If you were a 20th century middle class housewife looking for a guide to cooking, hosting, and general advice on your social life, Jeannette Young Norton was sure to be on your radar. Mrs. Norton seemed to have all of the answers, ranging from what table linens you should use to how to respectfully leave a party early. Newspapers sought after her to write advice columns and publish recipes. She understood the ins and outs of the middle class and upper middle class social circles. In 1917, she wrote the hit cookbook, Mrs. Norton’s Cook-book: Selecting, Cooking, and Serving for the Home Table.1 Following the success of this book, she assisted Charles Murphy on another book, American Indian Corn: (Maize) a Cheap, Wholesome, and Nutritious Food: 150 Ways to Prepare and Cook It.2 Mrs. Norton was a great source of knowledge for housewives across the country, and as she transitioned to a weekly recipe column, they trusted her every word.
Jeannette was born to George and Martha Kitteridge in New Haven, CT in approximately 1871.3 Married to Charles Norton, the pair had one son who was an avid supporter of his mother’s work. Jeannette Young-Norton was a renowned “authority on home cooking,”4 writing her own nationally syndicated newspaper column and publishing a successful cookbook. The earliest record of her writing I could find was published on February 21, 1911 in The Fort Wayne Sentinel.5 While not food writing, her article, “The Small Courtesies of Life,” indicates her beginnings as a well respected woman of society. In her article, she details the common courtesy when giving letters of introduction, sharing social invitations, and sending gifts and flowers. Similarly, Mrs. Norton’s Cook-book that she went on to publish in 1917, includes proper entertaining courtesies, decor, and meal serving etiquette. I found the first mention of her food writing in The Virginian Pilot, published on April 13, 1911.6 In her article, “Prune Dishes,” she writes about how to prepare prunes and what to serve them with. While trying her hand at recipe writing in 1916, she entered the RYZON baking powder company’s recipe contest and earned a spot in the RYZON baking book.7 While she did not win the contest, her recipe was purchased from her for $5.00 and was included in the book. This is the equivalent of about $116 today.
She continued writing pieces for newspapers across the country, and in 1920, her column, “The Home Kitchen,” started becoming a staple piece in papers nationwide. The earliest records I could find are from December 15, 1920. On this day, her column appeared in many newspapers in different states, one being The Lincoln Journal Star8 from Lincoln, Nebraska. Her column was published every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. “The Home Kitchen” featured recipes and cooking advice for a new generation of housewives. As written in the Meridian Morning Record, “[her] articles are written in a neighborly way and contain instructions so definite that they may be easily followed by the woman who is learning, as well as the woman who knows how to cook.” Mrs. Young Norton was a trusted source for knowledge of food and etiquette. While this was true throughout her career, her popularity skyrocketed after the publishing of her cookbook in 1917.
I am particularly interested in her recipe for “Pineapple and Fish Canapé”. She includes recipes for more than twenty different canapés because, as she explains, “the serving of the canapé at dinner has become so general one cannot have too many good recipes to turn to if doing very much dinner entertaining.” The foundation of a canapé is “daintily toasted” two-day-old bread cut into a heart, diamond, or other geometric shape. The toasted bread is topped with a variety of ingredients–typically savory–which she provides recipes for. A recipe published by The Saskatoon Phoenix in 1917, explains that canapés are served as appetizers because their job is “stimulating the digestive juices through, both eye and palate.”9 In a multi-course meal, canapés are served at the table before the soup. Canapés were popular at the time, but during prohibition in 1920, they became even more highly favored. Mrs. Norton’s recipes remained relevant to a range of audiences through the changing political climate. Once alcohol consumption in America became illegal, speakeasies secretly serving alcohol also served finger foods such as canapés. Serving food throughout the night was important for “ensuring that patrons didn’t leave inebriated, thus drawing unwanted attention to the secret saloons.”10 Foods that could be eaten in two bites were ideal, so people could move around casually eating, drinking, and socializing. Prohibition is credited with the popularity of canapés and cocktail parties, but prior to prohibition housewives everywhere proudly served these appetizers.
