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Making mayonnaise in the 1930s

POSTED: January 23, 2011 11:59 p.m.
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A look at a Wesson Oil mayonnaise maker.

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A trip to the grocery store lately will tell you that one of the numerous items that’s price has climbed is mayonnaise. Despite the perils of obesity and the ingredients not being favorable to our health, this is one condiment that is still in great demand.  

Surely as our grandmothers made potato salad, egg salad, chicken salad and even salad dressings for our lettuce, no one would start without a good brand of mayonnaise from their pantry. Real “Thousand Island Dressing” was made with good mayonnaise, ketchup, boiled egg and pickle relish. All sandwiches and burgers received a generous application.  

There may be light versions sold now but the good old mainstay is real mayonnaise.  There is a great debate among brands available in the store. Southern cooks seem to lean toward Blue Plate or Duke’s. I am sure your family has a favorite; perhaps Kraft or Hellmann’s? Salad dressing or Miracle Whip is not considered even close to the real thing in lots of homes and is banned in some households.  

Nowadays with the economy like it is, the generic store brands are coming into the kitchen with budgets winning the choice of brand on the shelf.
I got to thinking about how our early cooks made mayonnaise and pondering the decision of whether to use my 1930s Wesson Oil Mayonnaise Maker. Suffice to say you have to put a lot of exertion into the project to get a pint of mayonnaise. That effort may be a good way to learn to do without it.

The device has a beater jar with a lid and is about 8 inches high and 3 1/2 inches in diameter. It measures 13 inches to the top of the handle. The aluminum lid screws on to the jar and has a hole in the center where the handle runs through it and can be manipulated up and down.

The bottom of the jar is concave and the device was patented. At the end of the handle in the bottom of the jar, a concave mesh beater much like a potato masher rests just above the concave jar bottom. There is just enough space around the handle to drizzle oil through the lid while churning the mayonnaise.  

Making mayonnaise is easier with some help so that the second person can pour the oil but the ingenious device could be used with the cook holding it between her knees while in a seated position during the long process. The original price of the maker was about 98 cents and now the nostalgic mayonnaise makers fetch nice prices averaging $35 to $45 or more at auctions or in the antique shops. The jar is embossed with the recipe (see accompanying photo):

Mayonnaise

An egg, 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar, a teaspoon each mustard, salt, sugar, dash of pepper. Beat in thoroughly as poured from bottle 1 pint Wesson oil.

By beating the first ingredients and rapidly moving the beater up and down, then slowly drizzling oil into the jar, an emulsification with a creamy consistency was formed. The yield after a rather lengthy period of lively work with the arm was about a pint.  It was to be placed in a jar and stored under refrigeration.  

Currently some fancy chefs preparing high priced meals make their own mayonnaise or flavored “aioli” by using the food processor that makes the creamy product in short order. The raw egg is cooked by the addition of the acid lemon juice or vinegar. Some parts of the South feature a white sauce for barbecue that is mayonnaise based.  

Of course, the store brand mayonnaise is processed so that we can usually trust that it is safe to eat.

No real Southern pantry is apt to be without mayonnaise for very long despite high cholesterol and health risks for the consumer. “Tater salad” without mayonnaise is just as strange as is any sandwich without our beloved condiment.    

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: susanexley@historiceffinghamsociety.org

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