Could You Pass a 1953 Home Ec Class?

Torrance Grey

Party invitation? It's time to make your classic _____ upside-down cake!

While pineapple upside-down cake isn't the most pretty, Instagram-ready dessert, don't be fooled. This retro cake is moist, delicate and delicious!

Which of these fancy dishes is at risk to "fall"?

A souffle, made with whipped separated eggs, rises in the oven, and can fall in on itself if exposed to vibrations. This gave rise to the sitcom joke in which the wife is making a souffle and the husband comes in and cheerfully bangs the door loudly behind him, "Hi, honey! I'm home!" thereby ruining the souffle. (Note: We didn't say it was a particularly funny joke--just a joke.)

Which of these would get basted?

A baster is a simple kitchen utensil with a squeezable bulb at the end, a hollow body and an opening at the other end. You squeeze the bulb and then release it in the pan to suck cooking juices into the body of the baster, hold it over the roast, then squeeze it again to release the juices. This keeps roasts tender and moist.

When is it appropriate to cook using a microwave?

The household microwave arrived on the scene in 1967, along with "microwave recipe" books that foresaw us making just about everything in a microwave. With the invention of the microwave, instant microwaveable foods sprang up, from whole dinners in a tray to popcorn. That's progress!

What are clothespins used for?

Some homemakers had electric laundry machines by the 1950s. However, it wouldn't be uncommon for a housewife to pin clothes out on a line to dry. Some people still swear by this method for saving electricity and for the freshness of the scent.

Which of these gets sifted?

You can still buy a flour sifter at any department store, but you're unlikely to need it. Most flour you'll buy in the store is pre-sifted, so baked goods come out even-baked and not lumpy (if you've done the other parts of the recipe correctly.)

For what would you most likely use a mallet?

We had to put "most likely" in this question because honestly, we can't be sure a burglar hasn't ever been chased off of a property by a housewife with a mallet, or that someone eager to get their drink on wouldn't use one to crush ice. That would be a messy process, though, and not to mention unsanitary, if the mallet had​ recently been used on raw meat and not properly cleaned.

Which of these might be kept in a box?

Why did bread need its own box? Well, if you got it from a bakery or baked it yourself, it didn't come in plastic wrap. A breadbox reduced airflow and exposure to moisture, keeping it fresh longer. It also kept pests from getting in -- not a theoretical concern in many rural homes!

What kind of food might have a "lattice"?

Certain kinds of pies, especially cherry, often have a "lattice crust." This means when the dough was rolled out, it was cut into strips and placed across the top of the pie horizontally and vertically. This leaves plenty of space for steam to vent.

Which of these was THE classic vacuum cleaner of the 1950s?

Hoovers were so big in America in the mid-20th century that "hoovering" was a synonym for "vacuuming." You might run across the term if you enjoy vintage 1950s novels.

Vegetables cut into long, thin strips are said to be _____.

Technically, french fries (in their most common shape) are julienned. However, you can also julienne carrots, zucchini and many other vegetables.

Which of these alcoholic drinks should be kept in the kitchen for cooking purposes?

While you can use all of the above in cooking and baking, sherry is the correct answer. Fun fact: Despite its usefulness in recipes, most high schools wouldn't allow cooking sherry on the grounds (outside the staff room, that is) because it was an alcoholic beverage. However, sherry is a staple in traditional European cooking.

For what is a trivet used?

Think of it like a coaster, but bigger and heavier. This probably came in very handy with the advent of easy-wipe vinyl tablecloths, which wouldn't hold up to heat very well.

What is a food mill used for?

You'll still see food mills in kitchen stores -- in fact, you can pay quite a lot for one at shops like Williams-Sonoma. The comfort-food craze revived interest in this instrument used for pureeing creamy soups and smooth mashed potatoes.

The length of time meat needs to roast depends on its _______.

The type of meat -- chicken, beef, pork -- will also make a difference in cook time. But no matter what kind of meat you're using, the recipe will tell you to roast it "XX minutes per pound."

One tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with two cups water makes a good ______.

Cornstarch has a variety of household uses. This one's a way to get around spending money on canned spray starch at the supermarket. You can also use it for preparing fabric for quilting.

A close cousin to the cookie cutter is the cookie ____.

The cookie press was a cylinder about the size of a thermos in which you'd put dough. At the bottom were the "guides" that made pretty shapes. Push the dough through the guide, and voila! Why the cookie cutter has survived and the cookie press mostly died out is a mystery of kitchen evolution.

A tool with a wooden handle and a grid or squiggle of inflexible metal below is probably a ______.

These days, people mash potatoes with everything from oversize forks to immersion blenders (which gives you more of a whipped-potato effect.) However, you'll still see these old-fashioned utensils in some kitchens because they're quite effective.

What's the best order in which to iron clothes?

Ironing in this order limits the chances of scorching something with excessive heat. Frankly, though, if you're a novice at ironing, it might not hurt to do large items first, getting warmed up before doing the trickier small items. Just make sure the iron has time to cool to the proper temperature for delicate items.

Which of these dishes is literally set afire?

"Cherries jubilee" is sometimes called "cherries flambe." Pro tip: Tilt the pan so that the fruit mixture slides toward you, then pour the brandy into the top/far half, to keep the flames away from you.

Which of these would a 1950s housewife mostly likely use to make coffee?

A percolator has a heating element at the bottom, and forces boiling water repeatedly up through the grounds. It fell out of favor in the 1970s, when the gentler drip coffeemaker was introduced.

How many times should you flip meat while pan-frying it?

Meat only needs to be flipped once. Turning it only once also limits the chances that a shaped patty of ground meat, like a hamburger, will fall apart from excessive handling.

Why are items like bedspreads and pillows frequently aired out rather than laundered?

Some bedding items can't be laundered at all, like down-filled ones that would clump and lose their loft. For these items, spreading them out in the sunshine reduces moisture and kills odor-causing bacteria.

Which of these vegetables would be served creamed?

The 1950s were prime time for creamed vegetables, with recipes including butter, cream and/or whole milk. So it was a lot easier to "get your veggies," but today's clean-eating gurus would shudder!

Which of these complements a pork roast well?

All three of these produce items would work well. A simple way to cook them was to halve or quarter them, depending on size, and let them cook along with the roast, basting them with the pan juices.

How often should the toilet be cleaned?

Um, would you excuse us? There's something we really ought to get to. By the cleaning the toilet once per day, it's less likely to stain or get a grimy build-up of...stuff.

Which of these does NOT belong in a Key lime pie?

While lemon zest is a common ingredient in baking (and probably couldn't hurt anything) traditional Key Lime pie recipes do not call for it. Also, make sure you only use the egg yolks for the curd--not the entire egg.

Which of these is a good way to clean a burned pan?

Make sure the soapy water simmers, not a rolling boil. Afterward, scrubbing with a Brillo pad will remove the last of the dark stains.

If you are trying to "reduce," what are you doing?

"Reducing" was mid-20th-century-speak for losing weight. You might also hear about a woman's desire to be "trim." Part of a homemaker's job in the 1950s was to look good for her husband.

Which of these can restore copper to its original brightness?

The 1950s were a peak time for ketchup -- people put it on all kinds of meat, including steak. We're not sure, though, who decided to rub it on Grandma's copper pots, but it works!

What is important when sewing a button on?

Why is this important? This practice keeps the knot protected while washing and ironing the garment, so it's less likely to come undone.

A mixture of lemon juice and water is good for removing what kind of stains?

This mild solution won't help with blood, wine, tomato sauce, or things like that, but it's good for getting out that dark stains on the armpit areas of our shirts. Soak the affected area with the lemon/water concoction and hang or lay out the shirt in the sun. Then, wash as usual.

True or false? You should button shirts closed before washing them.

It's useful to tie drawstrings or sashes to keep them from tangling with other items, but shirts should stay unbuttoned, or the back-and-forth of the agitating water will stretch the holes out of shape.

Need a little ice for your drink? You'll need an ice ___.

The "ice pet" shaved ice, while the ice pick just bashed it off the edge of a block of ice. There was also the ice crusher, which looked like a box with a crank handle. Today, most people settle for the plastic trays that you twist by hand to loosen ice cubes.

Cutting and serving an angel food cake? You'll need a _______.

This comb-shaped item was used for cutting soft and delicate cakes. If you tried to use a regular knife, you risked squishing the cake.

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About This Quiz

The more things change, the more they stay the same! That seems to be at least partly true when it comes to our ideas about domesticity and housekeeping. Most people would say that they wouldn't want to live in the 1950s, with all the pressure to keep a perfect home and rules for doing so. But some of the top-selling books and magazines in the 21st century are ones that push very similar standards. Consider, of course, domestic guru Martha Stewart and her lifestyle brand. Or think about the many women's magazines, like "O" and "Real Simple" which publish fairly time-consuming recipes for readers whom they say, in the next breath, have jam-packed lives and schedules. 

It seems people have always cared about keeping a welcome, clean and appealing home! Today, people of all genders are interested in home care, and they love seeing who can recreate grandma's famous meatballs. What might have been considered relics of the past at some point have become exciting and celebrated aspects of society! From balancing a checkbook to repairing home appliances, young people celebrate and discover the domesticity of the past every day!

Just how much have things really have changed since, say, 1953?  We went to the archives to dig up some of the lore and tips of 1950s home economics. We've turned these tips into a quiz, so if you're curious about how you'd measure up to 1950s standards of housekeeping, wonder no more!

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