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Boomers Endured Heat Waves

As Martha & the Vandellas so succinctly put it in 1963, we’re having a heat wave. It’s been unbelievably hot in a good portion of the country this week. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, like many others, there has been yet another heat wave.

In earlier posts, Mister Boomer has mentioned how we boomers used to keep cool before air conditioning. There was another hot-weather family tradition of sorts in the Mister Boomer household that occurred around this time of the summer, that probably will resonate with many boomers. That is, once the temperature started rising for a few days in a row, Mister B’s mother would declare, “It’s too hot to cook.” And that was that. She had the first and last word on the subject, so the stove was off-limits. She couldn’t stand the heat, so she was staying out of the kitchen.

That was the cue for Mister Boomer and his brother to bring up the grill from the basement — where it was kept in its original cardboard box — for a rare midweek cookout. The grill was a round pan that sat on a tripod of metal legs that slid into metal sleeves welded to the bottom. Once assembled in the yard, the boys would make a pyramid of charcoal briquettes and Mister B would douse them with lighter fluid. Brother Boomer, being the elder, was the one to yield the matches. In this case, he flicked wooden kitchen matches into the briquettes. After a satisfying woosh and burst of flames, the boys’ job was complete and they could turn over the cooking duties to their father.

These “too hot to cook” cookouts meant that dinner was going to consist of whatever was on hand in the refrigerator, and that usually meant hamburgers and hot dogs. Most boomer households bought ground beef on a regular basis, and kept a package of hot dogs for the kids, too. Mister Boomer’s sister preferred her hot dogs like she ate her bologna — plain and charred, no bun, bread or condiments. Mister Boomer and his brother generally opted for hamburgers. In their yard, a hamburger on a grill was not gussied up with additional ingredients; there was rarely even a slice of cheese melted on top. Rather, the burger was lifted from the grill to a waiting bun — which was usually pulled straight from the package and not toasted on the grill — after which, mustard or ketchup was added by the recipient. Brother boomer liked mustard, but Mister B was a ketchup man. Occasionally he would retrieve the jar of pickle relish from the refrigerator door and add a teaspoon of the stuff to his burger.

There were no vegetables invited to the party, not even lettuce and tomato for the burgers; it would be a decade before Mister B’s family got that fancy. Instead, a handful of potato chips rounded out the dinner on their paper plates. After all, if it was too hot to cook, Mister B’s mom sure as hell wasn’t going to be washing dishes, either.

In the spirit of Mister B’s mom and her “it’s too hot to cook” declarations, Mister B presents this smattering of classic Mister Boomer posts about how we beat the heat:

Keeping Our Collective Cool
In an age when not many boomer households had air conditioning, people had their ways of keeping cool.

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Mister B recalls the era of car air conditioning known as “460”; that was, four windows down at 60 miles per hour.

Boomers Grabbed a Cold One
Long before boomers were old enough to use “grab a cold one” to mean a beer, they drank a series of cold beverages that helped shape their attack on the heat.

How did you keep cool, boomers? Did your boomer youth training help you keep cool during this recent round of heat waves?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Loved Their Chicken Parm

The idea of an “American cuisine” is as old as the country itself. However, it can be argued that our earliest cuisine was really dishes that immigrants ate in their own countries. Our American journey in flavor and taste needed a few generations to gather steam — and that was during the Boomer Generation.

Around the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, immigrants began opening restaurants for the cross-cultural working class population. They worked dishes they brought with them from the old country, and adapted local ingredients where the items they were used to weren’t available. But very quickly, a concept was injected into the dishes, a desire that in the vastness of the nation and the land of plenty, portions could be larger, and meat, now abundantly available, could take a bigger role on the plate. Regionally, dishes grew, and celebrated local produce, seafood and meat.

By the time two dogs shared a plate of spaghetti in The Lady and the Tramp (1955), boomer-generation America had selected Italian as their favorite “exotic” cuisine. What most boomer parents did not know was that the dishes they thought of as Italian were actually variations. True Italian cuisine stressed vegetables and smaller portions of seafood and meat. However, most Italian immigrants arrived from the southern half of Italy, and the island of Sicily. They brought their love of sausage, pasta and tomatoes with them. This new Italian-American version centered on sauce, cheese and generous portions of beef, chicken, veal or pork. Pepperoni pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and Chicken (or Veal) Parmigiana — all favorites of the era, if not to this day — were American inventions, inspired by Old World recipes, but given a New World twist.

