We have many modern tools and appliances that make cooking more simple now than in the past. A stand mixer with a dough hook replaces the physical work of kneading bread. A food processor can shred a bunch of carrots in seconds. Slow cookers allow us to leave the house for the day and come home to a fully cooked hot meal.
While the prep work might be easier, are the foods we eat really any different than they were 100 or more years ago?
Take a look at American cooking through the centuries. I'd eat any of these meals. Wouldn't you?
17th century: Making cheese on an open fire
This tutorial demonstrates how to make cheese curds the way it was done in the 1600s. This method can easily be done in a modern kitchen and would make a fun summer project with kids.
18th century: Fried chicken
From a 1736 cookbook, the recipe for this fried chicken calls for a tart marinade of the chicken before it's battered and deep fried.
19th century: Pilau
Pilau (pronounced per-low), a rice dish similar to jambalaya, is usually seasoned with sweet and (very) spicy Datil pepper. It was introduced in Florida by families coming from the Spanish island of Minorca. It's one of those recipes that has hundreds of variations based on what each family put it in it.
20th century: Depression-era pasta with peas
This is the first of a series of videos done by Clara Cannucciari. She demonstrates how people cooked with what they had during the Depression and tells stories about her childhood during that era. In this episode, she cooks a pasta, pea and potato dish and talks about bootleg whiskey. Clara passed away in 2013, but her video series that ran from 2007 to 2011 is still popular.
These videos give us a glimpse of how people really cooked in various centuries, and another great source for discovering vintage American cooking is Ruth Reichl's blog. The former restaurant critic and last editor of Gourmet magazine dedicates many posts on her blog to old recipes from Gourmet's earlier issues, vintage cookbooks and even very old menus from restaurants.
Reichl describes these recipes as "time machines," like this one for Cold Pumpkin Souffle from a 1977 issue of Gourmet. She also posts some of the advertisements that ran in the magazine. Her posts are a treasure trove of American 1900s culinary history.