Monthly Archives: May 2013
In the 1920s, Florida was hot in more ways than one. Around the turn of the century, a developer named Henry Flagler had worked tirelessly to position Florida, and Palm Beach in particular, as a winter playground for the rich and famous. After World War I, the middle class sought to emulate them and escape harsh northern winters. Automobile travel on the new paved highways made the Sunshine State a favorite vacation destination, and heavily marketed real estate encouraged a short-lived yet lively land boom. While this boom was largely over by the end of the 1920s,a victim of overzealous buying and selling and hard economic times, Palm Beach has retained a certain mystique to this day. Surely that’s why the Florida Citrus Commission ran this recipe in the June 1938 issue of Good Housekeeping: a simple preparation of canned fruit and cottage cheese they ambitiously called Palm Beach Salad. The copy reads, “Delightful to look at, delicious to eat with its luscious blend of fruit flavors made temptingly piquant with canned Florida grapefruit. And so easy to prepare.” To add to the fun, the doyenne of etiquette, Emily Post, is quoted as saying, “Canned Florida grapefruit is an ideal hot weather fruit, tangy, tempting, wonderfully refreshing, rich in vitamins and minerals.”
PALM BEACH SALAD
For each serving, place mound of cottage cheese on bed of shredded lettuce. Top with teaspoon of red currant jelly. Surround with ring of fresh fruit (strawberries, blackberries, black cherries, or raspberries). Around them place canned Florida grapefruit sections, drained. Serve with French dressing or mayonnaise.
Can’t you hear the bridge club swooning? I think I’d do without the French dressing or mayonnaise. Otherwise, it’s basically just cottage cheese and fruit–a timeless combination.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was started in 1868 to honor soldiers who had died in the American Civil War. While many towns and cities held their own remembrances, General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, was the first to proclaim a national day of honor. In a gesture of reconciliation, graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were to be visited and decorated with flowers.
After World War I, Decoration Day became “Memorial Day” and expanded to include those who died in World War I and subsequent wars. Inspired by Canadian soldier John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields (“In Flanders fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row…”), poppies became associated with Memorial Day after 1915. The VFW and other groups sold poppies for people to wear on their lapels, with the money going toward relief for needy servicemen, war widows, and orphans.
Memorial Day was held on May 30, until changed to the last Monday in May with the National Holiday Bill in 1971.
For more information about and ideas for observing Memorial Day, visit usmemorialday.org.
Remember the fallen.
Confession time: I haven’t worked up the nerve yet to see the new version of The Great Gatsby. I’ve heard mixed reviews and think it might make me crazy, ruin my ears, or scorch my eyeballs. I’d be eager to know what those of you who’ve seen it thought of it.
As a person who writes about the 1920s, I was interested to learn something about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing career. Having read and enjoyed The Great Gatsby in a college course, all I knew about the author was that he wrote tons of stories, articles, screenplays, and novels while also maintaining a frenetic, alcohol-drenched lifestyle with his wife, Zelda. I can’t imagine how he could do this and still be a productive writer, seeing as how I have trouble putting two sentences together if I’ve had so much as a poor night’s sleep, too much sugar, or too many distractions (and when I have writing to do, everything qualifies as a distraction).
I ran across a description of Fitzgerald’s writing life in Nathan Miller’s book New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America. Mr. Miller had this to say about Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby:
“Yet in the midst of this shambles [a troubled marriage to a mentally unbalanced wife, a serious drinking problem], Fitzgerald’s imagination, creativity, and nerve did not fail him. The new book, called The Great Gatsby when it was published in April 1925, fulfilled all his earlier promise. In telling the story of the rise and fall of Jimmy Gatz, otherwise known as Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald created, in only fifty thousand words, a lasting portrait of the time. His theme was a universal one: the corruption of the American Dream by the American Nightmare. . . . Scenes, passages, and lines from the book remain with the reader long after it has bee put aside. Who can forget the image of Gatsby staring fixedly at the green light that shines–and promises–at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock? or that her voice “is full of money”? And, like Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, we hear the faraway music of Gatsby’s lavish parties where “‘men and girls came and went like moths upon the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.'”
I thought the book also offers a clear and compelling illustration of the sheer futility of seeking-soul satisfaction in the world’s pleasures instead of the things that truly satisfy–the things of God. Not likely a theme that Fitzgerald intended, but that’s what I get out of it nonetheless–an illustration of having everything yet having nothing.
If you’ve seen the movie, what did you think? Do you think it does justice to the book (if you’ve read the book)? Should I take a chance and plunk down some money at the box office this weekend?
