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What did they make 40 years ago...?

We are hosting a dinner / 40th birthday party next month and the theme is "what they made 40 years ago". As the hosts, we a responsible for the main course and cocktail, while the guests each have a course assignment.

I'm fishing for any main course suggestions. There will be 10 us.


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  1. How about fondue and a swingin' martini bar? You could offer Tang as anon-alcoholic beverage (if they still sell it!).

        1. Anything from Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1' will work. That was published in 1961 and was all the rage for at least the next 15 years. I received my copy in 1975.

          Her Boeuf Bourguignon is excellent and would be an easy dish to make for a crowd, as much of it can be done ahead of time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Euonymous

            I agree about Julia. I was in my early twenties and my foodie guy friend and i would tackle Julia for fish recipes. He invented one with scallops and Uncle Ben's wild rice- we thought it was gourmet. Also gourmet were baked fish fillets rolled around shrimp with some kind of sauce. Think shrimp and veal.

          2. What I remember from way back then:
            Meatloaf drowned in that sweet ketchuppy red sauce.
            Potatoes Au Gratin with velveeta.
            "taco" pies made with tortilla chips (Doritos?), canned chili, canned refried beans, etc
            Anything from the back of a Betty Crocker box at that time.
            Pan Fried Steak- Take a good steak, poke holes in it, and fry in at least one inch of oil.
            Chicken Fried Steak - take a good steak, pound it flat, dip it in batter and fry in at least one inch of oil. Then drown it in a thin gravy from a mix.
            Outside the ugh category:

            Hobo Stew
            Roast beef
            Real mashed potatoes with home made gravy
            Garden Salad (Made from what was in your garden)
            Roasted corn on the cob
            Broiled asparagus spears dipped in real butter
            Home made cherry or apple pie
            Broiled or grilled steak smothered in mushrooms and onions.
            Baked potato
            Egg or potato salad
            Fresh cole slaw
            Slow cooked ham hocks and beans

            1. Steak Diane, Beef Wellington

              I think fondue would be fun.

              1 Reply
              1. re: fern

                In the late 60's beef fondue was a bit hit for a while. It was cooked in oil over a sterno can and, after cooking, dipped into a bearnaise or some other kind of sauce. We also ate at a Chinese hot pot restaurant in Berkeley. It was a real fad for a while then.

              2. Something that is fun is to make homemade TV dinners. You can buy the foil trays online and then make meatloaf, etc and and fill in the different sections.

                1. I wouldn't serve this as a main, but your post made me nostalgic... Tuna Noodle Casserole with potato chips on top. That's what I remember as a kid. My family won't touch the stuff, so I haven't eaten it in probably 30+ years. *sigh*

                  31 Replies
                  1. re: mochi mochi

                    Mochi, I hear ya! I grew up with that as once a week on my mother's menu list (other goodies - meat loaf Tuesday, liver & onions Wednesday, roast chicken Friday. No one at my house would eat that. The closest substitute I can get them to eat is chicken tettrazini with homemade mornay sauce (not really close LOL!).

                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                      I think our moms had the same menu list. I tried my hardest to get out of the liver and onions night. I ate the bacon... Roast Beef on Sunday!

                      1. re: mochi mochi

                        Mochi, I have shared this story before but will repeat it. My brother came to the table one night with a shoe box - why? My parents, Holocaust survivors with true starvation experience, used to constantly admonish us that in the 1960's there were starving children in China, Africa, wherever who would give their life to experience the yummy food my mother prepared. My brother explained the shoe box was to send the yummy liver, onions and spinach (can you believe! LOL!) straight to them! It was a scene like out of a twisted Leave It to Beaver TV show, my father stood up from the table, unhooked his belt and chased my brother around the kitchen. Interestingly enough, no more liver after that.

                        1. re: Diane in Bexley

                          I am sorry that your parents had to suffer so, but the story you tell is simply HILARIOUS! lol Thanks for sharing.

                          1. re: Diane in Bexley

                            Diane, that story is wonderful. thank you for making me LOL! i am picturing your dad chasing your brother with his belt!!

                            1. re: Diane in Bexley

                              Diane--- I read this liver story somewhere: A visiting relation, determined to get the family's children to eat liver, surreptitiously ground some up and put it in the spaghetti sauce. At dinner the two year-old, who had barely learned to speak, tasted this mess and said, "What the hell is this?".

                            2. re: mochi mochi

                              My mom had a similar menu as well. Meat loaf, roast beef, tuna salad (no casseroles in our house - my father called them an abomination), hamburgers and wine chicken were all in the regular rotation. Spaghetti with meatballs, salad nicoise, knockwurst and, yes, liver and onions, would all make regular guest appearances. I was pretty happy with everything my mom made but I couldn't bear the liver and onions, I was always unhappy when brussels sprouts appeared on the menu (hate 'em to this day) as well as cauliflower (at that time for some strange reason, my mother thought that a properly cooked cauliflower meant a scorched one. It was horrible and smelled worse.)

                            3. re: Diane in Bexley

                              I can tell you weren't Catholic--Fridays at my house were a rotation of tuna noodle casserole, fish sticks, and macaroni and cheese!

                              1. re: coney with everything

                                From the same era, do you remember the late and unlamented "Tunie"? It was a tuna fish hotdog available for those teenage Friday weenie roasts so we wouldn't rot in Hell for all eternity. Vile things that did not make the cut, but once tasted are never forgotten.

                                1. re: Sherri

                                  Sorry (?) to have missed the "tunie". Sounds vile indeed!

                                2. re: coney with everything

                                  or, salmon patties or salmon loaf. Crab cakes or my Dad would go fishing and bring us enough for a fish fry!

                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                    salmon patties made from the salmon in the can, bones mashed up. i would wait till mom got them out of the skillet to sit on the paper towel to blot the oil....and about 25% never made it to the dinner table, courtesy of me. fond memories....

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      paper towels?
                                      We used emptied brown paper bags to drain oil on!!

                                      1. re: chef chicklet

                                        those too!
                                        tell me about the patties' ingredients! what is the loaf like?

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          My mom made the best salmon patties. There's nothing in them but salmon, crushed crackers, a little onion, and an egg. She would always pick out the bones. Nowadays you can buy boneless canned salmon.

                                          I make mine a little different from my mom's: I use bread crumbs instead of crackers, mainly because I generally have crumbs in the house but don't always have crackers. And I usually put in some garlic and some parsley flakes.

                                          You cook them in a hot, greased skillet, and serve with ketchup.

                                          I have a 1920s church cookbook that has "salmon croquettes," which are pretty much the same except that they're fried in oil instead of just being browned in a greased skillet. They're kind of a nice alternative from time to time.

                                          1. re: revsharkie

                                            Our salmon patties were always made with matzo meal. We loved them. My Gram served them every Thursday with meatless spaghetti.

                                            My mom made liver so good that I used to eat the leftovers cold in a sandwich the next day......

                                          2. re: alkapal

                                            I remember canned salmon, catchup, egg and bread crumbs. Probably s & p also.

                                            I also remember liking it, but I can't imagine eating that today.

                                            1. re: chicgail

                                              gosh, we ate that, too. haven't had it in ages! I seem to remember a good bit of sliced green onion in there, too.

                                        2. re: alkapal

                                          You should eat the bones (mashing them finely) - they are a good source of calcium. (But I give the fatty skin to my cat as a treat - no, he is not a fat cat).

                                          I always have breadcrumbs from an Italian bakery round the corner - matzo meal is of course a fine alternative and would make them kosher for Passover.

                                          Nowadays, very good with a hot sauce or salsa...

                                      2. re: coney with everything

                                        Growing up Catholic in the 70s and 80s in the Midwest meant our Friday rotation was similar - tuna and rice (with frozen peas - still a favorite of my brother's), fish sticks, salmon loaf or really really dried out baked white fish. (I didn't learn to like fish for 10 years after leaving home.) I later met an Italian-Irish Catholic guy who grew up on the east coast. Fridays for him meant shrimp and lobster. Oy!

                                    2. re: mochi mochi

                                      Um, try, I made tuna casserole just last Monday! Mine doesn't use to potato chips, though. I used to make it all the time in college, that's how I hooked my husband of eight years. I usually make it once or twice a winter. One down, one to go.

                                      1. re: amy_rc

                                        I recently rediscovered tuna noodle casserole and I can't believe how much I love it. It's a recipe from Epicurious that I've fiddled with a bit, but not much. It came about almost accidentally. I've been cooking soft, freezable meals for my elderly Mother and thought that would freeze well. She just adores it and now, whatever else I make for her, I have to make the tuna noodle casserole. And I'm only too happy to do so.