Italian-American Chicken Parmigiana required mounds of melted cheese — usually mozzarella then topped with parmesan — resting on a sea of tomato-based red sauce, which covered a breaded and fried chicken cutlet. One newspaper food critic account from the 1950s recalled being served chicken “…the size of the plate!” No one knows who served the first Chicken Parmigiana, or where or when. But it is agreed upon that the origins of the dish came from a Southern Italy eggplant dish called Melanzana alla Parmigiana. The “Parmigiana” did not refer to parmesan cheese, but rather, meant the dish was prepared in the style of Parma, a region in northern Italy; “Parmigiana” meant the eggplant was twice-cooked. First breaded and fried, the eggplant rings were then lightly topped with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of meltable cheese, then baked.

The Italian-American version substituted chicken or veal for the eggplants, and pumped up the amount of everything else. Eggplants weren’t widely available, though Asian and Arabic cuisines utilized the vegetable in a variety of ways. Americans weren’t going for these types of dishes at the time the same way they latched onto Italian-American. You will recall that the primary dishes for Chinese take-out during the boomer years were chop suey and chow mein (see Boomers Ate Chinese Take-Out). What was available was meat, and lots of it. Boomer parents just won a major war, had good paying jobs, and felt rich when they ate big. They instilled that national appetite into their boomer children.

Throughout his childhood, Mister Boomer was served spaghetti and meatballs weekly, and by the time he was teenager, plenty of pizza. He ate Chicken Parm on occasion, but actually preferred Eggplant Parmigiana. He judges a good Italian lunch take-out to this day by the quality of their Eggplant Parm hero. Mama mia, now that’s American!

Did you enjoy Chicken Parmigiana, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Went Fourth and Grilled

Another Fourth of July weekend is upon us, and Mister Boomer is reminded that outdoor grilling was massively popular during his early boomer days. As it turns out, the parents of the Boomer Generation were instrumental in the development and promotion of outdoor grilling as we know it today.

Most people use the terms “barbecuing” and “grilling” interchangeably but there is, and always has been, a distinction between the two. This is important to note because as we explore the founding days of our country, “barbecuing” was a popular activity for political campaigns, especially around the Fourth of July. George Washington is said to have loved them, not only for the food but for the chance to meet and greet. Washington, however, did not use the opportunity as the chance to give a speech — he wanted the food and camaraderie to work the room for him. A traditional barbecue cookout for the Founding Fathers was the slow roasting of whole pigs or hogs over an open flame. The affair lasted all day and into the night, and the food was paired with copious amounts of beer and hard liquor. Therein lies the difference between barbecuing and grilling: a barbecue method was a slow roast over lower temperatures, while grilling tends to be quicker and over hot flames.

Outdoor roasting and grilling, of course, did not start in the U.S. In fact, the practice goes back as far as the harnessing of fire itself. Yet its use and popularity skyrocketed in the U.S. after the second World War. One influence the War had on newly-minted Boomer parents was that some servicemen, on returning home, brought Japanese ceramic kamado cookers back with them. These traditional cooking devices smoked or grilled meats, fish or vegetables to the delight of American servicemen. However, the thing most associated with the advancement of the backyard cookout during the boomer years was the move to the suburbs. Houses with backyards provided all the space needed for successful outings with family and friends. The social element that our Founding Fathers found so appealing was felt in boomer neighborhoods from coast to coast. A backyard brazier — a flat device with a bed for fuel and a metal grill over it — was as important a fixture as the car in the driveway. And, in Mister Boomer’s experience, the tradition of combining the cookout with large quantities of adult beverages was one his parents and neighbors felt obliged to keep.

Charcoal and wood were the fuel of choice after the War. The charcoal briquette had been patented by one Ellsworth Zwoyer in 1897, but Henry Ford is often erroneously given the credit. Ford got into the briquette business when he founded the Kingsford Charcoal Company in 1921 as a way to monetize the wood scraps and used sawdust that covered his factory floors. By the early 1950s, Kingsford increased production of charcoal briquettes by 35 percent to meet the increased demand. The company did not advertise for fear that they would not be able to make enough to meet the needs of the marketplace.

