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A Woman's Day ... How It Changes

April 1, 2009 - Phyllis Sigal
Baked Alaska.

My dream dessert. As a child, I thought it was magical — the way you baked ice cream in the oven and it didn't melt. How do they do it?

I remember it as a dessert popular in the '50s and '60s. In fact, my children have never heard of it. (Maybe if Sarah Palin had become vice president, it may have returned en vogue.)

I'd never had it, though, until recently when having dinner on my birthday at the Ocean Club in Columbus, Ohio. It made sense it would be a special dessert here; it was sort similar to the steakhouses popular in the mid-1900s, but with seafood in the spotlight instead of steak.

And then, while clearing out my mom's apartment, I came across a Woman's Day magazine, dated April, 1951. That was the month after she became a wife, a housewife. Maybe someone got her a subscription to the magazine as a wedding gift. Or maybe she picked it up at the A&P in Bellaire. It cost a nickel.

This magazine is a virtual history lesson of those times.

The advertisements are quite interesting. Some of the products have gone by the wayside ... Ten-B-Low concentrated ice cream, Caloric gas ranges, Anglo corned beef and roast beef in a can; Blu White ("keeps lingerie new-looking"); Satina ("Speed your ironing with Satina"); Clapp's strained baby foods.

But there are plenty of products still around, 58 years later ... Gerber's Baby Foods; Rit fabric dye; General Electric; Del Monte fruit cocktail (and the label even looks the same!); Knox unflavored gelatin; Carnation evaporated milk; Tide; Betty Crocker cake mixes; Crisco; Contadina; A.1. Sauce; Palmolive.

I like some of the headlines. Here's one you won't read in today's magazines.

"Do Business Girls Make Better Wives? ... The business girl, turned wife, can be a jump ahead of her stay-at-home sisters."

Says writer Walter A. Lowen: "If a woman's first and most important career is marriage, does business teach anything that will help make a successful marriage? Should an office worker look at her job merely as a stopgap occupation? Or is it a training ground for the problems she will face later as a wife?"

He goes on to say that " ... in many ways it (business experience) has positive value in helping her become a successful wife and assume an important place in her community.

"A good wife, if she has ever worked, understands her husband's job and is able to appreciate it. She knows that arriving home at six-thirty after a day's work means not only being tired, but often feeling a barely concealed grumpiness."

And he writes, "A wife with a business background doesn't cry petulantly, 'Jim is always tied up. I never have time to invite my own friends over!' Instead, she is ready and willing to help him meet his responsibilities."

Well all I can to that (at least in writing, in this blog) is that I'm glad I'm living in 2009 and NOT 1951.

Then there's the article, "How To Be A Girl," by Susan Bennett Holmes. She explains how men and women think differently ... but men expect us (women) to think as they do. (Well some things haven't changed since 1951.)

"Their Place in the Sun" by Henrietta Ripperger talks about how each family member needs "his turn in the spotlight."

"... the smart woman will ponder how to give each person close to her his turn in the center of the family stage."

"The Husband: Did you think of him first? If not, that in itself may indicate he is being taken too much for granted, under the assumption that because he's grown-up, he doesn't need attention. Nothing could be farther from the truth."

I was glad to read that at the end of the article, "Oneself" is considered one of those who needs her place in the sun, as well.

Then there's the "Dreamy Desserts" section of the magazine.

The recipes not only tell us how to make them but how much it costs per serving. What a great idea!

For example, the Meringues Glacees cost 68 cents to make, and come out to 17 cents per serving. Some of the other recipes include Chocolate Icebox Cake (total cost, $1.60, 20 cents a slice); Nesselrode Pudding (90 cents total or 15 cents a portion); Spanish Cream ... just 14 cents a serving; Floating Island, 12 cents a portion; Lemon Snow, a bargain at 11 cents a portion; Southern Ambrosia, 16 cents a portion; Peach Melba, a bit on the pricey side at 30 cents a portion; and of course, my favorite, Baked Alaska ... total cost to make, $1.44 and 24 cents a serving.

For those interested, here's the recipe:

Baked Alaska, 6 servings


Loaf of sponge cake

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 egg whites

6 tablespoons sugar

1-quart brick of ice cream

Cut cake to make a layer 1 inch thick and 1/2 inch wider and longer than the brick of ice cream. Put on a sheet of brown paper on cookie sheet. Add salt to egg whites, and beat with rotary beater until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and beat until stiff but not dry. Put very firm brick of ice cream on cake, and spread top and sides of both with meringue, being careful to cover completely. Bake in very hot oven, 450 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 minutes, or until delicately browned. Then transfer from cookie sheet to cold serving plate. Cut in slices, and serve at once.

Maybe Baked Alaska is coming back ... even without Sarah Palin in the White House. A co-worker recently gave me the page out of the January issue of Martha Stewart's magazine, Martha Stewart Living, that included a recipe for Neapolitan Baked Alaska.

Martha bakes her own cakes and uses gelato instead of a brick of ice cream, and she makes hers in teacups or ramekins, for individual little confections. (Oh, that Martha!) She also uses a small kitchen torch to brown the meringue, instead of browning it in the oven. A little less magical, I'd say. She does give the oven option, too; 500 degrees at 2 minutes.

Woman's Day magazine still exists, and of course has an online version, as well. I found a more recent Baked Alaska recipe at; it uses fat-free golden loaf cake and for the meringue, powdered egg whites. Ooooh, even less magical than a small kitchen torch.

Well, maybe some of the magic is gone since the 1950s, but at least now it's OK to be married AND to be a businesswoman!


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