The 1930s—Art Deco was in full force, William Powell and Myrna Loy made the delightful Thin Man movies, Hollywood stars and sleek roadsters were all the rage, little girls solved mysteries with Nancy Drew—and great times had finally come for the well-to-do homemaker or servant in a wealthy household. Gone was the empty room at the back of the house with a hole through the wall (or the window) for the stove chimney and a pump outside the door. The age of truly labor-saving devices and scientifically designed kitchens had arrived. At her beck and call the kitchen worker had an electric refrigerator, electric or gas stoves, toasters, waffle irons, percolators, and, of great boon for storage, pre-made, built-in kitchen cabinets both top and bottom, with counter space for food preparation.
Of course the operative word here was "well-to-do" or wealthy. There was a little event called the Great Depression taking place, and, although by 1939, most people had emerged from the penny-pinching ways of the early part of the decade, there were still thousands of inner-city dwellers and rural families—rural families still outnumbered the urban dwellers of the American population
Thriving restaurants received the newest in industrial kitchen appliances as well, but the majority of the smaller family-owned establishments continued on as they had, with Mom's old range turning out breakfast biscuits and broiled steak with equal aplomb. What a thrill it must have been when the profits afforded buying a new appliance! The 1930s were also the heyday of the diners, designed on the lines of the new streamlined trains and featuring a language all their own.
Because shipping methods weren't as advanced in that era, fruits and vegetables had definite seasons. Today we see all sorts of items all year long, shipped from around the world; back then stores stocked what was actually growing at that time of year. If you wanted fruits in the winter you canned or dried them in the fall. Salads were eaten in the spring and summer, squashes, turnips, and other "hardy vegetables" in the fall and winter. "Exotic tropical fruits" such as oranges and grapefruit were expensive when they were even available in the winter months—people who are surprised at old children's Christmas stories that make such a fuss about receiving oranges and nuts for holiday treats must remember these were costly and rare items in December for those people on limited budgets. People in very rural areas might see an orange only that one time a year.
Today chickens and turkeys are so widely raised that poultry is generally the "cheap eat" in the supermarket. Back in the 1930s chicken was a treat: the term "chicken every Sunday" meant you were fairly well off and the campaign slogan "a chicken in every pot" spoke of prosperity. Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables speaks of richness being able to eat chicken salad at every meal. If you had a chicken for dinner it was usually an older, tough bird that was no longer profitable and only fit for chicken and dumplings, or the roosters in the flock—hens of laying age were too valuable to sell for meat. Pork was the cheap meat back then, as well as inexpensive cuts or ends of beef that could be stewed to tenderness or roasted, and "organ meats" such as kidneys and liver. In the South ham, smoked or sugar-cured, was the meat of choice. Turkey and goose were for holidays and for a city family, might take all year to save up for one. During the Depression, anyone with a rifle, city or country dweller, might supplant their meat supply with squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, dove (pigeon), and quail, not to mention venison. Then came rationing during World War II and these alternative meats were still in demand, along with poultry, which was not rationed.