Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grease... Not the Musical

by Connie Cortright

Used from WikiCommons
This week we're going a bit back in time before the 20s, 1911 to be exact. Crisco, first produced in 1911 by Procter and Gamble, was marketed as the new modern, scientific substitute for grease used for frying food. Made with all hydrogenated vegetable oils, it was introduced as an alternative to cooking with animal fats and butters. Part of the reason that women liked it was the fact that it stayed solid in the container no matter what the temperature was outside.

One hundred years ago Crisco was advertised to the wives of America as THE product needed to deep fry French fried potatoes, or fried chicken, or maybe even fish. You could use the same Crisco over and over again for frying because the taste of the food didn't carry from one food to the other. Crisco would cool down and could be poured back into the same original can because it was hydrogenated. It was the perfect thing to use in your kitchen every day for your food preparation.

Used from WikiCommons
As one advertisement read: "Having satisfied themselves, by actual experience, of the purity, richness, digestibility, economy and convenience of Crisco, they and their friends--and the friends of their friends--began to buy it in ever-increasing quantity."
Procter & Gamble helped to advertise the use of their new product by creating recipes for Crisco and sending cookbooks to wives across the country. They also had home economists teach cooking classes to the wives and daughters introducing the new recipes to them.

As in other food manufacturers, Procter & Gamble was very aware of the concern of consumers at this time to practice high cleanliness and hygiene in their factories. They required all employees to wear uniforms and had standards of cleanliness in the packing lines. The consumers reacted positively when these standards were publicized in advertisements.

In the 20s, Crisco started to be sold in an airtight can that was opened with a key. The airtight container kept the shortening fresher until it was used so the food tasted better as well. These cans were used into the 1960s, so I remember opening cans of Crisco like that.

Procter & Gamble used the radio airwaves to advertise their product in the late 20s and 30s. The cooking shows highlighting recipes made with Crisco were very popular among housewives. Mmmm... deep fried home-made raised doughnuts. Makes my mouth water to think of them.
Used from WikiCommons

While I was doing research for this blog post, I searched to understand What are hydrogenated fats?
The first sentence of this article says, "Hydrogenated fats are unnatural fats that are detrimental to your health." It goes on to explain that foods made with hydrogenated fats - like Crisco - are cheaper and less perishable than animal fats - like butter, but they don't digest as well and remain "stuck" in your blood circulation causing heart disease and possibly cancer.

It's amazing to think how much we've learned in a hundred years. Something that was touted as being good for you and digestible, now is looked on as bad for your health. I wonder how many cans of Crisco are still sitting on kitchen shelves today. I know I haven't had one in my kitchen for decades.

Information taken from Crisco History.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Button Up

by Connie Cortright

What to wear? What shoes should I wear? Those are two questions that every woman probably asks herself every morning. Maybe back in the early 20th Century, the first question was asked regularly, but I doubt if the second question was asked that often.

In the early 1900s most women probably didn't have too many choices for shoes. The fashion back then was to have button-down, also known as high-button, shoes. These shoes became the style in the late 1800s and remained in high fashion until after World War I. These leather shoes, rising well above the ankle, were fastened by a row of buttons that fastened an extra flap of leather over the front of the shoe.

I don't know about you, but those shoes don't look too comfortable to me. The reason they were so high was to prevent any gentleman from peaking at the ankles of his woman friend if her ankle length skirt happened to ride up an inch or so.

Can you imagine reaching all the way to your feet to button those small buttons into the buttonholes? People found it nearly impossible back then also. Thus a very necessary tool was invented to help with this--the buttonhook.

The buttonhook, a small metal device with a hook on the end, was invented for the sole :) purpose of buttoning the small buttons that couldn't be reached easily. Some of these buttonhooks were ornately decorated on the flat end to show prestige.

"Once the shoes were on the feet, the hook was threaded through each small buttonhole, then hooked around the button and pulled back out, buttoning the shoe," according to "Fashion Encyclopedia." I'm sure the process of buttoning your shoes was accomplished much faster with the use of a buttonhook. 
As the hemlines of skirts started getting shorter after WWI, the use of buttonhole shoes became unfashionable. Now women were happy to show off their ankles and legs with the new "flapper" dresses that were worn in the 20s.

It was interesting to learn that the collection of buttonhooks didn't disappear along with those old style shoes. In fact, if you still own a collection of buttonhooks today you might be in the The Buttonhook Society and even attend their annual convention. Check out the web page if you collect these rare gems.

