Could You Pass a 1953 Home Ec Class?

Torrance Grey

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The more things change, the more they stay the same! That seems to be at least partly true when it comes to our ideas about domesticity and housekeeping. Most people would say that they wouldn't want to live in the 1950s, with all the pressure to keep a perfect home, and rules for doing so. But some of the top-selling books and magazines in the 21st century are ones that push very similar standards. Consider, of course, domestic guru Martha Stewart and her lifestyle brand. Or the many women's magazines, like "O" and "Real Simple" which publish fairly time-consuming recipes for readers whom they say, in the next breath, have jam-packed lives and schedules. 

It seems people have always cared about keeping a welcome, clean, and appealing home! People of both genders nowadays are interested in home care, and they love seeing who can recreate grandma's famous meatballs. What might have been considered relics of the past have become exciting and celebrated aspects of society! From balancing a checkbook to repairing home appliances, young people celebrate and discover the domesticity of the past everyday!

Hey, we're not bitter ... call us dryly amused! But it got us wondering just how much things really have changed since, say, 1953. So we went to the archives to dig up some of the lore and tips of 1950s home economics. We've written a quiz on them, so if you're curious about how you'd measure up to 1950s standards of housekeeping (or, tbh, a good many of today's), wonder no more!


Party invitation? It's time to make your classic _____ upside-down cake!

Compared to a mason-jar milkshake, OK, pineapple upside-down cake isn't the most pretty, Instagram-ready dessert. Don't be fooled: This retro cake is the BOMB.

The length of time meat needs to roast depends on its _______.

The type of meat -- chicken, beef, pork -- will also make a difference. But no matter what kind of meat, the recipe will tell you to roast it "XX minutes per pound."

Which of these gets sifted?

You can still buy a flour sifter at any department store, but you're unlikely to need it. Most flour you'll buy in the store is pre-sifted, so baked goods come out even-baked and not lumpy (if you've done the other parts of the recipe right).

One tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with two cups water makes a good ______.

Cornstarch has a variety of household uses. This one's a way to get around spending money on canned spray starch at the supermarket.

What kind of food might have a "lattice"?

Certain kinds of pies, especially cherry, often have a "lattice crust." This means when the dough was rolled out, it was cut into strips and placed across the top of the pie horizontally and vertically. This leaves plenty of space for steam to vent.

Which of these can restore copper to its original brightness?

The 1950s were a peak time for ketchup -- people put it on all kinds of meat, including steak. We're not sure, though, who decided to rub it on Grandma's copper pots.

How often should the toilet be cleaned?

Really? ... Um, would you excuse us? There's something we really ought to get to.

When is it appropriate to cook using a microwave?

The household microwave arrived on the scene in 1967, along with "microwave recipe" books that foresaw us even making Thanksgiving dinner in a microwave. Instead, instant microwaveable foods sprang up, from whole dinners in a tray to popcorn. That's progress!

What is important when sewing a button on?

Why is this important? To keep the knot protected while washing and ironing the garment!

How many times should you flip meat while pan-frying it?

Meat only needs to be flipped once. Turning it only once also limits the chances that a shaped patty of ground meat, like a hamburger, will fall apart from excessive handling. So don't get impatient!

Which of these does NOT belong in a Key lime pie?

Maybe all this armchair time travel has made us a little goofy -- of course you knew "keys" wasn't right! About zested lemon rind: It probably couldn't hurt anything, but traditional key lime pie recipes do not call for it.

What's the best order in which to iron clothes?

Ironing in this order limits the chances of scorching something with excessive heat. Frankly, though, if you're a novice ironer, it might not hurt to do large items first, getting warmed up before doing trickier small items.

Which of these complements a pork roast well?

All three of these produce items would work well. A simple way to cook them was to halve or quarter them, depending on size, and let them cook along with the roast, basting them with the pan juices.

Which of these alcoholic drinks should be kept in the kitchen for cooking purposes?

Disclaimer: Despite its usefulness in recipes, most schools wouldn't allow sherry on the grounds (outside the staff room, that is). However, sherry is a staple in traditional European cooking. This is where the old cliche comes from, about the housewife picking up a bottle on her marketing rounds and insisting, "It's just for cooking!"

Which of these would get basted?

A baster is a simple kitchen utensil with a squeezable bulb at the end, a hollow body, and an opening at the other end. You squeezed the bulb and then released it to suck pan juices into the body of the baster, held it over the roast, then squeezed it again to release the juices.

Which of these might be kept in a box?

Why did bread need its own box? Well, if you got it from a bakery or baked it yourself, it didn't come in plastic wrap. A breadbox reduced airflow and exposure to moisture, keeping it fresh longer. It also kept pests from getting in -- not a theoretical concern in many rural homes!