                                      2. re: mochi mochi

                                        Both my parents worked in the mid to late 50's and tuna noodle casserole was the norm since I could come home from school, put it all together and have it going when they got home. Did your version have peas? Ours did. We would give our dog the leftover. He HATED peas and would spit every one out. There would be an immaculately cleaned dog dish with 8 or 9 green peas in the bottom! Didn't use potato chips, just some melted velveta on the top. Thanks for the memory.

                                        1. re: SonyBob

                                          Haha, your dog hilarious. OMG, yes, I forgot the peas. My mom always put frozen peas in her casserole.

                                          1. re: SonyBob

                                            Mmmm.....Velveeta. Reminds me of another family favorite from the 70s - Bologna Burgers. Cube up chunk bologna and Velveeta, mix with mayo, mustard and pickle relish. Wrap in foil and heat in oven till the cheese gets all melty. My mom used to make these up before a long family car trip and we'd eat them on the road. The wadded up foil when we were done were always referred to as "Perry Mason balls." ??

                                            1. re: jennywinker

                                              My grandparents used to do this, but instead of chunking and heating, they put it all through the meat grinder and spread it cold on sandwiches!

                                              1. re: jennywinker

                                                i am wondering about those "perry mason balls"?!?!?

                                            2. re: mochi mochi

                                              The "classic" 60s tuna noodle casserole is a can of tuna (drained oil pack), a can of cream of mushroom soup, a pack of cooked egg noodles, mix together, put in a casserole, dot with butter, spread crushed potato chips over the top (but not too thick or it will be salty) and bake in the oven for fifteen to tweny minutes. For variety, yuo can add either frozen or canned peas (more 60s-ish) or use any other variety of cream soup.

                                              Boeuf Bourguigon, coq au vin, tournedos served on a crouton, fondu made with Emanthaler, creme broulee, and crystal chandeliers are all very JFK "Camelot." When LBJ took office, the crystal chandeliers disappeared in favor of barbecue and beagles. Or was it basset hounds? Whatever you could hold up by its ears.

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Come to think of it, I'm not convinced tuna casserole was a 60s dish. More like 50s. JFK was inaugurated in Jan '60, and "elegance" swept the nation on the brim of Jackie's pill box hats! '-)

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  Cream of mushroom soup was introduced by Campbell's and Heinz in the 30s and the recipes for using it as an ingredient in casseroles date back to women's magazines of that era.
                                                  There are other recipes using other soups as ingredients dating back even further. We aren't the first people who have considered ourselves too busy to cook from scratch. Everyone has always looked for shortcuts!

                                                2. re: mochi mochi

                                                  Yep, we had that same tuna casserole with potato chips on top. It was yummy!

                                                  1. re: Antilope

                                                    This is too good... and they wonder why so many boomers are fast food junkies.

                                                    1. re: Antilope

                                                      i am out of breath laughing at that site (i was reading the section about grilling outdoors.) laughing so hard i am crying and having to keep reading through my tears. the "narrative commentary" is brilliant, i say! this deserves its own thread!

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        my post to create a thread to that hilarious site of foodie nostalgia for all hounds to see was unceremoniously removed by the mods. thanks for depriving us of some humor!

                                                      2. re: Antilope

                                                        What a scream, I read the Bar-B-Tricks section and just howled! I have to go back and read the rest. By the way, I have DOZENS of those little Brand-published cookbooks, I can't wait to look at them more closely.

                                                      3. I found one producer who is still making "Cold Duck". I about fell off my chair when I saw it. Might be a really fun thing to have for your party. It's called 5th Avenue Cold Duck. Made by a winery in South Africa.


                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                                          Buy a used copy of the Elegant but Easy cookbook" the version published in 1068. Google it and you'll find a used copy very cheaply.

                                                          My first thougts for this; elegant cocktail party food, including aspic covered chicken liver pate, and aspargus roll-ups (flatten a slice of white bread with a rolling pin, butter lightly but completely, Roll like a jelly roll, and bake until lightly brown. Slice crosswie into two piece. Yum.

                                                          1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                                            Okay, I know it's just a typo on your part, Stuffed Monkey, but that "published in 1068" really brought me up sharply. Just what were they serving after the Norman invasion? I'm a touch over 40 and sometimes I really do feel that old. Thanks for the smile.

                                                            Btw, they do still make Tang. My 5-year-old absolutely adores it. I got it for her astronaut themed party and the parents were all waxing nostalgic. The homemade TV dinner idea sounds great. I really do remember that from my early childhood. That, and really awful frozen pot pies.

                                                            1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                                                              Stuffed Monkey, the cookbook you referenced brought a smile to my face. I "inherited" it from my Mom when she sold her big house nearby and moved to Florida a few years ago. Fond memories of her making recipes from the tattered paperback book I now own. This was considered the height of elegance in the '60's and my mother was an accomplished hostess as a result.

                                                            2. re: Shane Greenwood

                                                              Cold Duck as we know it originated in the late 30's at Detroit's Pontchartrain Wine Cellers. It's easy to make, just 1 part sparkling burgundy and 2 parts sparkling wine. I can tell you that when you had the real thing at the Wine Cellers (now defunct) it was served ice cold and despite the relative low alcohol content, it could knock you on your ass because it went down sooooo easy. If you want to make some, use good wine and experiment with the ratio.

                                                            3. Take a can of cream of something, add a can of cream of something, and pour in half a cup of sherry. Heat. Serve.

                                                              That's what my mother and grandmothers and all their friends made for ladies' luncheons in the 1950s and 1960s.

                                                              Cocktail parties were popular. People were just beginning to explore what we now term "ethnic" cuisines, and served little canapes supposedly from various countries. Some of the old recipes can be hilarious. We've come a long way since then.

                                                              1. One poster mentioned Julia Child and one poster mentioned Beef Wellington. I say, do both--Julia's Filet de Beouf en Croute from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two. It was a bit less than 40 years ago that I was teaching myself to cook from these two books and Julia's beef wellington was my pull-out-all-the-stops, knock-'em-dead, elegant dinner party recipe of choice. And it always did. Knock 'em dead, that is. And . . . must be serendipity, it serves 8 to 10.

                                                                1. Fun!
                                                                  I'd look at 1967 NYTimes recipes, or Gourmet magazines from that year.
                                                                  Or your local paper that publishes recipes. Or Good Housekeeping 1967. Depends on what strata of society your 40-year-old resonates with . . .

                                                                  Isn't there some brilliant online linkage for that -- at least the NYT part of it . . .

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. 1967. For special occasions, we'd have charcoal grilled T-bone steaks, baked potatoes, and Iceberg lettuce salad -- Iceberg because that's all you could get. The appetizer would be chilled 6 boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce, and dessert was probably ice cream and cake. Bourbon and coke and whiskey sours were pretty popular, and you seldom saw wine. But we're talking rural South.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: TNExplorer

                                                                      Dessert = vanilla ice cream w/ creme de menthe. Don't forget the Thousand Island dressing for the iceberg, or bleu cheese if you were really going all-out gourmet. Your recollection is absolutely spot on!

                                                                      1. re: Sherri

                                                                        Yep, creme de menthe. My mother made creme de menthe parfaits for my next door neighbor's bridesmaid luncheon. Never mind that they were strict Baptists and never touched a drop!

                                                                      2. re: TNExplorer

                                                                        Aahh, iceberg lettuce. My dad is a meat-n-potatos man, but he'll eat "combination" salad (what my Grandma calls it, it's really a tossed salad) w/ his dinner...only if it is made with iceberg, though. He doesn't like that rabbit food (any lettuce other than iceberg).

                                                                        My grandparents and their friends also eat bread and butter with every meal. That would be plain, white bread.

                                                                      3. I remember my mom making Chop Suey and Chicken ala King a lot, but I have no idea her recipes. This was in the mid sixties.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: danhole

                                                                          Last week my cousin-in-law mentioned he was making Chow Mein for dinner. Really? Yeah, the Chun King stuff from the can. Really?!? I had to check the next time I was at the grocery store - I couldn't believe they still make that stuff!

                                                                          1. re: jennywinker

                                                                            Funny you say that, I did the same double take yesterday at the grocery. One of those things that probably just blends in the background for me, but yesterday I happened to notice that those things were still around. My grandma used to get those a lot.

                                                                        2. The Chicago Tribune did a feature on this very topic today. How timely.


                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: JungMann

                                                                            Guess it depends on who "we" were. In my Brooklyn Italian home, we were eating
                                                                            mostly dishes like escarole and white bean soup, baked chicken, sausage, and potatoes, eggplant parmigiana, steak pizziaolo, and the like. I do remember the folks enjoying an occasional apricot brandy sour, though.

                                                                          2. Don't forget a molded jello salad for dessert!

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Megiac

                                                                              Molded jello salads are still a staple at my in-laws side wedding and baby showers. Really???

