THOSE FABULOUS FIFTIES
Some time ago, one of my Sandychatter subscribers suggested I provide some of the favorite fifties recipes. I said I would, but other matters took up most of my time the second half of 2011.
Recently, I was moving some cookbooks around (finding shelf space for all of them is a constant problem) and I came across some of my “fifties” cookbooks. I am also including in this category some cookbooks dedicated to “lost” or “forgotten” favorites.
If you lived through the 1950s, you may wonder what the fuss is all about – we didn’t think the foods we were eating at the time were anything special. Many households, like my mother’s, had certain dishes for certain days of the week. For instance, we almost always had salmon patties on Fridays, with either macaroni and cheese or macaroni and tomatoes, cottage cheese and some spinach—canned spinach, at that, with a little hardboiled egg on top. I am quite sure I never tasted fresh spinach until I was an adult and living in California. Occasionally, fish sticks substituted for the salmon patties (that some people refer to as salmon cakes) – now, salmon patties are still a favorite of mine but it boggles my mind that my mother fed 7 people with one can of salmon. I used one can of salmon to feed just Bob & myself for years. It was one of his favorite comfort foods. Mine too.
Perhaps once a week we would have beef stew – or it may have alternated with kidney stew that was served with noodles. If we had pork chops, there was sure to be a jar of homemade apple sauce to go with it. During World War II the Schmidt family—with my Grandma Schmidt leading the way—would make a vat full of apple sauce that was canned without sugar, which—you may or may not remember—was rationed during the war. For years after the war, we were allowed to sprinkle a little sugar on our very tart applesauce, made from sour cooking apples.
On Sundays we usually had a stewed chicken dinner with my mother’s library paste rice. My brother Bill insists to this day that he LIKED mom’s library past rice. No, it didn’t really contain library paste. It just tasted like it. I was an adult living in California before I was introduced to Rice Pilaf, wild rice, even Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat) – and concluded that I didn’t hate rice. What I hated the way my mother cooked it.
The chicken—a stewing hen that was cheaper than a fryer—was cooked with onion, carrots and celery until the meat fell off the bones. Then we ate it with library paste rice and homemade bread.
Occasionally, my mother cooked something like brains which, I think, I was the only one in the family who balked at eating. Or, my father would go hunting once a year and bring home wild rabbits he had shot and killed. He would clean the rabbit at the kitchen sink—it made a deep impression on my mind. Then my mother soaked the rabbit in a sweet and sour marinade for three days before it was cooked. When it was cooking, the smell of sweet-sour marinade filled the house. I gagged at the prospect of eating that rabbit. Years passed before I could reconcile myself to the thought that it wasn’t the rabbit I loathed so much; it was the way my mother cooked it. (I still don’t eat rabbit).
Sometimes we had chili – cooked Cincinnati style and served on a bed of cooked spaghetti and topped off with oyster crackers, chopped onion and grated cheese. That was a family favorite then and it is now.
Another meal I loved was green (string) beans cooked with a cut of ham called cottage ham (that you can still find in Cincinnati) and red potatoes and carrots. I think we all loved this one pot meal and I think I improved on it by making it with fresh green beans – my mother’s were always canned. Alongside of it would be a helping of cottage cheese. Actually, I don’t think we had a lot of salads, growing up. Occasionally, mom would make a small green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Or we might have some Cole slaw.
And I think all of us, loved sauerkraut dinners. It might be cooked with some pork or sausages and it was a must on New Year’s Eve, to eat at midnight in the hopes of bringing good luck. We’d have it with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (I cringe to think of eating anything that heavy at midnight anymore!)
My brother Bill reminded me of mom’s hamburgers – a pound of ground beef mixed with a loaf of bread—which were pretty tasteless but she did mix them with a brown gravy after the hamburgers had been cooked, and that could be served over noodles. He thought her meatloaf was pretty good – I think it might have been the recipe on the box of Quaker Oats. He also reminded me of mom’s liver and onions, which we all liked, and her sour cottage cheese. It almost always tasted bad and I was an adult before I discovered I like cottage cheese.
Occasionally, my mother would make a pot of soup with marrow bones. The broth would contain some carrots and potatoes and perhaps a small piece of meat. We would eat the broth first, with some noodles, and then have the carrots and potatoes on our plate. My father and brothers would eat the marrow on crackers. Many years later, I discovered this method of making soup and serving it was well known many years ago. I imagine my mother learned this method of making soup from her mother. I think I came across this method of making soup in a presidential cookbook. Recently, a cousin gave me our maternal grandmother’s cookbook as a birthday present; I’ll have to check it for familiar sounding recipes.
