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Gross Food From the 1950s

You are invited to a dinner party in which you must bring a dish from a 1950s cook book. Chances are, you'll have to choose from dishes with Jell-O, mayonnaise, inexplicably-placed cheese, ground beef, and tuna.
What do you bring? Do you try to cook something you would enjoy eating or do you go for the gross-out factor?

I got this idea here:

Admittedly, I am a Gen Xer with no experience or knowledge of mid-century cuisine.

When you think of food from this time period, what comes to mind?


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  1. Cream of celery soup with eggs, anyone?

    Like the Julie & Julia food blogger, perhaps I try one of these every day:

      1. re: kagemusha49

        Ah yes, Spam. Seeing a lot of that in some of these recipes.
        How about some garlic aioli with those fritters?

      2. Franco American canned macaroni with cheese sauce. Pour four cans into a large casserole and top with crushed plain potato chips....bake until it bubbles.

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          1. With the McCarthy era,we're making babies. Chicken a la king it is.

            1 Reply
            1. Tuna casserole with crumbled potato chips on top.

              Hamm beer. "From the land of sky blue waters."

              Chop suey and Minute Rice.

              2 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                How sad that the only Hamm I can think of is Jon.

              2. Do you want a typical dish that would have been served in the 1950s or a dish that is deliberately "gross"?

                Contrary to some stereotypes most food in the 1950s were perfectly fine and rather nice too. It was the age of the meat + potato+veg. Cakes, cookies and pies were very popular. Plenty of people were experimenting with French cooking, partially inspired by Julia Child but also because French cooking was held to be the "best" cuisine and quite a few simplified recipes of classic French recipe were floating around in ladies' magazines.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Roland Parker

                  Roland Parker, your explanation of the influence of French cuisine answers my question about why beef and cream were popular together.

                  1. re: globocity

                    Chipped beef in a cream sauce served on toast was popular for quite some time, even before the 1950s. It was a common dish served in the US army during WWII and probably carried over from that, although it goes back well before the fifties.

                    Dishes like Chicken a la King were popular means for using up leftover roast chicken and were served on rice or toast. Sherried cream sauces were also popular. What you would find with fifties cooking is that in addition to the main meals people were practical in using up leftovers for subsequent meals, hence the stews, soups and dishes like chipped beef or chicken a la king. Some of the extremities in fifties cooking (and which contributed to the perpetuating stereotypes of bad cooking) actually stemmed from an attempt at being frugal by combining what would be commonly found leftovers into a casserole dish.

                2. Devilled eggs - and still popular!!!

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                  1. re: Linda VH

                    Yes! Any time that I make these for a family gathering they go quickly. Seems to be one of those foods that people really like, but don't often make for themselves.

                    Think that I might hard boil a few eggs and make some for the husband today. He loves them.

                  2. A very difficult decade. For the first half, there was still food rationing and, even where rationing had been lifted on some ingredients, they remained in short supply. For instance, it would take decades for farmhouse cheese production to recover from the wartime constraints.

                    Marguerite Patten recalls cooking a "new dish" of Quiche Lorraine on one of her TV shows at the end of the 50s and I recknon that it would make a good dinner party contribution. It was a period in our food history where we briefly re-engaged with the fascination, of the pre-war years, that only French, or French style, dishes were suitable for the dinner party and so on.

                    My mother's Good Housekeeping Institute "Cooking Compendium", dated 1954, has a recipe for lemon meringue pie. That would have been modern - lemons had been difficult to obtain during the war and would have only recently become plentiful again. That said, to the best of my recollection, she always used a packet mix, rather than a recipe.

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                    1. re: Harters

                      Your perspective is spot on, as most here are considering the states in this discussion. Being born over here in 1954, I don't recall too much , except for the potted chicken at my grandparents egg farm in the late 50's; and yes yours resulting from the disruption of food supplies as a result of the war, but if I recall Julia child really did not get rolling here at least until the early 1960's (about 62 or 63), so that French influence here started about then.

                      I asked my mom, and her response was something like get it on the table as fast as you can, because we were making babies! thus my recollection of canned everything!

                    2. I can't imagine ever cooking anything with the intention to gross people out. I would always cook something that I and fellow eaters would enjoy.

                      As your fellow Gen Xer (you must have been born in the late sixties or 70's?), your childhood probably included some 50's dishes, if not at your home, then at friends. Parents would be cooking stuff for their kids from their own youths.

                      Fruit cups as appetizers, and fruit-inclusive desserts (pineapple upside down cake) were staples that my friends' parents served. Roquefort and French dressings were more common then. Sherbet was more present as a dessert then, too, more so than now.

                      Did you ever watch "A Christmas Story"? Meatloaf, turkey, mashed potatoes--basic fare for most folks. As a little kid in the late seventies, I remember set meals for the nights of the week that were vestiges of my parents' own youths: hot dogs and beans on Saturday, for example.

                      For parties, adventurous cooks would do a cheese souffle, croquettes, shrimp puffs, etc.

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                      1. re: pinehurst

                        "I can't imagine cooking anything...to gross people out."

