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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)

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)

Boomers Celebrate Thanksgiving With Family

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner, and airline industry analysts expect more than 24-and-a-half million people will take a plane in the 21 day period between November 21 and December 2. That’s an increase of more than 31,000 people per day over last year. The reason is simple: people are headed “home,” which is now further away than it used to be in the Boomer Era.

Thanksgiving is the most quintessential of American holidays, and, as boomers can attest, has always meant spending time with family. It’s the most homogenous of the holidays, with turkey and all the trimmings, though the trimmings can vary slightly by region and ethnic origin. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is, it celebrates “home,” wherever that may be. At the turn of the century, over the river and through the woods was the way to grandmother’s house. By the end of the Baby Boom in 1964, the U.S. highway system meant travel by car was much easier than previous decades. The highway system had given a boost to the migration of people away from small towns and rural communities, which began in the 1950s.

The move from small communities was precipitated by a variety of factors. Soldiers returning home from the War had been subjected to stories of other places and future opportunities that stirred their imagination and wanderlust; employment was more plentiful in larger communities; returning soldiers may have married someone from a different region; the new national highway system and car travel expanded suburbs and locations that could be away but still within one day’s drive for burgeoning boomer families; and, as boomers themselves aged and became college students, life in another state was a real possibility.

After two decades of boomer families migrating away from small towns, there was a slight uptick of people moving back to those communities in the 1970s as the aging parents of boomers retired, but that quickly changed in the 1980s. Overall, in the period between 1950 and 2000, there has been a significant loss of 20 to 29 year olds in small town populations. Today only 37 percent of people continue to live in the hometown area in which they were raised. Plus, college graduates are more likely to have lived in multiple states than at any other time in history. That translates into more trips over Thanksgiving as boomers and now the children of boomers travel.

Nonetheless, for most boomers in the core boomer years of 1945 to 1964, “home” remained within a day’s drive from the place from which they were born. In Mister Boomer’s case, all of his aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a hour’s drive of each other. Many lived in the same city. Like many boomers, it was a move out of an urban environment to expanding suburbs during the Baby Boom for Mister B’s parents. As a result, Mister B’s suburb was literally on the edge of suburbia-meets-farmland. There was a working farm directly behind the row of houses across the street from Mister B’s childhood home until the early 1960s, when the land was parceled up and new homes were built. Getting grandparents and extended family together for Thanksgiving was a short freeway drive away.

Unlike a lot of movies and nightmare stories some people have of family gatherings, Thanksgiving for Mister B was a great American holiday designed for stuffing one’s self to the gills, even if it meant sitting at the kids’ table. (See: Boomers Had a Different Thanksgiving).

How far will you travel this Thanksgiving, boomers? Or is your family traveling back to you?

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

Boomers Helped to Alter the Christmas Shopping Countdown

Boomers were born into the beginnings of the Consumer Age, when “buying more” equaled “progress.” Now that the Christmas shopping season is here once again, it’s time for Mister Boomer — an aging boomer Scrooge himself — to rant about how in our day it was “To everything … there is a season,” but now it’s “All about the Benjamins.”

In the boomer era the Christmas season, in most small to middle-sized towns, wasn’t “officially” started until the lighting of the community Christmas tree. The tree could be a naturally-growing one in a city park, or a twenty-to-thirty foot tall evergreen erected for the season in a town square or shopping district. In any case, it was decorated with lights and sometimes large ornaments that were wired to the branches to thwart wind gusts and mischievous hands. It was a citywide event when it came time to turn on the lights. Very often a local celebrity or political figure “flipped the switch” to illuminate the tree. Hundreds of people would brave the inevitable cold (and sometimes, snow) to come out for the tree lighting, in anticipation of the festive season’s arrival. Some Christmas carols might be sung by school kids, or, the crowd that gathered joined in singing. Local TV would be sure to get some footage for the evening news.

The thing is, the annual tree lighting was never in November; it was always held within the first two weeks or weekends of December. President Franklin Roosevelt had the Thanksgiving holiday pushed back one week in 1941 in an effort to give retail merchants a longer Christmas shopping season. The intent was to offer an economic boost to help get the country out of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Black Friday shopping was barely a blip in most areas after the War, as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was yet to be fully exploited the way other holidays had been (with the exception of professional football on TV, that is).

Christmas as a religious holiday always had an uneasy connection to capitalistic commerce through Santa Claus, who was depicted both as a religious figure and the bearer of toys to delight girls and boys. Santa’s arrival was often timed to coincide with the tree lighting. As befitting a prominent figure, the man in the red suit could arrive to the tree lighting by firetruck or, in some cases, helicopter. Some towns had Christmas parades planned around the event.

Our parents, a generation that grew up in the worst economic depression the country had ever seen — which was then followed by a World War — wanted very much to give their children as much as they possibly could, literally and figuratively. Consequently, the optimistic atmosphere of post-war America turned the holiday, with each passing year, into a season of want that continues to expand. As Baby Boomers we only knew the world we lived in, and not the one that came before, so more toys and gifts than our parents received as kids was only natural to us. The new national medium of TV did a lot to instill within us the desire to bug our parents for advertised products, and they obliged whenever they could. It looks like we did the same thing to our children, and they to theirs.

It seemed the more people bought in those boomer days, the hungrier merchants got, so the shopping season kick off of Black Friday gained in importance by the mid-60s. By the time the 1970s rolled around, a lot of cities abandoned the tree lighting ceremonies for several reasons, including protests over the separation of church and state, financial considerations of local governments and, in the case of Mister Boomer’s area as well as a host of others, the rise of local indoor malls, which took over the duties of creating tree lighting ceremonies of their own.