We had a lot of one-pot meals growing up. Who could have imagined that years later this type of meal would be touted as healthier? I don’t think my mother ever stopped to consider what was healthier to feed five children. I think she was mostly concerned with getting the most for her money and keeping us filled up. She made two large loaves of bread twice a week – bread baked in a big roasting pan—and we always had bread on the table.
My older sister and brother were born before WW2 – my sister in 1936 and my brother in 1937. I was born in 1940, and two more brothers were born in 1943 and 1946—so we did indeed “grow up” in the 1950s. There was one cookbook in my mother’s kitchen, kept in a drawer. It was Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook and that was also the cookbook I learned to cook from. I don’t remember my mother having a recipe box when I was a child, but she did acquire one years later that I now have.
So, that is my background for the 1950s. I would have turned ten years old late in 1950 and was beginning to be interested in cooking – mainly cookies and muffins. The first meal I ever cooked was the salmon patties, with macaroni and cheese, and some creamed peas. My parents were going out to a dinner and I made the meal for my then-three brothers. I think I was twelve. I didn’t have any cookbooks per se, but I had begun to send away for many free manufacturers pamphlets and booklets that I sent away for with penny postcards. By the time I married in 1958, I had a big box of these booklets. The Betty Crocker Picture cookbook was a wedding present.
Join me, won’t you, down memory lane? I will share with you some of my 50s cookbooks and perhaps dig into my bookshelves for cookbooks actually published in the 1950s as well.
What made me think along these lines was the acquisition of a Favorite Brand Name cookbook titled “FABULOUS ‘50s RECIPE COLLECTION” published in 2004. This cookbook reflects and provides recipes for many different 50s dishes starting with the most famous of all 1950s recipes, the Lipton California Dip recipe that changed cocktail parties forever after—and what could be simpler? A container of sour cream and a packet of Lipton Onion Soup Mix! To tell the truth, I don’t remember when I, personally, began mixing together sour cream and onion soup mix. Fabulous ‘50s provides as well recipes for spinach dip, California seafood dip, bacon dip and blue cheese dip, all starting out with sour cream and a packet of onion soup mix (and to tell the truth, you will generally find about half a dozen boxes of onion soup mix in my pantry shelves. I’m ready for anything!
Another onion soup mix recipe was Mini Cocktail Meatballs that began showing up at cocktail parties or as hors d’ oeuvres at dinner parties. Also making an appearance at those cocktail parties was Party Mix, made with various mixtures of cereal, pretzel sticks and Worcestershire sauce. I was never a big fan of this party mix but I know people who absolutely swear by it. Elsewhere I found a recipe for Holiday Shrimp Dip that is made with unflavored gelatin and canned condensed tomato soup—oddly enough, I didn’t “discover” this recipe until the 1970s when I met my friend Mary Jaynne and she shared her recipe with me. Another favorite that caught my eye was Original Ranch Snack Mix that is made with a combination of Crispix cereal, pretzels, cheddar cheese crackers and Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix. I have been making a variation of this original 50s recipe for the past year – but it’s just small twist pretzels, peanut oil, Hidden Valley Ranch original dressing mix and a bit of cayenne pepper for a little kick. A girlfriend brought it to a party about two years ago and we have been making batch after batch ever since. For sure, everything old is new again!
Also in FABULOUS 50s is a recipe (much to my surprise) for Swanson Rosemary Chicken & Vegetables—I have been making something similar but perhaps with fewer ingredients—for about 5 or 6 years. It’s JUST a whole chicken, rosemary, lemon slices and lemon pepper—and sometimes I toss in some carrots and onions. The real success to this recipe is having fresh rosemary sprigs to stuff into the cavity, along with some lemons slices. I am fortunate to have a girlfriend who keeps me supplied regularly with lots of Rosemary. Aha, elsewhere in the cookbook I found a recipe for lemon rosemary roast chicken—the only difference between theirs and mine is fresh rosemary versus dried. (I’m sure you all know that almost all herbs are available in your supermarket nowadays, if you don’t have a girlfriend with a Rosemary bush). Also in the cookbook are recipes for such favorites as Steaks with Mushroom Onion Sauce, Pepper Steak, and Campbell’s Autumn Pork Chops made with cream of celery soup. Who hasn’t raised a family on pork chops with mushroom soup gravy? Other recipes include Rosemary Garlic Rub that you can make up when you have some free time and have it ready when you are ready to cook a steak or two. However, that being said, I have to concede that there is very little similarity between Fabulous 50s Recipe Collection and my mother’s cooking.