                                                                            2. I recommend a main course of beef wellington. It was a very popular centerpiece for fancy dinner parties in the 1960s.

                                                                              The Joy of Cooking has a good recipe.

                                                                              An article on the dish: http://www.lowellsun.com/lifestyles/c...

                                                                              1. Upthread responses are disappointing, with many obviously not old enough to know or living where food appears to have been dreadful. Forty years ago in Central California we were eating what is now popular as authentic Japanese, Basque, Armenian, and Mexican. We had decent Italian and German, a bit of Swedish. Chinese was Cantonese, but good, made by real from-China cooks. It was maybe 30 years ago that the chains and fast foods really took over--ruiing food in the US for next generation and more. Forty years ago our families cooked and cooked well, ate out in what would today be very "authentic" restaurants...

                                                                                38 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                  I lived just a ways south of you in the Imperial Valley (El Centro).
                                                                                  There was a lot of good food, but there were a lot of truly terrible creations as the meal in a can and pre mix companies were trying to hype their products.
                                                                                  I remember a lot of truly outstanding border food meals (Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex style), great grilling with mesquite, and some fantastic chinese mexican fusion.
                                                                                  But I also remember the campbels creations and the back of the box recipes.

                                                                                  1. re: hannaone

                                                                                    The only, ONLY creamed dish involving a creamed soup was the green bean casserole. Might of been late 60s or could of been later though.
                                                                                    My mom and dad didn't make gravy that way. A roux was made or cream milk gravy from flour and milk. But ALWAYS on the counter when cooking a roast or whatever, was Kitchen Bouquet. What is that stuff? Food dye?

                                                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                      there were lots of cream of mushroom soup recipies by the 60s. Most of them not all that hot. Mom used it in a rice&sausage casserole (yum), and with chicken. She also used chicken with rice for a number of dishes.

                                                                                      and lets not forget the original Rice a Roni came out sometime around then too.

                                                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                                        Campbell's introduced canned soups in 1897. By the 1920s, they were selling 18 million cans a week and the soups were already popular as sauces and ingredients. In her book "Fashionable Foods," Sylvia Lovegren quotes several very high-tones media sources of the 50s as saying that soup as an ingredient was pretty darn chic - much as if one of the really good food 'zines puffed it today. They were considered very trendy time savers for style-conscious modern cooks. By the 60s, they were old hat and had trickled down to everyday fare for the middle class.

                                                                                      2. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                        Actually Kitchen Bouquet is mostly a vegetable based flavoring. It adds a hearty taste to stews, roast, and gravies. I have some in my cabinet, but had forgotten about it until you brought it up. Haven't used it a long time, but I will now! It isn't just for the color!

                                                                                        1. re: chef chicklet

                                                                                          Wow! Kitchen Bouquet -- what a blast from the past. It's really nothing more than flavor-enhanced caramel color.

                                                                                          1. re: shaogo

                                                                                            I just went into my pantry and pulled out a full quart bottle of Kitchen Bouquet in original box (actually its main ingredient is lots of vegetables) and an almost full quart bottle of Gravy Master. There was also a bottle of something similar but label missing, and since it didn't move when I turned it upside down, it's history. The other two look fine even though years old. Just moved the other two into cabinet over stove with ketchup, worchestshire, vinegar etc, glad you reminded me they existed!! Just in time for fall and winter.

                                                                                      3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                        When I described to a friend the type of food I was raised with (born in '57) he sighed and said "Oh, depression food." I think that was a big influence on my mom's cooking, being raised in the depression and making the cheapest things she could. She tried to make them tasty, but oft times failed, IMO. (Except the chicken livers. Those were great!) There were the german/hungarian foods that were from my dad's side of the family, that I enjoyed a lot more than the smothered steak and bastardized chop suey, but that didn't happen very often. I loved it when my grandma came to visit and cooked for us! That was good stuff. Homemade pastas, Saxon Pie, borscht, and things I don't even know how to spell!

                                                                                        Also my mom worked, so we ate at Denny type places where I always got the "chopped steak" with a piece of cheese on top. Amazing, huh? How did I develop a taste for good food!

                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                          Sam, I was thinking the same thing: 40 years ago, not all corners of the country had succumed to the dreaded plague of convenience foods/home ec monstrosities. My parents got married in 1959, had three kids by 1967 (though I didn't come along until much later). For them, that era was defined by a lack of awareness of cholesterol...things like fried bone-in pork chops, fried chicken livers, fried fish, fried chicken (a whole one, cut into as many pieces as there were people to feed, times two), biscuits & pie crusts made with lard, ice cream w/whipped cream on top, heavy cream for coffee. Bacon for breakfast, nearly every day, or pork sausages as an alternative. Butter on every damn thing in sight, from petits pois to broccoli to sweet potatoes...

                                                                                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                            Next year will be my 40th high school reunion--I know I ate well though high school (and through university, grad school and to date). My mother had studied nutrition when she studied nursing at UC Berkeley before WWII. Mom and the aunties did little in the way of deep frying. Sauteeing in a bit of oil and then more liquid was common for the peasant Japanese okazus we often ate. Although McDonalds spread early throughout California, I was 40 and in the Philippines when I had my first Big Mac.

                                                                                            1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                                                                              yes, and how many of those things were fried in bacon fat?

                                                                                              1. re: firecooked

                                                                                                As many as possible. To this day, I have a jar of bacon grease in my fridge at all times.

                                                                                                1. re: firecooked

                                                                                                  Portions were sooooo much smaller when we were growin up. My mother would buy only a little more than a pound of meat to feed five of us and that was considered fine. What we ate is what is about is recommended today - that "deck of cards" sized piece of meat. Remember that the original McDonald's hamburger is now what's on the Dollar menu?
                                                                                                  That's why it was OK to use bacon drippings and butter. Nobody was fat.

                                                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                While I understand your getting upset as the memories being described here don't reflect your own, I think your extrapolation from that to everyone else in this post had terrible cooks for parents and chain restaurants ruined US food is not an entirely fair one. The reason a lot of people of the 60's ate "dreadful" food was because the technology for food transportation and packaging had not advanced enough yet!! Your memories are very atypical of most Americans because you lived on the coast in a warm climate, which means you had access to an excellent variety of fresh produce for a significant part of the year as well as access to a large immigrant population from the coast to introduce your family to a large variety of cuisines. Inland, especially nothern inland, only had fresh produce 1/4 of the year and the selection was far more limited. Canned veggies were popular until frozen technology came, and they were popular until flying fresh produce in from Chile in the winter became feasible. Give people credit for working with what they had! Chains and fast food took over because so many families have become dual income or single working parent, which means a lot less time to cook from scratch, not the other way around (the chains wouldn't have opened if there wasn't a market demand).

                                                                                                1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                  InmanSQ Girl, I meant just the opposite on a couple of your points: rather than seeing others as having had bad cook parents, my underlying hypothesis was that food wasn't all that bad 40 years ago; that people knew how to cook well--no matter where they were in the US. We had family and close friends in Minnesota, St Louis, and elsewhere where fruit and fish didn't fall into their un-sun drenched laps--and they cooked and ate well. Our friends in Minnesota had a summer garden, picked and put up blueberries, canned fruit, made pickles, put up a deer once a year, and made marvelous vegetable dishes with winter cabbages and root crops. They were working with what they had. And, again, if my memory serves me, chains really came in heavy and in their current iteration in the late 70s (not the late 60s). The dual income or single parent household was also not that common in the late 60s--again it was another decade for those to really kick in. I went to grad school in the early 70s in Eugene, Oregon, a place that is dark, grey, and wet for 300 days of the year. We cooked and ate well.

                                                                                                  To reiterate my main point: I think that food 40 years ago was not Velveeta, Campbell's cream of mushroom, molded Jello, casseroles, and bad cooking. Just the opposite: I think that a substantial portion of people cooked and ate well in the US 40 years ago; and that all of us in 2007 didn't suddenly invent good food..

                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                    Just seeing this post and thought the exchanges between you and InmanSQ Girl were interesting, with both of you making good points. I grew up in New England in the period we're discussing. When you mentioned your friends in MN, I appreciated the memories of virtually every woman I knew, regardless of economic circumstances or available time, being proficient enough in canning, freezing, preserving, as a matter of course. We ate fresh produce according to the season and really looked forward to each fruit's or vegetable's "time" as though it were a holiday. I remember...June meant shortcake...August brought robust, juicy, tawny peaches and sweet corn on the cob...and at the end of the month, we put up plum and walnut conserves for toast on wintry mornings. The colder months meant...yup...frequent New England boiled dinners with the root vegetables you mentioned...and sometimes we longed for the beautiful tossed salads that were half a year away. Most of the people I knew had gardens, big ones if they had an acre or more, but even my relatives with city homes had little strip vegetable beds snug up to their houses where they grew maybe half a dozen different items.

