The Vintage Bookshelf

Saturday Mornings: A Housekeeping Story

Saturday Mornings, a storybook manual from 1906.

The book sat wedged between two other volumes at the used bookstore. With a worn spine that was unreadable, the book looked forgotten and forlorn. That’s when I decided that regardless what its pages contained, Saturday Mornings needed to come home with me. I gently pulled the book from the shelf, opened it, and realized I’d found a treasure. Saturday Mornings was a housekeeping story.

Written by Caroline French Benton in 1906, Saturday Mornings is instructional, but uses a story to get its point across. Like many of its competitors through 1919, the book explains how to complete tasks within the framework of a story. I’ve always loved these books and have several in my collection. This one is actually titled Saturday Mornings: A Little Girl’s Experiments and Discoveries, or How Margaret Learned to Keep House.

I recently found it on my bookshelf again, nestled between a few vintage cookbooks. I decided it was time for an airing, to use an old housekeeping term.

The Book’s Story

Saturday Mornings began as a series of articles in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1905. Titled “Margaret’s Saturday Mornings,” each article became a chapter of the book, with a little more added. The articles were edited a bit before their final form. I found that words changed between the Good Housekeeping article and the printed book. Fun became delightful. A list of bathroom tasks was shortened to clean the grates and other things. Overall, however, the book and the articles remained almost the same.

Margaret’s journey begins at the Christmas Tree, where she finds everything she needs to run a household tied to the branches. In addition, a small red book nestles among the branches. Its title is Saturday Mornings, and it holds everything she needs to begin her adventure in housekeeping.

Throughout subsequent chapters Margaret learns the best way to keep a kitchen fire alive, and set and serve various meals in the dining room. She learns about laundry and linen, bedrooms and bathrooms. The last short chapter takes Margaret through an entire day’s work, where she showcases everything she knows.

Looking over the pages, some housekeeping tasks remain the same over 100 years later. Others, however, changed quite a bit. We no longer clean anything with gasoline, for instance. It was used to cut deep grime and for other tasks, but I couldn’t imagine wetting a cloth with gasoline to clean anything. Of course, in 1906 your choices for cleaners included ammonia, vinegar, cake soap, and other similar chemicals. Since fiberglass tubs and electric clothes washers stood far in the distance, the materials used to clean these items were unheard of as well.

Caroline French Benton wrote many other articles and books on the home and the women’s sphere. Her most well known book is probably A Little Cook Book for a Little Girl in 1905, although she went on to write about women’s clubs, motherhood, and thrifty lifestyles.

Read it Yourself

You can find a copy of Saturday Mornings, a housekeeping story, at Project Gutenberg, and download it in several formats or read it online.

If the history of housekeeping interests you, you will enjoy this book. In fact, you might also like Never Done: A History of American Housework by Susan Strasser. (Amazon link).

And if you enjoy stories of youth from 1905-1915, you might enjoy this post on the Motor Maids School Days, where Billie and her car find friends and solve a mystery.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Your Afternoon Tea Shelf

top half of a tea cart, set with two cups and saucers, a creamer, a covered sugar dish, a large metal coffee server, and a bowl of fruit. From 1923.

What can you throw together when a friend stops by for a chat? If your pantry’s afternoon tea shelf is stocked, worry no more. Pull out a few tasty nibbles and treats you can combine quickly, assemble them on a tray, and pour the tea.

This idea comes from 1923, and like many ideas it needs resurrection from its current space, buried within the pages of a woman’s periodical. The general emergency shelf concept wasn’t new. It took its place among the solid advice offered to new homemakers: Always have a small shelf of ready to use foods for unexpected guests or that long day away.

Your Own Afternoon Tea Shelf

The afternoon tea shelf, however, gives a new twist to the idea. Especially if you like the idea of holding tea parties to entertain close friends, you might see the advantage in the suggestion. You clear off a shelf in your pantry or a small shelf in a corner cupboard that you don’t often use. Designate it the Tea Shelf. But what do you put on it?

Of course, you would include a box of crackers. Pour them into a bowl, set them out side by side covered with 1/4 slice of your favorite cheese, or spread with a bit of cream cheese and sprinkle with a flavoring spice like garlic, Italian seasoning, or your favorite mixture. (Better yet, combine the flavor with the cream cheese before spreading.) You may even want to include two boxes of crackers. Simple rice crackers always taste light and airy, while a heavier entertainment cracker like Ritz or an allergy-safe alternative creates a great base for simple spreads.

Another good idea is a box of favorite cookies that have a long shelf life. Oreos, chocolate chip, or Vienna wafers give you some ideas, but the cookie aisle is filled with options. Choose a favorite.

Easy Shelf Stocking Ideas

Here are some other ideas:

  • Make some cookies and store them on your shelf. It will ensure that you visit the shelf often as you eat them before they become stale.
  • Marshmallows, either mini or regular.
  • Chocolate in small bar or individually-wrapped form. You will want to unwrap the chocolate before you present it, however. Guests seem to have an aversion to opening sealed items.
  • Nuts, either one kind or mixed. Small containers don’t take up much space. This is not the time to buy a huge container of Costco peanuts.
  • A jar of marmalade or preserves.
  • Small jar of honey. Again, a small container works here. Store the 2 pound glass jar that you use for everyday cooking on another shelf.
  • Sugar, turbinado sugar, or brown sugar that you can use to sweeten the tea.
  • A small jar of mayonnaise if you don’t always have some in the fridge, for savory sandwiches.
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit, with or without extra sugar: cherries, pineapple, crystallized ginger.

Once you have all these things, plus the refrigerated items you always keep on hand (like cream cheese), you can combine them into all sorts of novel treats.

Easy Combinations from Your Stash

Use the cookies as the base for a sweet sandwich. Take a couple tablespoons of cream cheese and stir in 1/2 teaspoon sugar and some melted chocolate or 1/4 tsp cocoa powder. Spread this on molasses cookies, vanilla wafers, or sugar cookies. Press two of them together to make a sandwich.

Stir a few chopped nuts into a spoon or two of honey and use that to glue two cookies together in a sweet sandwich.

