Sunday, November 21, 2010
Last week’s post stirred up a number of comments on the presence, or absence, of hired help in American homes during the first half of the 20th century. At least judging from the tone of my pre-1960 cookbooks, the expectation was that a middle-class family could afford full or part-time help, particularly for parties. And although cookbooks do tend to present the ideal as opposed to the attainable, a sober look at economics supports this assumption. Particularly in regions where there was a large, undereducated and disenfranchised demographic (such as African-Americans in the South, Irish in the Northeast, and Hispanics in the Southwest), one of the few—if not only—employment opportunities for women lay in domestic service.
This is still true. When I was a first lieutenant, stationed in California in the mid-1980’s, even on my pay I could afford the services of a nice lady named Mrs. Lopez who sent someone over every Monday to clean our house (I was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at that time and our CG, General Comfort—grossly misnamed, that man—firmly believed that we should spend at least 3 weeks out of every month living in tents way out in the High Mojave desert and bombing the hell out of the local real estate. I would come home, do laundry, and head back out again. It cured me forever of my former fondness for camping). It never occurred to me that I should check Mrs. Lopez’ citizenship, so it’s probably a good thing I have no plans to run for public office.
Currently, the domestic and kitchen staffs at the nursing home that shelters my father are made up entirely of recent emigrants from the Balkans and the Middle East. When their English gets better and their prospects improve, they’ll move on to less exhausting and more remunerative occupations. In the meantime, I must say that I’m very grateful to them. They take much better care of him than I could.
Looking at my 1955 copy of The Supermarket Cookbook, I find an entire section of menus for entertaining that take the servant question into account. These are all for ladies’ luncheons, but I'll admit that the spousal unit would be lucky to get this kind of cooking for dinner.
SUGGESTED MENUS FOR SMALL LUNCHEONS FOR FOUR OR SIX WITHOUT THE AID OF A MAID
Deviled Crabs, Potato Chips
Mixed Green Salad
Wine Jelly, Whipped Cream
Carrot strips, Gherkins
Chicken Mousse with Green Salad
Canned Cherries and Whole Apricots
Stuffed Celery, Olives
Noodle Ring with Creamed Mushrooms
Lettuce with Tomato Dressing
Sponge Cake with Butterscotch Sauce
SUGGESTED MENUS FOR SMALL LUNCHEONS WITH AID OF COOK AND WAITRESS
Hot Mushroom Canapés, Relishes
Spinach with Rice, Corn Sticks
Mixed Green Salad
Melons filled with Berries
Potatoes Hashed in Cream
Artichokes with Vinaigrette Sauce
(*Che-Braz are a hot hors-d’oeuvre made of grated cheese and chopped Brazil nuts. I’ll spare you the recipe).