The “Silent Hostess”

The vintage-style stove was only the beginning of my kitchen’s transformation. With the cast-iron stove, came a farmhouse sink, wooden countertops, red Marmoleum floors, and a restored faux-tile wall. How could we put a modern stainless steel — or even white — fridge into what was turning into a relatively period kitchen?

We couldn’t. Our fridge is now one of these:

old fridge
(Photo by Phil Urwin)

…a late 1920s or possibly early 1930s GE Monitor Top refrigerator, the fridge that made it “safe to be hungry.” Seven cubic feet of frosty cold storage, and I do mean frosty. We have to defrost frequently, though it’s not terribly difficult.

For most people who acquired one of these Monitor Tops when they were new, it was the first electric refrigerator they ever owned. Even if they had an ice box before, they couldn’t have used it the same way a refrigerator would be used; ice boxes weren’t good at keeping consistent low temperatures. They certainly couldn’t have easily made ice cubes to cool their drinks.

General Electric came to the rescue with cookbooks/manuals like this one:

"Silent Hostess" Treasure Book

This “Silent Hostess” Treasure Book was published by GE in 1930, and includes illustrations, recipes, and instructions on how to properly use (and defrost) a Monitor Top refrigerator (though they never use that phrase). (more…)

The Orange Omelet experiment

I posted about the Orange Omelet recipe yesterday. It’s sweet, uses ingredients that are either on-hand or easily available, and looks relatively easy, so there was no reason not to try it immediately. (I discovered the recipe one day, bought the oranges the next, and made the recipe the day after that. I was on a mission.)

The version of the recipe I chose to use was from The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cook Book, Tenth Edition, 1920:

Orange Omelet.
Rind of 1/3 orange,
1 egg,
1 tablespoon orange juice,
2 tablespoons powdered sugar.
Beat the yolk of the egg and add the orange rind and juice. Add the sugar. Fold in the beaten white and turn on heated buttered pan and cook until set. Serve with powdered sugar.

I had eggs and powdered sugar on hand. For the orange, I picked up organic Valencia oranges at Metropolitan Market. (Organic so the orange rind would not have pesticide residue.) Valencias are very sweet, but that doesn’t bother me. I like sweet. This might end up being a dessert omelet… but desserts are lovely things.

Orange omelet: this was a very tasty orange

Just look at those oranges. Is your mouth watering yet?

I separated the egg yolk and white. Did I mention I’ve never really cooked an omelet before? It was a bit of a gamble. I beat the yolk (“thoroughly,” as one of the older recipes mentioned) and added the orange zest, juice, and sugar. Then I beat the egg white with a milk frother, which was not 100% successful (hint: $1.99 IKEA milk frothers are great with milk, but not so much with anything that has more bulk to it, like egg white), but did eventually get the egg white to a soft peak stage, which seemed acceptable.

I folded the egg white into the yolk mixture, and off it went into the buttered pan. When it set, I put the pan in the oven for two minutes to finish it, then sprinkled it with a tiny bit of sugar, and (from one of the other recipes in yesterday’s post) served it with a spoonful of marionberry jam.

Orange omelet: finished!


Wow, that is tasty! It is fluffy and airy and orangey and sweet. Just a touch of jam with it is good, but it’s also very good without the jam. It is indeed dessert-level sweet — very much like a sweet crepe. I imagine that a little less sugar or a less-sweet orange would be just fine if you don’t want that sweetness, but I think it’s great as is.

I can’t really imagine why this recipe has been neglected over the last few decades. It’s lovely. I will eat this again.

Orange Omelets: “for ruffians and brazen harlots”

Photo by Vincent van Dam.

Photo by Vincent van Dam.

Those who know me know well that I love citrus flavors. Particularly citrus desserts. Lemon cake with raspberry filling. Lemon curd. The elusive “Gold-n-Sno Cake.” So when browsing late 19th century magazines, the phrase “Orange Omelet” leapt out at me. I had to try it. Oranges, sugar, and eggs — sounds lovely. When do we eat?

You can still find sweet orange omelets here and there, but they are decidedly old-fashioned. None of my modern cookbooks contain one, but they are frequently found in classic late 19th/early 20th century cookbooks such as Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, The Settlement Cook Book, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book.

The orange omelet, however, goes back a lot further than that — at least to the 1430s, when Johannes Bockenheim, cook to Pope Martin V, published this recipe in his cookbook:

How to make an orange omelette

Take eggs and break them, with oranges, as many as you like; squeeze their juice and add to it the eggs with sugar; then take olive oil or fat, and heat it in the pan and add the eggs. This was for ruffians and brazen harlots. (“Et erit pro ruffianis et lecceatrichus.”)

Ruffians and brazen harlots? Well, call me a brazen harlot, then.

Bockenheim’s recipe is not terribly different from those that followed about 100 years ago.

Good Housekeeping, February 1898:

An American Omelet.
Make an omelet of four eggs, the yolks and whites beaten separately, four tablespoonfuls of sugar, a pinch of salt, grated rind of one orange and three tablespoonfuls of orange juice, fry. The instant the omelet is cooked, spread the sliced oranges on it and fold or roll the omelet. Serve very hot.

