Will you take Mom to brunch on Mother's Day, or make her breakfast in bed? Maybe give her a box of chocolates or a triple-layer fudge cake?
If you do, you won't be alone. But if you were living 80 years ago and offered these edible gifts, you might have gotten that funny look only moms can give.
In May 1914, when President Wilson signed a joint resolution of Congress proclaiming the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day, food was not considered part of the celebration.
Instead, people displayed the U.S. flag outside their homes and on government buildings. In churches, special services were held. The motherless wore white carnations, while those whose mothers were still alive wore red.
This last tradition stemmed from Anna M. Jarvis of West Virginia, considered the originator of Mother's Day in this country. To honor her dead mother, Jarvis requested that a church service be held on May 10, 1908. She placed large jars of white carnations in the church because they were her mother's favorite.
Soon after the national holiday was declared, giving Mom a bouquet of fresh flowers became a Mother's Day custom, as did presenting her with a reproduction of the famous James Whistler portrait of his mother, "An Arrangement in Grey and Black." Starting in the 1920s, Mother's Day cards were exchanged, a "tradition" promoted by Hallmark.
There is, however, a connection between food and mothers that goes back to the Middle Ages. Children offered their mothers gifts of flowers or a cake--called a mothering cake--on Mothering Sunday, which fell once a year on the fourth Sunday in Lent. But it's hard to find any association between food and the national holiday in magazines and newspapers during the years immediately following its proclamation by President Wilson. One source that did suggest this link was the May 1934 issue of "American Cookery," the magazine of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School.
"Now that Mother's Day is so generally observed in May, it makes an excellent opportunity for you to entertain mother--and the rest of the family--at Sunday dinner," the magazine explained. "Of course, you want a dinner that is spring-like and just a little different, but one that is not too difficult to prepare."
A four-course menu followed, including jellied consomme, crown roast of lamb with brown currant sauce, potatoes (or "brownies in jackets"), melon balls on lettuce with California French dressing and amber ice cream.
A handy tip at the bottom of the page suggested that "a yellow color scheme may be carried out which may be intensified by using yellow flowers for the table."
By 1935, the women's pages of the Los Angeles Times continued to link flowers--but not food--to Mom's special day. In fact, in one Sunday magazine story ("Blossoms for Mother," May 12), the female protagonist "affected a scornful attitude about Mother's Day. It was a silly sentimental institution, purely a business measure introduced by the florists."
So how did food become a part of Mother's Day? Barbara Haber, curator and food historian at Radcliffe College's Schlesinger Library, has a theory of commercial influence.
"I think it was kind of a conspiracy by restaurants," she said. "My gut reaction is that it was one of those invented rituals: 'Let's take Mom to brunch.' "
It may be that the idea of giving Mom the day off from kitchen duty didn't come up until the 1930s because middle-class women in the earliest part of the 20th century were being told (by domestic scientists, by the food industry, by housekeeping magazines) that housework was a professional skill, not drudgery. (Upper-class women didn't need a day off from the kitchen because they had cooks to make dinner every night.) Indeed, the term "home economics" didn't come into wide use until 1899.
"As home economists," writes Laura Shapiro in her book on women and cooking at the turn of the century, "Perfection Salad," "they felt better equipped to tackle a world that still thought of them as a lot of housekeepers with wild ideas."
To want a day of rest from household duties might imply that housework wasn't as drudgery-free as the domestic scientists said. By the '30s, apparently, reality had sunk in and women all over the country were delighted to have their children present them with a meal.
Jellied Consomme in Cubes With Crisp Crackers
Crown Roast of Lamb With Brown Currant Sauce
Brownies in Jackets
Melon Balls on Lettuce With California French Dressing
Amber Ice Cream
JELLIED CONSOMME IN CUBES WITH CRISP CRACKERS
3 (1/4-ounce) packages gelatin
4 cups homemade or canned consomme or beef broth
Soften gelatin in 1/2 cup broth in small bowl. Bring remaining 3 1/2 cups broth to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add softened gelatin and stir to dissolve.
Pour into 9x9-inch pan and chill at least 2 hours. When jelled, cut into cubes and divide among 4 cups or bowls. Serve with crisp crackers.
4 servings. Each serving without crackers: