Date With A Pumpkin

No Halloween Mask Life Oct 26 1953
Life, October 26, 1953

Well that’s true. Morning mouth is scarier than a Halloween mask. But if you go out with guys wearing a pumpkin on your head, I guarantee that you’ll scare off your date.

A better date with a pumpkin would involve making a delicious dessert out of it, not wearing it.

Here’s one from The Lily Wallace Cookbook (1947) that isn’t the usual pie: 


4 cups light cream
2 beaten eggs
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups mashed or canned pumpkin

Put cream in saucepan. Cover and bring to boiling point. Reduce heat. Add eggs, sugar, and seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly, until a coating forms on spoon. Stir in pumpkin. Heat thoroughly. Chill and freeze. Yield: 1 quart.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth with Chlorodent after you eat your ice cream. And have a great Halloween!

The Fourteen Hour Wife

Vintage Ad Browser

Being a wife in the 1890s equals scrubbing the floor, according to Gold Dust Washing Powder. That Eight Hour Man is no captain of industry, or else his Fourteen Hour Wife would have a fleet of housemaids and they’d have to do the scrubbing.

As for me, there’s no powder in the world – gold-dust-enhanced or not – that would save me any time. Never mind strength or patience. I don’t know how much money it’d save either, but as soon as I’d saved enough I’d be off in my time machine looking for a Swiffer to take back to 1895.

The wording of this also implies (to me anyway) that she’s only a wife for fourteen hours. As soon as she clocks off, she turns into the Ten Hour Floozy. Now that sounds like fun! I’d like to see an ad featuring her.

Trick Or Raisin

Trick or Fruit Life Oct 16 1964
Life, October 16, 1964

Fewer tricks when you treat ‘em with Sun Maid Raisins, huh?

These children are probably not all that thrilled, not really. Like Junie B. Jones, they are thinking that they did not say “trick or fruit,”* did they? But they will pretend for the camera. They’ll come back and toilet paper the house later.

Having said that, the clown boy does look like he’s dropping the raisins back into the bowl. Doesn’t he? The tiger, too – he’s about to drop them back in, too. And the girl is only smiling because she decided to hang back and wait until they get to the next house, where there’s probably some candy corn, at least.

There’s a particularly funny bit in the sidebar, you can see it better here, where they are pushing raisins for the grownups, too. Set out some bowls of raisins, folks, because

Perhaps you’re having an adult-type party yourself!

What does that even mean, an “adult-type” party? If this adult-type person is going to have to keep answering the constant ding-donging of trick-or-treaters, I’ll need something more festive than Sun-Maid  to sustain me: a chocolate martini would be ideal, I think. Straight up, hold the raisins, please.

*This is my favorite line from the classic holiday tale Junie B. Jones, First Grader: Boo…And I MEAN IT!

The Belles of the Kitchen

“Belles of the Kitchen” (NYPL Digital Gallery)

The Belles of the Kitchen was a play written by Mrs. Field, the aunt of the Vokes Family of actors – three sisters, a brother and an adopted brother who toured to great acclaim in the 1870s and 1880s.

Rosina Vokes (1854-1894) grew up in London, the daughter of Frederick, a costumier, and Sarah Vokes. The entire Vokes family acted: Rosina and her siblings Frederick, Victoria and Jessie. They had all loved to sing and dance from an early age and were encouraged to go into acting. Mrs. Field took the four Vokes children to Plymouth and there they “were taught elocution and stage action.” Rosina was only four when she went to Plymouth.

Library of Congress

Mrs. Field had been a music teacher, and seems to have had many connections in the theatrical world. She arranged for the children to join a “pantomime troupe” and it was in this troupe that they became well known as the Vokes Family. But they wanted to act, not do pantomimes – so Mrs. Field wrote “The Belles of the Kitchen” for them to appear in.

“The Belles” was first performed at the Drury Lane Theatre in London in 1870, and to great acclaim in New York in 1872. They returned to New York with the play two years later, too. When the Vokes Family appeared in Toronto,Canada, one critic described the sisters as “Victoria, demure and dignified; Jessie, elegant and aristocratic; Rosina, merry and mischievous…with a sprightliness and vivacity all her own.” Rosina returned to America in 1885 with her own troupe, also with great success. Sadly, she died aged 40 in 1894.

What was the play like? It was a musical comedy – with plenty of dancing involved. I suspect that it was a fairly typical vaudeville production, enlivened by the charm and talent of the Vokes sisters (and of the brothers’ dancing – one critic seemed mesmerized by their legs, for some reason). I wasn’t able to find a synopsis of the play. I’d also like to know more about Mrs. Field, the playwright, but she doesn’t tend to be credited with writing the play. If and when I do find out more, I’ll come back to this post and let you know.


“Amusements: Last Night’s Incidents,” New York Times, January 6, 1874 [Vokes Family in Belles, at Niblo's Theater]
“Music and the Drama,” The Canadian Monthly and National Review (Volume 10, 1876), p. 184.
Welch, Deshler. “Rosina Vokes’ Life,”  The Theatre (Volume 2, 1887)  p. 352.

