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Has Christmas Dinner Menu changed since the early 1960's?

  • m

We are doing "retro" decorations this Christmas..from the late 50's and early 60's. I wanted to do a "retro" Christmas dinner as well. I was born in 1953. I've had two people tell me the traditional menu is the same today as it was then. Really??

Maybe I can just use dishes from the 60's...Fire King Swirl Pattern.

Thoughts on a "retro" menu??

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  1. The traditional Cristmas dinner in my house is pretty simple and I can well imagine that it is very similar to what was served in the 1960's. We do a large prime rib roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, large green salad, dinner rolls, and a vegetable of some sort, normally steamed brocoli. This meal is well received by everybody frmo great grandparents on down to the young children. For dessert we keep it mostly traditional with pecan pie, pumpkin pie and assorted cookies but my wife does like to do something different every year and will make a cheesecake of some kind. She's done caramel cheesecake, grasshopper cheesecake, peanut butter & jelly cheesecake etc...

    1. I suspect the changes would be in the sublteties. You might want to do a little (fun) retro research--Leav it to Beav clips or, better for the menu, cookbooks. I know my mom (a few thousand miles away) has her Better Homes and Garden cookbook she bought as a mid-50s newlywed, and I bet old Joy of Cooking cookbooks would be helpful too.
      Try asking family and friends who are coming to the party to check their bookshelves, then the library and don't forget the web--plenty of used books there. I just checked google scholar and books; although they have plenty of stuff about 1950s cookbooks, they don't post the books themselves. Good luck!

      4 Replies
      1. re: saacnmama

        The biggest change in our holiday dinner is that prime rib now costs $100!!! Tuna casserole anyone?

        1. re: oakjoan

          Yikes, $100? How many ribs? I am going to be ordering a 3-rib roast for Christmas and hope I'm paying less than that...

          1. re: bnemes3343

            I was exaggerating for effect here, but I just looked up prices on rib roasts and COSTCO has a 4 lb. roast for $80. The fancier places are much, much more expensive, but that's mostly for prime beef.

            1. re: oakjoan

              Yikes... I'm ordering from a butcher in Hoboken. I better check thd price before I promise the wife and kids prime rib

      2. Well, cranberry sauce in a can (the jelly wiggly kind) would definitely be retro (if not disgusting). I've had only a few more Christmas dinners than you and, frankly, not much has changed. Green bean casserole, for example, has been around for 53 years! Turkey, stuffing (in the bird), mashed taters, sweet potatoes, peas, rolls, gravy and pumkin pie.

        7 Replies
        1. re: bnemes3343

          Thinking about the 1950's and the holiday reminds me of my mom's jello molds. Each year she would come up with a new twist -color coordinated, of course until the year she settled on her favorite cranberry mold. Oh good times-thanks for the walk down memory lane.

          1. re: foodseek

            Wow, forgot all about the jello mold. That didn't disappear from our family table until just a few years ago. That would definitely be a retro dish. Maybe sweet potatoes with a bunch of melted marshmallows too.

            1. re: bnemes3343

              I ordered, from ebay, the same copper-like jello molds my mom had hanging in the kitchen. She'd often make a jello mold from the fish one..or the rooster. I also ordered the same Fire King dishes and platters she used to use...and early 60's salt and pepper shakers. I recall the sweet potatoes with marshmellows..and we had turkey mostly...except for the year we were uber poor and mom molded a meatloaf into the shape of a turkey. I can't wait to wear the late 50's apron I got. It has reindeer on it with ornaments hanging from the antlers...with two strategically placed on the bib of the apron! I don't want to do a turkey again. Is a capon the same thing as a chicken?? I've never known.

              1. re: melly

                Well, I hope you have a great Christmas. And a capon is a castrated male chicken. Hope you don't have to do a meatloaf turkey this year.

                1. re: melly

                  A capon is male chicken that was neutered while young, so he grows into an oversized chicken. You can find them in the 5-10 pound range, but I have seen Perdue roasters that top 8 pounds so it depends on how particular you are - capons cost more. I've had many Perdue roasters that were delicious, but a couple of years ago made one that was REALLY devoid of flavor, even when brined. If I were getting another Perdue, I'd do the Frugal Gourmet's recommendation of roasting and unbrined chicken, rubbing it first with a mix of equal parts honey, toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce, and frequently basting with it. This imparts a lot of flavor and creates a very brown skin.

                  1. re: melly

                    Used book stores and thrift shops, even iibraries, may have cookbooks from the era - Good House Keeping, Better Homes, early Joy editions. My mom also brought out a collection of Ideals Christmas themed books/magazines.

            2. Is there such a thing as a traditional Christmas dinner, now or in the 50s? I don't think there is anything as widespread or uniform as the Thanksgiving one. Christmas could be a repeat of Thanksgiving, or it could substitute a roast, ham, or goose for the turkey. For some, Christmas eve is more distinctive, especially cultures that inherited Catholic fasting practices (Eve is still part of the Advent fast, hence the prevalence of fish dishes).

              2 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                In my decades of having Christmas dinner, it has always been a carbon copy of Thanksgiving. With the exception of the year I cooked a goose with plum stufing. The wife and kids were NOT happy...Never again, although this year I am doing a prime rib on actual Christmas day and then the turkey think a few days later.

                1. re: bnemes3343

                  That's how I grew up as well, but for the past 7 years or so I cook Christmas (Eve) dinner, and come up with a new theme/menu each time.