                        People do silly things like that and buying second-hand ugly Xmas sweaters and wearing them to parties as a theme.

                        Yes, born smack dab in the middle of 1970s. And I agree many if our comfort foods were derived from mid c. Cuisine. Beef Stroganoff, Hamburger Helper, green beans with cream of chicken and onion crisps..

                        1. re: globocity

                          As a matter of fact, I remember when Hamburger Helper hit the market. I was in high school, and recall our home economics teacher bringing in a box, and we prepared it in class. She said she wanted to try it out before serving it at home...(I guess we were her captive test market) This had to be in 1970 or 1971, so it was not a food of the 50's.
                          (But, just think if a teacher did that today , on a whim...they would be hung by their fingernails..".did you have the parents sign a wavier allowing their children to eat red meat? ...did you consider any individual dietary restrictions?...etc, etc......just a thought of mine...LOL)

                      2. For poor people, like us, it was pinto beans, stove top cornbread, and fried bologna, with a box pudding for dessert.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: singlemalt

                          Fried bologna was a favorite companion to eggs in the morning, too.

                          1. re: singlemalt

                            Fried bologna is delicious stuff. Plain pinto beans with salt, pepper and hot sauce are heavenly, throw in a slab of corn bread and you get my vote! Now you are talking:)

                            1. re: singlemalt

                              Another fried bologna veteran here - haven't had it in decades. I wonder if I'd still like it?

                            2. My father cooked navy beans with a ham bone and served it ladled over white bread. We put ketchup on it and loved it. That is '50s food.

                              1. Dinner party? Are you tasked with a certain type of dish? Appetizer versus main versus side? Any specific theme besides "50s"?

                                Appetizers - Rumaki, Deviled Eggs, Shrimp Toast, Candied Nuts, Aspic.
                                Soups - A lot of cream soups were popular. Cream of Cauliflower or Celery are ones that come to mind. You have the world of veggies pretty wide open here.
                                Side Dishes - Iceberg lettuce wedges with Thousand Island Dressing. Crab Louis salad. Different kind of potatoes (Lyonnaise, scalloped, etc). Any veggie but green beans and broccoli were popular; creamed spinach, creamed onions.
                                Main - Any pork dish (pork roast), casserole (tuna, ham), braised beef (pot roast, brisket, short ribs).

                                I have several cookbooks from the mid-50s that have party planning ideas. While dated, some of the ideas are wonderful and given an opportunity, would be fun to try!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Dee S

                                  Casseroles were popular for us growing up in the 70s and 80s but then withered away. My mom made the best ever:
                                  Chicken enchilada casserole. It wouldn't get approved by any current diet but we gobbled that up. Mom showed her love through cooking.

                                2. We ate very well in the 50's. This is the grossest thing I remember.

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                                  1. re: grampart

                                    We ate very well too and the food was consistently high quality. Not a lot of convenience foods available but I do remember*creamed beef* made with that spicy beef in a small jar and milk gravy. Served with mashed potatoes.

                                    1. re: MamasCooking

                                      Seems beef and cream were common co ingredients during that time. Perhaps post WW II, the appearance of cream was a luxury? No idea, just speculating.

                                      Dear god that creamed beef sounds vile.

                                      1. re: globocity

                                        I can not believe you have never heard of *SOS*? It is like a very old traditional *army* food, Google it. It is hysterical.

                                  2. I was a child in the 1950s. Although I have a much more sophisticated palate now, I don't remember any food of that era as "gross." We were glad to have food on the table. I didn't like mac' 'n' cheese, but I ate it with plenty of ketchup on it. Today, I think of ketchup as gross, so anything with ketchup would qualify as gross by my current standards.

                                    Jell-O with canned fruit was common. I don't make it now, but I wouldn't call it gross. Whatever you make, I don't see any point in dissing the food of your grandparents, who worked very hard to make a better world for their children and grandchildren.

                                    A good source of what you are seeking is a cookbook of contributions from a church congregation.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      I was born in the mid 50's and here are some of the gross foods I remember from the early 60's. Gross fried chicken, fish and veal cutlets. Disgusting pies, cakes, and biscuits made from scratch, ditto cookies. Spaghetti and meatballs, burgers over charcoal, equally horrible, plus fresh vegetables from the garden. I think the gross foods came later with all the processed and fast foods that are the rage for many in America.

                                        1. re: robt5265

                                          oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Describes my 50's-60's childhood exactly. So much for 'gross' food. Thank you, James C. !!

                                    2. Chateaubriand and Lobster Thermidor come to mind, if you're high-end.

                                      1. First: as a collector of, and cooker-from, old cookbooks, I have to say that 50s food was not so bad in general and often more, well, I like anchovies a lot, and offal, and there's lots of it in those books.

                                        However, here's a fun blog with pictures: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutc...

                                        And you must look at the classic gallery of regrettable food: http://www.lileks.com/institute/gallery/

                                        1. Tamale pie. My '50s cookbook has seven recipes for this. It was a good dish to bring to a potluck.