28 October 2005

Changing Tastes

If there's one thing interesting about reading old books, it's about how times and customs and even mealtimes have changed. Some of the changes are refreshing—it's nice to know we don't treat minority groups, immigrants, foreigners, or poor people the way we did back then. Other things just sound funny: girls wear kimonos, not bathrobes, folks go to "sleeping porches" in the summer to get away from the heat of the house, kids climb into "the tonneau" of the car, etc.

In Kit of Greenacre Farm (published 1919), our heroine Kit Bobbins, nearly sixteen, goes to live with her elderly reclusive uncle and his sister while the family house is being reconstructed (the oil stove caught fire and burned them out). Her scholarly uncle was expecting a boy (shades of Anne Shirley; Kit even has red hair), but Kit settles down much more quickly than Anne and is sent to a preparatory school for college-bound young ladies. She immediately befriends a French-Canadian "half breed" family, the Beaubiens, and sticks up for their daughter Marcelle when the other girls turn up their noses at this poor young woman coming into their school.

Kit and her friend Anne give a Founder's Day tea to see if they can get Marcelle properly introduced into the school's girlish society, and they will be serving six kinds of sandwiches. The menu is straight out of a 1920s cookbook: cheese with pimento sandwiches, cheese with chopped walnuts, lettuce and egg, chopped raisins with beaten white of egg, raspberry jam and cream cheese, and sardine on lettuce with maynonnaise and deviled ham. Macaroons, those cookies so loved in that era, are the sweet.

Can you imagine teenage girls eating anything like that today? The sardines would be enough to send most people running off posthaste, but they were extremely popular back then. Even worse, "chopped raisins with beaten white of egg"—basically a meringue sandwich! We would never serve anything like that today for fear of food poisoning.

(Does it strike anyone as odd that 85 years ago fresh eggs were okay to eat while today with all our health precautions we are afraid to each such things?)

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