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 Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

1950s Crocheted Glass Covers

sketch of pitcher and four drinking glasses. Each drinking glass is covered by a jacket or cozy. An inset illustration shows the crochet pattern.
Glass jackets or covers keep condensation off the table.

Spice up your next Fifties party with these crocheted drinking glass covers, also called glass jackets. Very popular in the late 1940s and 50s, these crocheted covers absorbed condensation from cold drinks so that coasters weren’t needed. More than a cup cozy, the solid bottom helps to keep liquid off the table.

Usually crocheters made these in one color. Most of them were white. However, you can make them in colors to coordinate with your party. If each one sports a different color, locating identical lemonade glasses becomes much easier.

Shades of white, gray, and blue would look wonderful at a winter holiday party. How about bright colors for a summer Tiki gathering? An autumn or Halloween party would sparkle with glass jackets in shades of brown, green, and orange.

What you will need

To make these you will need size 20 thread and a size 11 crochet hook. These will fit a glass with a diameter of 2.25 inches and it comes 2.5 inches up the side of the glass. To illustrate the pattern, I used size 10 thread and a size 7 crochet hook. Mine fits a pint glass nicely. Two balls of Aunt Lydia’s Crochet thread in size 10 (350 yards per ball) should be plenty to make four large glass jackets. Three balls of Handy Hands Lizbeth size 20 thread, at 210 yards per spool, will make four covers in the smaller size.


This pattern uses a lot of abbreviations in order to keep the instructions as short as possible. Here they are:

Ch (chain)
sl st (slip stitch)
rnd (round)
st (stitch)
sk (skip)
sp (space)
lp (loop)s
sc (single crochet)
dc (double crochet)
pc st (popcorn stitch): work 5 dc in the same stitch, remove the hook from the loop, insert the hook into the first double crochet [or 3rd chain of a chain-3 start]. Reach around the back of the stitches, grab the loop, and pull it through. Make a chain to tighten the stitch and hold it.
scd (short double crochet) this is the same as a half double crochet, or hdc. Thread over hook once, insert in stitch and pull through, thread over again and pull through all the loops at once.
* * repeat whatever lies between the stars, as many times as the instructions say.

Making a 1950s crochet glass cover pattern. Green crocheted circle and hook on a table. The circle is unfinished.
Eight rounds in with size 10 thread.


Begin at center of base with ch 3, work 8 sdc in first st of ch, jon with sl st into first sdc.

Rnd 2: 2 sdc in each st. Do not join this or following rnds, but always place a marker at the beginning of a rnd.

Rnd 3: 1 sdc in first st, * 2 sdc in next st, 1 sdc in next sts, repeat from * all around, ending rnd with 2 sdc in last st.

Rnd 4: Increase in every third st by working 2 sts in one.

Rnd 5: Increase in every 4th st.

Rnd 6: increase in every 5th st.

Rnd 7: increase in every 6th st.

Rnd 8: Increase in every 7th st.

Rnd 9: Repeat Rnd 5.

Rnd 10: Increaase 10 sts evenly spaced (90 sts).

Metal tumbler (drinking glass) sits on crocheted circle for the 1950s crochet glass cover pattern.
Checking to make sure the circle fits the glass. Because I changed thread sizes I will be skipping rounds and going straight to Rnd 11 so it fits the glass.

Rnd 11, 12, 13: Work these rnds even, putting 1 sdc into each sdc. At the end of rnd 13, join to the first stitch with a sl st. Ch 1, and turn.

Rnd 14: Work one sc over each sdc, join, turn. (You are working the sc on the back of the work. Turning again at the end of the row, you are again facing the front side of your work.)

Metal glass sits on crochet base for the 1950s crochet glass cover pattern. Rows of crochet climb the side of the glass about 1/2 inch up from the table. A crochet hook sits in the foreground.
Rows 11 through 13 bring the crochet up the side of the glass.

Rnd 15: Ch 3 (this counts as 1 dc), 4 dc in same sp, and with these make a pc, ending with the holding ch as in the instructions above. Ch 2, * sk 2 sts, pc st in next st, ch 1, repeat from * all around, join.

Piece of crochet showing how to make a popcorn stitch for the 1950s crochet glass cover pattern.
Step 1, popcorn stitch. Make 5 double crochet stitches in one stitch.

Rnd 16, 17, 18: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 1, pc st in next lp, repeat from * all around, join.

Step 2 of showing how to make a crochet popcorn stitch for the 1950s crochet glass cover pattern.
Step 2, popcorn stitch. Remove hook and insert at top of first stitch in the group.

Rnd 19: (Ch 5, sc in next pc st) 3 times, * ch 3, pc st in next pc st, ch 3, sc in next pc st, (ch 5, sc in next pc st) 4 times, repeat from * around, end with ch 2, dc in next pc st (this brings thread in position for next round.)

Step three of showing how to make a popcorn stitch in crochet for the 1950s crochet glass cover pattern.
Popcorn stitch, step 3. Grab that loop with the hook and pull it through. Then chain 1 to hold it. You’re done!

Rnd 20: * (Ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from * all around in same manner ending rnd with dc in dc, omitting last ch 3 at end of rnd.

Rnd 21: Pc st over dc, ch 3, sc in next lp, * (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, (ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp) twice, repeat from * around ending with ch 3, join.

Rnd 22: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * 8 times, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, join.

Rnd 23: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, ending with ch 3, join.

Rnd 24: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, * ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, ending with ch 3, join.

Rnd 25: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 4 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.

Rnd 26: Pc st over dc, *ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.

Rnd 27: Pc st over dc, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.

Rnd 28: Pc st over dc, * ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * 8 times, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, dc in pc st.