Parisian Orange Omelet.
Take the whites and the yolks of four eggs beaten separately, very thoroughly. To the yolks add three tablespoonfuls of sugar, not more than a pinch of baking powder, two tablespoonfuls of flour, four of milk, one tablespoonful of orange juice. Pour into a heated saucepan, then the whites, fry rapidly, fold, serve very hot with raspberry jam. A delightful luncheon dish.

Good Housekeeping, March 1898:

Orange Omelet.
Four eggs, five tablespoonfuls of sugar, a little salt, two oranges, two tablespoonfuls of butter. Grate the rind of one orange on one tablespoonful of sugar. Pare and cut the orange in thin slices and sprinkle with two tablespoonfuls of sugar. Beat the whites of the eggs stiff, add the sugar and orange rind, salt, beaten yolks, and two tablespoonfuls of orange juice. Put butter in a hot omelet pan and pour in the mixture. When it begins to thicken well, spread over the sliced oranges (no juice). Fold omelet from the side of the pan over the sliced oranges, turn on a hot dish; put in the oven two minutes, and serve immediately.

Then, about 20 years later in The Way to a Man’s Heart: The Settlement Cook Book (about which I will be posting more soon):

Orange Omelet.
Rind of 1/3 orange,
1 egg,
1 tablespoon orange juice,
2 tablespoons powdered sugar.
Beat the yolk of the egg and add the orange rind and juice. Add the sugar. Fold in the beaten white and turn on heated buttered pan and cook until set. Serve with powdered sugar.

I tried the last recipe yesterday — it’s simple, and serves one, which is nice when I’m experimenting. Watch this space tomorrow for the results.

“No one regrets the passing of the chopping-bowl”

Yesterday in How Sally Did It (in 1920), I commented on the oddness of this paragraph:

“Another thing Sally hardly ever uses is my chopping bowl. She had Max plane off a square board that she keeps lying on the kitchen table. When a vegetable is to be sliced or chopped she simply holds it on the board and cuts it down with a heavy, sharp knife.”

Surely cutting vegetables on a cutting board — such a basic kitchen operation — couldn’t have been unusual back then, could it?

I had never actually heard of the term “chopping bowl” before. Here’s one — a wide, shallow wooden bowl with a mezzaluna blade chopper. You can buy these today,but they aren’t standard equipment in the kitchen as they once were. Once you could buy the chopping board mezzaluna knife at the dime store, but it’s probably not quite as universally accessible these days. (Nor are “dime stores.”)

Even more than 100 years ago, chopping bowls had begun to be thought of as out-of-date. Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, had this to say in 1887:

There is the old fashioned and, I hope, now entirely obsolete, chopping-bowl and its odd-shaped knife. With bowl on lap and the chopping-knife making its regular strokes, now and then stopping to shovel whatever is being minced into the centre of the dish, for hours the patient woman would keep at work. The famous ‘Patience on a monument’ would be impatience and irritability compared with her at work upon a task more irksome and wearying than that of the woodchopper.”

Dun’s Review, November 1912, gives us a hint to the causes behind the chopping bowl’s fall to relative obscurity:

How Sally did it (in 1920)

How Sally Does It
By Mabel Dardnell
American Cookery magazine, June-July 1920.

This was a premium offered to subscribers of <em>American Cookery</em>.

This was a premium offered to subscribers of American Cookery in 1920.

“We have a new hired girl at our place,” announced Mrs. Jones, and I want to tell you she is none of those new fangled efficiency teachers, either; why she has them all beat to pieces, when it comes to labor saving over the cook stove. She does things in half the time it takes me to do it. When I make a layer cake, I always cut paper to fit the pans, but Sally don’t, she just greases the tins well, then tosses a handful of flour into them and turns it till the whole pan is dusted, then empties the surplus out.

“Her cakes never stick either.

“She had me get her a cheap paint brush for greasing pans, and to make sure the bristles wouldn t fall out into things, she dropped some shellac varnish on the bristles where they are set into the wood.

“Now take her way of making cookies. She rolls the dough out in one sheet and bakes it in one large dripping pan. Then just as soon as she takes it from the oven she scores it into squares or triangles and the cookies break off neatly when cool.

“Yes, and I thought I knew all about making pies, but to see her go about it makes me feel as though I didn’t know anything; she always measures everything used, and then she mixes the shortening in with a fork.

Recipes for your Hotpoint Electric Range

A few days ago I ordered something from Etsy (I’ll be posting about that something later) and the seller sent along a free gift:

Recipes for your Hotpoint Electric Range, 1949

…a very cool 1949 cookbook for new owners of Hotpoint ranges. It has some recipes and a few very cool vintage pictures of that mid-century type with colors that don’t really seem real.

Recipes for your Hotpoint Electric Range, 1949

Recipes for your Hotpoint Electric Range, 1949




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  • profileWendi is a history geek and loves to bake, particularly recipes from her grandmother's collection. Kristen has been cooking her whole life. She has a BS in Family & Consumer Science and enjoys comfort foods and creating new recipes.


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