To add spice to those plain table crackers, stir together some peanut butter, a teaspoon or two of half-and-half or full cream (if you have it on hand, milk or milk substitute if you don’t), and some confectioner’s sugar. Use it as a cracker sandwich filling. You can also mix peanut butter with honey for an excellent filling, or peanut butter and some leftover frosting from that cake you made a day or two ago (This is why I never throw away that 1/2 cup of leftover frosting. It may need to make its way to a cookie or cracker.)

Take a marshmallow, place it onto a cracker or round cookie, and stick it in the oven at 350° F for a few minutes until it puffs and begins to brown. Bring it out of the oven, and if you like, decorate the top with a nut or piece of dried fruit like a cherry or pineapple.

Bread slices, cut into 3/4-inch wide pieces, after de-crusting, can be toasted. Then while warm spread with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. This is a grownup take on the ever-favorite childhood breakfast of cinnamon toast.

Adding Cake or Muffins

If you have time to whip up a cake (this is where boxed mixes can shine), bake it in one or two loaf pans. When it’s cool, cut it into thin bread-slice type pieces. Then mix together 1 cup powdered sugar with a Tablespoon or two of milk. Add whatever flavoring you like and stir in some chopped nuts for texture and added nutrition. Then use the frosting as a filling between two pieces of cake. Cut each sandwich into thin finger strips if you like.

Mini muffins can be made from the simplest recipe if you cut off the top, scrape out a bit, and fill the hole with a bit of marmalade or preserves before popping the top back on.

Savory Options for Your Table

Create a savory topping by mixing 2 hard boiled eggs, some diced or ground deli ham, a tablespoon or two of grated cheese, and either dijon mustard, mayonnaise, or a mixture of both to hold it all together. Spread on crackers, or take two to three slices of bread, remove the crust, cut into quarters, toast, and top with the mixture. Voila! Eight to twelve open faced sandwiches.

Top cheese crackers with mayonnaise mixed with nuts. Or spread them with mayonnaise mixed with minced celery. This, of course, will require a larger cheese wafer than your ordinary small 1-inch square cracker. If you have the small kind on hand, toss them into a bowl for free snacking.

Entertain with Impunity

Keep enough small, prepackaged things on hand that you can throw together a tea party at a moment’s notice, and with little to no anxiety. Life is too short to stress over cups of tea and finger sandwiches. Using only three of the ideas from this list will give you an inviting, tasty tea table. And because most of the ingredients came from your afternoon tea shelf, you have the time and energy to enjoy your friends.

If you want more complicated (and impressive) recipes for your afternoon tea party, check out this post on a collection of Recipes for Your Porch Party.

The Vintage Bookshelf · Vintage Entertainment

Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting

Partial cover to The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book. A young girl sits on a sofa surrounded by a yarn doll, balls of yarn. She knits with two very large knitting needles.
The cover of the Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book

Mary Frances needs to learn all kinds of skills. She needs to learn to cook, clean, sew, knit, crochet, garden. Her world is full of learning! Mary Frances stars in an entire series of instruction books, beginning with a cookbook in 1912. In The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book she learns to knit and crochet. She makes clothes for her doll along the way. Her teachers are the Knitting People, a delightful set of tools that come to life and tell Mary Frances exactly how things should be done.

In the pages of The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book we meet Knit and Knack the knitting needles, Crow Shay the crochet hook, and Yarn Baby, a yarn doll. These characters, along with their friends, show Mary Frances the ropes of creating with yarn. She makes doll clothes, a baby doll’s set, and a few things for herself. And you can find patterns for all of these in the book. Because The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book was published in 1918, the last set of patterns is from the Red Cross. A flyer of knitted articles for World War I soldiers gives Mary Frances experience with adult-size clothing. 

Two baby dolls dressed in hand made outfits. One wears a blue cape, mittens, and matching knitted booties, while the other wears a pink sweater, bonnet, and matching booties.
Dress your baby dolls in the finest handmade outfits.

Note: This is a book of its time. It may contain outdated references or illustrations, like most books from 1900-1930.

One Adventure After Another

By the time Mary Frances graduates to knitting and crocheting, she’s much older than the little girl who started the series with a cookbook. She’s had adventures with the Kitchen People when she learned to cook. The Thimble People taught her to sew. She learned the basics of housekeeping from the Doll People. And in her last adventure before she learns to knit, she meets the Garden People. Her knitting and crocheting book is more advanced than any of the other books. It contains more projects and less chatter. The story line still exists, but it’s not as all-encompassing as the story you find in the Mary Frances Sewing Book.

When the story opens, Mary Frances is accosted by her great aunt Maria, who is, of course, a paragon of the textile arts and cannot believe that Mary Frances doesn’t know how to knit or crochet. She offers to teach her, and Mary Frances says that she’s been wanting to learn for the longest time. Then Mary Frances remembers how Aunt Maria taught her father to knit, and how much he hated it. 

She sits down with her knitting bag after her aunt scurries away, and wishes that helpful fairies like the Thimble People could teach her to knit and crochet. Crow Shay the hook begins to talk to her, and she realizes that real help waits for her after all. 

Learning from the Pros

She endures one lesson with Aunt Maria before her aunt is whisked away by a family emergency. Mary Frances finds herself alone with her brother, talking knitting needles, and Katie, the household cook. 

This gives Mary Frances the freedom she needs to concentrate on the lessons from the knitting needles and crochet hook. With their help she creates a doll’s wardrobe. A little over the first half of the book teaches crochet. Then the chapters switch to knitting instruction. Black and white photographs from 1918 show how to form the stitches. 

A blonde doll ready for the outdoors. She wears a dark blue velvet coat and matching hat, a knitted shawl or scarf over the coat, and a fringed muff hangs from her neck.
Mary Marie ready for a day on the town

Illustrations throughout the book show how the finished articles should look. In the original book several color pages show the progress of a sixteen inch doll’s wardrobe. Mary Marie, the doll, received a complete handmade wardrobe in the sewing book, but now she needs coats and hats, shopping bags and mufflers. The book even gives instructions for an aviator doll outfit and a Teddy Bear Suit. The suit looks like a WWI army uniform, but teddy bear suits were actually one-piece sitcot jumpsuits. WWI airplane pilots wore them. So although it’s quite cute with its trousers, jacket, and tam, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be, or why it’s called a Teddy Bear Suit. 

