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A Taste of Time

Illustration from a pamphlet in SPNEA’s Library and Archives, “Electric Refrigerator Recipes and Menus: Recipes Prepared Especially for the General Electric Refrigerator” by Alice Bradley, 1927.

In the first half of the last century, daily cooking for the family was considered women’s work. Ideally, proper girls learned to cook so they could become proper women with healthy, contented families that would make the nation strong. Most cooking during this period had to start with the basic ingredients, because frozen foods, fast foods, and packaged mixes did not exist to the extent that they do today. A favorite dessert was milk-based sherbet, considered wholesome and inexpensive to prepare.

In 1940, at the end of the Depression, fewer than half the households in the U.S. had mechanical refrigerators, which had limited ability to freeze and hold ice cream and sherbet. A quarter of the population had ice boxes, with only blocks of melting ice to keep food cold; another quarter had no refrigeration at all. Making ice cream or sherbets at home required a small ice cream machine, ice, salt, and at least twenty minutes of hand cranking to freeze. The dessert had to be eaten promptly, as there was no way to keep it frozen for long. Today, thanks to the modern refrigerator, this Depression-era sherbet is easy for children to make, and it will please everyone.

Orange and Lemon Sherbet

1 quart milk
Grated orange and lemon peel
Juice from 2 oranges and 2 lemons
1 1/2 cups of sugar
Berries or mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Grate peel of 2 oranges and 2 lemons (colored zest only, not the white pith). Stir juice into sugar, mix in the grated peel, and add gradually to milk. The mixture may curdle, but this will disappear in freezing. Pour into 8 parfait glasses or custard cups and freeze. If you like, garnish with a berry or mint leaf before serving.

—Dr. Judith Moyer
Historian, University of New Hampshire

Recipe adapted by Nancy Joroff, Manager of School and Youth Programs, and tested by Oliver Wilder-Smith, Education Department intern, aged eleven.

A Taste of Time