Saturday, September 30, 2017

I'll tell you mine if you'll tell me yours...

Those of you who have visited me here and at my other blog for almost five years now might think I'm slightly obsessed with the 1950s and earlier, and you wouldn't be far wrong.

There is one subject I cannot get enough of, am besotted with, and that is:

The Life of the American Family
in the 1950s and earlier,
as portrayed in vintage women's magazines

A sure cure for the blues for me is pulling out a few of the old magazines from my collection and sitting down to lose myself in the pages.

These old magazines inspire me and I get up a better and happier woman after my time with them, more cheerful, more optimistic, more motivated.

I know that sounds crazy but Jane Davison and Lesley Davison understood the popularity of the early women's magazines in their book How to Make A House A Home:
And all of us who were turning the pages were receiving parts of the same message: we can make ourselves, our homes, our lives better by working and buying, by caring enough."

I get up from reading a vintage issue of Woman's Home Companion or Ladies' Home Journal or McCall's or more obscure magazines feeling that I've taken a magical antidepressant--without any bad side effects!

And sometimes I am inspired to cook a meal or even bake a cake.

This Brown-eyed Susan Cake from the September 1937 issue of McCall's magazine was fun to make and decorate.

Guess who made the brown-eyed Susans on it? RH did! He used almonds for the petals and chocolate covered raisins for the eyes.

But I'm not going to give you the recipe here because it was not that great. After all, it is a recipe from The Depression years, and recipes from those years are often very skimpy on sugar and other ingredients. So this is what I'll do when I make another one.

I'll take my best Devil's Food Cake recipe, which happens to be a fabulous one from RH's mother and has buttermilk and twice the sugar, and bake that.

The banana cream filling was okay but nothing to write home about so nix that. The coffee icing that I boiled to a soft ball stage was not sweet enough or intensely flavored enough so next time I will find a richer recipe for that online and use it for both filling and icing.

Because we can keep the good things of the old days and discard the bad. It's just deciding what is good and what is bad that's sometimes difficult, isn't it?

I made this cake and shared it with a brother-in-law and sister-in-law, along with a dish my mother often used to make when I was a child, Swiss Steak. As good as my mother's Swiss Steak was, 

                           I used Alton Brown's recipe instead.

I've never had an Alton Brown recipe to fail and his Swiss Steak is fork tender and full of flavor. 

RH helped me make it because we doubled the recipe so we could share it, and it required trimming the fat from two large bottom round roasts and then slicing them in 1/2 inch slices, dredging them with flour and seasonings and browning them for a few minutes on each side. That took some time, and knife skills.

Then we had two pan loads of thin sliced onions to sauté, next celery and garlic.

(And yes, I'm a messy chef.) Then we cooked the sauce, tripling it because the leftovers from this dish make the base for a wonderful vegetable-beef soup.

The day after I made the cake and Swiss Steak, I found a recipe for Swiss Steak in the October 1951 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. It was identical to Mama's, good but not as fabulous as Alton B's.

What was fabulous though was the pretty presentation of the dish, of the entire meal. The picture sure makes my Swiss Steak look pitiful. I hadn't even put a sprig of parsley on to serve it.

Get my point? That recipe needed improvement but a 1951 magazine inspired me to next time put more effort into the beauty of my meals because we also eat with our eyes, don't we?

Yes, I adore my old magazines, even though not everything in life then was as good as it is today. We have to take the good from those days for our lives now and change what was bad, I believe. And we certainly could take some of what is bad now and return to what was good in The Old Days, amen?

I admit that I am obsessed with The Old Days, the 1950s especially.

Evan Jones, in his biography of my favorite chef from that time, James Beard, quoted this from the New York Times:
"A typical American family then could afford three children, a house, two cars, three weeks at the seashore, a television set, and meat seven times a week, all on a single wage earner's income."

Ah, those were the days, my friend...

So I will continue to read and research and dream about the 1950s and earlier. I think that in my retirement years I've earned the right to immerse myself in the study of this time period. And often I will share my passion here at Dewena's Window.

Are you rolling your eyes at me?

I could pick a stranger topic to be passionate about, for example:

"ancient Scottish grasses"

That's what a minor character in one of my favorite Louise Penny books, Bury Your Dead, was passionately interested in and spent his days in the library studying. The elderly man told Chief Inspector Armand Gamache:

"Ironically, now that I'm so near the end of my life
I seem to have all the time in the world."

I've adopted that stance too. I have all the time in the world now, and if I want to spend it in the first half of the 1900s, that's what I'm going to do, by golly.

Now, my very dear friends who are reading this, I shared my passion with you. Would you please share your passion with me?

What is your "ancient Scottish grasses"?