Rosina Vokes at

Sheet music from Belles of the Kitchen at the Library of Congress
Vokes family in the 1881 UK census (confirmed by Victoria Vokes’ birth record here)

A Stunning Improvement

Sue: Come in, Jeannie, come right in! Let me take your – no, wait. Before I take your hat and coat – no, don’t sit down! I must show you my bathroom.

Jeannie: Actually I only came over to ask if I could possibly borrow a cup of sugar. I really need to get going to pick up little Jimmy at school and -

Sue: It’s right down the hall. Come on! You simply must see what I’ve done in here.

Jeannie: Err…oh, I really had rather not…

Sue: Don’t be silly, I’ve redecorated! Look! Green. Everything is green. I’ve even got a green dress on to celebrate, see?

Jeannie: Well, yes. It is green all right.

Sue: Tell me that isn’t a stunning improvement!

Jeannie: Oh, err…yes. It is! What a stunning improvement. Now I really must be -

Sue: See the rug, and the green wallpaper and the little green jars. And the toilet seat cover, look at that! It’s called a Pearl Seat, apparently.

Jeannie: Goodness me. Yes. Never mind about the sugar. I’ll – I’ll see you later.

Sue: I can’t stop peeking in. Oh – bye dear. If you run into anyone we know – just send them right over, all right?

[This 1947 ad is from the cornucopia of ephemeral wonder that is  LiveJournal Vintage Ads.]

Book Review: Discovering Words In the Kitchen

Discovering Words In the Kitchen
Julian Walker
Shire Books, 2010
96 pp.

I am known, in my family, for getting up from the table in the middle of dinner to go look up a word in the dictionary. Often it is the same Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology that my mother used to consult when she needed to look up a word we were using in conversation at dinner many years ago (so you can see where I got it from!). My family are kind and tolerant, and they like word history too, so they just smile when they hear me say “let me just look that up” and go off to the bookshelves in the next room.

Now, with Discovering Words in the Kitchen – a wonderful little culinary etymological dictionary – I can have my words and eat them (or rather, eat my dinner) too. Walker’s introduction is a concise and helpful history of dining in Britain through the ages. The rest of the book is divided into sections dealing with all manner of ingredients – fruits, vegetables, cereals and so on – as well as with a few common dishes such as the omelette. The omelette (to give you an example of the things you can learn from this book) is either a variation of the Old French oeufs mêlés (mixed eggs) or possibly  from the Medieval French alumette (from the Latin for “thin layer” or “sword blade”). Kitchen implements, cupboard ingredients and general cooking terms are also covered.

So now I keep Discovering Words in the Kitchen right in the kitchen and instead of simmering (originally simpering, but also possibly from the Germanic root sim meaning to hum) when I need to drop a bit of word history into the conversational soup (Old English soppe, something in which soppets or suppets – toasted bits of bread – were dunked) – I will be able to stay in my chair and refer to this informative and very enjoyable book. This will please everyone here at home except one of the cats, who feels that she ought to have a place at the table, and takes my seat every time I leave it.

Note: Shire Books was kind enough to send this book to me for free (as well as several other titles that I’ll be reviewing in the future) – but as always the opinions expressed are totally my own.

The October Bride

October Salad Bowl BrideLife Oct 23 1939
Life, October 23, 1939

You hear a lot about June Brides, but here at Kitchen Retro we have discovered some things about one of the lesser-known of the bridal species: the October Bride. No, she doesn’t dress up in a pelican costume to serve Candy Corn to her guests in the brand-new wedding-present vegetable dishes. She is too modern for that. She is glad to be really modern. Too modern to make salad dressing, anyway. Not like all the pioneer women who spent hours shaking up gourmet dressings to go with mixed greens.

Or perhaps not.

Well, anyway, when the October Bride invites people over, she likes to amaze them with her delicious – well, I don’t know what they are. Because she calls them “Salad Bowls”  -  in quotations. It must be code for something else.

It is code, actually, for bowls full of Hellmann’s salad dressing. Never mind the lettuce and tomatoes. Just pour in a job lot of dressing. Don’t even look as you pour. Grit your teeth for the camera, dear. This is what October Brides do.

But if you really, really want to put something that means salad-in-quotation-marks in your so-called “Salad Bowls,” why not try this concoction from the late 1960s:

Prize Vegetable Salad (from Favorite Salad Recipes of Jaycee Wives, 1968)

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
12 maraschino cherries, chopped fine
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
1 No. 2 can crushed pineapple
8 marshmallows, chopped fine
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 pint cream, whipped

Dissolve gelatin in cold water; add enough boiling water to make one cup. Add cherries, cabbage, pineapple,  marshmallows and mayonnaise. Fold in cream. Pour into oiled mold, chill until firm. Yield: 12 servings.

Bon appétit – and trick or treat!