In a “which came first” debate, several technological advances in cookery either spurred the dawn of suburban boomer cookouts, or at the very least increased its popularity. For most American suburbanites, outdoor cooking was done on a brazier grill. Having no vents to control the flames, it was known for uneven heat that tended to char food quickly and spew ashes over the cook and guests, especially when a prevailing breeze visited the backyard event. That began to change in 1952, when a man named George Stephen, a welder for the Weber Brothers Metal Spinning Company, cut a metal buoy in half and created a new kind of grill. The top half was used as a lid. In both the lid and base, Stephen fashioned controllable vents. For the first time, cooking temperature was not an either/or situation. The grill quickly spread across the nation, though Mister Boomer’s father didn’t buy his first Weber grill until the early 1970s.

Experimentation in gas grills also continued through the ’50s. The first practical propane gas grills had been introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair. However, gas grilling remained the exclusive domain of commercial cooking until the 1950s. By the mid-fifties, home models were introduced by a variety of companies. The adoption of the gas grill was slow at first due to the price of the early models — they could be priced from $50 to more than $100 — which was approximately double that of a week’s pay for the average American. Ease of use eventually won out and by the late 1970s, the gas grill supplanted charcoal grills as the most popular in the backyards of boomer parents, at the same time that the first boomers were establishing families of their own.

As for the legacy of the Japanese kamado grill, fast forward to 1974 when a Navy vet named Ed Fisher opened the Big Green Egg Company. Ed’s combination grill and smoker was based on traditional Japanese designs. Thirty years after the War, its influence was still being felt in boomer backyards. The company continues operations today, gaining a following in barbecue purist circles. In fact, most if not all of the brands that were household names to boomers are still around, including Kingsford, Lodge, Charmglow, Weber, and others.

Mister Boomer thoroughly enjoyed his neighborhood’s backyard cookouts. However, he was never enamored with the common kid fare of hot dogs and hamburgers, much preferring ribs and chicken, and the occasional steak on the grill. He especially liked grilled corn on the cob. For years, even though his father was grilling, his mother had a pot on the stove in the kitchen boiling corn for the meal. Finally, around the mid-60s, his father and brother convinced his mother that corn could be great on the grill. Then began the endless debates over whether the corn would go directly on the grill, husk and all, soaked beforehand or not, or grill the ears sans husks. One way steamed the corn instead of grilling, while the other dried it out and could make it tough. A happy medium was never reached, but Mister B ate it all, along with baked potatoes. Since the grown-ups were busy downing their adult beverages, it also gave the kids an opportunity to drink cold cans of soda pop all day long — a real treat that did not happen often.

By the time sun was going down, the remaining bits of charcoal glowed a beautiful orange-red in the twilight, beckoning boomer kids to roast marshmallows. Then, sparklers were in order as kids pranced around creating light trails of various shapes. Older kids might have some fireworks, and sometimes an adult — often still gripping a long-neck bottle of beer — held out a Roman Candle to shoot colorful sparks into the sky.

What memories of backyard Fourth of July cookouts do you have, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Holidays,Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth

Boomers drank milk, every day. At breakfast, it was milk with cereal. During the school day there was a milk break and more milk with lunch. And a glass of milk accompanied every dinner. That’s just the way it was. Milk was the parents’ beverage of choice for kids throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Consumption started dropping in the 1970s, and has continued ever since. But what if our beverage of choice wasn’t exactly a choice? How did milk become so important to the parents of the Boomer Generation?

Our ancestors drank milk on occasion, but nowhere near the extent that boomers did. There were no government programs requiring milk in schools or ad campaigns reminding people of the nutritional value of milk. All that began to change during the Great Depression.

The government began boosting milk with a WPA ad campaign through Roosevelt’s New Deal with images of the benefits of drinking the white stuff. However, the main goal of this program was not to make healthier children, but to increase demand in order to boost a flailing dairy industry and keep people — including the WPA artists — working.

Federal Art Project, S. (1940) Milk — For Health, Good Teeth, Vitality, Endurance, Strong Bones. Ohio, 1940.

