Friday, January 29, 2021

The Great Depression and Teatime

 A bit of reading, but I hope you enjoy! I have thoroughly enjoyed doing research and playing at teatime this week. I thought it would be fun to explore what an afternoon tea time would look like during the 1930's or 1940's.

A peak in my china cupboard. The china is daisies and violets from Haviland and Co. Limoges, probably dating around 1910-1915. My grandfather purchased it and enjoyed it for many years. Now it  is enjoyed on my table. What I want you to see is the green depression glass. When I thought I might like to open a tearoom I started collecting green depression glass to use in the tearoom. Though it has been used for many teatimes, it never made it to a tearoom. Though you only have a glimpse of the cupboard, it is an old pie cupboard often found in kitchens for storage.

The Great Depression took place close to 100 years ago in the 1930's. It was my mother's era. Banks crashed, there was a dust bowl, and unemployment was at 20%. When I was young I heard stories of desperation and struggle. It was indeed a hard time in the history of the US. 

I also remember stories of finding premiums such as dishes like the green glass in cereal boxes, a free gift with purchase, jam sold in juice glasses, even movie tickets with cereal and teapots with Lipton Tea. The Lipton Teapot was made by Hall China starting in 1935. I was born at the end of that era, but can remember some of those free gifts. They were so exciting to receive. Even local markets were giving glasses with purchase and my aunt saved up her red glasses for me as a wedding gift. Can you think of any products today that give premiums with purchase?

Food was also in short supply and often cooks had to be creative in making a meal. They would need to find substitutes for butter, milk or eggs. Meat was scarce and often inexpensive meat was purchased in cans. Have you ever had Spam or deviled ham from a can? Refrigeration was often not available. I remember the ice truck coming around the neighborhood to deliver ice for refrigeration. Canned food became popular during this era until the 1970's when people such as Alice Waters started influencing the use of fresh food.Yeastless breads were served too, My mother often baked nut breads. Toasted nut bread was a treat. My mother loved sitting to relax in the kitchen as she cracked the nuts and stored them in canning jars. After all it was free for those that had nut trees in their surroundings.

Fruit cocktail was developed at the end of the 1930's as a way of using fruit scraps. This canned fruit was added to all sorts of salads or just served plain. I actually loved it, especially when my mom added marachino cherries; so had to smile when I saw cans on my market shelf with cherries added. I hadn't purchased fruit cocktail for many years and there it was with cherries. That just made me smile.

Some of the tea you could find on the market shelf was Lipton, King Cole, and Typhoo, mostly in bags. The Tea Council ad said, "Take tea and see, see what a glow you get from hot and hearty tea-see if it doesn't help you feel better, sleep better too!" During this time tea dresses, tea dances, and leaf reading were popular. The music in a tearoom or at a tea dance was often light jazz. Can you hear it now? Wouldn't you just love swaying to the music as you nibbled a small sandwich and sipped a bit of tea?

The wealthy began taking road trips. Since there were no places to stop for food along the way, they would pack a picnic. Many gas stations were beginning to serve food and often it was the gas stations owners wife that started a tearoom, serving fried chicken and tea. There would be a teakettle hanging outside to advertise a tearoom inside. If the weather was good, people would sit out under a tree to eat. In researching one author often came up, Jan Whitaker, and her book, Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. Looking on my book shelf I found I had a copy of the book and will be doing some reading to further learn about the tea room craze in America. I know many of you have heard of Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California. It was started as one of these tearooms serving fried chicken along the highway.

In the 1930s, canned foods were appreciated for their convenience and did not have the “not as good as fresh” association that evolved in the 1970s, thanks to the proselytizing of Alice Waters and the evolution of “California cuisine.”

Read more at:
In the 1930s, canned foods were appreciated for their convenience and did not have the “not as good as fresh” association that evolved in the 1970s, thanks to the proselytizing of Alice Waters and the evolution of “California cuisine.”

Read more at:
In the 1930s, canned foods were appreciated for their convenience and did not have the “not as good as fresh” association that evolved in the 1970s, thanks to the proselytizing of Alice Waters and the evolution of “California cuisine.”

Read more at:

As I was thinking on this era I wondered what would you serve for afternoon tea? I decided to serve a depression era tea to my family this week. Thankfully they put up with me, as it does involve food. 