                                                                                                    And this is the way our markets (not "supermarkets") stocked their produce, as well--whatever was in season, grown on area family farms.

                                                                                                    We didn't know much about "ethnic food" out in the exurbs and country (different in the cities, I know), but we ate truly good quality food prepared in many different ways. The thing of it is, today, living once again in a fairly small New England community, I can get virtually any fruit or vegetable I can dream of in the chain megastores around the region, but the quality is just not there. And I *know* my memory doesn't fail me; I'm *not* waxing nostalgic. The less fruits and veggies have to travel, the better they fare. God meant for peaches to fuzzy and He didn't mean for tomatoes to be ripened by gas--unless you set one in the pantry next to an apple ;-).

                                                                                                    Still fortunate enough around here to have some small family markets, and modest produce and animal farms, and I think we're all beginning to realize what we miss culinarily and economically by not "eating homegrown". Lately even the chains seem to notice there's a buck to be made by giving us what we want, local grown, but as much as possible, I'm sticking loyal with my little IGA, still the best stuff around here.

                                                                                                    And I think you're absolutely right...processed food was never the norm with us, but was allowed as an occasional treat. My mother worked full-time, and always cooked from scratch. My friends and I do, too, in these more complicated times. A lot of it doesn't really *take* more time to do. If I only have a half-hour to make dinner, I can whip up a simple batch of drop biscuits in no more time than it takes me to roll up those tricky Pillsbury crescent rolls whose dough always seems to stick to itself, getting all mucked up and slowing me down. Maybe my friends and I are the last age group who were generally taught to cook this way?

                                                                                                    But somewhere between then and now, we stopped teaching our kids how to cook (generally speaking, of course, not true for all families, I know). Even our cookbooks have to be written differently today, I've read, and much more specifically, due to forgotten skills. So, I think we as a nation eat more things today, in quantity and variety, but I'm not sure we eat "better".

                                                                                                    1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                      Thank you! Funny how this thread has developed into two quite distinct positions of Velveeta and Campbell's soup casseroles vs. an age of using local and seasonal ingredients with very sound cooking techniques now being lost by most.

                                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                        It is funny--and apt, isn't it? Now I see why in history and anthropology courses we study the foods peoples ate, and how they made them, as we do religion, politics, architecture. The dichotomy that the two of you were discussing is the marker for the brief overlap of two distinct technological and cultural eras. If I were throwing a Sixties dinner party, I'd serve Vichyssoise, Coq au Vin, Asparagus Hollandaise, Pop Tarts and Metracal.

                                                                                                        And maybe top it off with a couple of Twinkies. ;-)

                                                                                                        1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                          You've almost got it right. Leave out the Hollandaise and top the asparagus with Velveeta. Now you're cooking 60s!

                                                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                            *whoops self upside the head*

                                                                                                            Thank you, Caroline, thank you! You've save me from the slow, humiliating realization that it's ME about whom my guests, hands raised tactfully to mouths, are snickering! I'm just another Jackie wannabe, I guess. (Yes, I know the dates on that Administration say the '60s, but *those years* weren't really THE Sixties. Not really.


                                                                                                            1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                              It's difficult (even when you were there) to grasp how fast the country went from Jackie pillboxes to Nancy Sinatra go-go boots! <sigh> Sock it to me...?

                                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                it is accounted for by a "no holds barred" mentality. it seems pervasive still...

                                                                                                          2. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                            Metracal OMG - my mother had that for lunch everyday for about 5 years - and she did lose weight! My sister and I loved it because we never had sweets in the house and it was like a milkshake to us. Daddy finally started buying Hershey's syrup so we could have chocolate milk instead, the Metracal was pretty expensive in comparison.

                                                                                                    2. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                      Hello InmanSQ Girl: We had frozen vegetables in the 1960's! I remember my aunt serving frozen peas at a catered dinner party in 1942---they were the latest thing, very fancy. But they were pretty ordinary in the 'sixties.

                                                                                                      1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                        Clarence Birdseye patented the technology in 1925 and freezers were available as early as 1930 although few could afford them in the Depression. Commercially frozen foods were a luxury product, but rented freezer lockers were available to store garden produce, sides of beef, or game, much like we have storage lockers today.

                                                                                                      2. re: InmanSQ Girl

                                                                                                        You basic premise that people in the 60s ate "dreadful" food isn't accurate as are many of your other assumptions.
                                                                                                        Most of the US away from the coasts has a longer growing season than 3 months and even before refrigeration and freezing, people canned themselves - not because it was "popular" - but out of necessity, and they kept doing it, and do so even today. Using root cellars, cold storage vegetables were available fresh all winter - many of the same "root vegetables" that are so trendy today. Many more people had home gardens and began freezing their own produce as soon as home freezers became available (1930) because it was less work than canning. Some produce was shipped by rail in the US in the 20s but it wasn't until 1994 that NAFTA made it possible to import produce from Chile and other places in the Southern Hemisphere. Most produce was and still is grown and shipped from much closer to home and in season. The "immigrants" in the Heartland had immigrated too - from Germany and other European countries and knew how to cook in temperate climate winters - so there were a wide variety of cuisines, although you might not find them as exotic as Sam's California cohort. Food was and still is good in fly-over country.

                                                                                                        I'm not sure that we can call current transportation and packaging "advances." Tasteless strawberries in January with more frequent flyer miles than I have? Food with chemicals I can't pronounce? Refined flour, sugar, rice and everything else. Frozen meals, fast foods, microwave popcorn, instant everything, fat-free mayo, HFCS in everything?

                                                                                                        If you have access to old photographs, look at a class picture of a third grade from 1967 and go look at one at your local school. In 1967, there might have been 1 or 2 fat kids. What do you see now in 2007 with all your fresh, healthy foods and good cooks?

                                                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                          Good points, and well taken. In our tight Italian family and neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 50s and early 60s, meals were still pretty traditional and simple, and to a large degree seasonal: no grapes in deep winter, no tangerines in summer, and so be it. An outing for a burger or luncheonette snack was rare and a treat. Big meals, except for summer backyard bbq, were almost always traditional southern Italian--but with more protein.

                                                                                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                            Speaking of well traveled ingestibles...

                                                                                                            I don't know whether the following is accurate or not, but I was brought up short recently listening to an orange juice commercial that stated that most *orange juice* consumed in the US is now imported from abroad.

                                                                                                            Whatever happened to California? FLORIDA? Did they fall off the Continental Shelf, and nobody told me?

                                                                                                            1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                              No. They've been paved over with shopping centers, ticky tacky houses, and highways to travel between the two.

                                                                                                              1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                                                                                That may be a recent change. Most OJ came from FL. Actually from a few counties but the groves may have been wiped out in that awful hurricane year. There were really strict import restrictions of juice. Big time.
                                                                                                                CA is more fruit oranges, comparatively, if I remember - Sunkist. It's a lot further North and drier so they don't have as many groves. Not as many left either since they were dug up for housing.

                                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                  If you go far enough back in the 20th century (up through the 50s), Florida was a "wannabe" when it comes to orange production for both Valencia type (juice) oranges and navels (out of hand eating). Orange County, California, isn't called Orange County for nothing!

                                                                                                                  The first citrus to disappear from California were the lemon orchards of the San Diego area. After WWII, as part of the Marshall Plan to help European countries get back on their feet, lemons were imported from Italy at about a cent or two a pound cheaper than local California growers could produce them, and there were no government subsidies. Lemon orchards were replaced by truck farms, which in turn were replaced by ticky tacky houses.

                                                                                                                  In Orange County, it was the price of real estate that drove many orange growers from California to Arizona. The rest just sold their orchards and laughed all the way to the bank. No more smudge pots to ward off the frost! All of the family on my father's side were orchardmen, primarily in oranges, but one aunt and uncle grew walnuts and avacados. There are streets and schools in the city of Santa Anna named after my great grandparents. At one point their house was still standing as a pioneer memorial to the times, but I don't know if it's been paved over by now.

                                                                                                                  We lived in Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego, and when we moved there our house was surrounded by lemon orchards. Lemon and orange blossoms smell much the same, and to this day when I smell fresh orange or lemon blossoms, I'm overtaken with an aching memory of my childhood. As the old saying goes, "You can't go home again."

                                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                    Florida has had citrus since the Spanish first planted groves in the early 1500s and now produces more than any place other than Brazil despite the obvious size disparity and damage to groves from a few legendary freezes and hurricanes.
                                                                                                                    I'm sure your family memories are accurate but in the big picture of US citrus, Florida has always been the major player with Texas providing real competition for California and Arizona because of more humid climates, water, natural rainfall, and soil.
                                                                                                                    Unfortunately, "growing" houses and freeways became more lucrative than farming in Southern California.

