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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91miYXo-gUI
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?

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?