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Boomers Remember Things Costing Less Than a Dollar

Mister Boomer’s latest trip to the supermarket to get the ingredients for his delicious homemade chili sent him on a flashback when he found 26 oz. cans of tomato sauce for 48¢ each (with the supermarket bonus card, of course). Mister B, for one, longs for the days when every can and package — and even produce and some meats — were less than a dollar. He was wondering how long it has been since the price of practically every food item in the supermarket crossed the one dollar line.

In the Boomer Years, food items were often less than a half dollar. Prices for cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup averaged 10-15¢ each fifty years ago, in 1968. The cost of a can of tomato soup didn’t reach the dollar mark until the early 1980s. The same is true for Nabisco Oreos — 45¢ for a 16 oz. pkg. — and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes –– 39¢ for an 18 oz. box. At the same time, bread was around 20 to 25¢ per 1 lb. loaf, and a dozen eggs were in the range of 60¢. Ground beef was less than a dollar a pound, and most fruits and vegetables were 20 to 30¢ per pound. However, there was one item that was more than a dollar in 1968: a gallon of milk.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that by 1968, inflation caused food prices to go up about three percent a year. This annual rise remained relatively steady until the end of the 1970s; between March of 1979 and March 1980, there was nearly a 15 percent rise in food prices, which accounts for many more things costing more than a dollar each as 1980 arrived.

Mister Boomer recalls going on shopping excursions with his father — the food buyer-in-chief in the Boomer household. When things were on sale, items were often four or five for a dollar. Since Mister B’s mom and sister liked Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the shopping team hit the jackpot when the soup went on sale, 10 for $1.00. Jell-O was another packaged food that Mister B remembers his father buying on sale at 10 for $1.00. It was a struggle to try to get the most desired flavors like cherry and raspberry since the shelf emptied out quickly, even though Jell-O was an economical dessert before any sales prices kicked in. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was often 4 for $1.00, and Banquet Pot Pies could be purchased at 5 for $1.00. The same was true for cans of Del Monte Corn and Green Beans, Campbell’s Pork & Beans and a host of other packaged, bottled and canned foods that had become staples in Mister B’s household, like many other boomers’ homes.

Supermarket sales such as these were the thing that enabled Mister B’s father to afford the brand name products over the lesser-priced brands. There were still compromises in food purchases, though, such as Banquet Pot Pies. Banquet was a cheaper alternative to Swanson or Morton pot pies, introducing their frozen meat pot pies in supermarkets in 1954. To feed a boomer family of five for one dollar was a welcome change. Mister B heard stories of these other brands having great flavor, and, most notably, more meat and veggies. Mister B would not know about that, since the family had a financial loyalty to Banquet.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mister Boomer’s mother would take the frozen pot pies from the freezer (usually chicken for the family), place them whole in their aluminum pans on baking sheets, pierce the tops of the crusts with a fork or knife and pop them into the oven. Forty-five minutes later, dinner was served. Mister B enjoyed his pot pies for the most part, though he always wanted more peas and chicken than was inevitably inserted. Then there was the matter of the crust. The top was always nice and toasty and crunchy, but the bottom could be anywhere from soft and mushy to outright uncooked. Mister B’s mother blamed the oven. Somewhere down the line, the company folks decided that an economical brand such as Banquet didn’t really need an entirely dough-enclosed pot pie and only the crust top remained. That solved Mister B’s bottom-of-the-pie dough dilemma, but the economical nature of the product was compromised in his view. The family noticed but continued to purchase the product, the prevailing argument being the price.

Fifty years ago, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac. Hardly a supermarket product, it was, however, sold for 49¢. Little did boomers know how short-lived it would be that a wide variety of products would cost less than one dollar.

What products do you remember at prices less than one dollar, boomers? Did your family stock up on food supplies when there were supermarket sales that would offer four or five for one dollar?