                                                                                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                      thanks MS, for sticking up for florida so eloquently and knowledgeably. from a florida cracker....don't forget the blights....i think they did worse damage than the recent hurricanes.

                                                                                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                        Those blights are exactly why the USDA agents check tourists' bags when they clear customs as they return from overseas. They've almost wiped out the Florida groves and the entire citrus industry, along with all the jobs that go with it, on more than one occasion. The one bad apple theory goes nuclear with an infected orange.

                                                                                                                        I've spent more than a little time on the wonderful Redneck Riviera in the Panhandle - some of the finest beaches in the US and the best food. Love those Apalachicola oysters and Nassau Grits at the Coffee Cup. West Indies Crabmeat Salad and fried grouper. All food from 40 years ago that's still going strong, huh?

                                                                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                          MakingSense, i grew up in Ft. Myers, so there was no shortage of grits or fried fish (or smoked ribs, fresh tomatoes with flavor, Gulf shrimp, Cuban sandwiches....). Has it been 40 years? wish it were yesterday...

                                                                                                                      2. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                        When the orange tree was first inttoduced to Florida has no relevance to crop production in California from the late 19th century through the first third (nearly half) of the 20th century. If you will check out the history of orange production for those years, I think you will find that California was the peak producer in the country. The pictures on orange crates from Sunkist and other CA packers resulted in a very heavy migration of people to California from all across th country. It's quite an interesting history.

                                                                                                                        I know that Florida is currently the prime producer of oranges and orange products in the country. Califfornia is now the prime producer of smog and overpopulation! I'm a native Californian, but cannot go back because about the only things left from my childhood are the city parks! San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Everything else is smothered in concrete and asphalt. <sigh>

                                                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                          Some years ago I was visiting folks living in a Phoenix apartment complex. Right outside their door there was a small orange tree loaded with gorgeous oranges. I picked one and gave it to my friend, saying "here, I brought you a present". She looked at it and said "It's no good. These are ornamental trees and the fruit is not usable."

                                                                                                                          I was shocked. I grew up on a farm and the very idea of ruining a food species for the sake of looks seemed blasphemous.

                                                                                                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                              This thread is getting a liitle ridiculous. I was born in 1961 (you do the math) and while I was growing up I ate few if any processed foods. I finally got to taste a twinkie (something I had been wishing for for a long time) when I was twelve and thought it was awful. I also had my first TV dinner at a sleepover party at my friend's house when I was maybe ten or so and was singularly unimpressed.

                                                                                                              At my house we never ate anything with Velveeta or Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.

                                                                                                              I ate tuna noodle casserole at a babysitter's house once, thought it was weird, but liked it pretty well, and never had it again.

                                                                                                              My family cooked good food and taught me to do the same. We used simple ingredients, simple techniques, and ended up with some pretty good stuff.

                                                                                                              I still think that Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon would be a wonderful main dish for your party.

                                                                                                            3. Do serve some Brandy Alexanders and Harvey Wallbangers to quench thirsts! I actually have several of those Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks from that era (including a complete set of their Encyclopedia of Cooking). Garlic salt seems to be a preferred ingredient.

                                                                                                              1. My mother made some great stuff back in the 60's.

                                                                                                                Macaroni and Cheese with Velveeta (do they still make velveeta?)
                                                                                                                Jello molds - all different colors and layers and with stuff floating in them
                                                                                                                Brandy Alexander and Grasshopper pies
                                                                                                                Anything from the Elegant but Easy cookbook, which has already been mentioned

                                                                                                                1. Forty years ago, my mother and the aunts on both sides made sushi, sashimi, musubi, teriyaki, sukiyaki, daily—mostly vegetable based--okazu, miso shiru, and all foods Japanese; real tamales, chiles rellenos, refried beans, and moles; Swedish meatballs and Filipino adobo; at least 50 Chinese dishes; “American” food including holiday turkey, ham, roast beef, corned beef and cabbage, chicken pot pies, as well as burgers, dogs, steaks, and pommes frites; ravioli, linguine, tagliolini with zucchini, and lasagna. Shish-kabob, stews, soups. Lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. Milk and juices. We ate our spinach, salads, carrots, celery, lettuces, tomatoes, as well as water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, poi, lau lau, and other things Hawaiian. We had soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, and HP sauce. They made red sauces, reduction sauces, white sauces, Asian sauces, curries. They grilled, baked, braised, poached, confit-ed, fried, sautéed, stir-fried, steamed, and roasted. They cooked with artichokes, pomegranates, persimmons, asparagus, as well as all the nasty bits—livers, kidneys, blood, heart, tripe, tongue, brains, and you name it. But we also had lamb chops, pork chops, BBQ ribs, roasts, meatloafs, and sausages from Asia to Europe. They canned fruit, made fruit leathers, and jams and jellies. They baked all pies and angel food, chiffon, German tortes, and other cakes, plus cream puffs, cookies. They prepared pheasant, ducks, dove, and all things fish. About the only things that came in a can were sauerkraut and tuna. We had no Velveeta; we ate no fast or junk foods; we didn’t drink Coke or Pepsi.

                                                                                                                  21 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                    You make me hungry, Sam, and nostalgic - for YOUR childhood! While I'm a good fifteen years too young for this thread, I must say I'm not surprised by most of the responses on this board. Your personal experience notwithstanding, it is a very American experience, reflecting post-Depression mores, the rise of convenience and processed foods and latch-key kids with two working parents.

                                                                                                                    In South Africa forty years ago, food was certainly not exotic, but as a result of sanctions, most of it was home grown and made from scratch, which I see reflected in the cooking of many of my mother's generation, my mother in law, etc. An exception was my father's mother who, worldly European to the core, wore caftans and cooked from Elizabeth David and co for desserts, while my grandfather did the main courses, also mediterranean-inspired and Julia Child influenced.

                                                                                                                    But for the average American family, it was velveeta and campbell's.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                      thanks for your post, sam. makes me nostalgic for my mom's cooking. she was norwegian and filled the week with fish, liver, fowl and beef dinners.

                                                                                                                      sunday's, however, were special. dining room was always decked out with the good china, silver, crystal, candles, etc.. meals began around 2 p.m. and usually included an appetizer, a soup course and a main that usually had something to do with a roast of some sort. sides generally included one potato dish, at least two vegetable dishes. several breads were always accompanied by curls of unsalted butter. dad handled all wines and drinks. dessert was always a homemade confection accompanied by strong coffee.

                                                                                                                      i invited friends to the sunday meal, they always came. later, when i left the nest for school, my friends still showed up for sunday dinner. we were far from rich. to this day, i can hear the crackle of the fire, the non-stop laughter and my mom asking if anyone wanted something more. good times.

                                                                                                                      1. re: steve h.

                                                                                                                        Thank you, Gooseberry and steve h. I'm glad to hear from others who don't say it was all Velveeta and tuna noodle casserole and fast food and Campbell's cream of mushroom back then. I've cooked for these last 40 years being discussed...and still can't do as well on a lot of things as did Mom and the aunties. Those of us so lucky to be able to do so, should value and appreciate our food pasts. And many of us should not think that we or our generation invented good chow.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                                                                                                                          My mom loved to cook and we often had the following:

                                                                                                                          Coq au Vin
                                                                                                                          Fabulous Meatloaf
                                                                                                                          Braised short ribs over noodles or served on the side with rice or mashed potatoes
                                                                                                                          Pork chops..fried first and then baked.
                                                                                                                          Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy..with peas.

                                                                                                                          MY mom canned [we all did] so we had lots of fresh food all year long.
                                                                                                                          Greek Lemon Chicken Soup (the best)
                                                                                                                          Chipped beef on toast points
                                                                                                                          Baked ham with cloves stuck all over in it and a pineapple sauce
                                                                                                                          Chili with beans (not canned either)
                                                                                                                          Chicken and Dumplings with an iceberg lettuce salad and blue cheese dressing
                                                                                                                          Baked Trout Almandine with homemade cheese bisquits

                                                                                                                          I remember it well. My sis graduated in 1967 and mom made her roasted lamb, greek salad, and rosemary potatoes..with homemade baklava for dessert. [she was dating a Greek guy at the time..whom she married] I don't recall eating many canned or boxed items...although sardines and cream cheese on a ritz cracker made my day once in awhile.

                                                                                                                          1. re: melly

                                                                                                                            BTW...I grew up in Montana and Wyoming...not in a warm climate. :)

                                                                                                                            1. re: melly

                                                                                                                              "I was born in Montana, I wear the bandana, my spurs they are silver, my horse is a grey..."

                                                                                                                              Thank you, melly! InmanSQ Girl just took took me to task for supposedly not considering people in cold, wintery climes--where (I 100% agree with you) people still manage to cook and eat well. .

