June 19, 2009
Whether you pack or buy, lunch is a favorite time for school children and workers alike. It breaks up the day and provides a boost of energy to finish work. After eating a peanut butter sandwich, Wheat Thins and a Sweet ‘n’ Salty snack bar to refuel, I started to wonder what Americans ate for lunch in the past.
I turned to Lynne Olver, contributor to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and her Food Timeline to help me answer this question. Olver, chief librarian at the Morris County Library in New Jersey, compiled her timeline from old menus, cookbooks and newspaper ads. After poring over her lunch and decade-themed menu sections, I selected a few lunch foods from each decade and checked with Olver to confirm that I had chosen wisely.
The result is this five-part series featuring sample lunches from each decade in recent American history, beginning with 1900.
The Times: At the turn of the century, the Progressive Movement still had steam, fashion was formal and ping-pong became a fad. Muckraking journalists like Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair exposed the practices of the railroad monopolies and the Chicago meat market, respectively. Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, would lead to federal food regulations.
Barnum’s Animal Crackers
Why it was popular: Introduced in 1902, Barnum’s Animal Crackers were heavily marketed to kids and adults as a novelty item. With a package that was visually appealing and kept crackers fresh, the product was a hit.
The Times: In the 1910s, the labor movement continued to grow, women got the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment, and World War I raged from 1914 to 1918. During this decade, the Titanic sank and Margaret Sanger began dispersing information about birth control.
Split pea soup
Why it was popular: This decade started with opulent dining and leftovers from the Victorian era. By the middle, the Great War had begun and Americans experienced rationing for the first time, leading to more emphasis on vegetable-based dishes like pea soup.
Watch for more lunch box blog posts by Smithsonian intern Ashley Luthern in the coming weeks!
March 12, 2009
Well, I haven’t seen the inside of a grocery store almost a week now, since joining the “Eating Down the Fridge” challenge issued by Kim O’Donnel of A Mighty Appetite. By the way, she’s hosting a live chat on Washingtonpost.com at 1 p.m. (ET) today, check it out if you get a chance!
Are any of you doing this too? How’s it going?
So far, I’ve found it surprisingly easy. Sure, I haven’t invented anything amazing, but I’ve eaten heartily and healthily.
Breakfasts are a breeze. I used the last of my cereal and milk this morning, so tomorrow I’ll turn to the pantry stash of quick-cooking steel cut oatmeal and dig out the frozen blueberries. I’ve got plenty of coffee still, and have been rationing the half-and-half—that’s one thing I would really miss. It helps if I make slightly weaker coffee so I don’t feel the need to tone it down as much, but that’s not a sacrifice I’d want to make forever.
Lunches have been mostly leftovers or eating out (sorry, is that cheating?), although today I brought a small sandwich made by smearing ripe avocado on a roll with a bit of cheddar cheese. For snacks, carrot sticks have come in handy.
Dinner is when I really notice the dwindling supply of fresh produce (now down to a few onions and carrots). But one of the smartest purchases I made early last week, before I even had EDF in mind, was Brussels sprouts on the stalk. I had only intended to buy a few to throw in a side dish, but when I noticed that I could choose between the $3 pre-picked package of perhaps ten sprouts, or spend a dollar more and get a veritable tree, I decided to “stalk” up. Turns out, those little guys can stay fresh and perky for quite a while stored unplucked in a plastic bag in the fridge. I’ve used them in four meals now, and I still have some left!
Here’s what I’ve concocted thus far:
~Quinoa-based spaghetti from a box, with a simple sauce (a few spoonfuls of jarred tomato and pesto sauces from the fridge, topped with a handful of fresh-ish mushrooms and frozen artichoke hearts sauteed in olive oil).
~Chickpea burritos, a tasty but logistically challenging dish I created by accident, having intended to make a more traditional black-bean burrito. The guacamole was already made before I realized that the only legumes left in my pantry were lentils and a can of chickpeas, so I decided to go for it anyway. For flavoring, I used some canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, a scoop of jarred salsa, and a cube of cilantro (Lisa’s nemesis) from the freezer. In retrospect, mashing the chickpeas into something like refried beans might have been a better idea, since those of them not glued to guacamole kept rolling out of the tortillas!
~Spinach fettuccine from the freezer, mixed with a little jarred pesto, and topped with Brussels sprouts (which I cut in half and sauteed in a touch of maple syrup and salt), leftover roasted beets, and the remnants of a hunk of asiago cheese.
~Roasted cauliflower florets (inspired by a simple recipe in the latest issue of Food and Wine) and baked sweet potato fries (inspired by the presence of a sweet potato in my veggie bin, and garam masala in my spice rack).
~Vegetable curry with couscous. Last night I tossed half a head of cauliflower, an onion, a sweet potato, and some of those endless Brussels sprouts into the wok with a jar of “curry simmer sauce” from Trader Joe’s. I was too impatient to wait on brown rice, so I cooked up some of the plain couscous I’d found on the discount rack last time I was at the grocery store (20 ounces for $2.50? yes, please!) and added some crushed red pepper.