A young teen girl in 1916-1917 wears a long hip length knitted jacket with a wide belt.
Mary Frances can even knit herself a fashionable sweater.

Read It For Yourself

Whether you’ve wanted to learn knitting and crochet like Mary Frances, or you’d like a romp through a century-old instruction book for children, you might enjoy this book. Download The Mary Frances Knitting and Crocheting Book from the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg. And let the yarn adventures begin.

If you enjoy vintage knit and crochet projects, you might like this Twenties Crochet Wrist Bag or this 1950s Knit Potholder.

Poems from the Pages · The Magazine Rack · The Vintage Bookshelf

Twenty Books Worth Reading… in 1921

The other day I stumbled upon an article called Twenty Books Worth Reading. It caught my eye, since I’m always looking for new vintage literature to read. I’m reproducing the list of twenty books worth reading here, along with links to online copies for each title.

As we close one year and start another (I write this at the end of December), it’s helpful to look forward to the new year. I don’t go as far as making a resolution, but I do think through the coming months. What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to learn? What new skill do I want to master this coming year?

One of those lists, of course, includes the list of books that I want to read. My To Be Read list is taller than I am, yet I can always find a new or old title worth delving into. With that in mind, I offer this list.

Twenty books worth reading

Some of these titles you will recognize. Most, however, you probably will not. I was unaware until writing this of a very popular Canadian author named Frederick Niven. He goes on my reading list for this year. I hope you will find at least one book to treasure from this list. Perhaps you will become reacquainted with an old friend.

The books include ten fiction books and ten nonfiction titles.

The fiction books

  • Miss Lulu Bett. Zona Gale. A story of a modern Cinderella, this book became a play during the winter of 1920. Zona Gale won a Pulitzer for the play version of her story. Read it at Project Gutenberg: Miss Lulu Bett.
  • Main Street. Sinclair Lewis. The story of Carol Kennicott and the town Gopher Prairie, Main Street became a best-selling commentary on small town life. You can Read Main Street at Google Books.
  • Alice Adams. Booth Tarkington. Perhaps best known for his novels Penrod and The Magnificent Ambersons, this new book received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1922. Not only did Alice Adams receive a Pulitzer, but it was made into a movie. Twice. Read Alice Adams at Project Gutenberg.
  • The Golden Answer. Sylvia Chatfield Bates. This started as a serial in the magazine Woman’s Home Companion. You can read The Golden Answer at Google Books.
  • The Brimming Cup. Dorothy Canfield Fisher. An older married woman falls in love with another man. Known in juvenile reading circles for her novel Understood Betsy, Fisher was named by Eleanor Roosevelt as one of the ten most influential women of her time in the United States. Read The Brimming Cup at Project Gutenberg.
  • Seed of the Sun. Wallace Irwin. This one is thinly veiled propaganda. You might want to read it with your blood pressure meds handy, if you have any. It seems to be a fictionalized tirade against Japanese immigrants on the West Coast of the United States. The original reviewer even used the term propaganda in his writeup. I couldn’t get through the first chapter. Read Seed of the Sun at your own risk, available at Google Books.
  • The Mysterious Rider. Zane Grey. Ah, now we are back in familiar territory. A Zane Grey western tale. Take a ride down the trail with The Mysterious Rider at Project Gutenberg.
  • Guns of the Gods. Talbot Mundy. This is a tale of India, the story of Princess Yasmini and her first love affair. Find Guns of the Gods at Project Gutenberg.
  • How Many Cards?. Isabel Ostrander. This is a detective story. Ostrander wrote many detective stories. If you like this one, you may like the others as well. Read How Many Cards? at Google Books.
  • A Tale That Is Told. Frederick Niven. This is a tale about the children of a Scottish minister, told by his son. Niven was a very popular Canadian writer, as I mentioned before. You can find A Tale That Is Told at the Internet Archive.

Nonfiction titles

  • Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly. Raphael Pumpelly, ed. by O.S. Rice. This is an abridged version of Pumpelly’s autobiography, reworked for teen and young adult readers. Pumpelly was a mining engineer, geologist, archaeologist, and explorer. Quite a bit to fit into one lifetime! Read it yourself at Google Books. Travels and Adventures of Raphael Pumpelly.
  • Roads to Childhood. Annie Carroll Moore. This book, written by a New York City children’s librarian, discusses good books for children. You can get a copy of Roads to Childhood from Google Books.
  • Health for the Growing Child. William R. P. Emerson, M.D. This is a book that discusses underweight and underfed children, a common enough problem in the early Twenties that Emerson wrote a book about it. Emerson was a pediatric specialist and faculty member of Dartmouth, and when he wrote this volume he was probably a faculty member at Tufts University. I could not find a copy of this book anywhere, but the next year Emerson published Nutrition and Growth in Children, which may be an expanded version of the earlier title. Find it at the Internet Archive. Nutrition and Growth in Children.
  • The Autobiography of Margot Asquith. Margot Asquith was a wit, a countess, a British socialite, and married to the (then) current British Prime Minister. According to the reviewer, “she writes often in questionable taste, but seldom if ever is she insincere.” This one goes on my to-read stack. You can find it at Project Gutenberg, in a two-volumes-in-one compilation. The Autobiography of Margot Asquith.
  • Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography. Katharine Anthony. Anthony was a college-level math teacher who was interested in both biography and psychology. She combined the two to write several “psychological biographies,” which were either celebrated or panned by the press. You can read Margaret Fuller: A Psychological Biography yourself at the Internet Archive.
  • The Famous Mrs. Fair, and Other Plays. James Forbes. The other two plays in this compilation are The Chorus Lady and The Show Shop. The Famous Mrs. Fair saw stage time as well as a movie adaptation in 1923. Obtain The Famous Mrs. Fair from Google Books.
  • The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. Bertrand Russell. Russell was a British mathematician, philosopher, and pacifist. He wrote more than 60 books. In this one, he puts forth his thoughts about visiting Russia and seeing the beginning of Russian Communism. Read The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism at Project Gutenberg.
  • The Evolution of Sinn Fein. Robert Mitchell Henry. Henry was a professor at Queen’s University, Belfast. The year of 1921 brought Ireland’s struggle for independence to the newspapers of the United States. Sinn Fein was (and is) a political party within Ireland. This book would find interest in those who had read about Ireland’s cause. You can read The Evolution of Sinn Fein at Google Books.
  • San Cristóbal de la Habana. Joseph Hergesheimer. San Cristóbal de la Habana is the original name for Havana, Cuba. This book is a travelogue of Hergesheimer’s trip, filled with luscious descriptions of what he saw. Read San Cristóbal de la Habana from Project Gutenberg.
  • Scenario Writing Today. Grace Lytton. Want to know how movie scripts were written in the Twenties? Look no further than Scenario Writing Today, a book about how to write scripts. Retrieve your copy of Scenario Writing Today from Google Books.

