Sifting was the process of filtering the flour through a sieve in hand-held device. Flour compacts during packing and shipping, and sifting loosens up the flour and results in lighter-textured baked goods. Sifters are not used as often today as they were in the past, because most modern flours are pre-sifted.
Very old flour sifters were usually plain and were made out of a dull-colored metal. Later versions were usually colorful and many had whimsical screen-printed designs. Sifters are still made today, but most modern versions are made from shiny, plain metal. Vintage sifters make charming, affordable additions to a collection of antiques, and some can be purchased for only a few dollars.
Below is a 1933 recipe from All About Home Baking that instructs the baker to sift several times. It is an excellent opportunity for the collector to try out their vintage sifter.
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 egg, well beaten
¾ cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter or other shortening
“Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder, salt, sugar and spices, and sift together three times. Combine egg, milk and shortening. Add to flour, beating only enough to dampen all flour. Bake in greased muffin pans in hot oven (425 ° F.) 25 minutes, or until done. Makes 12 muffins.”