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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

Boomers Have a Cost-Effective Thanksgiving

It’s no secret to boomers and non-boomers alike that the cost of living continues to rise. Boomers, having been around longer, even revel in the fact that they can say, “I remember when…” to recount 10 cent Coca-Colas and 20 cent gallons of gas. Now, from the currently cobwebbed Good News Department, come reports that the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is actually going down from last year’s high — to just under $50 to feed a party of 10 according to the annual Farm Bureau price survey.

This comes as a surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, on average virtually everything has risen in the past 50 years at a rate of approximately ten times what it was in the 1960s — everything except salaries, that is. The cost of housing, transportation, clothing and more have risen faster than the average weekly pay. Consequently, many boomers, including Mister B, pine for the days when a dollar would just stretch further.

In 1965, the median income in the U.S. was around $7,000, which more than doubled the median income in the 15 years from 1950. It was a boom time for the country, and it helped fuel the entire Boomer Generation. In 1960, the average cost of a Thanksgiving turkey — the biggest cost in the meal — was around 39 cents a pound. That meant a 20-pound turkey cost just under eight dollars. Add the cost of trimmings and the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in that decade ran between 20 and 30 dollars. That’s still a bargain when you consider that amounted to no more one third of an average weekly pay, and less than three dollars per person for a Thanksgiving holiday that is centered around the meal.

What boomer Thanksgiving would be complete without a jellied cranberry sauce that is shaped like the can? Today’s cost is between one and two dollars a can, where fifty years ago three or four cans could be purchased for the same dollar. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer vied for the honor of opening the can of cranberry sauce every year. Mister B in particular enjoyed the slosh-plop as it slid from the can to a plate, ready to be sliced into thick medallions and eaten. It was the 1970s before Mister B was made aware that cranberry sauce could also be purchased with whole berries in a relish-like state. No can shape? Not very festive, now, is it?

In Mister Boomer’s household, generic brands were often purchased over national name brands. Mister B and Brother Boomer would, after taking off the top of the can, use the can opener to puncture the bottom so incoming air could facilitate the plop.

A survey of today’s national supermarkets shows the price of a turkey this year to be hovering around 60 cents a pound. Industry sources are stating that retailers are using the turkey as a loss leader, choosing to make their profit off the trimmings. Unfortunately for retailers, the trimmings have, for the most part, also dropped in price over their highest levels in the early 2000s. On the whole, most vegetables are lower while grains and some dairy are higher.

Boomers, now grandparents in a good many families, have helped shape Thanksgiving to the annual holiday-of-excessive-eating that we enjoy today. As such, regardless of their financial means, they are going to do their best to see that their families enjoy Thanksgiving as much as they did, lower prices or not. Nonetheless, if it really is true that we are spending less of a percentage of our weekly pay on a Thanksgiving meal than we did fifty years ago, then Mister B would have to say there’s one more thing to be thankful for this holiday.

Mister Boomer is thankful for your continued readership, and wishes you your very own can-shaped cranberry sauce this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Boomer Families Stretched A Meal

Recently, Mister Boomer came across a report that flatly stated there was an uptick in sales of meal extenders — those “food accessories” designed to bolster a family budget by stretching a meal’s protein with spices, grains and/or sauces. The report did not attempt to explain the increase in sales, though one might conclude the cost of feeding a family has something to do with it.

It got Mister Boomer reminiscing, that stretching a meal was nothing new in his family … and he thought other boomers might agree. Boomer families tended to have more children than today, which is a reason in and of itself to try and extend the food budget. Even when families could afford more than the generation before them, boomer parents lived through the Great Depression, and a good many had the mindset that extending any and every food was the natural order of things. Rationing during World War II reinforced their practices, so they continued their frugal ways into the Boomer Era. In Mister B’s experience, mothers of boomers regularly stretched a meal by creatively using leftovers, adding grains such as rice, egg noodles or pasta, or making soup.

As the Boomer Era progressed, there were three store-bought meal stretchers that became household words in boomer families: Rice-A-Roni, Hamburger Helper and Manwich.

The first of these meal extenders was Rice-A-Roni, created by Vince DeDemenico in 1958 for his family’s noodle business. Based on a rice pilaf, he concocted a recipe of dried chicken soup mix combined with rice and macaroni (today the product consists of rice, vermicelli pasta and seasonings). All a consumer had to do was add water and chicken to the box mix to create a meal. Originally sold in the Northwestern United States, the product went national in 1962, prompting the tagline, “The San Francisco Treat.”
Mister Boomer’s mother, always wanting to be up with any trend that would save her time in the kitchen, tried Rice-A-Roni once, and that was enough. She didn’t like it, and neither did Mister B and his siblings.

Basically Sloppy Joe mix in a can, Hunts introduced Manwich in 1969. Libby’s had a Sloppy Joe can mix in the 1960s also. Some say the Sloppy Joe sandwich was an off-shoot of loose meat sandwiches popularized in 1930s, while others say WWII food rationing set the stage stage for Sloppy Joes. Tomato paste, dehydrated onions, oregano, garlic and red and green peppers in one can made the Sloppy Joe not only economical but also quick and easy to prepare.

Mister Boomer’s mother made Sloppy Joes fairly regularly, because it was a cheap meal. Before there was Manwich, she sauteed some onions, hamburger and green peppers, and stirred in tomato paste. Mister B and his siblings constructed their own, grabbing hamburger buns and scooping the stuff on the bread until it oozed over the sides. There didn’t seem to be a need to buy Manwich.

Hamburger Helper
In the 1920s, hamburger was not a favored meat. It was considered “unclean” by the nature of its contents and grinding. This is why, in the 1930s, White Castle was so named and its employees dressed in all white — to change public perception. The company even commissioned a scientific report on the wholesomeness of its hamburgers. The success of McDonald’s (founded 1948), Burger King (1954) and Wendy’s (1969) forever sealed a place for hamburger meat in the American cuisine. By 1971, more women were in the workforce, and the need for quick meals was peaking. General Mills debuted Hamburger Helper, advertising that all that was needed was one pan, a pound of hamburger and their box. Very quickly there were several flavors, all of which combined macaroni or noodles with a sauce and the consumer-added hamburger. It was immediately successful, so a Tuna Helper version joined the original in 1972.

Mister Boomer does recall his household having Hamburger Helper every now and then, because his sister liked it, and she was a picky eater.

Stretching the proteins was a normal part of each week’s meal planning for Mister B’s family. Yet the packaged goods that promised quick and easy meals didn’t hold much sway in his household. Mister Boomer’s mother, like many other boomer mothers, preferred the old methods of adding rice as a side dish; making hot dogs and a can of pork and beans; shredding leftover chicken in chicken cacciatore; making scalloped potatoes casseroles with leftover ham, and using the ham bone to make pea soup.

How did your family stretch a meal, boomers?

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