Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington | Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum

Collections: Objects of the Month

Photo of metal and wooden grabbersOctober 2013

Accession No: 2013.38
Donor: Lenore & Sol Gnatt
Description: Two community cookbooks, 1950s.
- A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, c. 1955)
- Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure (Shaare Tefila, Washington D.C., 1958)

These cookbooks illustrate food trends of the 1950s when America's table experienced many changes in the wake of World War II. As the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. was not only uniquely impacted by the wartime influx of government and military personnel, but was also influenced by soldiers returning home.

Palates of the Pacific Theatre
During the war, American GIs overseas were exposed to new ingredients and dishes. They came back to America craving these flavors. Suddenly, chow mein noodles and sweet and sour variations of popular dishes appeared in restaurants and on the dining room table. A recipe for an Asian-inspired Sweet and Sour Tomato Soup (with or without meatballs) is in the 1958 cookbook entitled Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure. Exotic ingredients such as pineapple gave traditional Ashkenazi dishes a Pacific flair.

Sweet and Sour Tomato Soup
with or without meatballs
by Selma Swartz
Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure

Beef Oriental
calls for canned pineapple
by Bertha Liebersohn
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Sweet and Sour Tongue
by Lenny Gnatt
(donor of the cookbooks)
A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Fresh from the box
Another culinary impact of World War II was the demand for quick and easily prepared meals using mixes. During the war, many American women found themselves working away from the home in support of the war effort.

Photo of receipt books, early 1930s

Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure

Simultaneously, factories had perfected the production of these goods, and they became more widely available. Quick meals from mixes meant that working women could still prepare dinner for their families. One popular mix was Jello, which inspired a full chapter on molds and salads in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That—a far cry from the side dishes served today.

While many American women ended their wartime employments after the 1945, their culinary habits had been forever changed. Resourceful home cooks looking for ways to save time used mixes in their traditionally made-from-scratch dishes. Even the knish, a popular Ashkenazi dumpling, did not escape the trend. A recipe for knishes in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That uses store-bought pie crust mix to make the dough.

Above all else, these cookbooks demonstrate Washington's ever-evolving Jewish foodways. What will the recipes we share today say about our community decades from now?

The Jewish Historical Society recently acquired these two 1950s cookbooks as part of a larger Washington-area cookbook collection. Stay tuned for future recipes and stories from this cookbook collection!

This year, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, our Objects of the Month feature DC's rich Jewish food history. For stories about this history and the latest on the local Jewish food scene – recipes, restaurants, chefs, events, and volunteer opportunities – visit jewishfoodexperience.com.