Down the street from me is an Italian grocery store, Pastosa Ravioli, that also sells ready-to-eat lasagna, meatballs, chicken cutlets, grilled vegetables, salads, etc. When I don’t feel like cooking dinner, a quick stop at Pastosa hits the spot. I take the food home, usually breaded chicken cutlets and broccoli rabe, warm it in the oven and without any real work on my part, I have an excellent meal in minutes.
I figured take-home meals were a modern phenomenon, certainly no older than my parents are. But perusing New York Times archives for unrelated information about an old Italian restaurant, I came across this:
Ready-to-serve foods that may be picked up on the way home, heated briefly if need be, and served without any further bother are apparently popular with a good percentage of the city’s housewives. It was in response to demand, at any rate, that Schrafft’s started such a service in its restaurant at 13 East Forty-second Street.
The date on this article? June 24, 1946.
Schrafft’s was a New York institution “aimed squarely at a female clientele,” according to William Grimes’ Appetite City. It began as a candy store in 1898 and evolved into an empire, becoming the “official dining spot for New York women of a certain class and a godsend for any mother who wanted to take her child to lunch or dinner before a show.”
And, the chain also reached out to mid-century housewives by offering take-home meals.
The 1946 Times article went on to describe the dishes available for take out:
A shiny new refrigerated counter at the back of the store dispenses a choice of three soups, three hot dishes, three salads and three desserts, all packed in cartons. These include such things as cream of mushroom soup, at 25 cents a portion; individual chicken pies, costing 50 cents; lamb stew at 70 cents a pound, potato salad for 25 cents a pound, and cup custards and applesauce at 15 cents each portion. Vegetable dishes also are offered, as, for example, scalloped tomatoes and creamed spinach.
The service, begun by Schrafft’s in one of its Philadelphia establishments, will be extended soon to all its stores, the company says.
Six years later, the Times reported on this trend, referencing Schrafft’s, Childs and Bickford’s in a July 5, 1952, article that extensively quoted Keith B. Mount, assistant merchandising manager of the Lily Tulip Cup Corporation, the company that furnished most of the containers in which food for home consumption was packaged.
“Restaurant sales of food for the home are definitely a new industry trend. It won’t be long before the average housewife will be buying take-home foods like groceries.” …
One of the reasons given for increased demand for prepared meals was television in the home. Some restaurants in New York have regular television menus made up for take-home orders. In stressing the importance of saving the restaurant business from slipping any further, Mr. Mount estimated that the industry represents expenditures by the public of about $12,000,000 each year.”
The website foodtimeline.org makes a distinction between “take home” and “take out,” the latter referring to fast food or ethnic fare, such as Chinese takeout, which dates back to at least the 1920s.
Today, if we were to continue to make such a distinction, takeout would be much more popular than take-home meals. Though my Pastosa meals are “ethnic,” they do strike me as a take-home meal, more like what Schrafft’s offered in the ’40s and ’50s than what a Chinese restaurant offers.
In any case, it’s interesting to find that this style of eating is as old as—if not older than—the television.