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Food History Roundup: 6 Posts on 1950s Convenience Cuisine

Titled, “Beef Fizz and Other Strange Recipes from the ’50s-’60s,” my most recent Zester Daily article was published last week, a short piece dedicated to my fascination with mid-century cuisine.

Over the summer, I have indulged my mid-century penchant by picking up dozens of vintage cookbooks, including six more just last night! These cookbooks are mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, but some earlier in the twentieth century (I can’t wait to write about The Sunny Side of Life Book, published by the Kellogg Company in 1934) and some later (like Betty Crocker’s Family Dinners In a Hurry, whose fourteenth printing ran in 1980). It’s a borderline reckless hobby, adding more books to an already large collection of literature, public health texts, and food studies books, but I’m sure it’ll provide inspiration for many a blog post.

I’ve already written a bit on convenience food, packaged-food cuisine, my love of Laura Shapiro’s Something from the Oven, and what food and cooking meant mid-century. Here’s a quick roundup in roughly chronologically historical order:

1. Wartime, Memorial Day … & Kraft American Cheese? Focusing on a 1947 ad for Kraft cheeses, this post considers the postwar food environment and includes four nostalgia worthy images of dainty American housewives and the idealized domesticity that their figures embody.

2. The Oh-So-Glamorous World of Velveeta & Cheez Whiz. Drawing on material I collected while in the archives at the Hartman Center at Duke University, these Kraft ads from the 1950s and 1960s perfectly reveal how the convenience food industry sought to glamorize their products in order to win over housewives, who were initially leery of their products.

3. The Dunkin’ Donuts Origin Story: A Meaningful Beginning. Chronicling the origins of the coffee chain on which American runs (and at whose altar New Englanders worship), this post tells the tale of how the first Dunkin’ Donuts opened its doors in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950.

4. Curating the History of American Convenience Cuisine. Through five images, this post explores the intersections of foodways, the postwar military industrial complex, women’s issues, and class-consciousness within the socio-cultural context of the 1950s.

5. Chicken Fricasee Face-Off: 18th Century Haute Cuisine versus 1950s Can-Opener Cooking. Inspired by the greatest essay exam question ever, designed by Dr. Ken Albala (who blogs at Ken Albala’s Food Rant), this post compares Francois Massialot’s recipe, “Poulets en Fricasée au Vin de Champagn” from Le Nouveau Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois (1748) with Poppy Cannon’s “Chicken with White Wine and White Grapes” from The Can-Opener Cookbook (1953), revealing what this processed-food-dependent recipe can tell us about the desires and trials of the 1950s American housewife.

6. What’s Your Food Culture Type: June Cleaver or Hippie? In this post, I compare and contrast the food values embodied by June Cleaver and the 1950s’ trend of convenience foods with the countercuisine of 1970s hippies, exploring how elements of both decades influence today’s mainstream food culture.

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