Last week I cooked meals reminiscent of the 1950s. It was an interesting experiment so I thought I’d share a bit about what I learned from our vintage 1950s menu.
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What I learned from our 1950s Menu
I chose recipes and created meal plans largely inspired by my vintage Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I also went through recipes from my grandmother and asked my parents for input. I tried to choose recipes reflective of the times but not too “weird”. For instance, they had a strange fascination with congealed salads back then. Not happening here.
First up, just some overall impressions:
- David (and Chris, our adult son, who ate with us a few nights) loved the dinners. I suspect I may have spoiled them a bit. They’ll have to get over that – ha!
- 1950s food was rather bland. I had to add more seasoning in order to suit our palates.
- Most of the recipes made 6-8 servings. That wasn’t a bad thing, however. I sent leftovers with the guys for lunch most days, had some myself and on one night I had enough for my parents, too.
- It was necessary to plan ahead. None of the recipes were difficult but some needed advance preparation. I now see why so many vintage homemaking resources mention preparing some parts of the evening meal in the morning.
- Chicken pot pie, stuffed bell peppers and Swiss steak were really good and will likely show up on our menus in the future.
Meal By Meal:
- spaghetti and meatballs
- green beans
- tossed green salad
- toasted garlic bread
This was my first clue that that era’s food was lacking in herbs and spices. The spaghetti sauce only called for salt and pepper and one bay leaf for seasoning. I added garlic powder and Italian seasoning. I also upped the seasoning in the meatballs. With these additions it was actually quite good although it could have used a splash of red wine, too.
I usually count on spaghetti as one of our meatless meals but I have to admit that the meatballs brought it up a notch. Next time I find a good deal on grass fed ground beef I’m going to make a big batch of meatballs and freeze them in meal-size portions.
Originally I had planned to add buttered bread crumbs to the green beans per one of the recipes in my cookbook but I opted to skip that part. I cooked frozen organic green beans in salted water, drained them and added butter, more salt and black pepper.
Instead of making an oil and vinegar dressing as planned, I opted for a bottled parmesan Italian dressing I had in the pantry.
I had part of a baguette left over from the weekend so I toasted it and buttered it then sprinkled with garlic powder.
Overall, we enjoyed this meal and I will make this sauce again, along with the additional seasonings and a bit of wine.
- baked pork chops
- baked cauliflower topped with white sauce and cheese
- buttered corn
- baked apples
I ended up doing braised pork chops rather than baked. I floured the pork chops and seasoned them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a bit of Creole seasoning (old habits die hard!). I browned them in hot oil, added a bit of water, covered and baked at 350 degrees about an hour.
This cauliflower recipe was where I realized how helpful it is to make some things ahead of time. That morning I boiled the head of cauliflower until tender, drained, cooled and refrigerated it in the baking dish I would use later. I also made the white sauce, poured it in a jar and refrigerated it, too. All I had to do before dinner was pour the sauce over the cauliflower, grate some cheese on top and stick it in the oven the last 20 minutes while the pork chops were cooking.
The corn was frozen organic corn, cooked much like the green beans – boiled in salted water, drained, buttered and seasoned.
The baked apples were simple but delicious. I cored them and filled the centers with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and raisins. I put them in a baking dish with a little water in the bottom and baked. We were too full after our meal so we didn’t end up eating them that night (we aren’t used to eating dessert very often). There were leftover pork chops so I sent those for the guys’ lunches, plus their apples. I saved the cauliflower for another night.
I found a can of biscuits in the back of the fridge which I had bought some time ago (not sure why since I usually make them from scratch). They were just a bit past their expiration date so I went ahead and baked them even though they weren’t on my original menu. My sister-in-law had sent us some of her homemade cherry preserves which I served with the biscuits.
This meal was…okay. I prefer my smothered pork chops which I cook stove top in a rich gravy. The cauliflower with white sauce and cheese was good, though. And the baked apples are something I’ll definitely do again. I used to bake apples occasionally when we were first married but haven’t in years. No idea why.
- chicken pot pie
- pineapple salad
David loves chicken pot pie and if it’s on the menu at a restaurant he’s likely to order it. My experience with chicken pot pie as a kid were those little individual frozen pies which I never liked. Of course, I’m not a huge fan of pie crust, either. Still, this was 1950s week so I gave it a whirl. I chose to make a version with crust just on top rather than a two-crust version.
I never buy Crisco but I did have a container of organic trans-fat free shortening. That’s what I used to make the crust. For the filling, I simmered thin, boneless chicken breasts in seasoned water and used that broth, along with leftover white sauce and some cream. For vegetables I used diced carrots, frozen peas, leftover corn, celery and onion.
