We of the Silent Generation-between Greatest and Boomer generations-witnessed the end of scratch cooking and beginning of convenience cooking for the masses. From 1890 to 1985 the participation in the work force of women 25-45 soared from 15% to 71%.

We of the Silent Generation-between Greatest and Boomer generations-witnessed the end of scratch cooking and beginning of convenience cooking for the masses. From 1890 to 1985 the participation in the work force of women 25-45 soared from 15% to 71%. As the men went to WWII women took their place in factories, and when WWII ended in 1945 many women married the boys and birthed the Boomers. Then, only 10% of married women with children under the age of six held jobs or were seeking them. Subsequently, mothers of preschool children thronged the job market. Participation of married women in this age group has increased from 26% in 1950 to 67% in 1985—the vast majority of them seeking part-time or seasonal work convenient to their homes.. [1]

Women added work for pay outside the home to family duties creating the demand for partially or fully cooked convenience foods. Storing such food was not possible until frozen foods appeared on the scene. Slowly-frozen food was available in 1910, but when thawed, the food was soggy and unpalatable. In 1922 Clarence Birdseye, a U.S. government naturalist working in the Arctic, observed quick-frozen fish had no ice crystals when thawed. In 1930 he founded the General Seafood Corporation and the introduction of insulated railroad cars that allowed national distribution of frozen foods.

Groceries then were small and folks were unable to afford expensive freezers for Birdseye’s products. During WWII, we had three small grocery stores within two blocks of our house. Our refrigerator had a tiny freezer section holding three ice cube trays and one or two pints of ice cream. The refrigerator was so small I had to run to the store daily for a quart of milk. All three stores closed within days of the opening of Enid’s first supermarket about 1947.

The Army Air Corps during overseas flights in WWII tried cooking on long overseas flights, but it proved messy so they innovated pre-cooked meals. By 1953, Gerry Thomas of the Swanson Company introduced meals in three-sectioned aluminum trays called “TV dinners” because of where they were intended to be eaten. It allowed family members to eat individually on their schedule—contributing to the decline of the family meal. Now, the average American eats 72 frozen meals a year and only five family meals a week. Swanson’s Hungry-Man Roasted Turkey Breast dinner contains 650 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 3140 grams of sodium. [2] [Pension plans love ‘em.]

Aunt Susan

In 1921, Susan Abercrombie, editor of a home economic column for the Oklahoma City Times ended each column with the signature “Aunt Susan.” When her assistant Edna Adams [1893-1972] took her place she retained the name. Edna studied home economics at Oklahoma A&M College until her money ran out. She married Martin Adams in 1933 who died in 1936 and was married again in 1943 to reporter Harold Mueller. December 10, 1928 she published a recipe for “Aunt Bill’s Brown Candy” which brought her instant local fame

For fifteen years’ she hosted a local radio show on WKY radio at the same time she wrote a daily food column for the Oklahoman. From 1928 to 1943 she hosted an annual cooking school first at the Coliseum and later in the Municipal Auditorium. It was a week-long event drawing crowds up to 25,000. In 1939 or 1940 my Mother attended—leaving me in the children’s room. Every attendee received a souvenir booklet of recipes.

Recently I learned from an oral history recording at the Oklahoma Historical Society [OHS] that she focused on “the basics” contending that knowing them for any type of food one could cook all variations of it e.g., if you could cook bacon properly, you could cook a steak, etc. Though then living in NYC when the recording was made, she insisted Oklahoma remained “back home.” Oklahoma, she bragged, had “grass roots” people who were “honest to goodness thinking e.g, the “real” U.S.” “I’m from Oklahoma and I don’t want to forget any of it.” Asked what she would like to have from home she replied, “A recording of a mockingbird to bring back memories from my youth.[ “4]

In 1943 she became a food editor at McCall’s Magazine in NYC and four years later editor of the General Mills’ “Betty Crocker Magazine of the Air.” She said she tried to retire twice but “couldn’t.” Crossing the nation promoting cheese and mushrooms she became familiar with airline food and was asked by American Airlines to come to their school for stewardesses in Ft. Worth to “put some color in” their menus.

Trends

The rate of switching from scratch to convenience/easy-to-prepare cooking plateaued about 1995 and has remained steady subsequently at two-thirds home-cooked meals and one-third eating out. About half of US adults cook foods on a given day and their cooking involves more ready-to eat foods requiring no preparation .Between 1965 and 2008, men nearly doubled their overall cooking time while women halved theirs—complementing the opposite trend among women. Processed prepared meals, convenience foods, and away-from-home eating have increased weight gain. Increased scratch cooking has been linked to improved overall health.[4] If Medicare and Medicaid advertised, their ads should recommend rolled oats or wheat bran flakes for breakfast, salads for lunch, apples and nuts for snacks, and navy beans and cabbage for dinner—all cooked at home.

[1] George Guilder, Women in the Work Force, The Atlantic, Sept. 1986

[2] Gust, Lauren, Defrosting Dinner: The Evolution of Frozen meals, Intersect 4:1, 2011.

[3] Oklahoma Historical Society Research Library

[4] Wikipedia