Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cuisine a la can

In my perusal of mid-20th century cookbooks, I've noticed the recipes contain a stunning array of canned foods.  It is my guess that when the modern convenience craze began rolling in a big way and homes were being filled with "labor-saving devices," food manufacturers jumped at the occasion with a little too much enthusiasm.  (The very fact that food could be considered "manufactured" should have given someone a glaring clue...)

I suppose housewives, enthralled by the idea of spending an extra hour at Mildred's bridge party, thought they could come home, open a few cans and ta-da!  Dinner!  This sort of cuisine delighted no one ever and thankfully, some of these tinned wonders died along the way as manufacturers stopped canning everything they could squeeze into a cylinder.

If you had been cooking in the 1950s, take a look at these oh, so convenient canned wonders you could have chosen for your main dish (and all these are really found in the "Jiffy Cooking" section of the 1958 Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking):

lamb stew
beef and kidneys
tongue and tongue loaf
chicken fricassee
chicken a la king
codfish cakes
Welsh rabbit

For side dishes, there were
canned cooked rice
canned tomato aspic
canned dandelion greens

And for dessert, how about some canned fig pudding?

And don't forget potted meat, the particular "delicacy" which is still easily found in stores and, I confess, my cupboard.  Yes, really.  Not everyone has such a thoughtful sister-in-law who will clean out the potted meat shelf at the local scratch-n-dent store and present it to you for your birthday and dare you to find a way to prepare it.

As I walked past the freezer section at the grocery store today, I saw frozen single serve tubs of oatmeal, pre-made for breakfast (sure to entice you out of bed in the morning).  A few shelves away were packages of frozen mashed potatoes.  And then there's the pre-cooked, vacuum packed bacon, non-refrigerated dairy products and a vast number of other foods preserved and packaged for maximum storage time at the expense of taste and nutritional quality.

We've come a long way.

I can still hope that these technological wonders we have accepted as food will one day be as unappetizing as the early canned experiments as we re-learn the old ways of preparing and storing food.

photo source

This post linked to Simple Lives Thursday.


  1. It really is amazing. And along the same vein, I often run into articles online that address the challenge of switching to whole foods, cooking from scratch, etc. because people think it takes So Much Time. Not that long ago, scratch cooking is all there was. We bought/grew/raised INGREDIENTS and cooked them. Actually, I have always done from scratch cooking, but ever since I switched to what we currently think to be healthy (Weston A. Price) my time in the kitchen is much reduced! Cooking good simple meals is considerably easier.

    1. I've cooked from scratch as long as I've been cooking. The few times I've done it, camping or whatever, I thought reading boxes and opening lots of little packets was a pain!

      I've been studying and implementing the Weston A. Price way for less than a year now. It's the only food lifestyle that has ever made sense to me (mainly because of its focus on historical diets) but so far, it's meant more work. I know I'll get the hang of it eventually, but remembering to soak grains and nuts and waiting for ferments has been tricky for me!

    2. ....The few times I've made prepackaged meals, that is...

  2. That "Elsa" is actually me, and here if you want to look at my blog I am hooked up to the proper link.

    1. LOL! I just checked out your blog--I've been following it for months! I really enjoyed your kefir series. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. I really enjoyed this post, your sister-in-law's dare made me giggle! I had to look up Weston A. Price, very interesting and worthy reading...I will check into it more!

    1. I've looked extensively and tried several recipes, but potted meat is just not good, period! (I got her back with the most colorful Christmas sweater you can imagine.)

      Someone recommended Nourishing Traditions (a book based on Weston A Price's findings) to me about 6 years ago. At the time I was juggling a job or two and finishing my degree and it all looked very overwhelming and intimidating. I got the book from the library again about a year ago and it finally clicked with me. I have implemented many changes and it has improved my health immensely. (Hmmm, I feel another blog post in my future...)

    2. Interesting, yes...I'd love to hear more about your experiences with this!

  4. I have flashbacks to canned corn and peas growing up. I can't eat those to this day! I remember my mom making salmon patties out of canned salmon. Thank goodness I was spared that. I struggle with making food from scratch or as least processed as possible, but I'm trying. As processed foods become less like food to me I'm working harder to cook simply and eat simply if I can. Tongue and tongue loaf??? No thank you!

  5. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it so much work to cook and eat simply! I recently tried beef tongue for the first time. Once the outer tongue-looking part is peeled off, it is the tenderest beef imaginable with no fat or bones. But canned, in a loaf? No thanks here, either!

    I wonder how ANYONE manages to choke down canned peas???

  6. Just stumbled across your blog because of the Chocolate Stars (I'll be making those) I'm reading backward (most recent to oldest) and just had to comment on this post. My dad thought canned food was the greatest thing ever invented. I guess growing up in the post dust bowl days of rural Oklahoma does that to you. His all time favorite food, Vienna Sausages and Potted Meat (which is actually just Vienna Sausages that came to a premature ending in the packaging process.) He'd try to entice us to eat Potted Meat by making such things as PM Burritos, PM grilled cheese sandwiches, PM pot pies, and PM fried pies, just to name a few. I'll never forget my young son asking me "Momma, why does Pappa have to eat cat food?"

  7. What a great story--thanks for sharing it! It makes total sense how someone could appreciate potted meat and other canned foods having lived through something like the dust bowl. (It does kinda smell like cat food now that you mention it!) :)