In 1940, the first government program was instituted, providing federal assistance to supply milk to school children in the Chicago area. This was an effort to boost nutrition and health, especially among poorer families. Children whose parents could not afford the penny for a half pint were given the milk free in a partnership of government and private organizations that footed the bill.

In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was signed into law by President Harry Truman. Having just fought a World War that relied on healthy young men to serve as soldiers, Congress was motivated to support a program for nutrition in schools as an important component to the health and well-being of the nation. It being Congress, the Act also encouraged consumption of nutritious domestic agricultural and dairy products that just happened to benefit their voting constituents. Included in the program was the mandate that each lunch contain between one half to two pints of whole milk.

Enter the Baby Boom
So the milk stage had been set before the first Baby Boomers arrived, but a technological advancement helped take milk to the boomer finish line: square milk cartons. Up until that point, milk was delivered in glass bottles or large metal canisters. Now, convenient quart or half-gallon cartons could be purchased and brought home, while schools could offer milk in half- and full pint containers. They no longer had to deal with bulk glass bottles that needed washing and storing.

This is the era Mister Boomer remembers. His school sold milk in half-pint glass bottles that had a cardboard stopper in the top. If a boomer was careful, he or she could lift the tab on the top and pull the stopper straight out. More often than not, the cardboard tab tore, so it took a little fussing to get the bottle open and still have time to drink it in the allotted break time. Mister Boomer was thrilled when the milk began to arrive in cool three-sided triangle-shaped cartons. A straw was attached to each carton that was used to puncture a designated hole.

The price of the half-pint was two cents in Mister Boomer’s earliest memories, jumping to five cents in a couple of years. His father, like all the other boomer fathers, gave Mister B and his siblings “milk money.” Despite the mandate and endorsement from parents, Mister Boomer was not a milk lover. He tolerated it in cereal, but when it came to drinking it straight, Mister B had two stipulations: first, it had to be ice cold; and second, if at all possible, it had to be chocolate milk. Fortunately, his parents agreed to let him have chocolate milk at school. Mister Boomer recalls the cases being delivered into the classroom. There were only three chocolate milk drinkers in his class of 30 kids. For years, Bosco and Nestle’s Quik saved him from the taste of plain white milk at home.

The beat went on in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act that authorized a Special Milk Program. This Act incorporated the text from the National School Lunch Act of 1946 that provided free or low cost milk to children, regardless of whether their school participated in the federal child nutrition meal service programs. The government reimbursed schools for distributing milk. The result was that milk consumption increased by ten times since the dawn of the Baby Boomers.

After the Boomer Generation, milk wasn’t pushed on families as much as the previous three decades and consumption dropped. That’s when the dairy industry began its now-famous milk campaigns of the 1980s and ’90s. First was the Milk. It does a body good. campaign that, like Wonder bread in the decades before, stressed the bone-building calcium and protein aspects of building a strong body. That was followed by the got milk? campaign in 1993, that tried to put milk in the indispensable category for every home. The milk mustache off-shoot of that campaign — featuring loads of celebrities with milk mustaches — attempted to add a cool factor to drinking milk. Currently, the campaign is attempting to say milk is integrated into a healthy lifestyle with a Milk Life tagline. The dairy industry has spent over a billion dollars on advertising milk since the 1980s. And milk consumption continues to fall.

Some say the nutritional value of milk was overrated as far back as the 1950s. Today we know a lot more about the fat content and nutritional value — or lack thereof — in a glass of milk. Vitamins once thought critical for growing bodies can be acquired through any number of good food choices. If only Mister Boomer knew he could eat fresh vegetables instead, he could have avoided a lot of sour-faced gulping to finish a glass.

Did milk do your body good, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Their Way Through Food Trends

Every decade has their food trends, and the Boomer Years were no different. Yet when we see movies as well as articles that feature food in the times we lived through, many of us feel a disconnect between the often clichéd culinary presentations and the facts of our real lives.

Food then, as now, varied greatly by region and ethnic background. Yet perhaps the biggest regulator of food trends for the average boomer family was economic strata. It makes sense that the more money you have, the more food choices are available to you. For example, Mister Boomer has noted in previous posts that before the Interstate Highway system was completed, many areas had a limited choice of fresh fruits and vegetables. The items we did have were locally grown or had to be brought in by train, so only the heartiest of ingredients could make the trip from the South and West to the rest of the country (see Boomers Watched Out for the Iceberg).

