking meals. Data from 1920 reveals that 44 hours were spent on preparing meals and cleaning up after them each week.


As vitamins began to be discovered from 1912 on, fruit, vegetables and milk became much more important than they had in the earlier years. For the first time people could drink fresh orange juice year-round due to improvements in storage and transport. The public's eating habits changed as Americans ate fewer starches (like bread and potatoes) and increased consumption of fruit and sugar. However, the most striking development was the shift toward processed foods. Where housewives had previously prepared food from scratch at home (peeling potatoes, shelling peas, plucking chickens, or grinding coffee beans) an increasing number of Americans purchased foods that were ready-to-cook.


World War I brought about new methods of food processing as manufacturers streamlined production methods of canned and frozen foods. Processed foods reduced the enormous amounts of time that had previously been taken up in peeling, grinding, and cutting. Gas stoves, electric refrigerators, and other labor-saving kitchen devices enabled ready preparation and storage of food and beverages, making possible the introduction of greater varieties of foodstuffs into the American diet, and condiments introduced by immigrants added new flavors.


Manufactured foods introduced in the 1920s include - Baby Ruth Candy Bar (1920). Wonder Bread (1920). Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink (1923). Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (1923). Welch's Grape Jelly (1923). Popsicles (1924). Wheaties (1924). Hostess Cakes (1927). Kool-Aid (1927). Peter Pan Peanut Butter (1928). Velveeta Cheese (1928). And just like today there was debate over brown bread vs white bread. In 1920 Charles Birdseye deep-froze food. In September 1922, he formed his own company, Birdseye Seafoods Inc. By 1930 Birdseye was selling 26 different frozen vegetables, fruits, fish and meats. In 1921 the White Castle chain of hamburger shops opened, and in 1925 the first home mechanical refrigerator, the Frigidaire, came on the market. When Prohibition went into effect in America on January 16, 1920, it increased the production of soft drinks and spurred the growth of tea rooms and cafeterias, while alcohol production and consumption went "underground". Prohibition may also have been partly responsible for the remarkable increase in the consumption of cocoa and chocolate in this country. Although there was a marked increase in the consumption of tea and coffee during the same period, the ratio of increase fell far below that of cocoa.


Horn & Hardart were pioneers of the fast-food industry. Their TV and radio advertising motto "Less work for mother," pioneered the concept of prepared foods to eat at home. The restaurants were called Automats because, besides a cafeteria line, they featured food behind small glass windows that was accessed by putting a few nickels in the slots. Automats flourished in the first half of the 20th century, but their profitability gradually declined, and the last remaining one closed in 1991.


Next, we will talk about Horn & Hardent and there cutting edge empire.