Monday, when I started working on this post, was a perfect iced-tea day in northern Idaho: hot, sunny, summery. Today, not so much, as we’re experiencing cold and rain–“March: The Sequel.” Still, I’m forging ahead with my iced-tea post because (a) it’s written and (b) I have hope that summer is just around the corner.
I wasn’t always an iced tea fan, but a while back, for health reasons, I decided to give up carbonated soda (or pop, or soda pop–choose your poison). Plain water seemed boring, so I started ordering iced tea in restaurants. Now I can’t get enough of it. Turns out I prefer it very plain: no sweetener, no fruit flavoring, no nothing . . . well, a slice of lemon is okay, and ice, of course. But none of that fancy stuff for me.
I was amused by the ad at left, from the June 1938 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, which makes it sound like iced tea was some radical new idea being marketed to the American public. And maybe it was at the time, at least outside the South. Haven’t Southerners been drinking iced tea forever?Although I understand that down in Dixie you can be run out of town for not drinking it sweet. Or is that just a stereotype?
Traditionally served in a tall, straight-sided glass, iced tea has also inspired a special utensil–the iced tea spoon, a small spoon with a long handle designed to reach the bottom of the tall glass.
I don’t make iced tea very often at home–it tends to be my “dining out” beverage, while at home I drink water–but when I do, my favorite method is to simply heat water in a kettle, brew up some plain old Lipton, let it chill, and pour it over ice. I use tea bags, but I know that purists insist on using loose tea and an infuser. If you want to learn more about brewing iced tea in greater detail, check out this post. Someday I’d like to try brewing sun tea–maybe this will be the year.
Are you an iced tea fan? What qualities say “perfect glass of iced tea” to you?
Meanwhile, I’m virtually clinking my tea glass with yours!
One of the more enjoyable bits of research for my novel included a hilarious memoir written by Emily Kimbrough about her first job working at Marshall Field and Company, which I read to get a feel for what it was like to work at Field’s in the 1920s. Some of you might remember Emily Kimbrough from Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, coauthored with Cornelia Otis Skinner, about their youthful adventures in Europe. That book was eventually made into a movie.
As Emily remembered it, “In November  we were back in America, I in Chicago because I lived there, and she in Chicago because she had a part in a play. The play was called Bristol Glass and it was produced at the Blackstone Theater. Cornelia was an actress, and I, as far as I could see, was going to be nothing at all.”
With her parents’ support, Emily applied for a job at Field’s through a family friend. Completely untutored in the ways of business, here is Emily’s account of how she dressed for her job interview, from the memoir titled Through Charley’s Door:
“I had selected for my interview a dress I had made in Paris. I had made only one and it had turned out to be unusual. This was largely due to the fact that I had selected a material, for reasons not clear to myself, that was, I think, designed for a couch covering–heavy velour with a raised pattern, in dull gold. My intention had been to copy a model I’d bought at a sale of Jenny’s. I’d laid the Jenny dress on top of the material and sheared around it, but no one had ever explained about seams and making allowances for them. When the seams of my dress were sewn, I could get into the garment only easing it down over my figure, as if I were putting a case on an umbrella. The only adornment I’d permitted was a belt I’d bought at the Galeries Lafayette. It was of heavy metal representing silver, studded with large, very imitation turquoises. Since my shape at that time was very akin to that of an umbrella, it afforded no natural resting place for the belt. Loops had proved to be impractical because the weight of the belt sagging on them pulled out the seams at those points where the loops were sewn, and each restitching of the seams made the dress a little tighter. Left unsupported, the belt, without any warning, would coast rapidly to the ground, shackling me.
“I had learned to forestall this ignominy by inserting a thumb under the belt and resting my hand on one hip. Since this was the position affected by the models I had seen parading in the Salon of a big dressmaker where I had been taken once by a stylish friend, I had quite a fancy for the stance, even unprompted by necessity. I told myself in the mirror that walking this way made me look very blase.
“I had not yet found an occasion ripe for displaying the walk nor the dress to my parents. But applying for a job at Marshall Field’s seemed to me a very ripe occasion.
“The dress had no sleeves, because I did not know how to make them, but I was happy in the addition to my costume of very short gloves. The combination of short or no sleeves and short gloves had just come into style in Paris. I hoped to surprise Marshall Field’s with it.
“The hat that accompanied this costume was of golden velvet with a dark brown ostrich plume curled round the crown. I’d bought it in Paris at a little shop not far from our pension and, encouraged by the proprietress, added a veil, cream color with large brown spots. I tied this very tight over my face, because it seemed to me that to have my eyelashes caught in its meshes was seductive. The end of my nose, however, caught the brunt of this pressure, and carried for some time after the veil was removed a conspicuously indented ring.
