Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No More Cold Feet!

by Connie Cortright

Well, it's that time of the year. My feet are always cold - just ask my husband. From now until about May first, I go to bed with socks on - and that doesn't even help sometimes. I can't go to sleep when my feet are cold, so it's nothing to laugh at.

Today my husband finally solved the problem by getting me a foot warmer made of cherry pits. It gets heated in the microwave and stays warm for hours. Can't wait to try it out!

How did people keep their feet warm in the 20s and 30s? Especially since some houses were so cold that water pitchers sitting in a bedroom on a cold winter morning would have a thin layer of ice on top? How would feet stay warm in that circumstance?

The answer - foot warmers, sometimes called bed warmers. Bed warmers have actually been used long before the 20th Century. In previous centuries bed warmers were metal devices shaped almost like a frying pan with a cover and a very long handle.

Most sources said hot coals were placed inside the warmers, then the long handle made it possible to pass the warmer around between the sheets warming the bed before it was time to sleep. Stephen Shepherd on his blog Full Chisel Blog discredits this notion. He said coals immediately would be extinguished when the lid closed because of lack of air. Also, when the warmer moves over the sheets it leaves a fine dusting of coal ash behind. Not in my bed.

Stephen puts forth the idea that these warmers were actually loaded with hot stones prior to warming up the beds. The stones would have been heated by the fireplace during evening hours, then placed inside the warmer and put in beds to prepare them for sleepers. Rocks hold the heat longer and would not leave dirt behind. Makes sense to me.

Another type of bed warmer, made in the early 20th Century, was sometimes called a "hot water pig."
Made out of pottery, it was formed into the shape of a jug lying on its side. After pouring hot water into the hole on the top, a cork was placed into the opening to prevent leakage. The bottom of the warmer was flat so it didn't roll around in the bed. The warmer was placed at the foot of the bed so cold feet would absorb the heat, but not be burned at night. The person kept this warmer in bed for continuous heat several hours until the water cooled off. Then, according to a first-hand account by my mother, the "pig" was taken out of the bed for the remainder of the night.

This type of warmer was versatile enough to be used in other instances. Since it was so portable, a person could take it in a carriage or car ride to warm feet. It was sometimes even seen at Sunday morning church services to keep people warm in drafty churches. They were even taken on trains to keep the passengers warmer during the trip.

Hopefully my new foot warmer will work better than the ones from the 20s and 30s. It might help save my marriage since I keep freezing out my hubby with my cold feet. Just teasing. ; )

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas - Then and Now

by Connie Cortright

Many of the favorite Christmas songs that we hear today have been around for much longer than the era of the 20s and 30s. "Silent Night" was written in the 1800s and is still one of the best known hymns during this season.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is much older than that. This traditional English Christmas carol might have been sung as far back as the late Middle Ages by carolers who were hired to sing for wealthy English landlords. The carolers would receive treats at the end of the singing session. Thus, the line in the song "Now bring us some figgy pudding..."

The caroling was done in the mid 1600s because Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas songs from being sung in churches. That way the carolers kept the songs alive in peoples' hearts. I'm so glad we have the religious freedom to sing these in our churches today. I can't imagine Christmas without the wonderful carols we sing.

Figgy pudding is another English tradition - a pudding similar to our type of dessert, but made out of figs. No surprise there! It was an old tradition to have this type of dessert at the Christmas holidays so it made it into the song.

Now, what does all this have to do with this blog site since we are usually talking about the early 20th century. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" was arranged by Arthur Warrell in 1939 into the version that is most often sung by choirs today along with supporting orchestra. I'll link it here to a Youtube version of his arrangement:   Christmas arranged by Arthur Warrell

I do wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas found in the message of the babe in Bethlehem.

Information taken from History - Wish Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Deer in the Red Light

by Connie Cortright

Behind every Christmas tradition and song, a story is waiting to be told, and, of course, this is the place to find stories that began in the 20s and 30s. What about the tale behind "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"?

This story began in 1939 when the department store Montgomery Wards gave one of their employees the task of making a coloring book to hand out to children during Christmas shopping. In January, 1939 the job fell into the lap of Robert L. May, a 33-year-old copy writer. He was instructed to write an animal story about Christmas and have it illustrated in time for next December.

He chose the reindeer since his 4-year-old daughter loved these animals at the zoo. The character of the reindeer mirrored May's own life in that he was a misfit during his childhood. Maybe Mr. May dreamed of being the hero one day because his character followed this plot line in the story. One night as May overlooked a foggy Lake Michigan, the idea popped into his head to have Rudolph rescue Santa Claus with his bright nose. Rudolph saved the day during a crisis in the fog.

May's struggle to get his story written was complicated by the fact that his wife was dying of cancer during the early months of 1939. After her death in July, May had to overcome his grief to finish writing the narrative poem that we now know as "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer". He had to succeed with his assignment to help pay for the large medical bills that accumulated during his wife's illness.

By the Christmas season, the booklet was illustrated and printed in time for distribution to children. Wards advertised this newly written children's story well before Christmas to draw shoppers into their 620 stores across the country. During those few weeks, 2.4 million copies of the illustrated book were given away to children. Rudolph has been a well-loved Christmas tradition ever since.