Mrs. Norton’s canapé includes boiled codfish, grated pineapple, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, toast hearts, olives, and pimentos. Her instructions are as follows:
The pineapple in this recipe is arguably the most historically interesting. The first pineapples were exported from Hawaii to California in August 1849,11 but pineapple transport did not become a trend until the transportation methods were perfected. Before its establishment as a lucrative industry, Pineapples had to be bought locally because they were difficult to ship. Without the use of refrigeration cars, if they were shipped while ripe, they would spoil in transport, but if they were exported before they ripened, they did not taste as good. In 1900, James Dole arrived in Hawaii, and a year later he opened The Hawaiian Pineapple Company.12 By the 1920s, the combination of canning, advanced technologies (most notably a machine that could peel 100 pineapples a minute), and advertising resulted in immense success for Dole and The Hawaiian Pineapple Company. By the 20th century, canned pineapple was a cheap, versatile fruit that housewives could incorporate into many dishes.
In addition to her Pineapple and Fish canapé, in 1914 Mrs. Norton published a recipe for “Eggs a la Surprise” in the Fort Worth Record.13 This recipe is for boiled eggs with the yolks removed and replaced with a pineapple-rum mixture. Before the pineapple upside-down cake craze, Mrs. Norton had to be creative with her pineapple usage. In 1925, as a part of their advertising campaign, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company hosted a recipe competition using pineapples. There were at least 2,500 entries for pineapple upside-down cake, solidifying it as a popular use for pineapples. The other star ingredient in this dish is boiled codfish. The use of fish is significant because it is on par with the sentiment of the time. During World War I, the United States Food Administration heavily advocated for Americans to eat fish to save the meat for the troops fighting in the war. The US Bureau of Fisheries also joined this campaign and started creating their own slogans and propaganda. Evelene Spencer, the Fish Cookery Expert at the USBF from 1915 to 1922, played a huge role in getting people to eat more fish. She was especially influential amongst housewives, persuading them “through her posters, live cooking demonstrations, and later, her seminal (and breathlessly-titled) cookbook.”14 It would be fair to assume that Mrs. Norton, a leader among middle-class housewives, was familiar with Mrs. Spencer and her cause.
Codfish was a fairly inexpensive fish. In the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1915, the price of boneless codfish was listed as 12 ½ cents per pound. For reference, salmon ranged from 14 to 23 cents per pound, lobster was 40 cents per pound, and tuna was 9 cents per pound.15 Priced in the middle, respectable families could serve codfish at gatherings without breaking the bank.
Mayonnaise is used in the recipe to bind the fish and pineapple. Mayonnaise originated in France, and did not become a widely used ingredient in America until the early 20th century.16 Although not traditionally American, Turning Tables author Andrew Haley writes that “by the start of the twentieth century, it was clear that middle-class-restaurant goers were embracing a new culinary adventurism.”17 Using mayonnaise in salads was one of its first introductions to American cuisine. In 1913, Richard Hellman, founder of the soon-to-be-world-famous Hellman’s mayonnaise, and his wife Margaret, opened Hellman’s Delicatessen where they used mayonnaise as a sandwich spread and sold it in jars to their customers. Mayonnaise’s popularity only increased as the 20th century progressed.
The olives in this dish are stuffed with pimentos and served as a garnish. Olives were first introduced in America by the Spanish Franciscans in 1769 who planted them in California missions.18 Attempts to grow olives on the east coast failed because of the insufficient climate. Because olives originate in the Mediterranean, prior to the olive industry’s growth in California, olives were a delicacy only afforded to the upper class. Once they were no longer a European luxury, it was commonplace for hosts to serve them at parties and restaurants to include them on menus. The olives in Mrs. Norton’s recipe are stuffed with pimento peppers. This is a French combination that made its way into American cuisine. Before the mechanization of the process in the 1960s, olives were stuffed by hand. This made the pimento stuffed olives more expensive than plain canned olives. Women aspiring to fit into upper-class society would have willingly made this small change to display wealth.
