Boomers Count Down Another Year

Well, boomers, this week we’ll flip the life odometer on another year. 2011 will see the youngest boomers turning 47, while the oldest among us will reach 65. As the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still be wondering what “Auld Lang Syne” means. For the record, it’s Scottish for “times long past,” a phrase popularized by the poet Robert Burns in the song from the late 17th century. Are there boomers of any age who can recall all the lyrics to that traditional New Year’s song? Probably not.

Perhaps the reason is, unless your family was Scottish, the version you probably heard during your formative boomer years was an instrumental played by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadiens. It’s probably playing through your brain right now as you read this. (Sorry.) His TV presence and rendition of the song became synonymous with New Year’s Eve, first for our parents, then passed on to us through family TV osmosis. Mr. Lombardo had performed on a radio broadcast each year since 1928, then his first live New Year’s TV broadcast was aired beginning in 1956. He continued the tradition until his death in November 1977. His brother Victor took over for a year, but the band disbanded in 1978. In addition to his live broadcast from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, there would be coverage of the Times Square ball drop. While most boomers that Mister Boomer knows couldn’t stand Guy Lombardo (the “old fogey” that he was represented the past, man!), we did want to see the ball drop. That is yet another shared memory we boomers have in our history.

New Year’s Eve was one of the few days of the year when boomer children were allowed to stay up late. Mom and dad, along with possibly some family members, friends and neighbors, would down cocktails and watch Guy Lombardo on the black and white TV, until the time arrived for the big New Year’s countdown.

In Mister Boomer’s household, the children were dressed in their pajamas (with the feet on them), had coats draped over their shoulders like capes to ward off the winter chill, and were issued pots, pans and wooden spoons. The young troop was then marched out the front door, where Mister B and his siblings lined up along the porch edge waiting for the countdown. The TV volume would be turned up so it could be heard from the porch, as the group shivered in anticipation. “5-4-3-2-1 … Happy New Year!” was their cue to bang as furiously and loudly as possible. Their percussive cacophony was joined by a few neighborhood children also banging pots and pans on their porches, along with the sounds of horns, shouts of “Happy New Year,” and car horns that echoed through the neighborhood. Then, as the noise began to diminish, Mister B’s father would step out on the porch with his shotgun that he used for pheasant hunting. All eyes were on him as he loaded a shell into the gun. He raised it to his shoulder, and, aiming at the front lawn, fired into the ground as if the bang were a finale to the neighborhood noise-making.

As the years progressed, shotgun firing was dropped from the family tradition. It wasn’t long after that, that the banging of pots and pans also became “times long past.” We were getting older, and Guy Lombardo wasn’t going to cut it for the Pepsi Generation. Finally, in 1972, Dick Clark offered boomers another choice. Calling his show New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, he put the older generation on notice that his was not your father’s New Year’s celebration. We already knew Dick from American Bandstand, of course. We liked him, and we trusted him as a voice of our generation. If he wanted to rock New Year’s Eve, we wanted to rock with him.

As the decades-old tradition of one television for the whole family began to crack, boomers had New Year’s parties in basements, where they could watch Dick Clark on a second TV while their parents sat in front of Guy Lombardo, upstairs, for another year. That first Rockin’ Eve show in 1972 featured Three Dog Night as hosts, and musical guests Blood, Sweat & Tears, Helen Reddy and Al Green. Mister Boomer recalls several house parties in the seventies, when, rockin’ or not, the show seemed pretty boring. Since it wasn’t Guy Lombardo boring, we would continue to watch.

Any overview of boomer New Year’s celebrations would be remiss without the mention of The Soupy Sales Show. Almost every boomer remembers some version of The Soupy Sales Show on TV. It was New Year’s Day 1965 that marked a momentous day for boomer fans of Soupy. The network had forced Soupy to work the holiday, and that didn’t sit too well with the pie-man. Soupy jokingly looked at his young viewers and asked them to tip-toe into their parents’ bedrooms while they were sleeping and remove the “funny green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards” from their pockets and purses. He then instructed his viewers to “put them in an envelope and mail them to me.” That week the station, WNEW in New York, received what has been reported as $80,000, though Soupy himself revealed that most of it was was play money or Monopoly money. Soupy was suspended for two weeks, but his show was not canceled and continued another two years.

It is said many boomers like to say they were among those who sent Soupy some dollars in 1965. Unfortunately, Mister Boomer cannot make that claim. Others say it’s more likely we have the same situation at work in the Soupy incident as the number of people who claim to have been at Woodstock. How about it, boomers? Does Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark or Soupy Sales loom large in the annals of your New Year’s memories?

Have Boomers Half-Baked the Holiday Cookie Tradition?