                                                                                                                          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                            Sam, my memories of the 50s and 60s are much closer to yours than what many of the postings are relating. All that processed food was actually pretty rare because it was expensive. Yeah, that stuff was beginning to be commonly available in the 50s but they were luxuries and conveniences, not the everyday purchases that they are today. We were far less likely to use them 40 to 50 years ago than consumers are now. A Swanson's TV dinner was a special treat when your parents went out and left you with the baby sitter. The frozen food aisle at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's would have been unimaginable.

                                                                                                                            If you look back at advertising archives, these foods were presented as a means for an everyday home cook to make a special company meal or do something they might not be able to do easily without certain skills. Food companies were trying hard to promote them as a way for home cooks to save time but they were costly.

                                                                                                                            I remember visiting friends in the middle of winter in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, etc. and meals still centered around fresh, home-cooked foods. We used fresh, local, seasonal produce because that was what we had. Or we canned and froze things in season for use in winter. Even in the 70s, foods weren't shipped across the country like they are today and local products were the rule. Regional cooking, such as Sam describes, was much more common and valued. The cooking of our family ethnic background was important and cherished.
                                                                                                                            The recipes were what we had learned from our mothers and grandmothers, augmented by a few "trendy for then" recipes from newspapers and magazine. Then Julia Child hit the bookstores and WGBH.

                                                                                                                            Frankly, I think the foods that the average American family ate at home 40 years ago were fresher and less processed than what the majority of people eat today - even at the high end.

                                                                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                              Thanks, MakingSense. You and I really agree on this one. My mom from 1967 would have a serious chuckle at the thought of me being a chowhound: her cooking technique and skills, albeit not seen as anything all that special at the time, were probably superior to my present abilities.

                                                                                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                Keep in mind that this says "40 years ago", which would be 1967, almost 1968. Talking about the 50s & 60s and then disparaging the 70s is a little disingenious given that we're talking about a time period that is much closer to the 70s than the 50s.

                                                                                                                                1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                  You're bang on, jgg13. I was just teaching myself to cook in the late 70s and so were many of my friends. We were putting together some fairly elegant meals from books like Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, not long after, authors such as Richard Olney and Michael Field. It was a far cry from molded jello salads.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: JoanN

                                                                                                                                    Sorry. Just read MakingSense's post below, with which I agree, and see that I put myself in a younger age group. (I know, I know. But it was an honest mistake.) That "late 70s" above should read "late 60s."

                                                                                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                      You and others don't "keep in mind" when you discuss "40 years ago" that food trends aren't what they are today, changing every six months to a year with the latest magazines, stars on the Food Network, or celebrity chefs. What our mothers and grandmothers cooked in the 50s and 60s isn't much different from what their own (sometimes immigrant) mothers and grandmothers cooked before them and they kept using those same recipes in the 70s and 80s with modern adaptations. Food trends changed very slowly, unlike today.
                                                                                                                                      My mother and grandmother, for example, used many of the same recipes through the years with little change until they died. They didn't jump from their native New Orleans Creole/French/German to Mexican to Thai to Chinese to Indian to Fusion to Vegetarian with the trends. I was happy to add Julia Child and others to my repertoire because they helped me examine my food roots and refine my techniques. I cook much the same as they did with some modern techniques. They thought I was a better cook which pleased me.

                                                                                                                                      No, I didn't grow up with molded jello salads or the other abominations being mentioned in this thread. Most of us didn't because they used processed foods that were still expensive for most families in that era, and they weren't nearly as common as today's sniffy food writers have led readers to believe. They were the creations of food marketers trying to sell more of their products so there are more records of them in the media.
                                                                                                                                      Daily family meals might have seemed ordinary by your standards but they were good. There were also fine meals in America which you can easily see from reading old cookbooks.

                                                                                                                                      I'm a contemporary of Sam's and lived in several different areas of the US during that period. I remember when an entire good grocery store would fit inside of the produce department of one of today's megastores. Meals were home-cooked but good or at least serviceable, although most were pretty plain. So what? Most daily meals today are likely pretty plain - they probably just use a lot more prepared and processed foods from what I can tell from grocery carts at the market.
                                                                                                                                      There was not that much change in those daily meals until the 70s and 80s. Like today, a lot of cooks weren't skilled and their families were likely grateful for some convenience products. I know my working mother was, just as today's working families are.

                                                                                                                                      What is "disingenuous" is to bash what was actually a very limited use of processed foods in that era when few families ate out, fast food was not common, obesity and adult-onset diabetes were rare and people relied on local, seasonal foods. It is only necessary to research the statistics on the growth of processed food, restaurant, grocery and similar sectors of the economy during various decades to verify when the changes occurred.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                        If "most of us" didn't, why is it that the people on this crusade are in the minority? I know that my experiences echo those of most people in this thread.

                                                                                                                                        As for the issue of timing, it wasn't so much trends but pricing. Something that might have been new & expensive in 1955 likely wasn't as much in 1968.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                                          How many "becauses" do you want? This thread is an extremely unscientific poll of the 45 people who even care in the least about food from 40 years ago among the small population of those who post on Chowhound among those who lurk on it, among those who happen to get as far as this particular topic, after checking out CHOW.com, a site that attracts a young, trendy demographic.

                                                                                                                                          It is possible to know or guess the ages of only a limited number of the posters on this topic based on what they say in this thread or by their other postings on CH.
                                                                                                                                          Approximately 1/3 are in the 50 -70 year old age group that would have been teenagers to young adults, aware of prices, cooking and meal planning, during the 70s. Assuming that CH's overall demographic skews younger than the overall US population, it is likely that people who remember the 70s are slightly less well represented in this thread than would be optimal to get a fair result. The number of postings providing "hearsay" knowledge of jello molds and abominable food items may be fun but not accurate. Sometimes memories of outstandingly bad experiences from childhood, repeated family legends, or popular tales in the media take on lives of their own.

                                                                                                                                          I do not know what your own singular experience was in your own home during which years of your childhood and adolescence in what area of the country, but it can hardly be extrapolated to the experience of the country as a whole, unless you had lived in several areas and/or studied food history. Most people in this thread did not say that the food was "horrible" but only mentioned a few items that they thought might be standout items in an effort to mock an era about which they seem to know very little. Frankly, I might have chosen one of these tongue-in-cheek specials done-well myself for a theme party, but the bashing tone of some of the postings probably drove some of the posters who remember the era to defend the quality of real American home cooking. Historically, they are correct.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                                                          "No, I didn't grow up with molded jello salads or the other abominations being mentioned in this thread."

                                                                                                                                          Abominations? Abominations? Gee, you must never have attended a church pot luck supper. All across American, in all churches and synogogs, there were groups of ladies who individually worked for hours on end to make layered Jell-O salds, some layers clear, some with cottage cheese, some with sour or whipped cream, just to impress the entire congregation with their creativity. Not to mention "out do" one another. Molded Jell-O salad was a competitive sport!

                                                                                                                                          Abominations? I think not! Not that I've liked them much, but they were an important part of the culture, no matter what one's egocentric view may be. :-)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                            I will always remember the meal we had at a wake for the father of a friend, in Kanajoharie, New York.

                                                                                                                                            All these cute blue-haired church ladies made molded salads -- this was in 1979 -- and I'll be darned if the salads weren't just visually appealing, but very, very delicious.

                                                                                                                                            There were a number of covered dishes there, as well, but the molded salads are what stay in my memory.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                                                              I have lots of relatives in Canajoharie, and with all the farm country up there they sure know how to cook from scratch. My uncle even kept several bee hives as a hobby.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                      Oh Sam, dear Sam, I don't think anyone has said or intended to imply that the 60s were all tuna casseroles and Velveeta! Not at all. For me personally, there were a fair number of tuna casseroles while my hustand was a student. Student=poor! It was a fairly nutritious meal and affordable. Don't recall ever using Velveeta.

                                                                                                                                      When you take the historical long look at the sixties, it was a time of the "status quo" settling in. During the forties, nearly all women worked and had respectable incomes because of World War II. Problem was there was nothing to spend it on because everything was rationed due to "the war effort."

                                                                                                                                      From 1945 on through the early fifties, veterans were returning from the war and needed jobs. So the government launched a campaign to turn working wives into stay-at-home moms once again. Food was no longer rationed. Companies that had been focused on producing food on government contracts for the military, with civilian consumption secondary, suddenly were without that huge income source, so they started getting creative in order to gain a maximum possible share of the consumer's dollar. It was the beginning of "agribusiness." Swanson's introduced TV dinners. Cake mixes came to be. Jell-O salads. Breakfast cereals. And magazines, newspapers, and TV were crammed with ads pushing ingredients and recipes for things like tuna casseroles and recipes that used Velveeta and other strange things.