Candy Is Dandy, But Muscatel Is Swell

Wine Mrs Ogden Nash Life Oct 23 1939I’ve been saving this 1939 advertisement (big version here) for Muscatel and other California wines, for a long time. And since I really wanted to write a “From Ad to Verse” poem today (it’s been awhile, you know!) it seemed like the ideal jumping-off point: ad plus boozy 1930s matrons plus the wife of my humorous-poem hero, Ogden Nash:

When Mrs. Ogden Nash, the gracious chatelaine,
Had bridge games and hen-filled parties on the brain
She knew that these occasions, to be really swell,
Depended chiefly upon Muscatel:

Not on wee sandwiches cut into hearts and clubs and spades
Nor on party games and ice-breaking escapades
Out of the latest book of etiquette
Can she depend to mollify this set,

For Mrs. Ogden knows, at least in Baltimore,
Some zing’s required to keep friends from bolting out the door;
How well she knows her audience: these gals are tough,
And wearing twiddly hats is more than quite-enough:

More twiddle is not requisite. Indeed
Cards, snacks and booze are really all they need;
So pour that golden California wine
Into each matron’s glass – they both will shine,

Both glass and gal! This party is first-rate,
Sip slowly, though, and keep your hat on straight;
So here’s to those who wish the ladies well -
And those who don’t can go to Muscatel.


Glamorene Life Apr 20 1953I love some of the names that they gave products in the 1950s, and this is my new favorite: a rug cleaner called Glamorene. Doesn’t that sound more like foundation makeup (“covers up all your imperfections for a more glamorous, lovelier you!”) or nail polish (“won’t chip for at least two days!”). But no. It is a funny looking powder that you shake on the rug after someone spills an ice cream sundae or something (hint: pick up the sundae dish first).

There were a bunch of funny ads but I restrained myself and am just going to show you two. On the right is a 1953 ad in which Mom is wielding a special Glamorene brush and has coerced her daughter not only into vacuuming but also into wearing a matching outfit complete with frilly apron. Note that the jar of Glamorene is on the clean side of the carpeting, giving an inanimate side-eye to the strangely even coat of dirt on Mom’s side. That is one filthy rug! How can people who dress up in party clothes to do housework have such a dirty old rug?

I guess they are too busy keeping their frilly clothes clean. And yes, I know that those are not really party clothes. I remember going to grade school in that sort of outfit, minus the apron. In third grade we girls were finally allowed to wear pants and I was SO happy to get a pair of jeans! Yay, bellbottoms! I’ve rarely been so happy about a single clothing item than I was about those bellbottom jeans.
Glamorene Oct 13 1952 Life
Anyway…I also wanted to show you a detail from a 1952 Glamorene ad, featuring the jar and a tiny lady dancing around next to it acting like someone had just given her the equivalent of my third grade fashion statement. Yay, I get to clean carpet soils!

Ironic note: I have just this minute managed to spill coffee on the beige rug under this desk. Where’s that jar of Glamorene (and a 1950s lady with a brush) when I need one?

Ironic note #2: Maybe we don’t want to use this stuff after all…Here’s a 1952 Time article about a Reader’s Digest sponsored nationwide “cleaning tour” of salesmen demonstrating Glamorene, which is described as a “compound of cellulose fiber (resembling sawdust).” The tour almost got derailed (or, as Time quips, had the rug pulled out from under it) when someone died cleaning a rug on a plane. The rug cleaner contained trichloroethylene, and at first everyone thought that the cleaner in question was Glamorene.  Only it wasn’t. And so sales picked up again. And people still do want to buy it, too. I’m not sure that it is still being made, though.

A Pink Abomination

Pink, but quite nice really (The Bottle Depot)

Toothpaste and tooth powders were first made my the ancient Egyptians, but it was only in the late 18th, and increasingly in the 19th century, that they started appearing in various fancy flavors such as honey, cherry,orange and areca nut (betel). Toothpaste ingredients included chalk or salt, and sometimes bits of old toasted bread “blackened in the fire, reduced to powder and…mixed with a little honey and a few drops of essence of peppermint”* – not the sort of thing that would make your teeth clean!

In 1879 The Living Age told the story of an fictional inventor whose tricks were probably pretty close to those employed in some Victorian advertising:

Oriental Toothpaste Longman's Magazine 1887
1887 ad – will not go mouldy (in theory, anyway) as is “Climate Proof”

A tooth-paste had grown mouldy upon the counters of a score of chemists. The inventor, in an access of despair, sent a pot to the Princess of Wales, and then printed forty thousand labels calling his pink abomination the “Royal Sandringham Tooth-Paste” as used by H.R.H.” What followed? The tooth-paste thus relabeled found a thousand purchasers, and in an incredibly short space of time the inventor was rich enough to fill a column of the Times with testimonials, all proving that until the Sandringham tooth-paste came into use there never was known in England such a thing as a really white set of teeth. Why did the public buy this tooth-paste?…It likes to buy what royalty buys. [The Living Age, vol. 142, 1879 p. 256]

And of course we do still like to buy things because celebrities wear them, eat or drink them, or lose weight using them. The closest thing I found to the imaginary Royal Sandringham Toothpaste was Gabriels’ Royal Tooth Powder, made in the 1870s and 1880s in England. But the Gabriels’ ads were rather terse and didn’t have any testimonials or amusing illustrations, unfortunately. Their tooth preparations were not pink abominations, it seems.

*Lippincott’s Magazine (vol. 18, 1876, p. 125).