And many many thanks to a dear blog friend, Peggy of Season to Season,
who sent me some delightful magazines from the 1920s--Modern Priscilla--for my collection....just because she felt they wanted to be with me.

Wasn't that nice!

See there, if people know what your passion is they just might send you a gift of it sometime........

Unless your passion happens to be George Clooney, maybe?


  1. Social history seems to me a very worthwhile and satisfying thing to be passionate about. Especially inside the covers of a pretty magazine. We like to think that people were more optimistic back then, more naive perhaps and more easily satisfied. I wonder if that is true.

  2. I was born in 1957 and it was a completely different time. Imagine if we'd heard of modern phones and computers back then! We'd have been shocked. Having said that, we had a simpler life with simpler choices and I look back with fondness. I didn't realize you had another blog. Or if I did, I'd forgotten. What is the URL?

  3. Dewena, I just love that you share the 1950s (and earlier) with us! My mother passed when my kids were little and I was so busy juggling my care for them and the household, that I didn't get to sit and talk to her nearly enough about that time -- When my brothers and I were little, and when she was newly married. Like so many women of that time, she took pride in her home and made it such a warm, safe haven for all of us. When I look at your posts and the magazine pictures, it all comes flooding back. I love magazines, too, I just wish that I had kept all the issues of Mary E's Home Companion:( I am inspired by magazines, and as much as I like Pinterest, there's nothing like having a printed magazine to thumb through while enjoying my afternoon tea. So, my passion . . . letters, letter writing, stamps! I have a couple of pen pals that I found through some letter writing blogs, and I used to write to family members, who were of the generation that loved letters. (When they passed, I found the pen pals). I love old stationery and cards. And I collect stamps! adding to my grandfather's collection, but mainly just to use on letters and cards. I also decorate my journal with cancelled stamps. Haha! my secret is out.

    1. I so identify with your comment, Karen! It feels like I wrote it myself. My mother was a whirling dervish in caring for 7 children and keeping the most pristine home I've ever known. Not the greatest cook, but it was comfort food that I so miss. She has been gone for over fifteen years. I regret all the questions I now seek the answers to. I think I am an older soul than I realized after reading Dewena's post!

  4. I always say that I grew up in the Sally, Dick and Jane times where children were protected from any kinds of adult troubles and situations. We led a simple life playing outside until dark and being with other children as often as possible. I can't imagine being a child today and being exposed to so much sex on tv and the horrible news we watch. In the fifties it was a kinder time. Adults were respected and we followed society's rules. And the rules of hide and seek.
    So glad you enjoyed the magazines. I picture you with a flowered apron cooking up those dishes.

  5. I think YOUR swiss steak looks much more appealing!
    I used to make it for bob and he never seemed to tire of it.
    this was another beautiful nostalgic post darling sister mine. I think we have a hunger for this kind of memory.
    with all that continues to go on in the world that we can't ignore... it's as refreshing as a cool autumn morning to come here and feast our eyes on a slower time ... with favorites we can almost TASTE as we look at the pictures! thank you!

  6. Dear Dewena, there are worse obsessions to have and IMHO yours is a good'un. George Clooney...hmmm, not even. Can't stand his politics so think we'd get along like chalk and cheese.
    As in NO! lol

  7. Now Ms. Dewena, was that George Clooney comment directed at me, because as sure as the sun will rise that's exactly what I was going to say was my passion. ;).

    I was born in '54, so while I remember that time, it is with a child's eye. I do know if you ask Sarissa what decade she would have liked to live in she would say the 50's. For me, it's a VERY close second to the 20's. Something about those flapper dresses that appeals to me I guess.

    (Next time you make that coffee icing just add a bit more sugar and espresso powder.)


  8. I love taking the good from the past and combining it with the good of today. Not everything was great about the good ol' days, but there was a LOT that was. I love the 40s, too, and often listen to 40s music. I love it, and the old glamorous Hollywood movies of the time. I read a number of blogs by people who live like the 40s or 50s and it's great fun. And I get inspired by old home keeping blogs, especially those that focus on old -timey things. My dinner tonight was made under such inspiration ! My husband's grandmother taught me how to make Swiss steak when I was a newlywed. xo Deborah

  9. Not rolling my eyes at you at all, Dewena! I would love to immerse myself in magazines from the 50's and take myself away for awhile back to the good old days. I was born in '62, but I still find things from before that interesting. Love learning about the culture and ways from times past. Though I think I'd have to pass on a lot of those recipes. ;-) Your swiss steak sure looks good. Thanks for the link to Alton Brown's recipe. I pinned it for future use.

    My passion...hmm, there are a few. Writing, reading, photography, interior design, cooking, baking, natural health, yoga, music, cats.