The books as a whole

I was surprised I located every one of these titles without much effort. If you would prefer a printed copy, I noticed that almost every one of them appeared available in reprints from Amazon or your favorite reprint seller. Some of them, though, may only be worth one read to you.

Of course, these are all books of their time. They may contain material we find offensive today. They may also have factual information which later proved incorrect. Such is the hazard of reading 100 year old books. Much of the content, however, should be excellent. After all, several of these books became movies, and two received Pulitzer prizes.

Overall, they give a good look at the literature and nonfiction scene of 1921. This not only tells you what people were reading in the early Twenties, but also how they thought about things.

If you would like to add a twenty-first book to your list of twenty books worth reading, I suggest Daddy Long-legs, by Jean Webster. Although it dates a bit earlier than 1921, readers were definitely reading this book in the early Twenties as well.

I wish you happy reading.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Party Gifts in the Depression

1920s photo of four cookies for a bridge party: a black spade, red heart, black club, and red diamond. Each sugar cookie has a layer of colored icing on top. Text: Bridge cookies have their frosting tinted with chocolate or red color paste.
Even the most frugal bridge hostess could manage bridge cookies, iced or not.

We know about the Depression. It’s that time from the end of the Twenties through the early Forties that tried the souls of citizens around the world. We hear about sparse meals, clothing budgets, and jobs. But sometimes we miss the details of what it was like to survive the Thirties. For instance, gathering together for a night of bridge or other game qualifies as cheap entertainment. But what to give as party gifts in the Depression?

Bridge and club parties meant gifts for participants

Immensely popular during the Thirties and Forties, bridge allowed groups of four to twelve people to gather once a month. Every month brought a predictable card game, a small prize for the winner, and simple refreshments at the end. Usually these clubs met in the afternoons, in between morning work and dinner preparation. (Of course, a bridge club can have as many members as it likes, but as a child of the Sixties I never saw more than four card tables set up inside a home at one time.) During the Twenties through the Fifties, clubs that met in homes kept their membership low so everyone could fit inside at once.

So card game parties with coffee and a few cookies at the end provide an inexpensive evening or afternoon of fun. However, what does one do for the day’s winner when money is tight? Prior to the Depression, Twenties card clubs gave all kinds of gifts. A club might arrange a shower where everyone brought a gift to the new homeowner, bride, or mother –– the member of honor for the month.

Or the winner might go home with a travel book to record vacation wanderings. It came complete with a leather cover and helpful maps. Maybe the winner scored enough to snag a nice leather address book. Perhaps she took home a new set of bridge cards or an at-home book that visitors filled out like a guest register when they called upon her. These gifts ranged from $3.00 to $7.50 in 1928. These gifts were worth $48 to $120 in today’s dollars.

What’s a hostess to do?

All this stopped when the Depression hit. Imagine being able to afford a $75 gift when you host a card party during a recession or depressed economy. You can’t. There’s no way.

However, club members found ingenious ways to save their meetings. Party gifts in the Depression would continue. They required some creativity, however.

Raid the flower garden

The town master gardener could always turn to her flowers when she hosted. Many flowers planted in vintage gardens were perennials. They came up every year. Not only that, but they spread every year, too. Everybody in the community might have spearmint outside the back door for use in recipes, but not everyone had lilies, gladiolus, cosmos, or coneflowers. One of the easiest and least expensive gifts from the gardener is a beautiful planter of starts that the winner could take home and transfer to her own garden.

Periodical pleaser

Anything new was unique to many during the Depression. One thoughtful hostess purchased a handful of current magazines from the news shop. A club hostess knew the general reading tastes of her club, so she could choose unusual titles with interesting reading. Five current magazines from the shop cost about fifty cents, a far cry from the $3.00 price tag of earlier times. These might even be read by the winner and passed among club members for a good many months afterward.

Bake the best

If you baked the best angel food cake in town, and had eggs to spare from a backyard coop, a beautiful angel cake might elicit delight and envious looks. A nice tall cake covered with fluffy white frosting and decorated with candy rosebuds available at local stores –– what a nice gift! For the winner of the day, dessert is solved. This solution worked well for the groups whose members already had everything.

Eggs-actly the thing

One hostess was the wife of a poultry farmer. She dressed an eight pound hen (this had to be a duck or small turkey!) and gave it along with a dozen eggs to the winner of her bridge party. Her second-place winner received a chicken fryer, cut up and ready to cook, and she also sent half a dozen eggs home as a booby prize! While unconventional, she said the gifts went over well. It would be hard to top that the next month, to be sure.

Baskets of deliciousness

Another hostess found herself with an overflowing vegetable garden. She decided to put this to good use while she served as club party hostess. She gave the first prize winner a large basket filled with golden peaches and purple grapes. The second prize winner took home a golden squash surrounded by red apples. Her third prize winner took home a bouquet of autumn flowers. And finally, as a consolation prize the last place “winner” received a bouquet of carrots tied to look like a bunch of flowers. The carrot leaves surrounded the vegetables to frame them. These items would be cherished party gifts in the Depression.

Creativity in times of lack

These show just a few examples of hostess ingenuity as they searched for party gifts in the Depression. These women had very little during the Depression, yet they still managed to create a fun and memorable party out of almost nothing but what they had lying around.