Cutting and serving an angel food cake? You'll need a _______.

We think this would make a good rink name for a roller-derby girl! But back then, this comb-shaped item was used for cutting soft and delicate cakes.

A close cousin to the cookie cutter is the cookie ____.

The cookie press was a cylinder about the size of a thermos in which you'd put dough. At the bottom were the "guides" that made pretty shapes. Push the dough through the guide, and voila! Why the cookie cutter has survived and the cookie press mostly died out is a mystery of kitchen evolution.

What is a food mill used for?

You'll still see these in kitchen stores -- in fact, you can pay quite a lot for one at shops like Williams-Sonoma. The comfort-food craze revived interest in this instrument used for creamy soups and potatoes.

Vegetables cut into long, thin strips are said to be _____.

Technically, French fries in their most common shape are julienned. But you can also julienne carrots, zucchini, and many other vegetables.

Need a little ice for your drink? You'll need an ice ___.

The "ice pet" shaved ice, while the ice pick just bashed it off the edge of a block of ice. There was also the ice crusher, which looked like a box with a crank handle. Today, most people settle for the plastic trays that you twist by hand to loosen.

A tool with a wooden handle and a grid or squiggle of inflexible metal below is probably a ______.

Nowadays, people mash potatoes with everything from oversize forks to stick blenders (which gives you more of a whipped-potato effect). But you'll still see these old-school utensils in some kitchens.

For what would you most likely use a mallet?

We had to put "most likely" in this question because honestly, we can't be sure a burglar hasn't ever been chased off a property by a housewife with a mallet. Or that someone eager to get their drink on wouldn't use one to crush ice. That would be a messy process, though. Not to mention unsanitary, if the mallet has​ recently been used on raw meat and not properly cleaned.

For what is a trivet used?

Think of it like a coaster, but bigger and heavier. This probably came in very handy with the advent of easy-wipe vinyl tablecloths, which wouldn't hold up to heat very well.

A mixture of lemon juice and water is good for removing what kind of stains?

This mild solution won't help with blood, wine, tomato sauce, et cetera. But it's good for getting out that dark stain from our armpits. Soak the affected area and hang or lay out the shirt in the sun.

Which of these vegetables would be served creamed?

The 1950s were prime time for creamed vegetables, with recipes including butter, cream and/or whole milk. So it was a lot easier to "get your veggies," but today's clean-eating gurus would shudder!

True or false? You should button shirts closed before washing them.

It's useful to tie drawstrings or sashes to keep them from tangling with other items. But shirts should stay unbuttoned, or the back-and-forth of the agitating water will stretch the holes out of shape.

Why are items like bedspreads and pillows frequently aired out rather than laundered?

Some bedding items can't be laundered at all, like down-filled ones that would clump and lose their loft. For these items, spreading them out in the sunshine reduces moisture and kills odor-causing bacteria.

For what was a clothespin used?

Some homemakers had electric laundry machines by the 1950s. However, it wouldn't be uncommon for a housewife to pin clothes out on a line. Some people still swear by this method, for saving electricity and for the freshness of the scent.

If you are trying to "reduce," what are you doing?

"Reducing" was mid-20th-century-speak for losing weight. You might also hear about a woman's desire to be "trim." Part of a homemaker's job in the 1950s was to look good for her husband!

Which of these fancy dishes is at risk to "fall"?

A souffle, made with whipped separated eggs, rises in the oven, and can fall in on itself if exposed to vibrations. This gave rise to the sitcom joke in which the wife is making a souffle and the husband comes in and cheerfully bangs the door loudly behind him -- "Hi, honey! I'm home!" -- ruining the souffle. (We didn't say it was a particularly funny joke, just a joke).

Which of these dishes is literally set afire?

"Cherries jubilee" is sometimes called "cherries flambe." Pro tip: Tilt the pan so that the fruit mixture slides toward you, then pour the brandy into the top/far half, to keep the flames away from you.

Which of these is a good way to clean a burned pan?

Make sure the soapy water simmers, not a rolling boil. Afterward, scrubbing with a Brillo pad will remove the last of the dark stains.

Which of these would a 1950s housewife mostly likely use to make coffee?

A percolator has a heating element at the bottom, and forces boiling water repeatedly up through the grounds. It fell out of favor in the 1970s, when the gentler drip coffeemaker was introduced.

Which of these was THE classic vacuum cleaner of the 1950s?

Hoovers were so big in America in the mid-20th century that "hoovering" was a synonym for "vacuuming." You might run across it if you enjoy vintage 1950s novels.

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