What Recipes Americans Actually Cooked and Ate During the 1950s
Casseroles Using Hamburger
The 1950s was a decade in which most of America's women were not employed outside the home. Most families only had one car, fast food wasn't around in any numbers and married women were called housewives and/or homemakers. Eating out was usually reserved for special occasions for many families. From the number of cute retro diners and cafes in existence today, one who didn't experience the 1950s in person would easily have the false impression that we constantly ate hamburgers and hot dogs and drank flavored colas, malts and milkshakes. These foods and drinks were all a part of what we ate and drank during the 1950s, but certainly were not an every day thing.
I purchased two old copies of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine from 1958 at an antique store recently, and after enjoying the numerous ads for food products, it prompted me to take out my mother's old cookbook and read what recipes she had collected and cooked as our family favorites. Keep in mind that America is rich in many cultures and cuisines, so what families ate differed by ethnic group and region and of course by their budgets..
Main dishes many nights at our house were casseroles which illustrated the cook's ingenuity and thrift. Note the photo for an article that touts how to feed a family of four on one pound of hamburger. Typical main dishes might have been a hamburger, tuna fish, or chicken casserole, or dried chipped beef in cream gravy over toast, fried chicken, mac and cheese, Spam, canned ham, spareribs, hot dogs wrapped in Bisquick, hot dogs with barbecue sauce, liver and onions or various bean dishes. Meatloaf was made with hamburger stretched with bread crumbs. Soups such as vegetable, split pea and bean were slow cooked for hours. Deviled eggs were popular for a summer main dish. For our family round steak, pot roast, pork chops, or real ham was served on Saturday night, or sometimes on Sunday, or when we had company. It is interesting to us Baby Boomers that mac and cheese with the addition of crab or lobster with a variety of expensive cheeses has been elevated to almost gourmet status in today's restaurants.
The size of dinner plates was much smaller than plates are today, which lent itself to smaller portions. Another thing to note about eating in the 1950s is that most parents in the 1950s had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s and nothing was wasted. Using left over foods creatively was both a skill and an art. My Mom reused waxed paper and tin foil many times!
1950s Spanish Rice Main Dish
Breakfast in the 1950s
Hot breakfast has not changed much since the 1950s. Bacon, eggs, hash, pancakes, toast, waffles, and fried potatoes were the normal at our house. Keep in mind that fried food was either fried in butter, shortening, or previous bacon drippings. Toast was slathered with butter and jelly. Other items included oatmeal, corn meal mush, Shredded Wheat, puffed rice, puffed wheat, Corn Flakes, and Grape Nuts. The house I grew up in had various citrus trees in the back yard in Arizona, so from Dec through April we enjoyed fresh orange and grapefruit juice. Otherwise, most juice was canned or from frozen concentrate. Most housewives had several wonderful coffee cake, or cinnamon roll recipes that were called quick breads if they were baking powder based as opposed to yeast based which took much longer to prepare.
Salads & Vegetables 1950s Style
Salads are the meal component that have changed the most since the 1950s. Think mayonaise! Jello salads came in every variety. Sunshine Jello was lemon Jello with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple. Lime Jello often had shredded cabbage, and chopped celery. Jello salads often had a generous glob of mayo as a topper. Fruited Jellos with Fruit Cocktail or bannanas were popular. Salads featuring cottage cheese with a slice of fruit or a tomato wedge were popular. Canned fruit such as Fruit Cocktail or canned peaches or pear halves were served as a salad or a dessert. Keep in mind that air freight shipping of perishible fruits and vegetables was not the same as today.
Those who grew up on farms probably enjoyed a better variety of fresh vegetables, but canned corn, canned green beans or peas were all pretty much overcooked and dull. Potato dishes were mashed, scalloped or fried.
Pie and Ice Cream
Most nights we got dessert after dinner if and only if we ate all our dinner. Cookies such as sugar, chocolate chip, ginger, molasses, or oatmeal with raisins were a standard. Puddings such as Tapioca, butterscotch, vanilla, rice, bread, and chocolate were common. Ice cream or sherbet were a big treat since most refrigerators didn't have very large compartments. Cakes were spice, chocolate, angel food, sponge and pineapple upside down cake. Most people made and loved pies of all types.
This Baby Boomer often misses some of these old favorites.
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