A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, 1955). Courtesy of Lenore and Sol Gnatt.

A Pinch of This and a Dash of That (Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood, 1955). Courtesy of Lenore and Sol Gnatt.

Among the collection of Washington-area cookbooks recently acquired by the Jewish Historical Society were two 1950s cookbooks—A Pinch of This and a Dash of That compiled by the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center Sisterhood and Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure by Shaare Tefila Congregation of Washington.

These cookbooks illustrate food trends of the mid-20th century when America’s table experienced many changes in the wake of World War II. As the nation’s capital, DC was not only uniquely impacted by the wartime influx of government and military personnel, but was also influenced by soldiers returning home.

During the war, American GIs overseas were exposed to new ingredients and dishes, developing what could be called “palates of the Pacific theater.” 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 soup with or without meat balls is in the 1956 Shaare Tefila cookbook. Adding exotic ingredients, such as pineapple, gave traditional Ashkenazi dishes a Pacific flair. Even tongue, an Eastern European Jewish dish, got an update with sweet and sour sauce in a recipe by Lenny Gnatt, donor of the cookbooks, in the Montgomery County JCC Sisterhood book.

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. Simultaneously, factories had perfected the production of prepared foods, 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 Jell-O, which inspired a full chapter on molds and salads in A Pinch of This and a Dash of That—decades of dishes a far cry from the side dishes served today.

jello, everybody jello song

Illustration from Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure

While many American women ended their wartime employment after the 1945, by then, their culinary habits had been forever changed. Resourceful home cooks looking for ways to save time used mixes in their traditional made-from-scratch dishes. Even the knish, a popular Ashkenazi dumpling, did not escape the trend. In one recipe, store-bought pie crust mix was used 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?

Above: Recipes from A Pinch of This and a Dash of That. Courtesy of Lenore and Sol Gnatt.

This year, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, in conjunction with the Jewish Food Experience, is featuring DC’s rich Jewish food history as its Objects of the Month. For information on DC’s Jewish history—including programs, exhibitions and publications—visit jhsgw.org. Do you have material documenting a local Jewish-owned business that you’d like to donate to the Jewish Historical Society’s collection? Please contact JHSGW at [email protected] or (202) 789-0900.

Top photo: Eating Pleasure by Sisterhood Measure (Shaare Tefila, Washington, DC, 1958). Courtesy of Lenore and Sol Gnatt.