  10. What a great idea to look through vintage 1950's magazines for peace and fun. I love the 50's. I was not born until 1958 and was a child in the 60's but I love the life that was in the 50's. People were so pleasant, had manners and enjoyed the little things in everyday life. I would have been very happy to live as an adult in this time. I wish I had some of those vintage magazines to thumb through. I will have to look for them when I am in antique shops. I bet it is fun to see the ads and the articles. Happy New Week.

  11. I really loved this post, Dewena. My mother often told me I should have been born long before 1960. I loved hearing about how families fared during the Great Depression with the Victory Gardens, and rationed food, it was all interesting and hear tugging to me.

    I've never bought any magazines from long ago, but I've spent a lot of time flipping through them in antique shops. I have a few old cookbooks, the church and social variety. The ingredients were simple and straightforward. Obviously no one had access to the herbs and spices we now have, fresh or ground. The good cuts of meat, etc. Our mega grocery stores would have sounded alien-like to our mothers and grandmothers, if the future was predicted! I so enjoy your posts-always food for thought. I think I say that in all my comments! But its so true!

    Jane xxx

  12. Sometimes I wished we still lived in the 50s.

  13. What a lovely post, Dewena. I adore swiss steak -- true comfort food. I think RH and you must have so much fun together. I was born in 1950 and I'd be more than happy to go back to those olden days. Life seemed so much simpler then, people more civil, manners and dress more discreet. What's my passion? I think it's simple living, enjoying simple pleasures. It's what Dennis and I both want and aim for in our life here. Hugs.

  14. What a lovely post! I enjoyed seeing the older covers and reading about the recipes etc. I enjoy vintage/antique items also. I love magazines about gardening and homemaking. I enjoy collecting old books and cookbooks too! Such a different world back then. Thank you for sharing this lovely post. Enjoy the rest of your week.


  15. I've always been fascinated by the "olden days" / have a lot of those links and links to ancestry on my blog with wonderful old photos :)

    As to food, I recall my grandparents who moved next door to us having a huge garden/ we enjoyed the bounty ( corn, tomatoes, lettuce, rhubarb etc ) and she canned a lot.
    SUNDAYS after church with all of us relatives gathered around were a feast of sorts, depending on the season..were quite different from their week day meals...which were very sparse and plain

  16. Ah, the 50's, it looks like a glorious decade, well from the stories my mom has told me and from the old movies I have seen. Of course, that's all old Hollywood glamour and my mom was on Broadway during that time period, so I think my view may be a big skewed. However, I always tell my husband, I think I would've made a fabulous 1950's socialite (if only to wear those amazing clothes). He just laughs...

  17. Oh my - I was graduated from high school in 1957. My mind is constantly going back to the 40's and 50's, to a time when nobody locked their doors, kids could safely play around the neighborhood, safe under the eyes of neighbors (they were all stay at home moms back then!) teachers could spank bottoms for misbehavior, girls could not wear anything but dresses to school, and on and on. I was married at 19 and had three babies by 23. Money was tight, my extravagances were Women's Day and Family Circle magazines, and for a time Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Long story short, in a move at one time I parted with all my magazines, saving the ones that had toy and crochet patterns. By now those are all gone but a few. I have all my Mary Englebreit Home Companions that are a joy to take out and dream over. Old things are best. I'm still in the last century, letting the world pass me by, and for me, that's a good thing. Thank you Dewena for another memory jogger! My memories could fill a book or two.

    1. Ruth, I haven't been able to find a way to visit you but wanted to tell you how much I loved your comment if you happen to come back here sometime. I hope you are writing that book of memories as they should not be lost! So much of what you wrote is so familiar to me too, typical of that simple time in life.

  18. I was born in 1957 / recall being in school when Kennedy was killed / teacher getting the news and bawling her eyes out and turning the news on.

    I was not interested in history until much later in life ( no teacher made it interesting in school ) but my blog shows a variety of historical ancestors, spiritual things, olden days and times, etc.

    When I think about just the TELEVISION that my generation grew up with versus later on, and what is on today....well, I think that you can fill out the blanks

  19. Blog friends know what we sweet of Peggy! Love the old magazines and the photos and illustrations from the '50s especially. Sometimes I wish we dressed up a little more. And some of the old recipes are hard to beat! Hugs!

  20. Swiss Steak! I haven't made that in years, but I remember having it quite often at home - my mom did a wonderful job with it. I'm drawn to articles and books about how to make things from the past. We rely so much on buying everything ready made and so few nowadays could make a buttonhole or insert a zipper, make jam or preserve tomatoes. I think it's important to keep those skills alive. There are many more than I haven't listed, and I'm always thrilled to read about them.

  21. Your post must be at least as inspiring as reading the magazines would be for me! But I know what you mean - I love reading ideas in newspapers and older magazines, of the sort that I collected recipes and such from 50 years ago now -- some of which are still my favorites!

