Eating: a retrospective

I spotted this online:


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. donato2 says:

    My mother grew up near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border and my father emigrated from Italy as a young child in the late 1920s. My mother recounted how until she met my father and his family in the 1950s she had never eaten an olive or pizza or pasta that was not out of a can (i.e., Spaghetti-Os).

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.”

    Yeah, you should hear some of the stories my fingerless grandfather used to tell. It was hard to be a chicken in those days. That was before boneless chickens came along, who would, basically, sit in a corner all day and don’t even get me started on whatever the heck the semi-boneless chickens were supposed to be doing. They were really flexible, so I think they might have been trained for jewelry heists. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was illegal.

    The Chicken

  3. Imrahil says:

    Well, the times, they are a-changing… and not always for the worse.

    That said, I quite agree that it doesn’t make sense to bottle water, unless of course the water should be sparkling water (which is a very refreshing thing, as virtually every German says and virtually none of the rest of the world).

  4. pannw says:

    The one thing we never ever had on/at our table was elbows, hats and cell phones.

    I miss the 50’s, even if I wasn’t alive at that time!

    I will admit that there may be one thing* that is actually better today than then…fresh pineapple. Yum.

    And you crack me up, The Chicken!

    *yes I’m exaggerating, but not by much!

  5. chantgirl says:

    This reminds me of the Gallery of Regrettable Food:

  6. hwriggles4 says:

    I remember my parents telling my brothers and I that when they were young, there were only 10 kinds of cereal on the market. There was:

    Raisin Bran
    Corn Flakes
    Shredded Wheat
    Puffed Rice

    Frosted flakes came around circa 1953. Before that, frosted flakes were made at home by adding sugar to your corn flakes. Shredded wheat was sold only with the large biscuits – the spoon size was much later , like the 70s when I was a little kid.

    Even in the 70s, the cereal aisle was always fun for my brothers and I – mom had a two box rule on what could be opened at home at one time. That way, cereal would not go to waste.

  7. un-ionized says:

    hwriggles4, You forgot Grape Nuts. It makes (they make?) nice pudding.

  8. JARay says:

    I remember those days very well and I still think that one should never put elbows, hats and mobile phones on the table.

  9. oldCatholigirl says:

    Mostly nostalgically accurate–except in the western Chicago suburbs, we certainly knew what pizza was.

  10. robert hightower says:

    How about a good ol fried Spam and mayo sandwich!?

  11. majuscule says:

    We knew the name pizza and that it was food (“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…”) and further that pizza pie was not dessert.

    I learned about pizza being served in restaurants (I don’t think it was home delivered yet) when our German refugee neighbor kids raved about their family going out to eat this food they had a hard time pronouncing (and I won’t reproduce phonetically) but from the description we realized it was pizza.

  12. Heck, even in my day, pizza was still unusual. I had maybe two slices of (crummy frozen) pizza in my life! prior to going to law school, for Pete’s sake.

  13. KateD says:

    My Grandmother thought it was nuts to pay for something that fell out of the sky for free. She would get soooo perturbed with me when I’d buy a bottle of water and a magazine at the grocery store.

  14. stephen c says:

    That is pretty funny, but seriously, the peak decade of American parents not feeding their trusting children well even though they could afford to was probably the 50s. Well maybe the 60s – but things were getting better in the 70s, at least in this limited respect. One of my favorite books is “Little House in the Big Woods”, set about a century earlier, and the first chapter is basically about how hard the parents worked to make sure their children ate well in the Big Woods (it involved lots and lots of hunting). A similar book written about the typical 1950s parents and how they fed their children with nothing but inexpensive slop from the most convenient local grocery store would read more like an affidavit describing culpable neglect!

  15. Cantor says:

    If this was America in the 50’s, what the heck was “posh”?

  16. Ah, bottled water! I had never heard of it until I came to California to do my doctoral work in 1976.

    Never heard of growing up it in New York.

    Then I found out why after moving to CA. In 1980, Consumer reports did a blind test of bottled water. The control was New York City tap water. It was the winner by far, with 10 out of 10 “bests.” NYC tap is still the best, for the same reasons as then: catchment in a granite basin high in the mountains, stone conduits to the city, and virtually no touch with metal until your tap.

    They also did a blind test of sparkling water in that number: the winner (by far) was Canada Dry Club Soda. Better than all the expensive French slop. You might dislike NYC and Canada for political reasons, but do your own blind test.

  17. Grant M says:

    It makes good sense to drink bottled water if the climate is hot and the tap water is not safe.