For me, I'm glad we wear flip-flops or sandals these days. High-button shoes do not sound too appealing to me.

Information taken from History of Button-Down Shoes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Just for September

by Connie Cortright

Something different this week: a poem by Edgar Albert Guest who was a prolific writer in the 1920s and 30s. In fact, he was so well known that he had his own radio show in the Detroit area during the 1930s. I'm going to share a poem of his that is very fitting for the season.

It's September

It's September, and the orchards are afire with red and gold,
And the nights with dew are heavy, and the morning's sharp with cold;
Now the garden's at its gayest with the salvia blazing red
And the good old-fashioned asters laughing at us from their bed;
Once again in shoes and stockings are the children's little feet,
And the dog now does his snoozing on the bright side of the street.

It's September, and the cornstalks are as high as they will go,
And the red cheeks of the apples everywhere begin to show;
Now the supper's scarcely over ere the darkness settles down
And the moon looms big and yellow at the edges of the town;
Oh, it's good to see the children, when their little prayers are said,
Duck beneath the patchwork covers when they tumble into bed.

It's September, and a calmness and a sweetness seem to fall
Over everything that's living, just as though it hears the call
Of Old Winter, trudging slowly, with his pack of ice and snow,
In the distance over yonder, and it somehow seems as though
Every tiny little blossom wants to look its very best
When the frost shall bite its petals and it droops away to rest.

It's September! It's the fullness and the ripeness of the year;
All the work of earth is finished, or the final tasks are near,
But there is no doleful wailing; every living thing that grows,
For the end that is approaching wears the finest garb it knows.
And I pray that I may proudly hold my head up high and smile
When I come to my September in the golden afterwhile.

Information taken from Wikipedia - Edgar Guest and Poemhunter: Edgar Albert Guest

In loving memory of my father: Willard Laabs November 16, 1928 - September 7, 2016.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hearing is Believing

by Connie Cortright

Last week my husband and I went to see a new movie that came out recently called "Florence Foster Jenkins" about the career of a singer in the 1920s-1940s. This woman's story is very unique in that her claim to fame was her lack of talent.

Florence Jenkins longed to be a performer from the age of seven when she would play piano to entertain people under the name of "Little Miss Foster". In 1885, she married Frank Jenkins, who gave her syphilis after their wedding. She struggled with this disease for the rest of her life. At that time, the known "cure" for syphilis was arsenic (which might have affected her singing voice). She never recovered fully from this dreadful disease.

In 1909 she married St. Clair Bayfield who became her manager for her singing career. With the help of her father's trust, she used her wealth to become a benefactress for the arts in New York City, in particular musical performances at the Verdi Club.

In 1912, she started private vocal lessons to improve her singing skills. Because of her wealth, the people around her praised her singing ability just to keep her happy. She loved operatic music and, in private musical recitals, would insist on performing technically challenging music that was beyond her ability. By 1917, she performed on stage at the Verdi Club to an audience that had been hand-picked by "Lady Florence" herself.

Before long, Lady Florence became known for her terrible singing ability. "She is described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases." Her accompanist Cosme McMoon had to adjust his tempo and rhythms just to accommodate her mistakes.  Her bad singing combined with her flamboyant costumes brought the audience back to see her again and again.

Her friends and hand-picked audience would cheer and applaud to disguise the laughter so as to have her continue to sing the pieces. "Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater." Cole Porter was one of her attendees during the 30s and 40s. "They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad." But Mr. Porter never missed a recital. Click on the link to hear for yourself: You Tube - Florence Foster Jenkins (she made recordings of her voice and sold record albums)

Her manager husband and McMoon encouraged her singing and avoided telling her the truth about her ability so as not to hurt her feelings. The public heard about this singing "diva" and demanded a concert open to the general public. On October 25, 1944, Jenkins finally sang at Carnegie Hall for general-public admission. The concert was sold out with 2000 people waiting at the door. However, now that the public finally heard her bad singing, the newspapers gave truthful reviews that panned her performance and in one case calling it "one of the weirdest mass jokes New York has ever seen." Five days after hearing the uncensored truth about her voice, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and died within a month.

No one was quite sure if she knew the truth about her audiences or not. She once told her friend, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

This story is portrayed in a very amusing and interesting way by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant in the movie "Florence Foster Jenkins". I highly recommend seeing it just to hear Streep's portrayal of Lady Florence's terrible voice. She did a great job of singing off-key.

Information taken from Wikipedia: Florence Foster Jenkins