In April 2017, I wrote about the mystery of “Honon Steak” (“An Iowa Treat“). Several weeks later, in “Honon Steak Revisited,” I reported what my researches (and helpful sources) had revealed about this strange specialty, which seemed to have surfaced in Iowa in the second decade of the twentieth century. The name is still a bit of a mystery, but the recipe is simple enough: round steak, pounded thin, dredged in flour, browned on both sides, and then oven-braised for three hours.
The other night, for some reason, I thought about honon (or Honon) steak and wanted to refer to these blog posts. I knew from experience that a Google search would turn up the two posts as the top two search results, so I was surprised when, instead, I got the usual “Did you mean…?” and “Including results for hunan steak.” When I refined the search, I got much the same, the first result being “Fiery Honan Beef.”
Giving up on Google, I decided to search my WalkThoughts site, but that search generated no results. Surprised and frustrated, I found the original posts on my hard drive; with the post titles, I found the posts easily, and as soon as I started reading, I realized my mistake: the mystery dish is “honon steak,” and I had been searching for “honan steak.”
My mistake was serendipitous, however, because one of the hits I found that wasn’t related to Hunan cuisine was an article in the August 1919 issue of Woman’s Home Companion titled “Quick and Easy Meals.” The subtitle promised that “They can be prepared in half an hour or so.” The meals included menus for four “Refreshing Breakfasts for Hot Mornings,” five “Appetizing Luncheons or Suppers,” and “Four Delicious Summer Dinners.” As can be seen from the image below, one of the Delicious Summer Dinners included “Honan Steak with Onions.”
From the instructions provided (see below) I suspect that this version of the steak, cooked only a few minutes, would not be as tender as the version cooked for three hours, but I haven’t tried either version.
Fashions in recipes certainly change. I was intrigued by one of the breakfast dishes: “Toasted Hamburg Sandwich.” You might expect this to involve ground beef, and in fact it calls for “chopped beef” (perhaps already cooked), but the result seems to be a sort of French toast containing hamburger!
We can also conclude from this recipe that sliced bread was not available, and in fact, according to Wikipedia, the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, was the first bakery to sell sliced loaves, using the bread-slicing machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa. This was in 1928. If you ever wondered “What was the greatest thing before sliced bread,” you may be amused to learn that the sliced bread was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”
The interest aroused by the breakfast recipes doesn’t stop there, however. Note that Recipe IV includes “Corn Meal and Hominy Cooked in Fireless Cooker.” What? Google obliges with an exhaustive USDA article as well as a more accessible blog post that explains that “It was a simple concept. Food was put into a specially designed kettle with a minimum amount of liquid and brought to a boil, and the kettle was then put away in a well-insulated container where the heat of the liquid finished cooking the food.” The post adds that “Fireless cookery emerged in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century, and judging from the number of makers and the frequency of advertisements that followed, it seems to have caught on for a while.” So this would have been the latest rage in 1919, the crockpot of its time.