Mister Boomer’s parents thought of themselves as people in tune with the times. They tried to dress in fashion (in discount versions, of course) and Mister B’s mom tried new recipes that she would get from McCall’s or Good Housekeeping magazines all the time — though mostly only once before resorting to her usual repertoire. As a result, some trends of the day made it into the Mister Boomer household and others did not. Two cases in point are Jell-O and Lipton Onion Soup Mix.

The 1950s and ’60s are replete with descriptions of Jell-O molds and fancy concoctions made with the gelatin dessert. In Mister B’s home, however, though Jell-O was served with some regularity, it was almost always jelled in a large bowl. Mister B’s mother did not own a bundt pan or Jell-O mold of any kind. At dessert time the bowl was brought to the dinner table where big chunks could be scooped out at dessert time and, if a spray can of whipped cream was on hand in the refrigerator, a squirt could top it. On rare occasions, such as when strawberry season arrived, fresh fruit might be added to the Jell-O. Mister Boomer’s mother loved fruit cocktail in a can, but it was even more rare that she placed the canned fruit into the family Jell-O. She reserved that for her lettuce and cottage cheese plates. More often than not, the Jell-O — strawberry or  cherry mostly — remained plain.

Lipton Onion Soup Mix was a powder that came in a package envelope. Though it was marketed as a soup base, Lipton flooded the women’s magazines with recipes using the mix. Many recipes became quite popular, such as meat loaf made with the mix, and a chip dip. The product was a hit with Mister B’s mom since she was all about modern things that were convenient and saved time. She would mix it into hamburger to make a meat loaf, but where it really entered the family food list was as a chip dip. Mister B’s sister and mother especially loved the oniony flavor. The dip was easy enough to make for Mister B and his sister — blend a package into a pint of sour cream and it’s ready to go. The family regularly had potato chips around the house. They often bought local brands, but occasionally they had Ruffles brand potato chips and Ruffles have ridges that are all the better to scoop up dip. Mister Boomer was never a fan of onion flavor, so it was not one of his favorite things. Boomer Sister ate it by the spoonful.

The Boomer family did latch onto certain trending products through the years, including Tang, Carnation Instant Breakfast and Pop Tarts, but when it came to trendy dinner recipes, Mister B’s mom preferred to keep it simple and within her comfort zone.

What food trends did your family embrace, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016

It’s the New Year, traditionally a time to look back in reflection and ahead with hope. In that spirit, please enjoy some of Mister B’s hand-picked favorites from 2016.

Boomers and Torn Jeans: The Evolution from Time-to-Replace to High Fashion
Our mothers fretted over our torn “dungarees” only to find a decade later that torn jeans were part of the fashion scene.

Boomers Twisted the Night Away
Mister Boomer explored the origin of the Twist.

Boomers Loved Gene Pitney Songs
Early to mid-boomers probably count Gene Pitney among their favorite singers of the ’60s.

Boomers Heard the Quotes of Their History
We were there, man!

Boomers Benefited from Space Products
Are you aware of space technology in your everyday lives?

Boomers Will Recall 1966
Fifty years ago from the year that just passed, the times they were a’-changin’.

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now
The local pharmacy sure has changed since we were boomer kids. Here is a comparison.

Boomers and Bikinis Just Went Together
The role of the bikini in boomer-era movies is iconic and undeniably modern for the time.

Boomers Have Lived Through Many Eves of Destruction
The song reverberates even today.

Boomers Gladly Went Where No One Had Gone Before
2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the original Star Trek on TV.

Boomers’ Diets Have Changed Over 50 Years
Boomers watched the era of convenience foods enter the picture, and the American diet.

Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”
The technology employed in The Flintstones mimicked the space-age devices that were common in boomer households. The major difference was instead of electrically-powered devices, the action of the devices was powered by animals.

Here’s to another great year, and hoping your 2017 is boomer-ific!

posted by Mister B in Fashion,Film & Movies,Food & Beverage,Fun,Getting Older,Music,Pop Culture History,Space,TV,Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016