“Over this ensemble I was forced to wear to Field’s my old muskrat coat, but I planned to leave this at the checking counter immediately inside the Washington Street entrance to the store. It did not occur to me that Mother would not like the costume; I was only afraid she might consider it too dressy for 8:30 A.m., a point of view I held to be old-fashioned.”
More about Miss Kimbrough’s interview to come!
I’m sure there’s a good reason why people no longer tap dance, but I can’t for the life of me imagine what it is.
I haven’t given mall retailer Abercrombie & Fitch any notice in years. It’s hard to pay notice when one’s eyes are firmly averted, so as not to be seared by the company’s advertising campaigns. But I was made aware of them once again through this blog post. Apparently there’s some sort of controversy swirling around a recent campaign to give Abercrombie & Fitch clothing to the homeless. What appears to be an altruistic gesture may be something less generous at heart.
My concern in this post isn’t to jump into the controversy, but to lament the demise of a great company that took a sorrowful turn somewhere down the line.
Did you know that, years ago, Abercrombie & Fitch was one of the most elegant stores around? Hard to imagine, right? In an older post at the delightful site The Vintage Traveler, you can learn more about this venerable store and view some wonderful old catalog pages, like this one:
“Before it was just another mall brand, Abercrombie & Fitch was one of the most famous sportsmen’s outfitters. In 1910 they were located in Reade Street, in New York City, and from all accounts, the store was itself amazing. There were tents set up in the store, along with all the necessary accessories for a proper camp (including a campfire). And in 1910 they became the first store to offer sporting attire for women along with that for men.”
Read the whole post here.
I can’t help but be thankful that Messrs. Abercrombie and Fitch aren’t around to see what has become of their store and their good names.
In our mountainside garden, I was thrilled yesterday to see the first strawberry blossom. Strawberries are not far behind! In fact, the markets are full of them, if I’m too impatient to wait for my own crop to grow.
Stepping back to 1917, here’s our gal Bettina’s favorite strawberry recipe, shared with her friend Charlotte in the enchanting book A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, illustrated by Ethelind Ridgway.
“I’ve been to the market, Bettina,” said Charlotte, “and I thought I’d stop here just a moment to rest.”
“Come in,” said Bettina, “and set that heavy basket down. Why didn’t you leave it for Frank to bring?”
“Because I needed the things for dinner.”
“What did you get?”
“Oh, the same old fresh vegetables,” said Charlotte wearily. “A month ago they seemed so wonderful–strawberries, asparagus, new potatoes and all–but there are no new ways to cook them! One day I cream the asparagus and the next day I serve it on toast.”
“Do you ever make asparagus salad?” asked Bettina. “We are very fond of it. Cold cooked asparagus is good with any kind of salad dressing, but we like best a very simple kind that I often make–oil and lemon juice and cheese.”
“Cheese?” echoed Charlotte in surprise.
“Yes, cottage cheese and Roquefort cheese are equally good. And, Charlotte, if you want some delicious strawberry desserts–”
“Oh, I do! We’re so tired of shortcake and plain strawberries!”
I know several good strawberry dishes. Come, let me show you one that I made today!”
BETTINA’S STRAWBERRY TAPIOCA
3 Tbs granulated tapioca
4 TBS sugar
1-1/4 cup hot (boiling) water
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut in halves with a spoon. Add the cup of sugar, mix well, and set in a cold place. Mix the tapioca, the 4 Tbs. sugar, and the salt. Add the boiling water slowly. Cook ten minutes in the upper part of a double boiler. Add the vanilla. When cold, add the strawberries. Serve very cold with plain or whipped cream.
Are you a strawberry fan? What’s your favorite way to serve strawberries? Please share it in a comment!
Kitty Foyle, a 1940 film starring Ginger Rodgers based on a novel by Christopher Morley, is a classic in the genre of working-women books and films. Raised amid the Irish working-class in Philadelphia, secretary Kitty follows her heart instead of her head and falls in love with her blue-blood boss–a recipe for trouble in an era much more class-conscious than ours. While her romantic life is rocky from the start, Kitty’s star rises in the business world. While I haven’t yet read the book, the film is a gem worth seeking out for a glimpse at what it was like to be a working woman in the 1930s and 1940s.
Ginger Rodgers won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Kitty Foyle. The film was so popular that it even spurred demand for a style known as the “Kitty Foyle” dress, a practical, comfortable dress with contrasting collar and cuffs: