Boomers Had “Family Recipes”

If you have been watching any of the food competition shows that appear on multiple networks these days, you know they generally fall into two categories: professional cooks and home cooks. When you get into the home cook category, a common thread that appears in these shows is that sooner or later, the competitors are asked to present one of their favorite family recipes. That got Mister Boomer thinking: if he were involved in such a competition, what would he choose?

Mister B does not profess to have a favorite dish from his childhood, let alone a cherished family recipe. To be sure, there are boomers who do, and many who, in fact, are still cooking recipes that have been passed down for generations, as their relatives came here from “the old country.” Yet in Mister Boomer’s experience, many of the “family recipes” that boomers may remember were of more recent lineage.

For example, as Mister B executed the mental exercise of running through some usual dishes served in the Boomer household, it was easy enough to trace the bacon slices cooked into pancake batter recipe from the side of a Bisquick box. Pork chops with mushroom gravy came from a Campbell’s soup can. Even his mother’s baked beans and hot dogs recipe came from the side of a jar of B&M Baked Beans.

When it came to the holiday season, Mister B does have some nostalgia for cookie, cake and pie recipes, but he knows that these, too, came from packages, not from his ancestors. His mother’s Banana Cream Pie recipe was on the box of Jell-O pudding. Her Pineapple Upside-Down Cake recipe was printed on a Duncan Hines cake mix box; her “from scratch” shortcake biscuits for Strawberry Shortcake came from a Bisquick box as well.

Recipes on food packages began to appear during the Industrial Revolution, when mass-production of food items became a reality. Companies began hiring women to create recipes made with their products for this purpose. The idea was to get consumers interested in trying their product. Then the recipes had to keep changing so consumers would continue to buy the products, in order to try these new recipes.

Very possibly the most famous food packaging recipe ever was for the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. The recipe was created by two chefs at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts back in 1938. Nestle printed their recipe on the back of its chocolate chip bags, and it has become the quintessential chocolate chip cookie recipe against which all others are measured.

Food packaging recipes during the Depression helped home cooks work within their limited budgets to stretch meals for families. During WWII they were altered to fit into food rationing requirements, such as substituting oleo margarine or shortening for butter; and molasses, sorghum, honey or maple syrup for granulated sugar. The parents of boomers grew up on these recipes, and a good many boomers that Mister B speaks with remember these types of recipes in their childhood as well.

Mister B note: This video is nearly 13 minutes long, but it’s amusing:

The heyday of food packaging recipes occurred during the prime boomer years of the 1950s and ’60s. There are many videos and such available these days that make fun of Tiki-inspired dishes and strange combinations of foods that might turn up in a packaging recipe. Take a look at what you have in your cupboard now; you just might find a few recipes there to try on your grandkids.

So, the question is, boomers, is that nostalgic or even cherished memory you have of a favorite recipe a genuine family heirloom, or did your mom find it on the back of a box, package or can?