It was the year 1919 – the height of the Progressive Era, which was an era that started in the 1890s and ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1929. It was an era marked by industrialization, urbanization, commercialism, mass production, and… well, progress. America changed significantly and rapidly during the Progressive Era. It went from a country where people developed small, rural villages and lived off of the land and what they could produce themselves to a country ruled by factories and mills where people flocked to the cities and bought their massed-produced food, clothes, and goods from big-box stores.
Of course, the Progressive Era was known for much more than changing just how people lived; it also changed what they believed. People began to believe in education, for starters, and that it held the key to getting ahead in life. They passed laws requiring school attendance and sent their kids to school instead of to work. And, they began to see the value of a college education. People also began to believe in their own duties to their country, as well as the world. They stood up against government corruption. They passed legislation for an income tax to get money to the states. And, they began to take an interest in the environment. They established national parks and looked for ways to reduce waste.
Two of the largest events to happen during the Progressive Era came with Amendments to the Constitution. First, on January 6, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment brought Prohibition to the United States. Though we laugh at the thought of Prohibition now, it was considered a progressive idea at the time. People believed that getting rid of alcohol would end poverty, immoral behavior, and violence. Of course, all it really did was pave the way for bootleggers, speakeasies filled with flappers, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Second, on June 4, 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. It’s too bad that all of those suffragettes who fought so hard for their rights probably couldn’t even openly celebrate with a glass of champagne!
So, what are we cooking? Cornbread from Original Recipes of Good Things to Eat published in 1919.
What I noticed about this recipe, first, is that it advertises Dr. Price’s Baking Powder, a mass-produced brand at the time. This certainly shows a difference, even if it’s just a small detail, in American culture. By 1919, it had come to embrace mass production, the ease of buying things at a grocery store, and brand advertising.
Fun fact before we go into the kitchen to make history – the Dr. Price who created this particular brand of baking powder began experimenting with safe food-leavening products in 1853. He made a fortune off of his brand. His grandson was the actor Vincent Price who became famous for his roles in horror and noir films. So, let’s go!
Here are our ingredients: Sugar, butter, two eggs, milk, salt, cornmeal, flour, and baking soda.
Step 1: Get out a mixing bowl and add the butter and the sugar.
Step 2: Cream the butter and the sugar together. It’s just a small amount of butter, so you just want your sugar to get throughly moist from the butter. Mine looked like snow when I was done with this step!
Step 3: Separate your egg whites from your yolks. You can just go ahead and put the yolks in with your butter and sugar, and put the whites in a separate bowl. Ideally, this should be a mixing bowl, but I only have one – more on that later!
Step 4: Mix in those yolks you just added until your bowl looks like sunshine!
Step 5: Add in a cup of milk and a scant teaspoon of salt. Scant means that your measuring spoon shouldn’t be completely full, but it should be almost full. Does that makes sense?
Step 6: After you mix the milk and salt in, add the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder. And, go ahead and mix that in, too.
You should have a nice, smooth-looking batter by this point. Now, for the next step, I had to put my batter into another container so I could use my mixing bowl to beat our egg whites. I told you I’d tell you more about my mixing bowl – I only have one. Living in a tiny apartment, I don’t have much space, so having the bare minimum is key! And, it’s not usually a big deal. This is the first time I’ve had any overlapping need for my mixing bowl for a recipe. So, unless you also only have one mixing bowl like I do, you don’t have to move your batter into another container, unless of course you want to! Though, why you would want to would be a mystery…
Step 7: Toss your egg whites into a mixing bowl so you can whip them up! Ideally, they’ll already be in one from when you separated them from their yolks!
Step 7.1: Start beating them on low. They’ll get nice and foamy after about thirty seconds.
Step 7.2: After about two to three minutes, you should be able to make fairly stiff peaks with your egg whites. That means they’re done whipping. As always, thank technology for the electric mixer.
Step 8: Combine your newly-fluffy whites with the batter and gently fold it all together. You want to make sure you’re gentle so that you don’t lose all the air you just electronically and technologically whipped into those egg whites.
Step 9: Pour your batter into a lightly buttered 8×8″ baking dish. Then, place it in a 350 degree oven to bake. If you haven’t preheated your oven by now, that’s probably my fault. I didn’t tell you to above!
Step 10: After 50 minutes, my cornbread passed the toothpick check. You should probably start checking around 30 minutes for doneness. You don’t want your cornbread to over-bake or burn!
Final step: Enjoy a thick slice of this cornbread with some stew or some chili – something that has a broth or a sauce that the cornbread can really soak up.
And, think about its progressive recipe from the Progressive Era. This cornbread recipe actually shows us progress in action with its built-in advertisement for a mass-produced, easy to find and buy product. Before the Progressive Era, that wasn’t really how life was lived. Companies produced products, but they didn’t do it in mass, and you certainly couldn’t buy them anywhere and everywhere.
The Progressive Era changed so much about Americans and how they lived their lives, more than we even talked about here. And, if you think about, it really was the Progressive Era – with its development of production, its beliefs in education and the environment, and its legislation – that dictated how we grew as a country. We can certainly still feel the strong effects of the Progressive Era today. History never gets too far. Think about that with your cornbread!
From 1919: Cornbread
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, separated
- 1 cup milk
- 1 scant tsp. salt
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter an 8×8″ baking dish.
- Cream together the butter and sugar.
- Add the egg yolks and mix well.
- Mix in the milk and the salt.
- Mix in the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder until a smooth batter comes together.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until fairly stiff peaks form.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter.
- Pour batter into prepared baking dish.
- Bake 50 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.