The pineapple “salad” consisted of lettuce leaves topped with a slice of canned pineapple, a mixture of cream cheese with maraschino cherry juice and chopped cherries, another pineapple slice and a cherry on top. One thing I found interesting about that era is what they considered a salad. This seemed like dessert to me. It was tasty but really not worth the effort.
I’ll have to say, despite my general opinion of chicken pot pie, this was really quite good. David and Chris loved it. It’s not something I’d necessarily make for myself but I’ll do it for the guys once in awhile. I’ll use butter in the crust, though.
- stuffed bell peppers
- lettuce and tomato salad with homemade Thousand Island dressing
- Grandma’s Cranberry Star Salad
I’ve already shared the stuffed bell pepper recipe. We were all very impressed and I’ll most definitely be making these again.
I make homemade Thousand Island dressing pretty often anyway but it seems kind of retro. It’s just mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet pickle relish and garlic powder. I also reheated the leftover cauliflower from Tuesday with some bread crumbs on top.
I realized mid-morning that I was lacking a couple of ingredients for the Cranberry Star Salad (I had failed to look at the back of the recipe card!) so I put that off until Friday. Instead, I made Friday’s dessert – pineapple upside down cake.
I had high hopes for that one but it was terrible. First of all, the recipe called for shortening and against my better judgement I used that organic shortening I had used for the crust on the chicken pot pie. I think it was past its prime, even though it was fine in the crust. Also, even though I decreased the baking time by 5 minutes it was still overdone. I had gotten busy writing upstairs and should have checked it even earlier. I took one bite and threw my piece away. David, however, thought it was fine and proceeded to eat the whole 8×8 inch cake himself over the next few days. That should tell which one of us is pickier about the quality of our food.
These stuffed peppers were one of our favorites this week and I’ve already shared the recipe with you here.
- Swiss Steak
- scalloped potatoes
- buttered carrots
- peach and cottage cheese salad
- pineapple upside down cake
I remember my mom making Swiss steak when I was growing up but I had never made it myself, for some reason. It was really easy and delicious. I’ll be sharing the recipe here on the blog Wednesday so be sure to watch for it.
I had planned to serve it with scalloped potatoes but since I had leftover rice from making the stuffed bell peppers I opted to use that instead. I also reverted to my usual recipe for carrots which includes butter, brown sugar and whiskey.
We still had some biscuits left so I added them to the meal, along with more of that delicious homemade cherry preserves.
I had made the Cranberry Star Salad earlier in the day so decided we didn’t need the peach and cottage cheese salad. Unfortunately, the gelatin salad didn’t set up. This was my grandmother’s recipe which my aunt had handwritten for me along with a bunch of other recipes when I got married. I’m still using the same recipe file box she gave me. I suspect the crushed pineapple should have been drained but the recipe didn’t mention that. It turned out to be very yummy fruit soup – ha! David and I have been mixing it with cottage cheese in little bowls for a late night snack.
The Swiss steak was really good and super easy. I’m going to be on the lookout for sales on round steak and stick a few in my freezer.
We had a change of plans. We were originally going to have dinner at our daughter and son-in-law’s house but had forgotten we’d been invited to a birthday party. We just grabbed burgers at Sonic on our way. Quite a disappointment after such delicious home-cooked meals.
That also meant I didn’t end up making that 1950s Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. I’ll have to try that some other time.
- pot roast
- mashed potatoes
- broccoli with Hollandaise sauce
- tossed green salad
- hot rolls
- leftover dessert
I don’t generally cook on Sundays and quite frankly, I had lost some of my enthusiasm by this point. David had to work several hours and I had a very long list myself. I still cooked but I simplified the meal.
I made the pot roast and must admit I had forgotten how much better a pot roast or one cooked in the oven is than done in the slow cooker. I ended up adding carrots to the roast even though it wasn’t on my original plan.
I did make homemade mashed potatoes but skipped the Hollandaise sauce on the broccoli. We also skipped the salad. It was rather late by the time David got home from work and we really didn’t need a heavy meal that late at night.
We both had some of that “fruit soup” with our evening cups of tea, too.
The Wrap Up
I actually enjoyed this week. It was fun trying some different things and I found myself thinking of my grandparents a lot.
We ate at the table every night which isn’t something we always do. In fact, I found myself setting the table early each day, a habit I’d like to keep. We always ate at the kitchen table when the kids were young but David and I sometimes eat in the family room and watch an old sitcom together. Lately, it’s been I Love Lucy episodes. We don’t have much time to watch television and this is something we enjoy together. However, I like eating at the table and I think I’ll work on getting us back in that habit.
While I don’t want to limit ourselves to my 1950s cookbooks for meals, there are some really good recipes – especially with some extra herbs and spices added. 😉
I might even do another 1950s week at some point. And I’ll give that pineapple upside down cake another whirl soon – but with butter instead of shortening!
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