Yes, you can see the green depression glass. The teacups were made in California during this time also. The vase was a gift to my parents on their wedding day in 1942. My mother's pearls most often are around my neck when I go to tea. It is a way of celebrating her, as I know she would always love having tea with me.
Our menu included fruit cocktail (of course with cherries), a yeastless cranberry bread, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwich with cream cheese and dill, deviled ham with pickle, chopped black olive, and pimento cheese. The sweets were pineapple upside down cake and brownie bites with a cherry on top.
The table cloth comes from my collection of vintage table cloths from that era. I just love them.
There was a fire in the fireplace which just added the right amount of ambiance and warmth to the winter day.
If the chickens were laying there might be an egg.
Joey was in attendance too.
Pimento cheese is often thought to be popular in the south, but I do remember my mother making it for me and I didn't live in the south but California. The chopped black olive is a favorite of mine. For a treat my mother would make it for me for my sack lunch when I was in elementary school. Whenever I had them, my friends would beg to trade with me. You know I didn't trade because I loved them so much. More recently when I would invite my half sister to tea I always made them for her, as it was a favorite of hers too.
I always loved it when my mother made pineapple upside down cake because (yes) there were a few cherries tucked in the pineapple. Can you tell I love cherries added, they are such a happy color.
We had the fruit cocktail plain and it was good.
The blue teapot is an original Lipton teapot, which I mentioned above.
In the teapot was Twinings pepperment tea, but I can imagine during the depression the woman of the house going out to her garden to pick mint and other herbs to make her own herbal teas.
It was a lovely late afternoon this week with the two guys in my house. They didn't have one complaint and for that I was happy. I loved exploring this time period and thinking about having tea then.
Hope you enjoyed reading this missive and maybe learning a bit about tea time during the 1930's and 1940's.
Happy weekend, dear friends!


relevanttealeaf said...

Absolutely loved this post, Marilyn! Life was simpler back then. They didn't have all the conveniences we have today, but time with family seemed to make up for it.

mamasmercantile said...

I certainly did enjoy this post, learning a little more. It was a delight to see your afternoon tea and its beautiful setting. I still enjoy fruit salad made into a trifle, a throwback from my childhood and always with a cherry. Pineapple upside down pudding is still a go to pudding as well. A lovely tea.

susan hemann said...

lovely story!

My grandmother was from England so growing up we had tea at 11 and 4.
Such fond memories.

Do love your tea tables

Mary said...

Wow Marilyn, that's one of the fanciest afternoon teas I've seen yet!
Your guys are definitely spoiled and I know they must have enjoyed every morsel! Joey looked interested too.
Thanks for sharing so much great history on American tea time - the differences between them and my British versions are interesting. I recall all those 4 o'clock 'teatimes' with my family with my mum baking her wonderful cakes such as Victoria Sponge, Lemon Drizzle and Coffee Walnut - such lovely days.

Stay well dear - hugs and love.
Mary -

Rosemary said...

Fabulous Afternoon Tea! Love all the history you shared, the connection with your mom via the pearls and the vase, the photographs that captured the experience, a peek at Joey, and the thoughtful menu. Lucky guys! Great fun!

Deanna said...

Lovely post! Twas fun to read. I also love pimento cheese sandwiches. So gooooood.

Terra said...

Oh I would have liked to enjoy those goodies and the tea with you. Your depression glass and all your china is very pretty.

Jeanie said...

They hadn't better have had one complaint because that is a gorgeous table full of really delicious sounding food. And lots of it! What a beautiful setting. It looks terrific, Marilyn.

I loved all the historical elements of this. Interesting about the teapot being Hall. I have two or three Hall China patterns -- enough to set a good tea table. One might not be Hall but of that era, secured through the means you described. (Well, not by me, but by someone. I daresay I paid more for a plate or saucer than they did for the cereal!) I love the history and this just ticked all my boxes today. Now I'm thinking it is time to make another cup of tea for me. Give Joey a scratch in his favorite spot for me!

Linda P said...

What a feast of a tea party! I enjoyed reading about teatime in the 1930s and 1940s. By the time I was born in the mid 1940s we had rationing so I remember Grandma using dried goods such as dried eggs and then she kept chickens so that she could cook with fresh eggs. Tinned food was important as there weren't fridges only a cold pantry. A fridge or a freezer was a novelty even when I was a young married woman. I remember Spam fritters were often served when I had hot school dinners. I have two cupboards that hold my grandmother's and mother's glass items and porcelain tea sets. Recently we found a metal Lipton's Tea Shop sign in our cellar which must have been left there by the former owner of our house. She was post mistress at the local post office so maybe it was on the outside wall of the store? So many memories were triggered by your blog post.

Laura Morrigan said...

You have such a beautiful tea set up! Cosy and nostalgic! Thanks for painting a picture of the good parts of a difficult era!

Steph said...

Marilyn! This is perfection!! I’ve loved every moment of this story. I have a small collection of green depression glass, poinsettia and horseshoe.