Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eating 50's Style

So, I'm onto my latest kooky experiment.  I was recently reading a cookbook from the 50's: Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking.  I love reading domestic books from that era.  The way they phrase things and the insight into the homemaker mind at the time just fascinate and amuse me.

Anyways, I came across the menu planning section.  In it they gave a week's worth of sample menus for each month of the year: "Using seasonal foods in thrifty balanced menus."  Planning menus every week gets to be a drag sometimes, so I thought it might be fun to give these a try.  It seemed like a fun way to get a glimpse of what cooking and eating at home was like in the 50's, in an immersive experience.  Granted, the menu is probably an idealized one.

Some of the foods to be eaten daily:

quart of milk for children, pint for adults
meat, poultry, fish or cheese; liver or variety meat weekly
1 egg, if possible
a yellow or green veggie
white or sweet potatoes
1 other veggie
 a serving of citrus or tomato
another fruit

You'll notice that there are 5 fruits and veggies.  Qualifying for the "5 a day" campaign we hear about now.  The menus also serve a dessert with every dinner and almost every lunch.

The guidelines for feeding young children differ from what we do today.  Before the age of 5 or 6, the child should be served foods that are bland.  Cereal should only be slightly sweetened.  No pepper or spices, except a tiny amount on special occasions. No rich gravies or pastry.  His heaviest meal should be mid-day, with his evening meal a milk soup, cereal and milk or bread and milk as its basis.  And for convenience, the child may be fed early and sent to bed before the rest of the family is served.  Needless to say, we aren't subjecting Cyrus to these guidelines. 

The book emphasizes that because we no longer have the large appetites that our agrarian forefathers had, that we eat less food, and hence need to carefully select that food to make sure we cover all of our nutritional requirements.   The meals tend to have a great more dishes served than I usually do.  And yet, by strictly following the recipes according to serving sizes, I think they must have had much smaller serving sizes than we think of today.

The lunch menus are much more elaborate than I would ever do with just Cyrus and I at home, so I haven't been following them.  We speculated that perhaps the rest of the family was more likely to come home and eat lunch at that time than happens now.  A couple times I have replaced the dinner menu with the lunch menu, when the suggested dinner menu is likely to cause mutiny.  Another interesting tidbit: on Sunday, lunch is called dinner and is the big meal of the day, and dinner is called supper.

Finally, The Meal Planner's Creed:

The health of my family is in my care; therefore--
I will spare no effort in planning meals containing the right kinds of foods in the right amounts.

Spending the food dollar to get the most for it is my job; therefore--
I will choose foods from a wide variety, variously priced to save money without sacrificing health.

My family's enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore--
I will increase their pleasure by preparing a variety of dishes attractive in color and form and pleasing in flavor and texture.

My family's health, security, and pleasure depend on my skill in planning meals; therefore--
I will treat my job with the respect due it.

Italics as written.  This was serious business!  As this was an era of modern labor saving advances, caring for the family and serving them food was much easier than it had ever been.  What does a woman do with all that extra time?  Why, raise standards and use it to do what she does even better!  I'm speculating that is what happened.  And that perfect housewife paradigm then led to the feminist revolt, perhaps?  Anyone know of a good history book on this subject?

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