is beef becoming tasteless?
go look at old pot roast or brisket recipes, say from the 50's and 60's.
now look at newer ones.
the older ones probably have: beef, salt + pepper, onions and some water.
the new ones: beef + 30 other things.
Why is this? People developing little kiddie tastes (everything must be sweet)? The proliferation of the crockpot creating washed out tasting meat that needs the extra things to cover for ruining the beef? Or cheapskate ranchers feeding cows junk and selling tasteless meat?
50 years ago, my mother made her fabulous pot roast with red wine, stewed tomatoes, onions, etc. I've never had a pot roast in my life as depressing as what you describe. :-)
I make mine with red wine, stock, tomatoes and fresh herbs and veggies. Savory, not sweet. I use only grass fed and finished meat at home, so no lack of flavor.
I can't speak for the world but when I think of what was available to me, spice and seasoning wise, combined with an environment lacking any kind of real ethnic diversity my tastes have dramatically changed. While there are many simple pleasures I still love (a plain grilled burger, a really good steak) my tastes for chili, stews, pot roasts run more "exotic" for lack of a better word.
My mom was a creative cook and used lots of what was considered "weird" to much of our area. She made lots of Indian food, experimented with Carribean influenced meals, played around with a number Asian cuisines. My dad was a chef and he loved Asian foods, especially szchuan. My friends used to freak seeing a duck or two hanging when my dad just had to have Peking duck.
But all these spices, foods etc were bought from markets 3-4 hours away and were expensive so those meals were special occassion. Our basic everyday meals were meat and potato types. That's what my friends ate too.
My town had no fast food, no Chinese or even Mexican restaurants. The places we did have were mostly seafood, basic American or red sauce Italian. There was no "ethnic" aisles in the 2 grocery stores we had.
As I grew up and moved away I became exposed to more and more flavors. And while I loved my moms NE boiled dinners I absolutely add more than she did. Hers was water, corn beef, carrots and potatoes, cabbage and maybe some peppercorn. Mine has dark beer, corn beef, potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, quarter onions and I either make my own spice bunch or buy a corn beef that has one. I serve with 2-3 different highly flavored mustards.
I have to think if you are looking at cookbooks from 50-60 years ago you have to take into consideration what was available to your "average" home cook and the taste levels of that "average family". It's one of the reason that cookbooks like the JOC continued to change/update through out the years.
***all written from an American perspective, assuming you were talking about American cook books.
It is probably a combination of things, beginning first and foremost on the farm. I'm no expert by ANY stretch, but if beef is like, say, flowers like sweetpeas and apples, many growers gravitate to hybrids, not the old-fashioned varieties. I suspect the same might be true with beef: they use breeds that produce the maximum amount of beef quickly and cheaply. Steriods, antibiotics, feed, and "happiness" of the cattle come into play as well - not to mention aging (dry vs. wet vs. little aging at all). Most supermarkets don't hang their meat for very long at all.
We are extremely fortunate to live in an area that raises old English breeds, free to roam and eat meadow grass, fresh hay and lots of treats from the villagers (apples, carrots, and the such). They aren't taken miles away before slaughter (no stress) and hung for a minimum of 6-8 weeks.
I also suspect the fresh produce used to prepare dishes our mums and dads used things that were in seaon and local. Try a home-grown late summer tomato vs store-bought in the middle of winter and you'll see what I mean; it makes a huge difference.
Finally, recipes with a zillion ingredients might be to suit the modern notion that more is better; the cook is putting more effort into the dish to make it more "special", etc. It helps sell cookbooks.
Journey, you are also fortunate to live where supermarkets even GET carcasses to hang, or even sides. Only a few, more high-end markets in most parts of the US do any real butchering at all, but receive all their meat as either cryovac'd primal cuts or in some cases prepackaged ready-to-cook steaks, chops or other cuts. Some of these may be tasty enough to satisfy the home cook who gets some meat when his vegetarian wife is elsewhere (ahem!), but finding properly aged meat of good quality takes extra legwork and money.