9 Useful, Good Housekeeping-Approved Cooking Tricks from the 1920s

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Most of the clever cookery timesavers women used a century ago don’t translate to today. The idea of serving breakfast cornflakes from a glass pitcher instead of the usual way (which was apparently with a teaspoon) is nifty, but has been completely unnecessary since Kellogg’s got the idea of making their cereal boxes narrow and tall for pouring instead of squat and square for dipping. But there are tiny corners of our kitchens where we still do things very much like our great grandmothers did. Here are some ways, suggested by readers of the era, tested by the Good Housekeeping Institute, and published in Good Housekeeping's Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries: Every Recipe Actually Tested and Approved by The Good House Keeping Institute, to do those things even better.

1. Keep Fish Firm and Flat!

When baking fish, a reader from Massachusetts always places “several strips of clean white cloth wrung out in cold water and extending a little beyond the fish.” (This publication predates the mass marketing of aluminum foil for home use by a few years, although cloth might still work better.) This way, when the fish is done it can be lifted from the pan without breaking to bits.

2. Under-Ripe Muskmelon?

Muskmelon was and is vernacular for many different melons and even cucumbers, depending on which part of the country you were in and when. In this case, the writers were likely referring to cantaloupe. And what’s worse than cutting into your cantaloupe and finding it too green? Don’t throw it to the pig slop just yet! The magazine advises the reader to cut it in half and to each half add “one-half tablespoonful of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Bake as if it were a small squash, and you will find that it tastes somewhat like one. Or you can cut the melon into thin slices, dip them in batter, and fry like eggplant.”

3. Fancy Pants Poaching.

Americans seldom eat carefully poached eggs served in pretty little egg cups anymore, but once upon a time they were a delicate and delicious part of breakfast. Poaching it so that the white was solid but the yolk soft was tricky. After trying years to poach her eggs “the restaurant way,” one lady discovered the trick was to “put a teaspoonful of vinegar in the water and cover the pan. The vinegar keeps the white of the egg from spreading, and the covered pan makes the white cook over the yolk.”

4. Ripening Roundly.

To keep fruit and vegetables from prematurely going brown while ripening, one reader put her produce on a wire cake rest. This way, “the air completely surrounds the fruit or vegetables, and there is no trouble of turning them over, and no bruises resulting from the pressure of a peach or tomato on a hard, flat surface. “

5. Classy Cakes!

One mother made a Pinterest-worthy project out of her daughter’s birthday cake, by using melted chocolate as paint and a hard boiled white frosting as canvas. Using a water-color brush, “I made a border of small objects in silhouette—cats, birds, etc.—around the sides of the cake.” She topped the cake with tiny candles and her daughter’s name painted in chocolate. 

6. Cup o’ Salad!

In the 1920s, it was becoming more and more common for people to be taking picnic lunches along as they traveled “by machine.” Sometimes this necessitated eating in car seats or other places where a full place-setting was unmanageable. So one reader from Washington DC suggests the use of “individual paper drinking cups” for serving a salad.  She commends the ability to hand out individual portions without mess, and even suggests the salad be “garnished attractively with a sprig of parsley stuck in one side.”

7. Shortcut for shortening!

Scraping the proper amount of shortening into a measuring cup is just as tedious now as it was then, but one lady had an ingenious solution for getting the right amount. “When one-half cup of shortening is called for, I fill the measuring cup one-half full of water, then drop in shortening until the water comes to the top. Drain this off, and one-half cup of shortening remains.”

8. Two Ingredient Maple Frosting.

It’s so simple it would never occur to most of us. One woman found a quick way to frost hearty cakes: Just add maple syrup to powdered sugar until it’s spreadable.

9. Bacon Makes it Better.

One reader writes to tell Good Housekeeping that her family much prefers baked macaroni and cheese if raw bacon is first layered on top of the casserole before going into the over. We’ll file that one under “Blameless ignorance of a more innocent time.” Or just, “Bacon. Duh.”

BONUS: Combine Peanut Butter and Rice!

It was a fresh strange combination in the 1920s, and it seems to be a fresh strange combination now. We’re instructed to “Boil one-half cupful of rice until tender, in boiling, salted water. Pour over it one pint of thin white sauce, to which one-half cupful of peanut butter has been added.” The Washington reader who submits this idea is sure that you will find this “a tasty combination.”