I first picked up The Eagle Cookbook from 1922 with every intention of writing a blog entry on recipes from the early 1920s. But as I carefully flipped through the pages, I found myself distracted from the recipes by the countless advertisements for pre-packaged, pre-processed and unexpectedly modern grocery items.
While the editors proudly present a collection of recipes that were "handed down from generation to generation" in families across the United States and Europe, the advertisements tell a slightly different story about the 1920s Brooklyn diet.
For example, you could take the time to make the French Dressing recipe on page 46 or you could purchase Royall's French Dressing, advertised on page 40.
The 1920s were indeed a time of change in the American kitchen. The combination of new technologies in refrigeration, freezing and food science, combined with a female population eager to break out of the kitchen, created an opportune moment for the food industry. The Eagle Cookbook seems to be representative of that moment--when traditional recipes began competing with modern convenience in the form of prepared foods.
The varying marketing techniques used to introduce these relatively new products, emphasizing cost, convenience and nutrition, seem eerily similar to today's food market. Gobel Meat Products stresses convenience and price. Cooking meat with gas can be pricey, the ad explains, but using pre-cooked meat limits that cost. Plus, "There are many delicious meals that the clever woman can prepare with the Gobel cooked meats, especially when time presses, the unexpected guest arrives or some other emergency arises."
Philadelphia Cream Cheese is perfect for a "No Cooking" meal or snack--and the same argument is made today. Cheez Whip is equally convenient, with the added attraction of being "Rich in Vitamines."
Kirsch's sodas may not be as healthy as cheese, but at least they are made "without the aid of chemical preservatives or adulterants." The ad even challenges those who would like an "inspection of our extensive plant."
Breyer's Ice Cream makes a similar all-natural claim in this ad. And they still rely on this marketing technique today:
Nestle's Lion Brand Milk insists that "Every recipe in this book that includes milk--for that matter, any recipe anywhere that calls for milk--can be made more delicious" with their products. In fact, "where extra sweetness is desired, use the condensed because the sugar is already in it. Elsewhere use the evaporated, which is simply pure, rich milk from which the useless water has been removed."
I can't help but wonder if the advertisers ever predicted that these types of ads and products would become the staple of the American diet over the next several decades. When Nestle suggested substituting a good tasting ingredient for a healthier (more water-based) ingredient, did they imagine such substitutions would ever be carried to extremes?
For the most part, the ads seem obsessed with "new science" and a better understanding of food elements. Many of the ads claim that the products provide necessary nutrients, like many of today's favorite food items. The ads in The Eagle Cookbook are hailing a healthier, more nutritious and more delicious diet, but many nutritionists in 2011 would probably disagree with the prediction in this ad for "vitamine" rich jellies and preservatives:
To me, this cookbook is made all the more interesting because it (and many of the products advertised in it) was made in Brooklyn. Today, our borough (or at least parts of it) is a hotbed of the healthy and all-natural food movement. Our mayor wants to tax soda, our pick-up trucks have been turned into gardens and our generation's Brooklyn Cookbook emphasizes local, healthy and somewhat time consuming recipes. Will these new trends have the same impact as the ones started in the 1920s? Only time will tell...