What might today’s guests appreciate from a limited-budget host? Here are some ideas:

  • Homemade Chex Mix in a jar or container
  • A cookie platter of family favorites, with or without the recipes
  • Flowers from your garden is an eternal pleaser
  • A start or two from your prized plants, whether they be pothos or cactus
  • Knitted or crocheted pot holders or dish cloth from cotton yarn you have stashed away
  • A silly chick flick from the $2 bin at your local store, along with a package or 1/2 cup popcorn
  • A few unusual colored pencils from the art store, sold separately, if your group contains artsy members

When money is tight, make it useful; make it edible; or make it beautiful. You can’t go wrong following these criteria.

Find out more

If you want to read about parties in an earlier time, see this short series on Halloween parties in the Twenties. And if the idea of hosting a bridge club party interests you, the American Contract Bridge League was formed in 1937, during the Depression… exactly the same year that offers these gift suggestions above..

The Vintage Bookshelf · Vintage Entertainment

A Dickens Ghost Story

Wikimedia Commons image of the frontispiece from The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain by Charles Dickens. A man sits in front of a fire while a ghost stands behind him, leaning forward. A wide border of demons and angels surrounds the image.
Frontispiece from The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain by Charles Dickens. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Not that ghost story. Not A Christmas Carol, which we love dearly but have heard, and seen, and read over and over again. No, this is a Dickens ghost story different from that one.

Charles Dickens, you see, wrote many ghost stories. Not just one. And he wrote five tales specifically for Christmas. In today’s tale the two intersect. For The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, by Charles Dickens, is both a Christmas tale and a ghost story. What could be better?

Mr. Redlaw is a chemist and renowned instructor. Well loved and much respected, he lives with secret sorrows he cannot dispel. Painful memories of the past accost him constantly.

A spirit visits him and offers to remove the sorrows and memories which plague him. No more shall he find himself weighed down by the past that he cannot change.

Redlaw agrees to the transaction. For it is a transaction: he will pass the same forgetting to all he meets. Of course, it comes with some very unintended consequences for both Redlaw and those in his community circle.

Beyond the story

This is a story about the importance of community. About the importance of memory. And it’s a story about the incredible influence we have, good or ill, on the people around us.

It’s also a story about Christmas. A story about the joy and closeness that Christmastime should bring. And it’s a story about redemption.

Dickens does a beautiful job, as always of bringing to life the world that is 1850 London. This story includes four different social classes, perhaps more. Chemist Redlaw shows us the educated, intellectual Londoner. Milly and her husband William introduce us to the Victorian servant class. They work for their living attending to the chemist, but they appear a different class than the failed newspaperman on the corner or the street waif that Milly feeds and shelters from compassion.

Read it yourself

The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain would be a great tale to tell around the Christmas fire. This Dickens ghost story brings home the importance of family and connection, even more than A Christmas Carol.

You can find it as a free read on Google Books and Amazon’s Kindle. If you want a hard copy for your book shelves, you can locate several different editions at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.

The Vintage Bookshelf

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

An image of the sheet music for Trail of the Lonesome Pines, 1913
Sheet music for the song derived from the novel. Date: 1913. Image: Wikimedia Commons

This month I’m reading a bestseller about a civil engineer and a mountain girl. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, by John Fox Jr., is a tale of the Appalachian mountains of the Virginia/Kentucky border before the coal mines and before the railroad. Published in 1908, it became a bestselling novel. In 1912 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was adapted into a Broadway play and the book was republished. Project Gutenberg offers the 1912 version for free reading.

I was completely unaware of this book before I started to research needlework patterns. However, the Lonesome Pine motif appears quite often in crochet and embroidery through the 1920s. It even became the subject of a song. You can see the sheet music in the illustration. Wondering about this flurry of interest, I began a search and ended up at this title. If The Trail of the Lonesome Pine caught the imagination of the United States through the Twenties, I wanted to know why. So I read it.

This is a tale of an engineer who has big dreams of progress and advancement. He came from the north, hoping to build up a town and make his fortune from coal mining in the region. While looking at the lay of the land, he meets a girl named June. June is sturdy and unschooled, but wise in mountain culture. Although the book repeatedly calls her “little girl,” the narrator also comments that many mountain girls would be married by her age. So she begins the book a teenager and comes to maturity throughout the tale.

Whirling around this story is a longstanding feud between the Tollivers and the Falins, supposedly started over a child’s jeers during a game of marbles. But no one really seems to know. All they remember is the clan hatred. June is a Tolliver, and her relationship with Jack the engineer complicates things.

At the same time that the book describes the possibilities for coal mining, metal refining, and railroads, it extols the beauty of the land. Jack names the local flora for June as they walk through the hills. The paragraphs describing native flowers and birds appeal to the senses much like Gene Stratton Porter’s descriptions in The Harvester. Amongst the wildness of nature stands the Lonesome Pine, the only one of its kind in the area. It sees Jack and June’s first meeting, and it witnesses their relationship as it changes.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine appears often on Appalachian literature reading lists. John Fox Jr., who lived in the Kentucky area he writes about, actually wrote many more short stories and novels about Appalachian life and culture between 1895 and 1920. If you love Trail, you might enjoy others as well.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Vintage Halloween Party Games

Twenties illustration of two jack o'lanterns looking down at the head of a small child who is pretending to look scared.

You’re planning a great vintage Halloween bash. You gathered and made the decorations (in Halloween Party Part 1). You mastered the menu (in Halloween Party Part 2). But what are you going to do? That’s where the vintage Halloween party games list comes to your rescue.

Fortune telling

Fortune telling is, hands down, the favorite activity at 1910s – 1930s Halloween parties. Some partygoers read tea leaves, while others burned chestnuts in the fire in pairs to determine the “fate” of two partygoers. Others used special or not-so-special decks of cards.

An easy way to “tell fortunes” is to come up with a list of silly or serious fortunes. Print them one per line and cut them into strips, then fold them and put them into a bowl or Halloween container. Let everyone pull one and read their fortune to the group.