Let’s turn to a couple of Jane and Michael Stern’s cookbooks. “AMERICAN GOURMET/Classic Recipes, Deluxe Delights, Flamboyant Favorites, and Swank ‘Company’ Food from the ‘50s and ‘60s” was published in 1991 and “SQUARE MEALS/America’s Favorite Comfort Food Cookbook” was published in 2001. There are numerous cookbooks with “comfort” in the title; for me and many of my generation, “comfort” foods translate to many dishes of the 1950s.
From the introduction to AMERICAN GOURMET, we learn “In addition to a witty and astute look at the social history of the ’50s and ‘60s, American Gourmet presents 100 of the most memorable recipes of the time. Baked Alaska, Beef Wellington, Duck a l’Orange, Venerable Sukiyaki, Madison Avenue Chocolate Fondue, Aphrodisiacal Artichokes are not merely period pieces, and they are delicious, workable recipes and remain tasty causes for celebration…” (Sorry to say, none of those recipes were in my mother’s cookery repertoire—not even close) – However, what I – and my siblings and cousins WERE exposed to was a variety of German and Hungarian cuisine, thanks to our paternal grandmother who was German and married a Hungarian. We took for granted lovely paper thin pancakes we simply called “German” pancakes but were actually Hungarian Palacsinta that we spread with jam and rolled up to eat. (Palacsintas are similar to the French crepes). We had many kinds of fruit and cheese strudels and Dobos Torte and Hungarian Goulash. It was hardly the fare of most 1950s cooks but we simply took it for granted. Meanwhile, at home, “fruit” was usually a can of fruit cocktail or—we did have applesauce. This was because grandma had some sour apple trees and got all the women of the family involved in a yearly applesauce making binge. During WW2, when sugar was rationed, grandma canned the applesauce without sugar; for years afterwards, whenever we ate some applesauce, we’d sprinkle on a bit of sugar.
Occasionally, my mother would make oatmeal-raisin cookies and I thought I remembered them being made with bacon grease. I thought this highly unlikely until my Oklahoma penpal found a recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies made with bacon grease. (I tried making them once with bacon grease – ew, ew. You cannot go home).
By the time I was ten years old, I was making cookies and muffins using my mother’s IDA BAILEY ALLEN Service Cookbook. I didn’t make any using bacon grease.
Jane and Michael Stern’s cookbook “SQUARE MEALS/AMERICA’S FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD COOKBOOK” has the distinction of a Foreword by M.F.K. Fisher in which she writes, “Almost any American of more than a few months citizenship knows what a square meal is, whether he teaches computer programming or picks crops. A few days ago a man said to me ‘All I really need right now is somewhere to sleep and three squares a day.’ And I knew what he meant: warmth and then food, decent food, something to stick to his ribs and keep him upright and strong…he meant a SQUARE MEAL which perforce meals tools and a place to use them, a knife and a spoon and perhaps even a plate, and a protected place of the enjoyment of all or almost all he could eat…
The Sterns are right; they have written with love and respect about the square meals of our country, the kind our grandmothers and the ladies of the Church Society and the cookies out in the cattle country have always managed to serve now and then, to keep us reassured as well as on our feet…”
Much is being discussed, in books and magazines as well as on TV about people not cooking SQUARE MEALS anymore, that we are eating all fast food on the run–Frozen things you stick in the microwave for a few minutes and even wrap in a paper napkin to eat on the way to work or where ever else you need to be. I have to disagree although I don’t have any statistics to back up what I say – I cooked dinner almost every night for the past fifty years – twenty five of those years when I was married and raising my family, another twenty five when I was sharing my life with my partner, Bob. I raised sons who expect some kind of square meal on the table when they get home from work (even when their wives are also employed) and I don’t think we were an isolated statistic. I know too many people who enjoy cooking and look forward to experimenting with new recipes. Throughout the 40s and the 50s, into the 60s and the 70s, my mother cooked dinner regularly. We children who grew up n the 40s and 50s learned to prepare dinner for our spouses and children—are we the last of the Mohicans? I hope not.
You will love Jane & Michael Stern’s SQUARE MEALS whether you cook meals regularly or not. They offer Dinner Classics such as Cream of tomato Soup and Diner Meatloaf (which I will have to try), Mashed Potatoes with Crater Gravy, choices of Sunday dinners which include roast pork with sinner stuffing, Mom’s Best Pot Roast and Roast Chicken with Peacemaker Herb, old 50s favorite desserts such as butterscotch pie and Boston Cream Pie which isn’t actually a pie, and oh, dozens of other favorites – many gone but not forgotten.
One of my favorite cookbooks for years has been Mimi Sheraton’s “FROM MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN/RECIPES & REMINISCENCES” which was published in 1979 so it’s safe to assume that many of her mother’s recipes were being cooked in the 1950s. The author says that, although this is not a kosher cookbook, many of the recipes are traditional Jewish dishes, others are entirely American.