Placing everything atop two-day-old bread means two things. Firstly, no food goes to waste. Canapés can be made with leftover crunchy bread, making use out of pre-made food that would otherwise spoil. It also means that this recipe cannot be made without some sort of planning. While store bought bread could be used, Mrs. Norton recommends the homemade kind. This dish as a whole combines some of the most popular ingredients of the time. If served at a party, this dish would have been well received by middle and upper middle class people. Most of Mrs. Norton’s recipes served this audience of women wanting to establish themselves in the upper middle class social scene.
I would be remiss not to mention the social/political atmosphere at the time this cookbook was published. 1917 was well into WWI, and one year before it ended. The war affected culinary life as much as it did social life. It changed consumer habits, and influenced which foods were popular at the time. The Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article from Mrs. Norton entitled, “For Holiday Meals When War Thoughts Wait.”19 She describes this time as an “era of food conservation, when food economies are the point of emphasis in most discussions of cookery.” She shares traditional recipes to eat at the holidays because they are special occasions where war conservatism can be ignored for a moment. Mrs. Norton’s writing does not fail to keep up with the times and show her awareness of the social lives of her audience.
- Norton, Jeanette Young. Mrs. Norton’s Cook-Book; Selecting, Cooking, and Serving for the Home Table. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.
- Murphy, Charles J., and Jeannette Young Norton. American Indian Corn (Maize) a Cheap, Wholesome, and Nutritious Food. 150 Ways to Prepare and Cook It. New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.
- “Jeonette Young Norton.” U.S., Index to Death Certificates. New York, 1862-1948
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “The Home Kitchen .” Johnson City Chronicle, March 7, 1925.
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “Small Courtesies of Life.” Fort Wayne Sentinel, February 21, 1911.
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “Prune Dishes.” Virginian Pilot, April 13, 1911.
- “Prize Winners of RYZON Recipe Contest.” The Post-Star. March 21, 1916.
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “The Home Kitchen.” Lincoln Journal Star, December 15, 1920.
- “Canapés, Oyster Cocktails, and Celery Curls.” The Saskatoon Phoenix, April 14, 1917.
- Avey, Tori. “Speakeasies, Sofas, and the History of Finger Foods.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, February 1, 2013. https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-finger-foods/.
- “Pineapple Industry.” HDNP, July 9, 2016. https://hdnpblog.wordpress.com/historical-articles/1282-2/.
- Rhodes, Jess. “It’s Pineapple Season, but Does Your Fruit Come From Hawaii?” Smithsonian Magazine. The Smithsonian, March 20, 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/its-pineapple-season-but-does-your-fruit-come-from-hawaii-5211854/.
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “Appetizing Egg Dishes.” Fort Worth Record-Telegram, June 21, 1914.
- Stimpson, Ashley. “Remembering America’s Forgotten ‘Fish Evangelist’.” Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura, March 11, 2022. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/remembering-americas-forgotten-fish-evangelist.
- “Extra Specials for Week Commencing Monday, March 26, 1917.” The Times-Picayune, March 25, 1917.
- Pao. “The History of Mayonnaise in the United States.” Cravings in Amsterdam, December 8, 2022. https://cravingsinamsterdam.com/the-history-of-mayonnaise-in-the-united-states/.
- Haley, Andrew P. Turning the Tables: American Restaurant Culture and the Rise of the Middle Class, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill, Noth Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
- Rupp, Rebecca. “The Bitter Truth About Olives.” National Geographic. National Geographic, May 4, 2021. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/olives–the-bitter-truth.
- Norton, Jeannette Young. “For Holiday Meals When War Thoughts Wait.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 9, 1917.