Another option is to designate one of the participants the Fortune Teller. This person should come dressed appropriately for the role, or assume it right before fortune telling time. A long cape is nice; a dark shawl would work too. This doesn’t have to be fancy to be vintage authentic. If your fortune teller is known among friends as a master of improvisation, then they can wing it with each seeker. Otherwise, providing a bowl of pre-made fortune slips like those mentioned above would help.


Costumes can be fancy, not fancy, or not at all. If the idea of authentic crepe paper costumes interests you, this How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes from 1925 is a treasure of information. This, and several others like it, live at the Internet Archive.

The general idea behind costumes in the 1920s was thrift. Costumes could be made from almost anything as long as the materials didn’t cost too much. Since this usually proved a one-time wearing, the Twenties denizen wasn’t about to spend a lot of hard-earned cash on something that would end up in the fire or in the back of a very narrow closet. Manuals on masquerade from the period begin with a statement on purchasing the cheapest stuff available to make a costume that will only last one night. Whether a Santa costume or a Halloween harlequin, the feeling remained the same.

If everyone wears costumes of some kind, it’s traditional to send them home with some kind of prize. Possible categories include: Best Vintage Costume; Scariest Costume; Funniest Costume; Least Expensive Costume; Most Traditional Costume, etc. A great prize would be a taffy apple on a stick. They’re already taking home candy from the dinner table place settings, if you made the favors from a previous post. Door prizes during the Twenties were useful, ornamental, or edible. Think handkerchiefs, small potted plants, and seasonal food.

Candy pulling

Many autumn and winter parties included candy pulling during the Teens and Twenties, and Halloween parties were no exception. Candy pulling gave partygoers something to do and they took home some of the spoils. Odd as it seems, this is one of the vintage Halloween party games that people looked forward to. Taffy is easy to make and fun to pull with a group. Make sure you have a lot of cold butter on hand, or a nondairy equivalent, to keep the candy from burning your hands if you grab it when it’s too hot.

Here’s a recipe for pulled taffy:

Molasses Taffy

1 1/2 cups Molasses
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter

Combine molasses, sugar, vinegar, water, and salt into a large heavy saucepan. Place over low heat and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, and keep at a light boil until the mixture reaches 240º F (soft ball stage).

Add the butter. Boil slowly until mixture reaches 265º (hard ball stage). Stir frequently while it reaches the target temperature.

Remove from the stove. Wipe any crystals from the top of the pan and pour the taffy quickly onto an oiled or buttered surface. You can use a shallow pan with sides, a platter, or a marble candy making slab.

Pull that taffy

Let set until cool enough to handle. Everyone pulls off a handful and works it between their hands, pulling it into a strand, folding back upon itself, and pulling again. You will pull and fold, pull and fold, pull and fold until the taffy becomes lighter in color and with a glossy, satin sheen. This will take a while… you and your party guests will pull for about 20 minutes.

If you find the taffy sticky, butter on your hands should help. Laughter and chatter add spice to the candy making time.

Once the taffy is soft, light-colored, and shiny, you can stretch it out into a long rope. Make it the diameter of the candy you want to eat. Use kitchen shears to cut the candy into bite-size strips, and roll in waxed paper squares.

Here’s a great little video that shows the process of making taffy.

Ghost stories

Telling ghost stories at Halloween parties is as old as Halloween parties themselves. Just like ghost stories were a tradition at Christmas time, they also became a tradition for Halloween.

Look no further than Project Gutenberg for more ghost stories than you could use in a lifetime of Halloween parties. Whether you want modern stories from the Twenties by Dorothy Scarborough or traditional stories by Charles Dickens, you have your pick at this Project Gutenberg page. Select a few of your favorites and be prepared to share them with your guests. Or enlist another partygoer who tells tales really well to locate a few stellar stories and share them with the crowd.

A few of these stories, told while everyone waits for the taffy to cool before pulling, will help while away the waiting minutes.

Or gather round the fire, turn the lights low, pass around the Witches’ Brew cider, and tell tales that will make your guests shudder in the half-light.

Best wishes

I hope you have a tremendous time with your vintage Halloween party games as you recreate a truly vintage Halloween party.

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Vintage Halloween Party Menu

Halloween menu list bordered by a jack o'lantern, a bet in a spider web, and a cake with a witch on it.

Bring vintage entertainment right into your living room when you host a vintage Halloween party. This is the second installment of a series on throwing a Halloween party, Twenties style. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. This time we’re going to focus on food: adding a vintage Halloween party menu to your plans.

When you plan a vintage party menu, the first thing you have to remember is to keep it simple. Gathering people together for an evening of fun trumped ornate, formal entertaining. Most party hosts bought some crepe paper in the appropriate holiday colors (in this case, black and orange). They then spent a few evenings crafting party decorations at home.

Although paper companies released catalogs and idea books filled with ways to decorate with pre-packaged paper items, most party hosts preferred a handmade touch. While a vintage homemaker might buy a printed crepe paper with pumpkins on it, she would be likely to cut out those pumpkins and use them as part of a larger decorating scheme. It created a handmade I cared enough for you that I made it myself touch. Plus, those preprinted sheets of crepe were eye-crossingly busy. A partygoer could only take so much.

Your vintage Halloween party menu

1924 brings you not one vintage Halloween party menu, but two. The first one is very informal and would welcome breaking into the popcorn table centerpiece mentioned in the first Halloween party section.

Menu One

  • Jack O’Lantern Salad
  • Brown Bread Sandwiches
  • Cake of Fate
  • Orange Ice
  • Witches’ Brew

Jack O’Lantern Salad

For Jack O’Lantern salad, select as many large, red apples as there are people to be served. Cut off the top of each one and scoop out the inside. Carve eyes, nose, and mouth on one side like a Jack O’Lantern.

Chop the apple you removed and mix it with an equal amount of diced celery and chopped ripe (black) olives. Put the mixture back into the shells and serve with a dollop of mayonnaise dressing piled on top.

Note: If you want to keep your apple from turning brown, dip it in a little lemon juice. Mix a small amount, a teaspoon at a time, into the cut apple before you combine it with the other ingredients.

