All the Food in Ursula Parrott's 1929 Novel "Ex-Wife" and Whether I Would Eat It

Bread, the vital food
Bread, the vital food

They reprinted Ex-Wife earlier this year, and it delivers on the one thing I really want from Jazz Age-era fiction, which is minutely detailed descriptions of clothes and food from a woman who thinks "the woman question" is a load of hooey. Here's the best of the food part:

Feminine Lobster

The lobster and avocado (that's alligator pear to you!) sound great, never mind my shellfish allergy, but I'm not sure I can get excited for tomato en gelée or anything with aspic. I'd pick at it a little, in the grand tradition of ladies who lunch.

"At the Waldorf, I wanted to tell her that I had loved sharing an apartment with her, and that I liked her better than any woman I had ever known—but Lucia and I were inarticulate with each other about things like that. So we talked of places Lucia and Sam would visit, and things I wanted her to get me in Paris, and ate tomato en gelée, and lobster, and alligator pears [avocado]—the preposterous sort of meal women order when they are dining together. Warm summer dusk deepened along the Avenue outside."

Fish and Cruelty

Too vague! What's the soup! What's the wine? What's the fish!

“How’s your Great Romance getting on, Pete?”

“Which one?”

The waiter took away the soup. Pete filled my wine glass.

“Hilda-with-the-pure-soul, I mean?”

“Oh, that’s all shot to hell; hadn’t you heard?” His voice was entirely casual. He ate fish with evident enjoyment.

Coffee and Marmalade

This is exactly the kind of meal I love to discover in old books. Was this a real treat in the 1920s? Just a big spoonful of marmalade to have with your coffee? Why not!

“Women used to be happy if their men were good to them; and, when they grew old, if their children got along all right. They’re happy on the same basis now. They always followed their lovers with their dreams, to war or work, but were content enough at home if they were occupied and had a modicum of kisses. The abnormal ones, I suppose, had a rotten time of it, and so they yelled and pushed and tipped over the applecart for the rest of us in the end.” She stopped and lighted a cigarette.

“However, Lucia, here we are, with the sun of the new age shining on us; what are we going to do about it?”

“Pat, let’s have more coffee and some marmalade. Are you feeling calmer, child? Does the thought of women-in-general make you see Pete and yourself in proportion? I expect not. Give it a couple of years though."

Créme Yvette

Read (or watch) anything from the 1920s and you'll be struck how roughly half the plot appears to be driven by drunk-driving accidents, which makes sense given how everyone seems to have been constantly drinking while driving the whole decade. I don't drink, but I could go for something violet-flavored, certainly.

"We drank Crême Yvette all the way to Lucia’s house, and were unable to eat dinner, but the Crême Yvette had tasted so good that we did not care."


If the PDF I found through the New York Public Library archive is anything to go by, you could have ordered any of the following at the same time: green onions (20 cents), a caramel custard (a quarter), green apple pie (20 cents), an omelet with jelly (!) (60 cents), pineapple fritters (30 cents), something called "table celery" (40 cents), "table apples" (a quarter), nesselrode pudding, a "conservation portion" of dandelion salad, "lobster in bowl," a bowl of milk with crackers," or an omelet with kidneys. Would, would, would.

"We were married on Peter’s pay day so that we had money to celebrate. He made thirty-five dollars a week on the “Telegram.” We went to dinner at Mouquin’s. There is no Mouquin’s anymore."

Fruit Salad, Iced Coffee, Sherbet

Too cold, and nothing to chew on.

"I gave up struggling to be civilized about her, and ordered some fruit salad, and wondered whether she felt about me as I did about her, or whether, because I was Peter’s past and she was Peter’s present, she could be detached and contemplate me as just a sort of relic. We talked about how hot it had been and what clothes for Autumn would be like, and where we had spent our vacations. She mentioned Peter first, when we had reached the iced-coffee and sherbet stage."

It's One or the Other

Both sound good to me! Endive salad one day, chicken patties and chocolate cake the next.

“Do you want some hangover medicine?”

“No. Want to talk.”

“All right. How does it feel to be twenty-five? I forget.”

“You got over it, I expect I’ll get over it, give me time. Got over being twenty. Lucia, I’ll be thirty-five, like as not, some day.”

“Then you can settle down in life and let your hips grow.”

“I can’t eat as much now I’m twenty-five as I did when I was twenty. I used to call chicken patties, and chocolate layer cake lunch. Now I have an endive salad; I guess that’s the biggest difference.”

What Kind of Sandwich Was It

What kind of sandwich was it!!

"The telephone rang. The advertising manager (in conference with the FIRM) told me to cut the Friday page to six columns, and cut every department’s space proportionately. The telephone rang. Lucia wanted to know “how about lunch?” I said I was having a sandwich sent in."

What Kind of Sandwiches Were They

You can't just say you ate sandwiches there and then not tell us what kind of sandwiches they were!!

"I came to Sixth Avenue, and must have turned south, instead of north, because I came to the door of “Dave’s Blue Room” which was a large all-night restaurant. I had been there often for sandwiches, and I knew that it was further south than the street where Peter lived. When I got to the door, I felt that I could not walk any farther. I thought some black coffee might be good for me."

Let's Stop For Butter Cakes

Yes let's!!

“I know about your marriage, Noel,” I said. “Kenneth told me.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Noel, let’s stop at Childs and have coffee and butter cakes. I am hungry.”

Grapefruit and Eggs

Absolutely not. Those are not two flavors that play nicely together.

"Lucia was calling from downstairs. “Pat, did you have a good time last night? I brought some food in; come down and have grapefruit and eggs with me; I have something exciting to tell you.”"

Lobster and Sauternes

I wouldn't, but good for her!

"Every day, all day, I planned pages of advertising of “Vacation Necessities” and “Week-end Accessories” and “Hot Weather Comforts.” Then I went home to swim with Helena in the pool at the Shelton, and dine with her, discussing “art moderne” languidly. Or else I drove out on Long Island with Nathaniel in a hopeless search for coolness, and discussed languidly over lobster and sauternes, his father’s lessening health."

Everyone's Talking About These Butter Cakes

"If Horace reached my apartment still able to manage himself, I could not depend on Lucia for assistance. She might not turn up until dawn. So I tried ordering an omelet and buttercakes and pumpkin pie for him. He enclosed them all, with no apparent difficulty."

This Is It

This is the meal. All of the narrator Pat's meals are sort of feverish and abstracted and too urbane, and half the time they're just cigarettes and cocktails, but during this brief visit home to visit the housekeeper who raised her, she finally eats. This is the meal for me! Homemade applesauce and oyster duck in my own brass bed, please, with a quarter-loaf of nut bread and an apple pie for later, just to be safe.

"She was in bed, a huge brass bed she begged from mother thirty years or so ago, when brass beds went out of fashion. She had commanded supper, just “something light and tasty,” brought up to her by Little Nellie. In her large lap was a tray containing half a duckling, a pint or so of her own applesauce (made with cinnamon and lemon peel) a generous amount of oyster stuffing (tour de force of hers, stuffing duckling with oysters, and making the result delectable). On the tray, besides, were a quarter loaf of nut bread, two bottles of her home-brewed beer, and a large slice of apple pie."

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]