In 1947, the directors of Ward's handed the copyright over to Robert May. After that time, he commercialized the story and eventually spun out the popular song we still know today along with the cartoon version of the story and other merchandise.

How many of you grew up with the story or song of Rudolph being one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

Information taken from History.com and Wikipedia.org

Friday, December 11, 2015

Now On the Shelf in NPH Christian Book Store

"Guide Me Home" is now available at Northwestern Publishing House Christian Book Store. 

It's exciting to see it sitting among the other historical fiction choices at the store. Stop by if you're near 113th and Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa and pick up a copy. 

It's also available in their online catalog at "Guide Me Home"  Check it out today. 

Still time to order or purchase it for a Christmas present for your mother, sister, or daughter. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Mighty Mystery Meat

by Connie Cortright

Last week the story of Velveeta was explored, so this week will be the discussion of SPAM. For most of us, when the word SPAM is heard an immediate picture - and maybe even taste - pops into our heads. SPAM was a staple in my house when I was growing up on the farm - not every week, but often enough to have memories of it.

SPAM didn't show up in grocery stores until after 1937. Jay Hormel, the son of the owner of the Minnesota meat-packing plant, is credited for coming up with the SPAM recipe. A decade earlier, Hormel had introduced the canned ham to the nation, but during the Depression, only the rich could afford canned hams.

Meat packing companies tried to introduce a cheaper brand of canned pork, but made the mistake of using unappetizing parts of the pig such as lips, snouts and ears in the contents of these canned pork products. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it? For some reason, this canned meat didn't go over too well. I wonder why...

Jay Hormel wanted to improve on this product by using the meat off the pork shoulder in his canned meat product. He found a way to extract the meat out of this hard to access cut of pork, chopping it into pieces, and placing it into a can. He found a way to process the meat in a vacuum sealed tin, which reduced the amount of juices formed during the cooking procedure. It was a much improved product over his competition.

Since SPAM was produced in this manner, it had a shelf life that was almost indefinite. When the army found out about this, they became Hormel's biggest customer. Fifteen million cans of SPAM were produced weekly and shipped overseas to the US soldiers during WWII. Many soldiers have memories of eating SPAM three times a day during the war years from 1941 to 1945 - and these are not fond memories. One writer quipped:
Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef-
Worse you couldn't buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy's jam, 
But armies on their stomachs move-
And this one moves on Spam. (Quoted from American WWII.com - Spam Again)

Hormel had a naming contest to name this new canned meat. Kenneth Daigneau, brother-in-law to the Hormel Vice President, won the $100 contest when he suggested the name SPAM. It was a combination of the words Spiced Ham, which was the original title of this meat.

Today the meat product SPAM is spelled with all capital letters to distinguish it from the junk email that we receive on our computers daily. The Hormel company adopted this practice years ago when it won a law suit regarding its name.

I wonder if I can persuade my husband that we need to have SPAM for dinner this week after all this talk about it. Hmmm, probably not. ;)

Information taken from How SPAM is Made and How the Word Spam Came to Mean Junk Message

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smile and Say Cheese!

by Connie Cortright

With the upcoming holiday season, many wives across this country will be purchasing Velveeta Cheese in jars or packages to use in a cheese dip at a Christmas or New Year's Eve party. This processed cheese, first manufactured in the 1920s, was given the name Velveeta (for it's velvety consistency) simply because it melted so smoothly.

However, Velveeta wasn't invented for the purpose of melting. The original purpose of this product was to put cheese back together. Emil Frey, working in a cheese factory in Monroe, New York, had the task of coming up with a solution to a problem that all cheese factories faced, figuring out what to do with cheese leftovers. Up to this point, all the pieces from misshapen Swiss cheese wheels or broken bits of cheese that couldn't be sold, had to be tossed aside. In the early 1900s, the problem of cheese pieces multiplied because more cheese was produced and consumed. The value of the wasted pieces couldn't be overlooked any longer. It was decided that all the leftovers would now be shipped back to Monroe Cheese Factory for Mr. Frey to deal with.

After working over his stove, he found that by adding the liquid whey, a by-product of the cheese making process, back into the pot of melted cheese pieces, a very smooth new cheese product resulted. Since this was a manufactured cheese product, it became known as processed cheese. Frey discovered that processed cheese lasted much longer than natural cheeses.

By 1923, Frey had formed the Velveeta Cheese Company to sell his new product. Because of its ability to melt so smoothly, Velveeta became an instant hit, especially in restaurants in America and even Europe. However, the Velveeta Cheese Company didn't fair so well. By 1927 the company was sold to Kraft Foods, as we know it still today.

Kraft pushed the nutritional value of this processed cheese stating that with the addition of whey, the carbohydrates and minerals were boosted in the cheese. It became something of a "dairy wonder-product". Kraft had Velveeta tested by Rutgers University for it's nutritional benefits. In 1931 the American Medical Association gave its stamp of approval for nutritional value. It was marketed in the 30s then as nutritionally superior to natural cheeses.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Velveeta is still a very popular product today in many forms and many recipes. I'm hoping that I can taste some yummy dip made from Velveeta over the next several weeks.

Happy eating!

Information taken from Where Does Velveeta and Liederkranz Cheese Come From and There is no Shortage History.