While Mister B has noticed a steady increase in the intensity of early holiday shopping through the years, he decries the frenzy foisted upon the populace by corporate-owned stores that he has witnessed over the past few years. Baby Boomers grew up in an age where by mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Day Uncle Ned had unbuckled his belt and half the family was asleep in front of the TV football game. Now some families are piling into the SUV and headed for the mall.

We aren’t going back to the Mayberry days of our youth, to be sure, but shouldn’t we have one silent night before the onslaught of a month of blaring Silent Nights?

What do you think, boomers? When should the floodgates be opened for Christmas shopping?

posted by Mister B in Holidays and have Comment (1)

Boomers Were Taught Thanksgiving Myths

Like the story of Columbus discovering America and Washington chopping down a cherry tree, boomers were taught myths surrounding Thanksgiving as though they were facts. To start with, we have identified Thanksgiving with the Plimouth Colony in Massachusetts (later known as Plymouth) since the days of the Civil War, yet the Jamestown Colony in Virginia was established two decades earlier, and Spanish explorers had colonies in Florida and Texas fifty years before that. Historical records show each landing was followed by a “thanksgiving.” The nature of thanksgiving at that time was a religious day of fasting and church-going to give thanks to the Creator for safe passage to this new land.

Before the Pilgrims landed, the Wampanoag tribe had established a village there called Patuxet. The tribe had 69 villages throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island, with residents numbering 50,000 to 100,000. When European settlers arrived, they brought disease that was unknown to the continent. A plague devastated Patuxet and it was abandoned. This abandoned village is where the pilgrims set up the Plimouth Colony. They say history is written by the victors, but now a study of written records of the time show that the Europeans exhibited cruel and inhuman treatment of their New World hosts. Thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered wholesale in written accounts that thank the Lord Almighty for giving them the strength to vanquish the “heathen savages.” Thousands more were captured and sold into slavery. By the time the pilgrims arrived in 1620, the Wampanoag held them in fear and mistrust. Some historians now believe the Native Americans did not, as our myth says, teach the pilgrims how to survive as a goodwill gesture, but rather as coerced labor.

Every boomer child — and indeed every school-age kid today — could identify the pilgrims by their tall black hats with the big buckle around the brim, black and white clothing and buckled shoes. In fact, the pilgrims wore simple clothes that were colored blue or shades of brown in the natural dyes that were available to them. The picture we recognize as a pilgrim was conjured from 18th century paintings. The distinctive black and white outfits belonged to the European wealthy class of that age, not immigrants to the New World.

The meal is another myth. Since native tribes had celebrated the harvest for thousands of years, more than likely the event was a harvest celebration as opposed to a thanksgiving the way Europeans understood the term. Likewise the harvest season for that area would have been earlier than late November. As to the day in question, one account written by a Native American says the pilgrims were celebrating by shooting their guns — this in itself does not say “thanksgiving,” but rather, harvest celebration. Based on previous encounters, the Native Americans dressed for battle and went to investigate, killing five deer, possibly to bring as a peace offering. Whether at that point they were invited to a meal or they stayed on their own, we do know they shared a meal. While there are no records specifically stating turkey was on the menu, it is a possibility as turkeys had been domesticated by the native tribes before that time. Peas, squash, pumpkin, mussels, lobster and some wild fowl like geese were consumed.

Sugar was an expensive commodity, as evidenced by the 17th century locking sugar cabinets which appear in antique stores. Therefore pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce were out of the question. These items were incorporated into stews and savory applications. Likewise sweet potatoes had not made their way to the area by that date, nor were potatoes a regular part of the English diet at that time. There also were no forks with which to eat the meal; a spoon and a knife were the customary utensils.

Abraham Lincoln, spurred on by Sarah Josepha Hale (the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 as a way of providing a sense of unity for a country at war with itself. Hale had been advocating that Thanksgiving Day, marked in different ways and days in various states, be made a common national day. The originally designated day was the last Thursday of November. In 1941 Franklin Roosevelt changed it by Presidential Proclamation to the fourth Thursday in November as a way of extending the Christmas shopping season to help in the nation’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Mister Boomer stopped at Plymouth, Massachusetts on a family vacation in the sixties. On seeing the rock, with the date 1620 carved into it, he recalls how he and Brother Boomer were rather disappointed. The rock wasn’t that much bigger than a large watermelon. The boomer boys did not know that the original rock was said to have been more than 20,000 lbs. and that the remaining piece was broken off during an attempt to move the larger stone. The piece the boys saw is about a third of the original stone, said to be the foot landing of the first Pilgrim settlers, though no definitive writings have been unearthed to verify that.

Mister B wonders why the myths continue to be perpetuated in the 21st century. What is puzzling is that boomers — the originators of “politically correct” — were hell bent on changing the world in the sixties, yet left national myths intact to this day, though there are some attempts at correcting the history in some school districts.

As we approach another Thanksgiving, it is interesting to note the current infighting among even family members concerning the acceptance of immigrants to our shores. If the Native Americans were the ones with the guns at the time, perhaps our Thanksgiving would look a whole lot different.

What Thanksgiving myths do you remember hearing as kids, boomers? Did your children and grandchildren hear the same ones?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Boomers Were Taught Thanksgiving Myths