Rnd 29: Pc st over dc, * ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around ending with ch 3, sl st in pc st.

Rnd 30: Sl st to lp, sc in same sp, * (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, (ch 3, pc st in next lp) twice, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from * all around in the same manner, ending with ch 1, sc in sc.

Finished crochet lacy pattern glass cover, in green, over a clear drinking glass.
This is what the pattern looks like in size 10 thread. This is over a pint glass.

Rnd 31: (Ch 5, sc in next lp) 4 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from beginning all around in same manner ending rnd with sl st in sc.

Next 4 rnds (32, 33, 34, 35): sl st to lp and work a pc st in each lp with ch 1 between pc sts.

Rnd 36: Work 2 sc in each lp and 1 sc in each pc st all around, join, and cut thread.

Top view of clear pint glass with lacy crocheted cover in green. The cover comes halfway up the glass.
And you’re done! You now qualify as an ace popcorn stitch maker.

Weave ends in.

Gluten Free Adaptations · Parties and Visits · The Vintage Kitchen

The Original Chex Mix Recipe

Many of us have been eating Chex Mix since we could walk. We swiped a handful from the bowl as we strode past the party table at holidays. We hoarded those little bags in the back of the pantry when they went on sale. And maybe we even happily made Chex Mix from the “Original Recipe” … you know, the one that calls for 8 cups of cereal and a gallon zip-top freezer bag.

Except, that’s not the original recipe.

Awhile back, I scrounged around looking for the Original Chex Mix Recipe. And I found several interesting things.

Here’s the recipe from It calls for bagel chips, which were added to the recipe after Chex began selling bagged prepared mix in 1985. They call it the original mix.

In the early 90s I found a recipe for Chex Mix that I jealously guarded and made every year with pride. It was The Original Chex Mix Recipe. After all, that’s what the card said. I believed it. At least, I believed it then. This had to be The One. Only, it wasn’t.

Chex mix recipe on card, calling for 8 cups of cereal, 1 cup nuts and 1 cup pretzels.
Chex Mix recipe card, stained from use, clipped from a cereal box in 1994.

The Party Mix

Actually, snack mix recipes have been really popular since cocktail parties in the 1950s. Every respectable cookbook offered at least one party mix recipe, sometimes more. Ususally called something like “Party Mix,” they were easy to locate, easy to stir up in advance of a hoarde of guests invading your house before sundown, and most people seemed to love them. In any event, they appeared in cookbooks throughout the 50s and 60s, and every host or hostess seemed to have their own favorite recipe. Snack mix was an easy, affordable entertaining recipe after the food rationing of World War II. A crunchy cereal or two, some nuts, a few spices, and you have a party treat.

In an attempt to jump on the party wagon, and to sell more cereal, Ralston Purina (yes, the Puppy Chow people) tried to come up with recipes to sell more of their Chex. In April of 1952 they published an ad suggesting that Chex would taste great when stirred into your favorite fudge recipe. Or maybe the trick was sandwiching a slice of Vienna sausage between two Chex squares, speared onto a toothpick for easy eating.

Original Chex Mix recipe from 1952 advertisement. Shows a photo of the party mix, a corner of a box of Chex, and the recipe itself.
When Life magazine published this recipe for Chex Mix, they had no idea they were making culinary history.

Later in April, Ralston tried again. This time the ad printed a recipe for popcorn balls, but with Rice Chex as the popcorn substitute. The other recipe on the same page suggested mixing up some Cheese Chex: Melt in skillet 1/2 Tablespoon butter. Add 1 cup Wheat Chex, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and stir until hot. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Cheddar cheese, and stir until all pieces are coated. Now we’re getting somewhere! This one sounds almost tasty.

When Life magazine published the new Ralston ad on June 16, 1952, they had no idea they were making snack food history. The ad touted a new Party Mix. It was a while before the mixture became known as Chex Mix.

Gluten Free Options

Sometimes you have to tweak older recipes for new allergies and intolerances. When I realized I needed to change to gluten free food, Chex Mix became one of my first workarounds. If you believe the Gluten Free label on the box, then you can make the snack mix using extra Rice or Corn Chex and omitting the Wheat Chex entirely. If you are celiac, and absolutely need 100% gluten free all the time, substitute the Chex with one of the square or hexagon gluten free corn or rice cereals you probably already know and use. The original recipe calls for “nuts.” If you cannot tolerate nuts, change them out for something else (like sunflower seeds) or use none at all. Personally, I like it best without nuts, but I’m a bit strange that way.

The true Original Recipe

The first Chex Party Mix recipe contained no Cheerios (unlike many of the party mixes of the time), no bagel chips, no pretzels, and no seasoned salt. I know! Heresy! But if you mix up a batch of this mix, you’ll taste the true flavor of the 1950s party table. And you might find that you like it better.

The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup butter, 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 2 cups Wheat Chex, 2 cups Rice Chex, 1/2 cup nuts, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt. Melt the butter in a baking pan, and mix in the Worcestershire sauce, Chex cereals, and nuts. Sprinkle with the salt and garlic salt, and then roast in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Yes, this makes a tiny amount. After stirring together 8-9 cups of cereal, plus a cup of nuts, a cup of pretzels, and so on, a four cup batch seems hardly worth the effort. But it cooks in half the time, and it was designed for one party or one evening, not a week’s worth of Chex Mix in a large container in the pantry. This small recipe was probably designed to serve 8 people. The ad doesn’t say.

Give the Original Chex Mix recipe a try, and see what you think. Is it better than the taste you’re used to? Do you like the smaller portion size? I’ll be talking a lot about portion sizes at Vintage Living, Modern Life. They are a key to vintage cooking.