Brown Bread Sandwiches

You can use whole wheat, rye, or any other bread that you think would go well with the filling. A bakery loaf is best for this recipe, because you want it whole when you begin.

Slice the bread very thin (in about 1/4-inch slices) and cut the slices into circles with a round biscuit or cookie cutter. For the filling, use 8 oz cream cheese mixed with 2-3 Tbsp drained, shredded pineapple and 1-2 Tbsp chopped pecans.

The Cake of Fate

1920s illustration of a Halloween cake. Layer cake covered in white icing, with a bat, cat, and owl drawn onto the side with chocolate. On the top a witch cut from black paper flies vertically over the top of the cake which is designed like a sundial.
The Cake of Fate……

To make the Cake of Fate, make a two layer cake from any recipe and cover it with firm, white icing. After the icing sets, pipe or draw the clock face, cats, bats, and owls with either a fine clean paint brush dipped in melted chocolate (semi sweet chocolate chips would work well), or chocolate icing in a decorating bag with a fine round tip. The paint brush and melted chocolate is traditional; the cake decorating bag with tip is a modern application.

The witch decoration for the cake is made from black card stock. Print the illustration below and use it to trace onto the sheet of card stock. Cut two witches, and glue them back to back with a wooden chopstick or skewer between. Stick that in the top of the cake.

Traditionally, three items were placed inside the cake: a ring, a thimble, and a silver coin. They were placed inside after baking, as the cake was assembled. Often they rested in the icing between the two layers.

If you want to continue this tradition, you can cut small pictures of a ring, thimble, and silver coin into about 1″ x 1″ squares. Wrap them in Saran wrap or a comparable cling wrap, and slide them between the two layers in three different places before icing the final covering layer over the cake. If you do this, you must tell your guests to look for a piece of paper in their cake. I don’t recommend using the real items because they are all serious choking hazards for a population not accustomed to looking for metal or plastic items in their desserts.

Another option is to get an assortment of cake decorations in the shape of rings, thimbles, and coins and use those to decorate the top of the cake outside the clock. That way everyone gets a “fortune” and they can see it as soon as they look at their piece of cake.

Witch illustration for the Cake of Fate.

Orange Ice

Mold the orange ice in cone shapes. You can get paper ice cones at Amazon. If you look during the summer you can probably find them locally and stash them away for Halloween ice treats. If you want to use a silicone mold that’s cone shaped, Wilton has one but it forms a cone only 2.5 inches high.

To mold an ice, you will make the mixture by the directions and then pack it solidly into whatever mold you are using. In a pinch, a muffin tin would work. Cover the top of the mold with wax paper and then put it into the freezer to freeze for at least two hours. Unmold by turning the container upside down on a platter and wrapping each section with a towel dipped in hot water and wrung out.

In the top of each cone put a crepe paper (or card stock) cutout of a bat, a witch, or an owl.

Since you probably don’t have a recipe for Orange Ice sitting around in your household cookbook, here’s one:

Orange Ice Recipe

2 cups sugar 2 1/2 cups orange juice
4 cups water Grated rind of one orange
3 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. Boil the sugar and water together for five minutes.
  2. Cool the syrup mixture, and then add the fruit juices and orange rind. Let stand an hour.
  3. Strain, and then freeze in an ice cream maker.
  4. Pack into molds as described above or place in a freezer-safe container with a lid. Cure in the freezer at least 2 hours before serving.

Witches’ Brew

For the Witches’ Brew, use any cider punch recipe that you have and love. If you need a recipe, you can use this one:

Cider Punch

2 oranges, juice 1 quart grape juice
2 lemons, juice 1 cup sugar
1 quart cider 2 quarts water

  1. Grate some of the lemon and orange peel, and set aside.
  2. Juice the lemons and oranges. Add the grape juice.
  3. Add the peels to the juices.
  4. Stir in the cider, sugar and water.
  5. Pour in a punch bowl in which you have floating a block of ice.
  6. Serve in small punch glasses.

Menu Two

The second menu is a bit more formal than the first.

  • Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs
  • Apricot Ice
  • Gold Cake with Chocolate Icing
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn Balls
  • Coffee
  • Cider Punch

Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs

Creamed Chicken in Cream Puffs is the autumn version of chicken salad in cream puffs. If you don’t know where to find cream puffs locally, and you are up for some invigorating stirring, A Pretty Life in the Suburbs posted a good, doable recipe. I have made cream puffs before from scratch, and this looks similar to the recipe I used.

Creamed Chicken Recipe

3 cups cold cooked chicken, diced
2 1/2 cups milk
5 Tbsp flour
1 pimiento cut into tiny pieces (optional. This is a roasted red bell pepper.)
1/8 tsp pepper (feel free to use more if you like)
5 Tbsp fat (oil, butter, ghee, etc)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon celery salt

  1. Scald the milk.
  2. In another saucepan or skillet, melt the fat/heat oil over medium heat and add the flour, salt, and pepper. Use a whisk to get the lumps out.
  3. Add the milk slowly to the flour mixture. Stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens.
  4. When thick, add chicken and cook long enough to heat the chicken. Add the pimiento last if you are using it.
  5. To fill cream puffs with the creamed chicken, cut the top off the puff, hollow out the puff leaving 1/4 inch or so around all the edges, and fill with a spoon of warm chicken mixture. You can replace the top of the puff or leave it off, as you please.

Apricot Ice

A fruit flavored ice provided a unique, light dessert for the vintage host.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups apricot pulp, 1 20 – 28 oz can or 2 15 oz cans
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice

Use canned apricots and put through a coarse sieve. If you have neither the patience nor the equipment for that, give them a whir in the blender or food processor.

Boil the water and sugar together for ten minutes in a large saucepan. This makes a syrup.

Cool the syrup and add with the lemon juice to the apricot puree.

Freeze in an ice cream freezer to a mush. Transfer to a freezer-safe container let stand one hour or more in the freezer to ripen. Or freeze in individual molds as detailed in the Orange Ice instructions above.

Gold cake with chocolate icing

This is simply a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Use whatever recipe you have. Even a boxed cake with canned icing will work. Keep it simple.