Mister Boomer is exhausted. He just completed his annual Big Bake Weekend, which is a marathon of cookie baking for the holidays. Mister B doesn’t go for those cookie-cutter sugar varieties that are iced with neon-colored sugar. He prefers the butter-infused, chocolate-possesed, nutty-filled, lemon-zesty decadence that puts the “m-m-m-m” back in “holiday.” It’s got to be a rock ‘n’ roll cookie, if you want to holiday dance with Mister B.

Most definitely, Mister B’s recipe box is filled with cookies of days gone by: childhood favorites like buttermilk fruit drop cookies from his mother; mincemeat mini-turnovers from his aunt; and anise cookies from his grandmother. Yet through the years, older traditional recipes have fallen prey to newer models. Some were set aside because of time restraints. For others, hard to find ingredients did them in. For others still, changing tastes altered the flavor landscape.

All that baking got Mister B thinking about the role holiday baking played in our boomer lives, and how our boomer lives have since affected holiday baking. It all started with Toll House® cookies around 1930. Though attributed to different creators, historians agree the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts was the birthplace of the modern chocolate chip cookie. How does that figure into our holiday baking story? The Toll House agreed to sell the recipe to Nestlé, and it was subsequently printed on, first, every bar of semi-sweet chocolate, then on every bag of chocolate chips once they were introduced.

Our grandparents would have been around to try the recipe, but holiday baking remained all about tradition. They suffered for their baking, first due to the economic hardships of the Great Depression, then from sugar and butter rationing during the Second World War. We all recall our mothers baking with margarine instead of butter. That substitute grew in popularity from the butter-rationing days. After the war, our mothers were modern homemakers. As the country’s prosperity grew and the first boomers were heading to school, contemporary women wanted to embrace the Space Age technology that would free up their time in the kitchen. This occurred not only with electric appliances like the hand mixer, but also in the form of instant cookie mixes.

Though Duncan Hines introduced packaged cake mixes over a decade earlier, cookie mixes started to appear in the early boomer years. Betty Crocker’s foray into the packaged cookie mix realm began in 1947 with a Gingerbread Cake Mix that was quickly renamed Gingerbread Cake and Cookie Mix. A 1951 newspaper account in Pittsburgh touted a “just add water” packaged cookie mix that went on sale that February day, without ever naming the company brand.

Still, our mothers didn’t wholly embrace the packaged cookie mix. The prevailing thought was that the mixes were inconsistent, and couldn’t match the taste of from-scratch baking. They did, however, embrace the brand name sponsored recipes that were printed everywhere in our childhood years. Some of the treasured family recipes we boomers fondly recall didn’t come from the old country after all. Rather, they came from a package of chocolate chips, a butter carton, flour package, sugar bag, newspaper article or magazines like Family Circle and Good Housekeeping. Every recipe contained product names followed by a registered trademark.

By the time the 1960s arrived, Pillsbury had introduced refrigerated dough. Now baking a cookie was as easy as opening a package, cutting the dough into slices and placing them on a baking sheet. In 1966, the company’s advertising was based on a “Busy Lady” theme to appeal to boomers’ moms who had headed back to the workforce. For many moms enthralled with the instant breakfast drink of the astronauts and the world imagined by The Jetsons, this was progress. It would seem another blow to traditional holiday baking had been struck.

While it looked like traditional baking had started its inevitable downward spiral, there was a bit of a home-baking revival in the early 1970s. The first boomers were having families of their own by then, and Betty Crocker released The Joy of Cooking. This book became the cooking and baking bible of the modern homemaker, and its recipes ruled the roost for the next decade.

By the time we boomers reached the 1980s, though, a serious shift had occurred. Fewer and fewer moms were baking holiday treats for and along with their children. Toll House cookies now came in packaged form. For many children of the 80s, dropping that pre-made dough on a cookie sheet was the closest they’d get to home baking.

While this Betty Crocker commercial from a couple of years ago gets points for breaking the holiday baker gender stereotype, the selling point isn’t that men and boys can bake — it’s all about the little time it takes.

We boomers have memories of licking the metal beaters as soon as mom removed them from the electric mixer. Siblings fought over who would lick the spoon that stirred the batter. We tried our hand at twisting, cutting and shaping cookies and icing them once they came out of the oven. The aroma of baking cookies would fill the house. It was more than baking. It was the scent of the holidays.

Now that a good portion of our generation are grandparents, perhaps it’s time to revive the holiday baking tradition. Have you baked something for your grandchildren this holiday season? Were they present and did they, in their own way, help? Come on, boomers, make it happen! After all, weren’t we the generation that invented the idea of putting raw cookie dough into ice cream? Surely we were conjuring up memories of eating that dough while our moms baked us a holiday to remember.

What is your favorite holiday cookie baking memory, boomers?