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

A Mister Boomer Thanksgiving Memory

Mister Boomer’s mother-in-law passed away last month at the age of 90. Since this Thanksgiving will be the first holiday the family will be marking without her presence, it seems fitting that Mister B honor her memory with this classic Thanksgiving post from 2011 — the only time he specifically mentioned his mother-in-law in misterboomer.com history. She will be missed this holiday.

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Soup Bones

The Thanksgiving meal had ended, and the clean up had begun. Mister Boomer’s father-in-law was carving the remainder of the turkey and removing large chunks of meat from the carcass. “I get all the bones!” Mister B’s mother-in-law stated emphatically. Befitting a person of her generation, nothing would be wasted on this holiday bird. That sent Mister B on a trip down Memory Lane.

When Mister Boomer was a child, leftovers extended as many days beyond Thanksgiving as the remaining turkey would allow: turkey sandwiches; turkey casseroles; hot turkey open-face sandwiches; and turkey soup were on the family menu. The turkey carcass, like all meat bones, were used to make the soup. It was common for the parents of boomers to wring as much use as they could out of whatever food they purchased. Whether it was from a time when people held a different train of thought that had been ingrained into their being from their immigrant parents, or a result of living with food rationing during World War II, “waste not, want not” was the order of the day.

It was common for the parents of boomers to use every bit of the holiday turkey, including making soup stock with the bones. The leftover bones of any family meal could end up flavoring a pot of soup.

Turkey carcasses weren’t the only animal bones utilized in the Mister Boomer household. When he was a youngster, money was tight in the Mister Boomer home. That meant the leftovers from any family meal would help make up a meal or two during the week. At least three other meals per week were either meatless or executed as economically as possible. Fortunately, Mister B’s father loved soup in any iteration. The soup-cooking trinity for Mister B’s mom were carrots, celery and onions. Aside from being among the most inexpensive and readily available of fresh vegetables, they could impart real flavor to water to become the basis for any soup.

Mister B recalls his mother sending him to a corner store a couple of blocks away. “Ask the man behind the counter for soup bones,” she would say. At the store, the meat man would know exactly what she was talking about. In the late fifties and early sixties, soup bones could be gotten for free, or in some instances, for only pennies per pound. Most often Mister B would return home with oxtails or ham shanks. One time in particular, Mister B recalls the butcher wrapping ham shank bones in paper. Without any charge, he was free to walk out of the store with the paper package, as large as a school book, tucked under his arm.

Mister B’s mom dropped the ham shank bones into the pot she had used to caramelize her vegetable trinity and covered the ingredients with water. Then she’d add a package of split peas and some salt and pepper. A few hours of simmering later, the family had split pea soup for dinner. Sometimes, there would be fork-sized chunks of ham still on the bones, adding an extra salty, meaty flavor to her thick soup; Mister B’s father would sop up every drop with the help of a slice of white bread. As a change of pace, butter beans were substituted for split peas.

These days, Mister B prefers to make vegetable soup, but he doesn’t care for onions. Nonetheless, the same basic steps hold true: inexpensive ingredients, starting with celery and carrots and combined with whatever is on hand in the fridge; every vegetable and protein is fair game for a great soup concoction on a fall night. Mister B learned his frugality lessons well.

Whether we’re personally in a situation of plenty in our lives, or experiencing tough times, perhaps we should take a page from the book of our economically-minded parents, beginning with making full use of all the food ingredients at our disposal. “Waste not, want not”; now that’s something to be thankful for.

What visions of soup bones dance through your memories, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comments (2)

Boomers Loved Their Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole

It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving, and with it come traditions deeply embedded in the memories of boomers from coast to coast. Though celebrations of the holiday date back to Abraham Lincoln’s time, it took until the post-war period — the Boomer Years — for the day to be elevated to the gluttonous food fest we know today. Along with other excesses of the era, many historians attribute these leanings toward the mass national relief at the end of the war as celebrated by a generation that was born before or during the Great Depression. In other words, the parents of boomers had lived without a lot of comforts, then fought a war to hold on to what they had. Consequently, they had much to be grateful for, and were in no mood to scrimp. They helped create a new, modern world and they were going to see to it that their children could take full advantage of it.

