I love looking through old magazines. At a recent estate sale, I found a copy of the November 1933 Better Homes and Gardens. I can imagine my grandmother sitting at her kitchen table reading this same magazine, planning what she will cook for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s interesting to leaf through the fragile old magazine pages and see the similarities between life in America 79 years ago, and today.
Electrical gadgets -- okay, appliances -- were a big deal in 1933. This magazine features more than one article extolling the virtues of the latest models of electric mixers. (They weren’t widely used in homes until the 1920s.)
In 1933, as now, they used images of beautiful women to sell stuff. Granted, this young lady in from the Depression era is wearing far more clothing than her counterpart today. (This is a good thing.)
The country was in the grips of an economic disaster in 1933. Many of the magazine ads feature the National Recovery Administration emblem, signifying that company’s participation in FDR’s New Deal strategy. Advertisements communicated messages about how rich people also used inexpensive products that the “average person” could afford.
This ad for Listerine toothpaste features an illustration by Paul Desmond Brown (1893-1958), who has been described as the “pre-eminent American illustrator of equestrian subjects.” Brown was probably best-known in the 1930s for his images of polo matches – that was the heyday of the sport. He’s also known as an illustrator of children’s horse books.
In an article entitled “Good Stories for Your Christmas Gift Lists,” the writer reviews a book called Little Man, What Now? and makes this ominous sidebar comment: “How in the world has Germany gotten this way? Ever since the bewildering Hitler regime, I’ve been wondering, haven’t you?”
So many ads, large and small. Floor wax. Bran flakes. Dog food. A coupon to send away for information on raising chickens for fun and profit. Cyclone fences. Eatmor Cranberries (it was November, after all). Electric space heaters. Food, food, and more food.
One of my favorite ads features a recipe for gingerbread. I thought it was only appropriate at the end of this nostalgia trip to see if the gingerbread they were eating in 1933 stands the test of time. I’m happy to report that it does.
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter and lard mixed (I used all butter)
1 cup molasses
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
(since my grandmother in 1933 would have added a pinch of black pepper to bring out the flavors of the spices, I added that too)
Cream shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg, molasses, then dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Add hot water last and beat until smooth. The batter is soft but it makes a fine cake. Bake in greased shallow pan 35 minutes in moderate oven (325 to 350 degrees). Makes 15 generous portions. Serve it every week.
Another ad, for Washburn Crosby Gold Medal Flour, shows a thick slice of gingerbread from their recipe ("FREE inside every sack of GOLD MEDAL 'Kitchen-Tested' Flour) cut in half, stuffed with fluffy cream cheese and drizzled with lemon sauce. Perhaps I'll try that method as well.