  22. While in the midst of household chores, or perhaps after an endless day of errands outside the home, I frequently catch myself daydreaming of some well deserved 'me' time, which means peace and quiet, to do what simultaneously relaxes and revitalizes me.

    For more than 20 years, it used to be a new issue of Canadian House & Home or House Beautiful or Country Living, whose glossy pages promised pretty decorating and gorgeous gardens complete with a 'get the look for less' for every feature, thank goodness!

    When I have the luxury of lounging, I love to visit all the wonderfully inspiring blogs and their talented authors - they're free and fabulous!

    More recently, it's been Instagram, as I've had a busy summer, so I can still get my photo fixes of dazzling landscapes and see what my followers are up to in real time. Unfortunately, my own blog has been put on the back burner, but I hope to devote more time to it, soon.

    Your Swiss Steak takes the cake, for me, as it truly looks more scrumptious than the magazine's pic. And, although your Brown Eyed Susan cake needs altering, as far as the taste buds go, it's appearance is pure eye candy - so beautiful!

    I'm a messy cook, too, when I'm under pressure, choosing to concentrate on creating, rather than cleaning, unless George Clooney were in the picture, in which case, I'd have everything catered to keep my cool!


  23. We share that passion as you well know my friend ;) Did you know that the Victorian era is my first love though?

    By the way, I like the idea of a free comment post, but I think you and I are the only ones that would follow along LOL!

    love to you,

  24. In this busy, crazy world, it is wonderful to have a place to go to that brings peace to the chaos and inspiration to the heart. I would love to look through your magazines, I truly love that era too. One of our family's favorite movies to watch are the Andy Griffith shows. I just love the quiet simplicity of their lives then. Your cake looks scrumptious, but I have had hte same experience with old recipes too, their taste buds were not as refined as ours, lol! My passion is getting outside, that seems to calm my heart, as I look up into creation to see what the Lord has done around me. I enjoyed your post and reflections today :) And that swiss steak sounds wonderful!

  25. I love that you are enjoying your passion and your sharing it with us brings its own inspiration, dear lady. There is much to be said about taking the good and leaving the bad behind us, isn't there? I haven't thought about Swiss Steak is FOREVER! Now, I may be looking up Alton Brown's recipe. LOL! Inspiration is contagious! Thank you! blessings ~ tanna

  26. I was born in 1949, so I actually didn't do much growing up in the '50s that I can remember. My "generation" was more the '60s, when the world started to change and lose so many values that are so important to a people and a nation. (At least, in my thoughts; maybe I'm wrong.) But I remember people who were born in the early 1900s (Daddy and Mama and other family),and a few in the late 1800s. (My grandmothers and special great-aunts and uncles.) When I sit and remember, they are the people and things on my mind. I so wish they and my own grandchildren could each have known each other like I did and do. I know they would have treasured each other like I do them.
    I didn't have a wonderful childhood--it was full of poverty, loudness, and disorder, and alcohol-fused -- but I did have some super wonderful people who came and went in my life. People who loved me and gave me a sense of "everything will be okay!" People from those eras---were, and still are, just special to me. I had a curiosity about them that I could not satisfy. Mama would tell me of the Depression in our small area. "We didn't even really think of it as that," she said, "because we lived on a farm and we had church and friends." and "What do you miss if you haven't had it to lose?" (Confused now??)
    It was a small matter to them to have sugar and coffee rationing. To do with less during the wars meant a sacrifice to their servicemen, and making bandages for them was kind of another reason to get together and visit, too. :) It was about hard times made good by the people who lived them. It was about no phones and sometimes no money, or cars. It was about visiting someone instead of Facebooking. It was about still eating around the table, not in front of the TV.
    I wonder if our children and grandchildren etc., will ever think about their lifetimes as I do? Will we be as precious to them as my elders were to me?
    There was a song I think Dolly Parton wrote about "In the Good Old Days, When Times were Bad." Maybe as she got older, she'd come to think of them as more good than bad.....
    I think we deserve to "live in the era" we love as much as we can, without people thinking we're daft!! (Or NOT!)
    Enjoy living in yours, Deweena---and we will come and enjoy your memories.


RH and I love your comments! They are sent to my email for moderation first but I do hit publish as soon as I read them. A few commenters' comments are not sent to my email for some reason but I try to visit that section on my design page twice a day to see if they're hiding there so I can publish them. I went the first 3 years of blogging not knowing that was there and when I discovered it there were many pages of old comments that never got published. I was so embarrassed and contacted recent ones but hid in shame from those who had given up long ago.

In these busy days I appreciate so much when you take time to comment. Thank you so much!