Something else was happening at the time that contributed to the super-sizing of Thanksgiving: Technology was offering consumers new, lighter metal cookware and glass baking dishes that became the kitchen tools that moms used to create family traditions. One of these traditions was — and remains for many families — the green bean casserole, which was introduced to boomer families by the Campbell’s Soup Company in 1955.

Casseroles were nothing new, with evidence of various types dating back to the 6th century BC. Like stews, almost every culture had some kind of casserole uniquely its own. Therefore it should surprise no one that a country consisting of immigrants from around the globe would bring those traditions with them. Casseroles differed from stews in that heat was applied to bottom of a cooking vessel for a stew, while casseroles were baked in deep-dish pans in an oven. The basic elements of a casserole are usually a protein (often beef, chicken or tuna fish), a vegetable, and a starchy binder. In addition, in modern casseroles there is often a creamy or cheesy component and something to add a crunch factor.

Enter the green bean casserole. Campbell’s, like practically every other food company at the time, constantly published recipe pamphlets that were distributed through grocery stores, and recipes were printed on the backs of the product packages themselves. A company-created recipe of the Boomer Years is easy to spot by the brand-named products that are listed in the recipe ingredients. So it was that Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup became the central binder in the green bean casserole. Later versions of the recipe were distributed by companies that made the crunchy fried onion rings or sticks that topped the dish, giving their product the brand-name billing in the ingredient list.

The green bean casserole recipe was an immediate success for Campbell’s. Easy to make with limited ingredients, kids could participate in the making of the casserole, thus being a part of the family’s Thanksgiving celebration. So it came to pass that the dawn of a new era was the start of a boomer Thanksgiving tradition. To this day it is revered as a tasty tradition by some, and reviled as a salty mishmash by others.

Mister Boomer’s family had a few Thanksgiving holiday traditions, among them roasted chestnuts in the morning, turkey giblet stuffing and that wonderful plop of cranberry sauce oozing from the can to a waiting dish and sliced at the table, much to the delight of Mister B and his siblings. But green bean casserole was not among the usual side dish fixins for Mister B’s Thanksgiving. The family always had several cans of Campbell’s Soup in the cupboard, and Cream of Mushroom was among them. So Mister Boomer does not know why his family did not adopt the green bean casserole tradition. He recalls either someone bringing one once, or his mother making it once, but that was about it. Mister Boomer’s mother had the knack for cooking the color out of any vegetable, and certainly vegetables in a can already had a gray tinge to start with, so it’s probably for the best.

There are many things that Mister Boomer would consider a must for his Thanksgiving table, but green bean casserole isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, it is of great interest to him that this national tradition was commercially created and disseminated during the Boomer Years. How about it, boomers? Were green bean casseroles part of your families’ Thanksgiving meals? Do you still make one today for your families?

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

Sing About Boomer Favorite Halloween Candies

sung to the tune of My Favorite Things (with apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein)

Snickers and Smarties, Chuckles and Milky Way
Some Bit-O-Honey, Sweetarts, a few Payday
Dots, Now & Later, and Turkish Taffy
These are a few fav’rite Halloween things

Red ropes of licorice, Red Hots, root beer candies
Milk Duds and Mounds bars, boxes Good & Plenty
Almond Joy, Necco and some Oh Henry!
These are a few fav’rite Halloween things

When they gave pennies
And balls of popcorn
Mister B got sad

He simply remembered fav’rite Halloween things
Not apples, not suckers, but lots of candies
A pillowcase filled up, a sugar frenzy!
And then he would feel so glad!

What candies would you savor in the days after Halloween, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Fun,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Sing About Boomer Favorite Halloween Candies

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)