                                                                                                                                      The fifties introduced Betty Furness and her appliance ads, especially for new refrigerators. There was no such animal as a "new refrigerator" during WWII! So the housewives that had been newly talked into being stay-at-home moms were now going back to work (at reduced wages) to pay for the refrigerators and TVs and blenders and all of the other goodies that TV and hard copy ads told them they were missing out on.

                                                                                                                                      Working wives don't have time to spend hours in the kitchen, so anything that was quick and half way nutritious (by the standards of the day) was heartily embraced. And during those years, there were a lot of guys going to school on the GI Bill from WWII and Korea, so there were a whole lot of trying-to-make-ends-meet housewives who WERE making tuna casseroles. Not because they didn't know how to make boeuf Bourguigonon or saurbratten. It was simple economics.

                                                                                                                                      You grew up VERY fortunate! '-)

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                        We were fortunate! In 1967 I was a junior in HS and could cook quite a few things, but less than most of my older cousins. One was a cook on a Coast Guard cutter, two others went on to have good Japanese restaurants, ...alll using techniques and approaches to food learned from our mothers. My first wife and I worked our way through university and grad school. For grad school we had a HUGE vegetable garden in Eugene, Oregon. We ate well, but then, like now, ate relatively little meat and didn't waste anything.

                                                                                                                                2. Do they still make "Shake & Bake"? I still remember the little girl tellin her daddy
                                                                                                                                  "It's not fried, it's shake n' bake, an I hepped !"

                                                                                                                                  1. I remember tuna noodle casserole, but only on Fridays during Lent. We loved going out for Fish Frys (I grew up in Buffalo, NY) - actually that's about the only eating out we did as kids in the late 60's, early 70's.

                                                                                                                                    From my childhood I remember -
                                                                                                                                    Grilled chicken (bone-in pieces) with homemade BBQ sauce (I still use my mom's recipe).
                                                                                                                                    Fondue dinner - big treat when we were kids
                                                                                                                                    Leg of Lamb for Sunday supper (I hated the smell, took me years to try lamb as an adult)
                                                                                                                                    Lamb Stew and homemade apple pie
                                                                                                                                    Pot roast with over roasted potatoes and carrots

                                                                                                                                    None of this is particularly trendy, I don't think -
                                                                                                                                    My mom's few convenience meals were Banquet brand frozen fried chicken, and the Banquet brand sliced roast beef in gravy,

                                                                                                                                    1. For us in Montréal, 1967 was "L'année de l'Expo" - the year of Expo '67, and all the different pavillions presenting cultures - and foods - from around the world: http://expo67.ncf.ca/

                                                                                                                                      My family didn't eat a lot of processed foods either -- it was expensive, and my mum thought it was horrid, and bad for the health.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                        Mother knows best, lagatta! ;-)

                                                                                                                                        It's still [unnecessarily] expensive, horrid and bad for the health.

                                                                                                                                        Considering just the mass sodium addiction it's precipitated in this country is enough to make me gasp for "Water!". ;-)

                                                                                                                                      2. I was 10 at the time-- guess my Chicago family was a tad bohemian-- omlets, some early crunchy granola items. I remember ready Verta Mae Grosvenor's Vibration Cooking around that time and learning how to make Gullah food and some wonderful Jello Cake (jello was baked into the batter). Also my mother was starting to make soul food healthier (less pork and grease).
                                                                                                                                        I remember the 60's being a tad psychodelic, flower children and Black Panthers-- also Black Muslim Bean pies were in my memory bank.

                                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                                        1. re: drmimi

                                                                                                                                          Mmmm...bean pies...the Pie Man used to come by my office every Thursday. If I was slow off the mark, all the sweet potato, pecan, and coconut would be sold out, and I'd have to settle for a bean pie. Not a hardship.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                            I was a teen bride in the late sixties and there was a "gourmet" recipe going around that consisted of chicken cutlets (a newish convenience then) baked in a sauce of Milani's 1890 French Dressing. For parties I made a potent drink on a stick. I drained a can of pineapple chunks, (the kind in real syrup) and soaked them in a cup of dark rum for a day in the refrigerator. Drained, save the liquid to drink later, and freeze the chunks laid out on a cookie sheet. If you have the space stick toothpicks in before freezing. Serve them right out of the freezer. Umm.

                                                                                                                                          2. Food of the sixties. Ha! Here's one nobody has mentioned! INSTANT au gratin potatoes!

                                                                                                                                            I was woirking. My husband was an air traffic controller, which meant he worked strange hours and a six day week while I worked a traditional seven day week. Meals together were precious. I stopped at the supermarket on my way home from work to shop for dinner. Okay. Pork chops. What to go with it? Betty Crocker INSTANT Potatoes au Gratin yelled, "Buy me! Buy me!" So I did. And failed to read the directions first.

                                                                                                                                            When I got home, the first line of the directions said, "Soak dehydrated potatoes in warm water for 40 to 60 minutes, or until softened." ARRRGGGHHH...!!!! THIS is "instant?"

                                                                                                                                            So much for convenience foods of the 60's. I think I made rice.

                                                                                                                                            1. Oooh! I hope you have a Chiffon Cake!

                                                                                                                                              1. Well, this has been a lively discussion, I too would go with the Boeuf Bourguignonne as the main course. Elegant yet fairly simple to make, and not really that expensive.

                                                                                                                                                1. No Spanish Rice? I made that for my Girl Scout cooking badge. Take some hamburger and brown it in the electric frying pan. Throw in some canned tomatoes and some rice. Let it all simmer awhile. There might have been some chopped green peppers but I'm probably throwing in my later life's experiences and advice.

                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kayandallie

                                                                                                                                                    kay, it was probably the green peppers that made it "spanish". ;-)

                                                                                                                                                  2. Go to library or friends house and look in their JOY OF COOKING -- I used to have every edition and sub-edition ever published until a girlfriend thought having the books made the cook. with many things it might be true, but you and i know that with art -- having every art book ever published won't help you at all. I look to get an idea then close the book and cook, 99% of the time it can be saved, 1% of the time we go out for Chinese.

                                                                                                                                                    But they DO have a fair grasp of the current -- first edition had huge chapter on how to skin and prepare wild game -- not just what everyone knows like deer or dove -- but how DO you cook a squirrel pie? how DO you get all that fat off a possum? -- even sections on how to grow 'victory gardens' and what to plant and when and why. Some are better than others, they no longer tell you how to skin a sheep or dry-pluck a chicken or WHY you would want to use the hot water in a bucket way.

                                                                                                                                                    so go back and peruse their period cook book(S). If you can, go back to when Sandwiches were first introduced -- and read how they said to make a grilled cheese sandwich -- any doc, GP to Cardiac would drop dead in their tracks after reading how you need butter AND bacon fat and how to make sure it gets soaked into the bread! --

                                                                                                                                                    So - with a month, you might find the right edition on e-bay -- or your public library or a friends grandmothers house -- or your parents house -- it really is one of the finest snap-shots of our culture ever produced AND you can bet that nearly every recipie works if you do 'chemistry cooking' which you will have to do -- remember fresh peas weren't always in season, and frozen spinach still had a way to perfection unless you craved frost bite, and ice cream that never melted -- thanks to the Gar, one of the more insidious animals of the Serengeti Plains at 80 degrees Crystal and Bordons and other 'Ice milks' would drip a bit, but the gar-gum and air bubbles sure were terrible eatten warm! --

                                                                                                                                                    so -- JOY OF COOKING in the right editon, an maybe the edition before since food culture changed slower then, and you might be a young couple using your mothers recipies from HER copy of JOY.

                                                                                                                                                    THE MORE YOU LEARN, THE MORE YOU WANT TO SCREAM!

                                                                                                                                                    1. Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see any mention of anything made with Pillsbury Crescent rolls. At least once a week we had crescent rolls wrapped around an all-beef hot dog and baked. My family loved them, I hated them. I still don't like Pillsbury canned anything and I hate beef hot dogs. To this day the thought makes my skin crawl - yuck

                                                                                                                                                      1. Off topic, this is such a great thread! :-)

                                                                                                                                                        1. wow, this thread is a couple of years old. i have a particularly vivid memory of a meal in 1969. i was in school and steak tartare had just crossed my radar as an exotic food. my girlfriend and i invited another couple for dinner, determined to impress our new friends with our sophistication. as i recall, our tartare was essentially hamburger mixed with chopped scallions.

                                                                                                                                                          before dinner, we all shared a very dry cocktail--so dry, in fact, that it was served in the bowl of a pipe. when we brought out the heaping plate of raw meat, our guests--somewhat the worse for wear--shrieked in panic and ran out the door--never to return. i turned up the stereo, mixed another very dry martini--and made a meatloaf.

                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: silverhawk

                                                                                                                                                            "uh, er...officer, it's JUST a very dry martini!" {:^D.

