To modern palates, mid-century cookbooks can look like something thrown together by a long-lost relative. Recipe books from the 1950’s contain strange mixtures of sweet, sour, and savory ingredients that seem to have no business together today (mayonnaise and tomato soup?), and make copious use of inventive foodstuffs that were new and shiny at the time, like Velveeta cheese and gelatin.
But the truth is that these recipes hold a strong nostalgic value for those who grew up in the post-World War II era, when wartime industry turned to making imaginative new food products for post-war consumers. Or – in the case of foods like canned meat and canned soups – making wartime rations more palatable to American families.
These recipes eventually made their way into the repertoire of dishes at family Thanksgiving feasts, and were passed down from generation to generation, which is why they’re still showing up on tables today despite a change in modern palates.
When asked about her favorite Thanksgiving dish, Bethany Village Resident Sue Vision shared her family’s recipe for Hashbrown Potato Casserole, which uses two mid-century classics: frozen food (hashbrowns) and canned soup (cream of potato). “This is requested for every family gathering,” she said. In fact, the 1950’s was the heyday of casserole dishes, which were often topped with potato chips, fried onions, cheese, and breadcrumbs.
Other taste pairings that we don’t consider today are ketchup and seafood. Ruth Hall’s family recipe for Clam Dip combines ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire, cream cheese, and clams. Variations of this dip use cocktail sauce instead of ketchup and crab or shrimp instead of clams. But the basics are the same: seafood and red sauce. If this dip is a little too tame for your adventurous palate, try the Shrimp Cocktail Loaf, a combination of tomato soup, cream cheese, lemon Jell-o, and mayonnaise.
Cranberries are a mainstay of the Thanksgiving holiday, and frozen cranberry salad – a mix of raw cranberries, apples, sugar, heavy cream, and pineapple – can be poured into a Jell-o mold to give it that 1950’s cookbook look.
For dessert, one can’t go wrong with the pillowy angel food cake. If you have some Jell-o instant pudding, pineapple, and a pre-prepared angel food cake, you’re in business. All you have to do is assemble it.
The 1950’s were a different time in food culture, but that could be said of every era. Imagine the think pieces that today’s middle-aged consumers’ grandchildren will write forty years from now about the proliferation of quinoa and kale recipes in the second decade of the 21st century.
Recipes Featured in this Article
Hashbrown Potato Casserole
2 lb bag frozen hashbrown potatoes, thawed
8 ounces of sour cream
8 ounces of grated cheddar cheese
2 cans of creamy potato soup
Combine all ingredients in bowl and spread into 13x9x2 greased pan. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top and bake at 300 for 1.5 hours.
1 can chopped clams
1 cup ketchup
2-3 tablespoons horseradish
1-1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 package of Philadelphia cream cheese
Mix all ingredients but the cream cheese in a bowl. Then pour over the brick of cream cheese and serve with crackers.
Shrimp Cocktail Loaf
1 can tomato soup
1 package Philadelphia cream cheese
1 package lemon Jell-o softened in 1.5 cups of hot water
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup celery
1 lb cooked, cleaned shrimp
Bring tomato soup to a boil. Add cream cheese, Jell-o, and mayonnaise. Beat until well mixed. Cool. Add onion, celery and shrimp. Pour into a ring mold and chill overnight. Serve with crackers.
Frozen Cranberry Salad
2 cups raw cranberries
2 medium apples (cored and sliced)
3/4 cups sugar
1 can crushed pineapple (drained)
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Grind cranberries and sliced apples together. Add sugar and let stand until sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of ingredients and pour into mold. Freeze overnight. To remove from the mold, soak the bottom of the mold in hot water to release the salad. Leftovers should be stored in the freezer.
Pineapple Angel Food Cake
1 package of Jell-o Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding and Pie Filling
1 can crushed pineapple
1 cup thawed whipped topping
1 prepared round angel food cake (10 ounce)
1 cup fresh mixed seasonal berries
Combine pudding mix and pineapple in medium bowl, then gently stir in the whipped topping. Slice the cake horizontally into three layers. Fill the spaces between each layer with the pudding mixture. Chill for one hour and top with mixed berries before serving.