Food Recipes of the Repeal Era and Beyond, Part I
Posted by Bob Skilnik on July 17, 2007
With the return of legal beer, the brewery industry faced the question of a possible change in consumer attitudes toward beer and its relationship to competing intoxicants. “The new status of women as beverage-consumers,” warned distribution consultant Paul T. Cherington, at a meeting of brewery representatives in early 1934, “the glamour of illicit consumption for fifteen years, the growth of the cocktail and the hip-flask habits…are factors of real weight in the new status of beverages…”
With worries that consumers might have grown weary of beer during Prohibition, the brewing industry began its second push during the twentieth century to place beer into American homes—and keep it there. Looking at its past approaches in trying to make malt syrup a kitchen staple during National Prohibition, the revived brewing industry took a similar approach by publishing food recipe books, booklets, and pamphlets that featured beer, not malt syrups, as a food ingredient or as a food accompaniment.
Until hundreds of recipes could be devised and kitchen tested, the earliest brewery publications chose to feature suggestions for beer paired with food, and not surprisingly, the tried-and-true foods of the saloon free lunch era were dragged out again. Suggestions of beer with salty pretzels and potato chips were mingled with calls for dark breads, cheeses, sausages, smoked meats, sandwiches, oysters, pickled foods, and side dishes of coleslaw and potato salad.
One of the earliest examples of a publication that matched beer and food was “Here’s how!” ~ and what to serve with BEER, by the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company. This twenty-four-page booklet helped set the stage for not only why beer should be served with beer-friendly foods, but also gave the hows. It’s amusing today to read through the detailed, but perhaps clichéd, suggestions from 1934 for preparing a “Lager Lunch,” a “Buffet Beer Supper,” a “Sunday Night Beer Supper,” or a “Swedish Ale Party Menu,” until one realizes that having beer in the home at the time, pairing it with food, and using these elements as an important part of home entertainment, was not clichéd at all. The notion of holding a home “beer party” was virgin territory, and because of this, the Hamm’s publication holds significance as it detailed the food and entertainment guidelines of Christine Frederick, a former household editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal. In setting up a “Beer Party Table,” for instance, Mrs. Frederick, also author of Household Engineering, advised using this festive decor:
Table cloths with bright, gay stripes, or the attractive “peasant” cloths with matching napkins…[and] tankards, pitchers and mugs…while on a small round or “beer-barrel” table, two narrow runners of crash toweling, placed crosswise, give a smart effect.
With the kind of care that contemporary beer geeks faithfully practice, the home economist added tips on how to serve beer, setting up rituals and practices that still hold true today.
Remove the cap from the bottle quickly and pour beer slowly against the side of the tilted glass. Beer should always be well chilled, but not too cold. Beer that is too icy loses the delicate flavor and life that makes it the most popular drink of today. Never under any circumstances put ice or ice cubes in beer. The water from the melting ice dilutes the beer and makes it unpalatable and flat…If you chill your beer in an automatic refrigerator, do not place bottles in the coldest compartment. A few hours in the bottom of the refrigerator will bring the beer to the right temperature.
Mrs. Frederick, however, allowing her “household management” skills to overshadow her skill with beer, gave the budding beer party hostess one more serving tip that beer cookbook authors have thankfully chosen to ignore:
Never offer any…dessert type of dish. Candies are “out” also! Cakes are not suitable either…
A two-page centerfold advertisement in a 1939 edition of Liberty, a popular general interest magazine, featured Schlitz beer, “with that famous flavor,” surrounded by “Favorite Recipes of famous Amateur Chefs.” The recipes included a corned beef hash dish put together by legendary cartoonist Rube Goldberg, washed down, of course, with Schlitz since its “fresh, clean aftertaste makes good food seem better.” Six years after Repeal, the brewing industry was still taking the tentative step of simply pairing beer with food rather than using beer as a recipe ingredient in its advertising. The same magazine also carried a full-page ad from the recently founded United Brewers Industrial Foundation (U.B.I.F.) that trumpeted the fact that the brewing industry had contributed over $400 million in taxes in 1938 to various government agencies, claiming that this amount of money could theoretically cover the entire cost of President F.D.R.’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Beer not only had revenue-enhancing features, it had a sense of patriotism behind it too.
While the ad showed the importance of the kind of tax money the brewing industry now generated, it was also indicative of the industry’s dark fear that Prohibition could return. The additional claim in the ad of the brewers’ self-regulation of “law-violating beer outlets,” furthered the notion that the beer industry realized it still had a lot of work to do to convince all Americans that beer was assuredly an asset, and not a detriment, to American society.
More info on Beer & Food: An American History by Bob Skilnik