Hard, yet fruity, times

jellocover1930Hello, all–as a follow up to my review of How to Cook a Wolf as a guide to managing a home kitchen in hard times, I thought you’d all enjoy James Lileks’s “Jell-o Confronts the Depression.”  It’s mocking in tone, as is the rest of his “Gallery of Regrettable Food,” and book by the same name, but he makes serious points along the way about the inexpensive “glamour” that Jell-o tried to sell home cooks during the depression, and the impossible thinness and somber expressions of the people used to illustrate these Jell-o cookbooks.  Don’t miss the boast in the 1932 cookbook that the “new” Jell-o doesn’t require boiling water–another sad reminder that the scarcity of cooking fuel was a real issue for home cooks in the 1930s and 1940s.

Lileks seriously appreciates the work of the artists who illustrated these books–I’m not all that bowled over by some of the images of Jell-o molds he highlights, but I appreciate his appreciation for their work.  One of my grandfathers was a commercial artist from the 1930s until his death at age 38 in 1953.  He was fortunate to have his talent–he made a decent living for his family with just a high-school education at the end of the Depression and through World War II.

(H/t to reader KV for showing me Lileks’s website.)

0 thoughts on “Hard, yet fruity, times

  1. I think an “orchard” history of the Great Depression might be a very interesting and useful thing; throwing real cultural light on foodways, class relations, property rights, &c. Remnant urban orchards; seasonal secondary labor migration flows; a Twentieth Century vestige of struggles over the use of the commons, customary gleaners’ rights, tramps eying cooling pies on Grandma’s windowsill, swing sets, courtship rituals, and who knows what not else? And all of this viewed through a shimmering, quivering, translucent twenty-pound mound of pastel gellatin, what’s not to like? Let’s eat (‘specially as the same-old leftovers become noisome).

    I picked up a minced “meat” pie the other day, and while it was good, “hard [but] fruity” sort of describes it. As one of Philadelphia’s great columnists, Clark DeLeon, used to point out, no one notices how many Minces lay down their lives annually to sustain this gory ritual. BTW, I didn’t notice the Prez. pardoning the national first bird this year. Did that gobbler have to pay full price as a sacrificial offering for that cheeky couple who crashed the big tent party the other evening?


  2. Speaking of kitchens, 9News has a segment coming up in a minute on the “chore wars” and gender stereotypes. I don’t see the report on their website yet, but it may be posted soon.


  3. From my research on the Great Depression in Ohio (courtesy of the Hamilton Hamilton Daily News, July 7, 1932:

    ZANESVILLE, O., July 1—
    (AP) The unemployed and poor hereabouts are getting a break. With plenty of garden truck,and blackberries, they are hunting groundhogs of which there is an abundance.

    Groundhog meat, especially that of young animals was described as “tasty.” Baby ones,now one-third grown, are prepared in the same manner as rabbits, eight pound
    ones are roasted with sweet potatoes, while old ones weighing 12 pounds are pickled and put inside for the winter.


  4. I bet Buckeye farmers didn’t mind seeing those annoying “chucks” taken out of their fields, either. In a random agricultural and foodways note, this week I happened on a 1790s British traveler’s journal in which the author categorically but not wholly pejoratively, it seemed, referred to the young women who he met in Connecticut as “corn-fed,” a usage that during the next two centuries found its way out across the American corn belt, from Zanesville to Nebraska. Those Brits didn’t know too much about American “corn,” though.


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