                                                                                                                                                            (meryl streep before her very recent charlie rose interview must've had that same martini -- or that's how it appeared to me. somehow, i doubt julia would've shared that. julia liked *beer*, which she made jacques drink on the jacques/julia "sandwich" episode. "i like BEER", she exclaimed.).

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: silverhawk

                                                                                                                                                              That's ever-so-funny!

                                                                                                                                                              In my younger years, I'd serve the kind of "dry" cocktail - in the bowl of a bong - before dinner. That's what would separate the foodies from the non-foodies. Non-foodies with munchies would often whine that they wanted cuisine a little less exotic.

                                                                                                                                                            2. jenndow: I missed this the first time around and had a geat laugh just now. But I also found myself getting a little defensive as I am old enough to have learned to cook in the late sixties and I learned to cook, from scratch, some very good dinner pary recipes-some of which show up here.

                                                                                                                                                              This is an actual dinner party menu that my Auntie Lil presented. I was an inveterate note-taker and have all these old notebooks from high school and on.

                                                                                                                                                              Lil was the cook in the family (still is at 83-just helped with my daughter's wedding cakes) and this was a party for about a dozen friends and family- quite formal, I think. My notes indicate it was November 1968...at 17 years of age, I was her sous chef. I have left in the notes about where things were to be served and how for the merriment of all...

                                                                                                                                                              1) Guests arrive 5-6pm

                                                                                                                                                              Bloody Mary's (n the lving room) Note: Virgin Mary's in pitcher-don't pre-ice: the ice will dilute the drinks (and we wouldn't want that, would we!!!)
                                                                                                                                                              Cheese Ball/Relish tray- melba toast and crackers (the cheese ball would have been grated cheddar/cream cheese/ beer and rolled in walnuts and pimento- a 'relish tray' is celery, carrots, pickles with cottage cheese-you see these glass dishes all the time at second-hand stores)

                                                                                                                                                              2) Invite guests to dining room: 6pm (note how early everything is!)

                                                                                                                                                              Coquille St. Jacques (this was scallops, poached then added to cream sauce with sherry and arranged on real shells with piped potato around the edges, parmesan from the Kraft green 'can' and broiled briefly)

                                                                                                                                                              Lettuce hearts with Thousand Island Dressing

                                                                                                                                                              Hot rolls

                                                                                                                                                              Cabbage rolls (beef with rice, quite spicey: the sauce was made with tomato and, believe it or not, grape jelly!)

                                                                                                                                                              Ham on the bone: this would have been draped with pineapple and maraschino cherries and basted with brown sugar and pineapple juice

                                                                                                                                                              Scalloped potatoes (but NOT from a package-Lil would sooner have DIED than serve potatoes from a box-that comes much in my memory of what folks took pride in)

                                                                                                                                                              Squash Medley (this was a big favourite with our family, boiled acorn squash with OJ and marmalade, baked and served in a casserole dish with parsley on top)

                                                                                                                                                              Dessert was 'grown-up' sundaes: ice cream with Creme de Menthe and an "Atomic Cherry' (my Uncle Fred soaked maraschino cherries in pure alcohol and popped one on top of each of these)

                                                                                                                                                              There was wine served and guests had a choice between 'Baby Duck' and something called "Lonesome Charlie" but men tended to drink beer or take their drinks to the table in this crowd)

                                                                                                                                                              3) Coffee and liqueres back in the lving room

                                                                                                                                                              My notes indicate that there were also chocoate eclairs on offer...I learned to make the pastry for these around about then so I guess this was my party trick

                                                                                                                                                              Then we poured all these nice folks back into their cars before 9-it seems to me that everything was much earlier and more lubricated with booze in those days!

                                                                                                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: LJS

                                                                                                                                                                oh yes, cheeseballs were very big!

                                                                                                                                                                btw, the relish tray lives! see this thread on "thanksgiving relish trays" http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/569828

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LJS

                                                                                                                                                                  To LJS above - (and hi to Ms. Alka) - this sounds like something my mother (London, Ont.) might have put together for fancy. Noted your "favourite" and Baby Duck - are you from SW Ontario by any chance?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                                                                    Buttertart (which delicious Canadian treat is also one taught to me by dear Auntie Lil): YES, you got it...Ancaster, Ontario was the site of that dinner party above. I grew up in St. John's NL, but my family mostly lived in TO, London and environs and we spent much time with friends and family, eating our fool heads off...and eating better than some on this thread, I can tell you!

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: LJS

                                                                                                                                                                      Buttertart is an hommage to my mom whose pastry and butter tarts were to die for - also because I am a butter "tart" in my cooking. Wow, Ancaster - right near some of he best tomato and peach-growing areas in the world...as is London, hard as it might be for people here in the States to imagine. I can well imagine your eating well, we certainly did! (Regionality in these postings always interests me, you can tell a lot by foods cited. Ran into a guy at university - UCB - who could tell with almost complete accuracy where someone was from by the foods they listed when describing their Thanksgiving menu.)

                                                                                                                                                                2. (canned) beans baked w/sausages
                                                                                                                                                                  Creamed chipped beef on mashed potatoes
                                                                                                                                                                  City Chicken
                                                                                                                                                                  Relish tray
                                                                                                                                                                  Cheese ball w/crackers
                                                                                                                                                                  Swedish meatballs
                                                                                                                                                                  Creamed peas on toast
                                                                                                                                                                  Creamed (canned) salmon on mashed potatoes
                                                                                                                                                                  Canned creamed corn (which I loved on mashed potatoes)
                                                                                                                                                                  Homemade Mashed potatoes
                                                                                                                                                                  Always Iceberg lettuce salad, w/tomatoes and miracle whip for salad dressing (YUCK)
                                                                                                                                                                  Never ever rice, Dad had been on a ship in SE Asia during WWII and no rice, no lamb (all lamb was mutton to him) and no Asian food of any kind, ever)
                                                                                                                                                                  Salmon patties
                                                                                                                                                                  TV dinners
                                                                                                                                                                  Spaghetti (Kraft Spaghetti Dinner)
                                                                                                                                                                  Tuna noodle casserole
                                                                                                                                                                  Fresh fried fish my uncle Ransom caught on Lake Erie
                                                                                                                                                                  Spare ribs and sauerkraut
                                                                                                                                                                  Canned chili (ugh)
                                                                                                                                                                  Homemade chili (ok) with mountains of crushed saltines in it
                                                                                                                                                                  Pork chops. (shake n bake)
                                                                                                                                                                  Swanson (frozen) Fried chicken
                                                                                                                                                                  Canned peas
                                                                                                                                                                  Canned asparagus
                                                                                                                                                                  Bisquick "Impossible" pies
                                                                                                                                                                  "Goulash" made w/macaroni, ground beef, tomatoes
                                                                                                                                                                  Roast Turkey dinner (for my sister's birthday in July, for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas)
                                                                                                                                                                  Jello ~~ LOVE jello
                                                                                                                                                                  Canned Beef-a-roni
                                                                                                                                                                  Campbells vegetable (Alphabet) soup, bean w/bacon soup, chicken noodle soup, tomato soup, split pea soup

                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: laliz

                                                                                                                                                                    I think Impossible pies were mid 70s when I was a newlywed learning to cook (we only learned to make brownies in jr high home ec). Shake 'n bake chicken was one of the first decent meals I made, possibly in DH's first apartment while we were still in college. I stlll have an old jello booklet with recipes requiring flavors no longer made. I think jello and a dab of whipped cream was a standard side at Howard Johnson's. This was also the era of Chun King Chow Mein - I seem to recall two cans that were mixed together. Rice, of course, was Minute Rice. Does the B&H cookbook (with the red plaid cover) still contain a recipe for porcupine meatballs or stuffing filled meatballs? I think my mother made 75% of our meals with ground chuck. We never had salmon or tuna wiggle because my father wouldn't eat fish.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dfrostnh

                                                                                                                                                                      i LOVE LOVE LOVE stuffing-filled meatballs -- my mom called them "burger bundles" and baked them with campbell's cream of mushroom soup as the topping/gravy. http://www.cookingcache.com/beef/burg...
                                                                                                                                                                      gosh, those are real comfort food for me. i also love the porcupines! http://www.chow.com/recipes/13527

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: dfrostnh

                                                                                                                                                                        dfrostnh! what memories you evoked for me!!! Impossible pies! my we made them in every imaginable flavor. I think I still have that "Joys of Jello" booklet in my library. Chun King with the two cans! oh that was so "exotic," and we could fix it for ourselves if Mom was late getting home from work.

                                                                                                                                                                        and omigosh! Shrimp Wiggle was one of the first dishes I ever cooked. I think I was in 5th grade, and it was in one of those kiddie cookbooks that were around back in the day.