Another more recently published cookbook (2003) that follows the theme of recipes too good to be forgotten is Lari Robling’s “ENDANGERED RECIPES”. Along with wonderful fifty-ish illustrations there are recipes for Parker House Rolls, Gingersnap Crumb Crust and Cream Pumpkin Pie, Smothered Pork Chops and Crockpot Apple Butter (which I have made several times), Boston Brown Bread (that my friend Mary’s mother used to make and would bake it in empty soup cans), Stuffed Peppers and Oven-fried Chicken and Genuine Boston Baked Beans.
I am also partial to Marion Cunningham’s “LOST RECIPES” in which she does not restrict herself to 50s recipes but to all of those treasured recipes she feels we are in danger of losing. In the Introduction Ms. Cunningham writes, “recently, I read the results of two different surveys on home cooking—one reporting that about 40 percent of the population cooks at home, the other that 30 percent does. She says no matt what the exact percentage is, one thing we know for sure is that fewer and fewer people are cooking, either because they don’t know how or because they just don’t want to bother. She goes on to say this is a greater loss than we realize because, among various reasons, home cooking is a catalyst that brings people together. “We are losing,” she writes, “the daily ritual of sitting down around the table (without the intrusion of television) of having the opportunity to interact, to share our experiences and concerns, to listen to others…”
I take exception to this remark—I suppose it puts me and my family in the remaining 60 or 70 percent, depending on which statistic you choose to believe, because I have cooked dinner virtually every day for more than fifty years—first 25 years with a husband and four growing sons, and another 26 years with a life partner who became “grandpa” to my grandchildren. I have at least one daughter in law who cooks virtually every night and another daughter in law who shares cooking dinner with her husband, the son who enjoys cooking and has become very adept at it. I believe my sons expect a daily dinner because that’s what they grew up with; I cooked a daily dinner because it’s what I grew up with. And I suspect that my grandchildren will become the same way.
“Lost Recipes” is packed with recipes in danger of being forgotten, such treasures as Truman’s Ozark Pudding and Blue Ribbon Gingerbread. There is a recipe for Beet Marmalade and Red Pepper Jelly but what I love most about this particular cookbook is the design and illustrations, a step out of the past that makes for interesting reading for those who read cookbooks like novels—you know who you are. “Lost Recipes” was published in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf. If the name Marion Cunningham sounds familiar, it should. She wrote the latest Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
There is a cookbook titled SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER PRUDENCE PENNY COOKBOOK, edited and revised by Ruth Berotzheimer who was at that time director of the Culinary Arts Institute. This cookbook was published in 1955—it’s a thick well indexed and enormously detailed cookbook and – since it was published smack in the middle of the 1950s – I feel it only fair to mention some of the recipes. This cookbook has literally hundreds of recipes so I will have to be a little selective—there are poultry recipes for Roast Chicken, Maryland Style, as well as recipes for fried, smothered, simmered, steamed and pressed chicken. You can choose from recipes for making chicken and dumplings. Fricassee of Chicken, Chicken Pie, Curry of Chicken, Savory chicken, scalloped or creamed chicken. If turkey was on your menu, there are directions for roasting braising, broiling or even French frying the bird. There are also recipes for preparing goose, duck, as well as pheasant, partridge, quail and grouse..not to mention recipes for squab, pigeon, roast leg of venison and roast hare or rabbit. (which we never had. My mother ONLY made Hasenpfeffer with the rabbit my father brought home from his hunting trip.
I like the chapter dedicated to sauces –Béchamel, Poulette, drawn butter sauce, caper sauce (which I happen to like) as well as Hollandaise, Béarnaise and imitation caper sauce (ew, ew, it’s made with chopped pickles). Actually, I probably shouldn’t mention this, but Prudent Penny’s cookbook reminds me somewhat of Maida Given’s cookbook. They’re the kind of cookbooks every home should have had (but my parents’ home didn’t). The only cookbooks I became familiar with, in the 1950s, were the recipe booklets advertised on the back of items such as baking powder or Hershey’s cocoa – you could send for them with a penny postcard and I acquired a collection of those).
Prudence Penny offered a wealth of recipes for cakes, cookies, frostings, cake fillings, all sorts of puddings, ice creams and sauces for desserts. Even today, novice cooks would find this cookbook worthy of attention.
Hopefully, if you haven’t done much cooking for a while, this may inspire you. And if you are like me and already doing a fair amount of cooking, here are some cookbook titles to think about. I’ll try to provide you with some fifties recipes in my next post—but feel free to write if there is a favorite dish in particular that you would like to see in print.
–HAPPY COOKING AND HAPPY COOKBOOK COLLECTING!
Sandra Lee Smith