Monday, September 1, 2014

1950s Experiment

While we were waiting in numerous lines at California's Great America amusement park on Saturday, my friend mentioned that he should send me a link to a "1950s Housewife Experiment".  Since he has a limited capacity for remembering tiny details, especially after 96 ounces of beer and an exciting iPhone versus Gravity adventure (iPhone 1, Gravity 0.2), I decided to look it up myself.

"1950s Housewife Experiment" made for a quick and easy search on Google, and I read about both of Jen's adventures in semi-immersive 1950s housewife living.  You can chose to read it all yourself here.

What vexed me just a little bit were her descriptions of 1950s cooking.  Not the molded salad abominations--we all know those are scary--but what she perceived as the unhealthiness of it all.  Describing a simple white sauce as heart attack-inducing, coming up with an uncited recipe which uses 1/2 cup each brown sugar and butter to sauce cooked carrots for two people, serving bacon practically every single morning, claiming that dessert is served after every dinner and canned vegetables are used in every recipe.

Attached as I am to my own copy of "Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book"--a facsimile edition of the 1950 original--I could not tolerate having the good name of c. 1950 meals besmirched in this fashion.  If you take a look at the nutrition guidelines presented in the Meal Planning chapter, there's some very reasonable suggestions:

"Be sure that these Basic Seven Foods appear on your table daily to fill in the circle of Good Nutrition:

Group 1: Green and Yellow Vegetables...some raw--some cooked, frozen, or canned; one serving a day
Group 2: Oranges, Tomatoes, Grapefruit...or raw cabbage or salad greens; one serving a day
Group 3: Potatoes and Other Vegetable and Fruits...raw, dried, cooked, frozen, or canned; two or more servings a day
Group 4: Milk and Milk Products...fluid, evaporated, dried milk, or cheese; 1 pt. a day
Group 5: Meat, Poultry, Fish or Eggs...or dried beans, peas, nuts, peanut butter; 1 serving each day
Group 6: Bread, Flour, and Cereals...natural whole-grain or enriched or restored; three or more servings a day
Group 7: Butter and Fortified Margarine...(with added Vitamin A)"

So, let me get this straight: Betty is advocating 4 or more servings a day of fruit and veg, protein sources, whole-grain cereals, and consumption of Vitamin A.  This is unhealthy how?  Since it was published in 1950, it's based on cooking habits coming out of the 1940s, where there was much less dependance on pre-made ingredients, like canned mushrooms and cake mix, and a lot more basic recipes using easily-available, real-food ingredients.

Oh, there's also some basic meal planning for "adequate meals" and "abundant meals".  (I'll put the "abundant meals" add-ons in brackets.)

Breakfast: Fruit, Cereal and Milk, Bread and Butter, [Egg or Meat]
Lunch: Main Dish, Vegetables, Bread and Butter, Fruit, [Cake or Cookies or Pudding]
Dinner: [Appetizer or Soup], Meat and Potatoes, Green or Yellow Vegetables, Salad, Bread and Butter, Fruit, [Pie or Cake]

So, "abundant meals" means a couple hundred more calories in the shape of carbohydrates.

In addition, if you look at Betty's serving sizes, they are very modest compared to what we're accustomed to eating today.  Recipes involving 1 lb of ground meat (filled out with eggs and milk) stretch to serve 6.  Ham and egg pie uses 1/2 lb ham and six eggs, and once again serves 6.  She offers three ways of making a basic white sauce: thin, medium, and thick.  The thin sauce uses 1 T butter, and can be used to make creamed vegetables to serve 4.  That's less than 1 teaspoon of butter per person.  Cookie recipes make 4-6 dozen cookies--and you might get two cookies from the cookie jar if Mom is feeling generous; otherwise that's one 2 1/2 inch oatmeal cookie that you're eating per day.

In fact, I feel so good about these recipes that I'm going to start cooking more of them.  I've started already.  Last night I made creamed vegetables using a medium white sauce and steamed potatoes and green beans.  Tonight I whipped up "New Netherlands Cole Slaw" to pack in my lunch tomorrow.  I've got my eye on the "Green Rice" supper dish, replacing the spinach with some baby kale I received in my CSA box last week.

How about you?  Do you have any favorite recipes from early cookbooks?

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