  18. JabbaPapa says:

    Interesting, though from a European perspective there were differences … [Ho hum…]

    Pasta had been invented, but wasn’t found outside Italy
    Curry was more than just a surname in the UK and to a lesser extent France
    A take-away was fish & chips, Chinese, a sandwich, or a crèpe.
    Bananas and oranges only appeared in-season.
    All chips/crisps were plain except in the UK
    Oil and fat were both for cooking
    Tea was preferably made in a teapot or larger pot, though you Americans had already invented the teabag
    Cubed sugar was regarded as rustic or lower class
    Chickens still don’t have fingers
    Yoghurt was catching on
    Healthy food consisted of anything edible
    Cooking outside was called camping
    Seaweed was not food
    The kebab had not been invented yet
    Sugar was admired and thought precious
    Prunes were an ordinary fruit
    Muesli was a quaint Swiss holiday breakfast delicacy
    Pineapples were a special fruit you could only find in the big cities in season, we’d never seen chunks of them in a tin
    Water came out of a tap or a fountain or a fresh spring, though the posh had their bottled spa waters, that you’d sometimes drink on holidays …

  19. PTK_70 says:

    There were no GMO-free labels, either, I reckon.

  20. JonPatrick says:

    Italian food came in cans and was made by a mythical chef named Boy-Ar-Dee. We usually got it when my Mom found some marked down in the dented can section.
    There were no deli counters in supermarkets. Your sandwiches were made from leftover meat from Sunday’s roast, or Spam. For some people Bologna or Peanut Butter but not me.
    There were 2 kinds of bread – white bread and something called brown bread that tasted like white bread with brown food coloring.

  21. Grumpy Beggar says:

    The Masked Chicken says:

    “Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.”

    Yeah, you should hear some of the stories my fingerless grandfather used to tell. It was hard to be a chicken in those days. That was before boneless chickens came along, who would, basically, sit in a corner all day and don’t even get me started on whatever the heck the semi-boneless chickens were supposed to be doing. They were really flexible, so I think they might have been trained for jewelry heists. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was illegal.

    The Chicken

    FOCL twice : Once for the “Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days,” then fell even harder reading The Chicken‘s response.

    These guys are talking about Eating in the fifties, yet somewhat paradoxically on this great continent, by 1930 someone had already devised and founded a procedure to make fingerless chickens, finger lickin’ good.

  22. People who love New York tap water have never tasted St. Louis tap water. Just sayin’. :)

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, in the 1950’s, curry spices were something your grandmother used or imitated, in order to make kedgeree for breakfast. It was a pretty common dish in the US from Victorian times onward, at least in places that had fish to stretch and rice to use, or who liked to imitate UK cooking.

    And kabobs (not kebabs) were already a thing, at least in Boy Scout-type trail cuisine.

    From the 1941 Campfire Guide by Margaret K. Soifer:

    “The green stick is all that is necessary for Kabob or Tramp or Hobo Steak. Cut the meat or fish into small chunks, say as big as a half dollar. Impale upon the stick a piece of meat, a slice of onion, and a slice of tomato. Then meat again….”

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I found a nice Google Books citation of a 1930 Ag Extension Service booklet published by Ohio State University. It also explains how to make kabobs over a fire, although it suggests adding slices of potato as well as the tomato, onion, meat rotation.

    “Shish-kabob” and “shishkabob” are other search terms to explore.

  25. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I thought I’d read somewhere that St. Louis tap water was commonly used in Haute Cuisine. . . because it was made using only the finest liquid chlorine – aged in wooden test tubes to maturity, giving it a full bodied flavor which when mixed with the treated water at the Chain of Rocks plant, provided an intriguing bouquet very close to that of St. Louis swimming pool water – minus the taste of the sunblock.
    Sip the Mississippi. . .ahhh ! Nuthin’ like it.

  26. Legisperitus says:

    Generically, “pasta” used to be noodles. In the Eighties, Yuppie baby boomers thought they were too sophisticated to eat something called noodles.

    Prunes used to be prunes. In the Nineties, constipated baby boomers thought they were still too young to eat prunes, so they renamed them “dried plums.”

    Chef Boy-ar-dee was a real chef, but his name was spelled Boiardi.