              2. I was around in the 50s and 60s and the menu we enjoy today is very similar. Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, usually some creamed onions and peas, green beans, and (then, not now) ambrosia salad of canned fruit cocktail, mixed with sour cream and coconut. When my gran was alive, she made steamed pudding with hard sauce. I loved it and would like to try to make it myself. There was always a dark fruitcake served with sharp cheddar cheese and of course pies, including mincemeat and probably apple. Oh, and one other thing I had forgotten: Instead of creamed onions, sometimes there was a dish called "shrimp wiggle", which was baby shrimp, peas and ?? in a cream sauce. Maybe that is in one of the old books.

                1. For an appetizer try Rumaki..

                  And don't forget to serve thousand island dressing in some manner, maybe with a wedge of "iceberg" lettuce, which was very common.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I'll get on topic below.

                    We never had a Christmas dinner. My mother will tsk every time I remind her that we were allowed to open only one present before breakfast, and then we had to have a hearty breakfast at the dining room table. That was the last decent thing you had all day to eat, she'll sigh. We had the most kids in the family, so grands and aunts would come for the day. All the godparents would stop in and bring gifts for their godkids. Singles and childless couples would arrive like lemmings because our house was jumping and we had toys to play with! There were a lot of super 8 movie cameras rolling and lots of mugging and waving and mute "Merry Christmases."

                    So our Christmas food was lots of cookies, eggnog, high balls, salted nuts, a few dips, and probably some sliced ham. And an assortment of chocolates -- chocolate-covered sponge candy from, Pulako's, the local candy store, and a Whitman's sampler with the diagram on the lid.

                    To stay on topic, one dip we had was a softened block of cream cheese mixed with a semi-drained jar of prepared horseradish. Served with small, thin pretzel sticks. Sort of like a creamy horseradish sauce for roast beef.

                    Wear your bib apron with joy!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: nemo

                      I want your Christmas nemo!! When it's all said and done, I'll post pics at my blog for anyone who cares. http://www.cookingschmooking.blogspot...

                    2. I can guarantee you that Christmas dinner (which will be at my grandmother's this year) is going to include tomato aspic with chopped up celery and mayonnaise dressing.
                      If that's not retro, I don't know what is. Thanksgiving was a jellied waldorf salad, with apple, celery, walnuts and apple jello and the requisite mayonnaise dressing.

                      Some day I will have a house large enough to allow me to host Christmas, and everyone will be forced to eat roast beef and mince pies.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Amuse Bouches

                        Tomato aspic...I could make that in the fish mold I just got!! I'll have to find the recipe for it.

                      2. http://www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecad...

                        This is a link to a neat site which will give you all sorts of nostalgia foods and menus broken down by decade.

                        1. christmas eve is seafood-intensive (clams, oysters, mussels, crab, lobsters). christmas day is pretty standard (prime rib, twice baked potatoes, squash, etc.). we've been doing this for years so i guess it's kind of retro. dinner wines are always top drawer. a special port is my treat after everyone leaves and/or goes to sleep. i do the dishes and raise a quiet toast to whatever made me smile. i know that's a conceit but it's a pretty cool one. and a retro tradition.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: steve h.

                            My sis "converted to Italianism" when she married a guy from South Philly. They've been married for over 30 years now. They do the seven fishes thing too. I thought about doing something like that! Didn't you have ravioli as a second course? :)

                            1. re: melly

                              hi melly,

                              dad was irish, mom was norwegian. deb's family are all all brits. deb gave birth to our son in korea (121 evac hospital) way back when. we kind of backed into the seafood menu on christmas eve because it just made so much sense to us (meal after the turkey and meal before the standing rib roast).

                              having said that, we rent a small apartment in rome every march. we love it there.

                          2. [1963]
                            "Holiday Feasting: Baked Liver Pate and/or Shrimp Relish, Roast Turkey, Mushroom-Rice Stuffing with lots of Gravy, Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes, Onions Parmesan, Green Beans with Herb Sauce, Relish Bouquet: Cranberry Sauce, Olives, Celery Fans, Cranberry-Crunch, with Soft Vanilla Ice Cream or Gouda Cheese or Heavenly Honey-Walnut Pumpkin Pie or Lemon Sherbet with Minted Pineapple, Coffee, of course."
                            ---Good Housekeeping Cookbook, Dorothy B. Marsh editor [Good Housekeeping:New York] 1963 (p. 69)

                            "Christmas: Savory Roast Beef, Fluffy Mashed Potatoes, Braised Celery with Mushrooms, Tomato Aspic served on Green-Pepper Rings, Rolls, Mincemeat Glace, Coffee."
                            -McCall's Cook Book, [Random House:New York] 1963 (p. 716)

                            "A Dinner for Christmas Day: Caviar Roulade, Standing Rib Roast, Potatoes-in-the-Shell Souffle, Cauliflower with Mustard sauce, Buttered Green Beans, Frozen Fruitcake."
                            ---The New York Times Menu Cook Book, Craig Claiborne [Harper & Row:New York] 1966 (p. 51)

                            from www.foodtimeline.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Meann

                              Wow!! Thanks so much. I recall the celery with the cream cheese with pimentos down the center..and the relish bouquet. Potatoes in the shell...must be double-stuffed? I haven't seen those items on a table since the 1960's. Certainly not the tomato aspic either.