“We took hot potatoes for lunch in the winter and cold ones the rest of the year,” my mom related about school lunches in the early 1900s. “We held the potatoes in our pockets. This kept our hands warm as we walked to school,” she continued.
(They walked three miles each way to school and back home. Yes, up hill and down, because I’ve traveled the route, but in a car, when I visited Mother’s girlhood home.)
Then in the warmer months, Mother, her sister and two brothers carried cold potatoes, sliced and spread with butter. Sometimes they took a sandwich made from homemade bread and meat or cheese. If there was no meat or cheese, Mother, her sister and brothers had simply bread and butter.
There were no hot lunches served in the one-room schools of the early 1900s. There were none in the one-room school I attended during my first through fourth grades.).
No, my sister, brothers and I didn’t eat boiled potatoes for our lunches. Instead we had sandwiches, milk or water in a thermos, and cookies. If apples or oranges were in season, Mother might include these. More likely it was an apple because my dad had an orchard, along with dairy farm. Oranges were treats around Christmas time.
Hot Lunches of Mid-Century
When I began attending the distant, larger school, in 5th grade, I enjoyed hot lunches. However, since there was no reduced price or free lunch program, I took cold lunches when my parents couldn’t afford the school lunch for us four.
We never thought we were deprived. It was the accepted practice, even when we might have only bread and butter, or bread and mayonnaise. My brothers liked bread and catsup when other sandwich fillings were scarce. Mother generally had homemade cookies on hand. Those from the store were a great treat.
Now when I see children with all types of snacks and goodies from the store, pre-packaged items to heat in the lunchroom microwave, and bottles of juice, I marvel that we survived. Somehow most of us were healthy, worked hard on the farms, and generally did well in school.
We would have thought we were in “lunch heaven” if we’d had the convenience foods youngsters have in their lunch boxes today…and then throw away. (I know because I often have lunchroom duty when I’m substitute teaching.)
MAYONNAISE CAKE – Mother, and later I, often made this cake to eat at home and for our lunches. Frequently we didn’t frost it.
Sift 2 cups flour sifted with 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder. Mix together with 4 tablespoons powdered chocolate, 1 cup sugar. Add 1 cup cold water, 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix well.
Pour into greased and floured tube pan or two 8 or 9-inch cake pans (if you’re going to frost cake) or large sheet pan. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. for layer or sheet pans, longer for tube pan, until inserted pick comes out clean.
When cool, ice or sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
(c)2009 Mary Emma Allen