  27. Maynardus says:

    And where did we buy all of these fine vittles? Well in my family it was the A&P, my great-aunts preferred the IGA, while fit my grandmother it was the local independent supermarket (which although fairly large had a meat section with sawdust on the floor – right out of a 1920’s butcher shop!) You’d shop, pull your car into line outside the door, and they’d load all of this goodness into your car. If my mother needed something immediately she’d call the corner store to make sure they had it and then send one of us kids down to pick it up – even if it was a carton of cigarettes! My kids refused to believe any such places existed until we drove past a store with an old IGA sign still extant – probably preserved as a historical landmark or something… ah, those were the days!

  28. Grant M says:

    I don’t remember the fifties but I grew up in 60’s NZ, and this all sounds familiar, except that bananas and oranges were plentiful. We had take-aways: fish and chips on Friday night. Sunday lunch was generally roast beef or roast lamb. I think we only had chicken at Christmas time. I remember the first pizzerias arriving in the 70’s along with the first McDonald’s in our corner of the globe. But healthy food was not just anything edible: my mother fed us Weetbix, brown bread and lots of fruit and veggies.

  29. Imrahil says:

    There were 2 kinds of bread – white bread and something called brown bread that tasted like white bread with brown food coloring.

    As I said, the times are changing, and not necessarily for the worse. (German speaking here)

  30. Titus says:

    Eh, the increased availability of fresh produce and European ingredients is not an unfortunate development. The post-war era in the U.S. saw an awfully lot of questionable policies in areas like food and medicine foisted on ordinary people by experts who supposed they knew everything. (Had Bugnini worked for the FDA, he would have written anti-butter, pro-margarine copy.)

    Have we had to accept some silliness and pretension to get broader access to interesting foodstuffs? Well yes, but one can live with that.

    The real kicker is the last line: manners and customs, not wonder bread, are the real loss.

  31. Charles E Flynn says:

    At least one model of electric blender came with a recipe for chocolate liver drink, which allowed mothers to serve fried liver to their unsuspecting children.

    Whenever the rest of the family had liver at dinner, I got pancakes and a glass of chocolate milk with a few ounces of finely-blended liver. It took me a regrettably long time to figure that out. What do you expect from a child who thinks that the tiny bubbles in a glass of milk just might be the vitamins?

  32. yatzer says:

    My mom asked one Christmas what we should have for Christmas dinner, and I responded “Chinese”. She gave me a quizzical look, but that’s what we had. Chinese at the time was La Choy in a can, which actually sounds more French than Chinese, but there you are, or were.

  33. Grant M says:

    As remember, the 70s and 80s saw a sort of Mediterranean revolution in NZ cuisine. Suddenly there was wine, cheese, bread, pasta, yoghurt, olive oil etc in increased variety, and improved quality, as well as a proliferation of fine restaurants. That counter-balanced the McDs, KFC invasion that took place around the same time.

  34. JabbaPapa says:

    Where I live now has the 2nd oldest tradition of Pizza after the Naples area, so people have been eating it here since the late 19th Century — though it wasn’t til 1956 that the first local pizzeria opened, but there were “pizza vans” before then, as there still are today (I came across a fine one in the hills above Cannes on foot pilgrimage in 2005).

  35. Luvadoxi says:

    Ah yes, stephen c, but that slop was all *scientifically* produced (e.g., taking the nutrients out of bread and then adding back some of them, along with preservatives)–therefore, American moms were assured that their children were getting superior nutrition!

  36. Luvadoxi says:

    At least in the 1950s and until, I think, the 80s, we had the good sense and education to say “vegetables”, not ::::shudder::::”veggies.”

  37. Luvadoxi says:

    Yes! La Choy chow mein in a can! That was Chinese. Very bland. One story from my mom, a 1950s housewife–she grew up in Minnesota (we were in Texas)–and up there it was heresy to eat margarine. When margarine, or as it was called more commonly, oleo, first came out, she said it was white, and you mixed little packets of yellow coloring in it. Minnesotans were not about to be fooled by fake butter!

  38. Liesa says:

    My mom met my dad circa 1951 when he spotted her while driving the pizza truck. They were both in high school.

    We ate wholesome, unprocessed food (except for Spam, which mom fried for us), and the only chips and soda we ever saw were at birthday parties.

  39. benedetta says:

    I grew up in the era of plastics, Pop Rocks, Kool Ade, and Lucky Charms, which we rarely had (my mother sensibly got that all those “artificial ingredients” couldn’t also mean wholesome for active growing kids and she balked at the expense involved in such things). What a strange effect a decade makes for.

  40. Grant M says:

    Luvadoxi: I believe that in butter-producing NZ it was ILLEGAL to eat margarine until the 70’s.

    Mea culpa for the unwonted ellipsis of “vegetables”. Bad antipodean habit.

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