Nuts and coffee

Meals like this typically ended with nuts or mints, little nibbles to clear the palate. Serve whatever nuts you like as long as your guests aren’t allergic to them. They can go in a small bowl in the center of the table or into individual nut cups at each place setting.

Coffee is self explanatory. Serve whatever you like, however you like it.

Popcorn balls

The original article offered no recipe for popcorn balls. This recipe from Taste of Home is pretty standard. Popcorn balls last for several days wrapped in cling wrap film, so you can make them in advance.

Cider punch

See the recipe above under Witches’ Brew.

Next time

Now that you have the decorations and your vintage Halloween party menu under control, the next thing we need to discuss is games for the evening. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Host a Twenties Halloween Party

Photo of 1920s dining room. A long table is set for six places at dinner. In the middle of the table sits a large ball of popcorn wearing a large party hat. Windows behind the table provide light into the room.
Host your own vintage Halloween party

Want to get into the true vintage spirit? Host a Twenties Halloween party! Whether you plan a large gathering or merely entertain your own household, you can throw a Twenties Halloween party to delight your vintage-loving heart.

Halloween gatherings were hugely popular from 1910 through the 1950s. Some were simple, others more involved, but all provided a delightful evening of fun. Informal food, games, and decorations ruled the night.

When you recreate the Halloween parties of yesteryear, you bring vintage quirky, light-hearted entertainment into today’s drawing room. Or dining room. How do you host a Twenties Halloween party? First, the decorations.

Decorating for your vintage party

An illustrated row of halloween decorations. An owl, a witch, a girl doll wearing an apron with a cat's face on it, and a boy doll dressed like a clown stand in a line. Most of these are made from crepe paper.
Vintage Halloween decorations

Some parties took place over an entire house, but more often the living room and dining room were set apart for the festivities. Then as now, the Halloween party colors were black and orange. You can also throw in some ghostly white, but here are some additional suggestions for Twenties decorating flair:

  • Red or brown autumn leaves
  • Pumpkins
  • Corn stalks
  • Crepe paper decorations

Crepe paper was everywhere. Revelers used it for decorations, costumes, and party favors. Crepe paper used to be available at every five and dime store for party creations. Not so much anymore, but you can still find an assortment of colors at Amazon. Or, if you like, you can also substitute decorations made from card stock in the relevant holiday colors. Card stock is available from every craft store and online.

The table

The table can be as elaborate as you like. In the photo above, the centerpiece is made from popcorn. First you pop a large quantity of popcorn, using salt or flavored salt and seasonings to flavor it (garlic, dill weed, etc — not all at the same time!). If you include butter flavored oil or butter with the popcorn it will become greasy as it sits. Best to make this one simple.

Once you have 1 – 2 gallons measure in popped seasoned corn, wrap it in clear cellophane. Again, Amazon to the rescue. You should be able to find this locally in a party store or craft store as well. Your goal is a ball about a foot in diameter.

When you have the popcorn properly contained in the sealed cellophane (I have no idea how they did this before the advent of clear tape!) you can decorate it. A simple set of round eyes, triangle nose, and smiling mouth are cut from black paper or crepe paper and taped or glued onto the ball.

For the hat, use a large sheet of paper to cut a half circle and roll a cone hat. A sheet of white poster board would work well. If you like you can cover it with crepe paper and use crepe paper for the brim. Since you form the hat from a half circle of paper, you will probably want to make the brim separately and staple it on. Here’s a simple YouTube video that shows you how to make the cone if you’ve never done it before.

Attach the hat at a rakish angle for the full effect of your popcorn head centerpiece.

You can break open the cellophane and share the popcorn at the end of the party.

The favors

The dolls that appear in the second photo are all made from crepe paper and a little card stock. And candy. Did I mention the candy? The doll in the apron and the one in the clown suit both have limbs filled with stick candy. You can use any long thin candy that you like: Tootsie rolls would work well, using two stacked for the leg and one for the arm. Or you can use the stick candy if you can find it.

Snap headed dolls

Originally these dolls would be made with a paper snap, like a Christmas cracker. The snap would be attached between the head and the body. You’d glue the head to one end of the paper snap and a body piece to the other end. Then after the meal all the guests would hold onto one part of the doll, their neighbor the other, and give a pull. Snap! The head comes off with a pop and everyone giggles.

If this idea appeals to you, you can still get cracker snaps from Amazon.

Heavy paper or card stock makes the owl and the heads of the dolls. Draw a circle or oval and sketch the facial features. Then small pieces of crepe paper make up the rest of the dolls. Roll the candy in the crepe paper and tie the ends for arms and legs. The witch is made from a long thin piece of crepe paper that’s gathered at the neck, with a smaller piece gathered for her cape. Hats are cut from paper or crepe paper.

Easy pumpkins

The candy stick pumpkin favor

If you want a simpler favor, cut a circle of orange crepe paper 6-7 inches in diameter. You can use a 6-inch plate as a pattern if you have one. That’s what a vintage host would do.

Cut the circles from the crepe paper. Place something to weight the favor, such as beans, nuts or rice (M$Ms are good!). Gather up the edges of the pumpkin like you see in the illustration, and tie the top with string, ribbon, or another strip of crepe paper. Place a stick of candy in it as a table favor. These can go at each place or around the popcorn head centerpiece. Little pieces of colored paper make the eyes, nose, and mouth.

If you want your pumpkin to be nice and fluffy, a bit of crumpled tissue (facial or gift wrapping) will fluff the top out. You will still need something to weight the ball, though, or the candy stick will make it fall over.

The glimmer

Keep the lights low and set candles around. These add an atmospheric flicker to your room and enhance the vintage spookiness of it all. Your party will be just as nice if you opt for battery-operated candles instead of the real thing. It will also be a lot safer. Although real fire would be truly vintage, the truth is that the Twenties partygoer routinely interacted with flames more often than most of us do. Flameless candles will work just fine, and you can use them again next year. Double win.

Next time: food

Decorating for a vintage party is relatively simple, but it does require some hands-on crafting since none of the original store-bought decorations are still available. In the next installment I’ll give you menu options. Stay tuned, and have fun with that crepe paper! When you host this Twenties Halloween party, people will remember it.