1950’s Food – from family supper to party time

The 1950’s was a more innocent and carefree time in the United States, particularly when compared to the 1930’s (depression) and 1940’s (war). War era rationing ended for the most part in 1945, although sugar rationing continued until 1947 in some places in the U.S. WWII was over, and the men were home, married, and raising families.

My earliest memories of dinner with the family are about 1951. Some of the dishes my mother prepared (and that I remember) were oxtail soup, salmon patties with creamed peas, Swiss steak, and meatloaf. Also liver occasionally (yucky to my younger self.) She made different jello desserts, puddings, and one dessert that was a slice of plain cake dolloped with warm pudding – lemon and vanilla were popular at our house. She also made lemon meringue pie – my dad’s favorite!

My dad also cooked – he frequently made breakfasts. During the 1930’s he was a manager of a Walgreen’s lunch counter for a time, and could make good soups too. He also liked to do odd (to me) meat dishes, like cow’s tongue and calf’s brains with eggs. His grandfather was a German “sausage maker”, and had a shop in Peoria, IL, so perhaps that is where that came from!

Breakfasts were great. Pancakes of all sorts were popular. He even added sweet corn to regular pancakes, which is surprisingly good. Fried apple fritters was something else that he made sometimes. Dad spent part of his youth in Alabama, so some southern dishes crept in too. He liked to fry leftover cooked cereal, like Cream of Wheat or Wheatena, and eat it with maple or sorghum syrup. I guess you could say his cuisine was German/American southern. His coffee was excellent; strong and hot.

Dad was always into the newest home gadgets. When I was quite young he bought a blender, and made homemade malts. That was around 1954 or so.

I remember drinking Kool-Aid in the summer, and little bottles of Welch’s grape juice. Those were treats. We seldom drank “pop”. That was a special treat that we got from the candy store or the gas station once in a while.

I remember the big water bath cooler filled with bottles of pop at the local candy store. Lifting the lid revealed glass soda bottles submerged in chilled water, their necks protruding from horizontal slots in a metal plate. To buy a soda pop, you would insert a coin (a nickel, I think) and slide the bottle into a little bay where the bottle could be pulled up through doors unlocked by the money in the slot. My favorites were orange and grape.

In those days, bottles were thicker glass, and it is my opinion that they were much more carbonated than today, and perhaps less sweet. Of course, all pop bottles were returned and refilled. Worth 2 cents a piece, so we kids would look along the road and in the ditches for empty bottles to return to the candy store (and exchange for candy, of course!)

Family reunions involved baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, fried chicken, ham, and cake. Come to think of it, they still do! My aunt made the best baked beans (she was our neighbor too), and the next day we would have cold baked bean sandwiches with mustard.

My mother made the most delicious cake for me for my birthday, which occurs around the beginning of strawberry season. It was an angel food cake (made from scratch – of course – with 12 egg whites, if I remember correctly.) She would cut about an inch off the top and carefully put it aside, then she would hollow out the cake and fill it with a mixture of whipped cream and strawberries. [I found the recipe in my 1956 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. The filling is a light version of strawberry bavarian cream; it has half again as much whipped cream.] The top went back on, and the cake was frosted with more whipped cream and decorated with fresh strawberries. She made that cake for me all of my life, and it was wonderful! The recipe came from Betty Crocker, and it was called Angel Food Waldorf. Here are some photos that approximate what it looked like:

Another favorite, and it still is to some (like my son-in-law), was pineapple upside down cake. Cake mix and canned fruit. What could be better!

If you are old enough to remember, what kinds of foods did you eat during the 1950’s?


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37 Responses to 1950’s Food – from family supper to party time

  1. ❌ ZurichMike ❌ says:

    Who ate the scooped out cake?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. czarowniczy says:

    ahhhhhh yes, comfort food.
    We lived in the same town as my grandparents and when I was over there we are Polish-based food. At home we had a lot of ‘war’ food, food that my Mom had learned to make during the rationing in Europe. We also had her attempts at creating US food thru her European experience. I still make her chili – on can Campbell’s pork and beans, one big onion sauteed in lard and a pound of hamburger – as a comfort food. I also still cook the Polish food from my \long gone youth. It ain’t gourmet, it’s comfort.
    I remember the Kool Aid – I do believe it tastes different now – but I remember when Tropicana had a plant by our school in Florida. The teacher would call a break, a runner would be appointed and we’d cough up a nickle so the runner could go to the Tropicana vending machine in the hall and get us a juice. They had small containers, probably 8-oz, that had a flat top and a peel-off lid in the top’s corner. We’d have either orange or fruit punch and we got to savor them until lunch. They tasted different too.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. czarowniczy says:

    Oh yes, those fiendishly vicious Coke boxes, a cross between a Rubik’s cube and a Waring blender. You’d slide that little bottle of Nehi or Coke down the grindy rails – bottle cap biting into your fingers – into that rotating bear trap of a gate and TRY to lift it out (even if the trap worked) and hope it didn’t slip out of your fingers or back to coin-step one.
    Then when you’d finished your Coke you turned the bottle over to see who got a bottle with a plant farthest from where you were. Then you’d turn the bottle in for a refund.

    Liked by 4 people

    • stella says:

      At my first summer job (1963), we had an old coke machine, but the stand-up kind, that held the small (5 or 6 oz?) bottles of coke. The perfect size, all for a nickel.

      Liked by 2 people

      • czarowniczy says:

        I remember the fiendish finger snatchers on the roads in the deep south, those old wooden gas stations with the dirt drives and,at some, washtubs with baby gators for sale.
        The days before the interstates and their mega stations, the old wooden motels with the air conditioners built into the walls, the rooms smell of a slight mildew staleness and traffic whizzing by about thirty feet from your door.
        Oh yeah, stopping at the cafes in the small towns as the national fast food folks hadn’t polluted our tastebuds with that national sameness yet.

        Liked by 4 people

        • stella says:

          We took long car trips when I was quite young, so I remember the motels, and diners. One place we stayed had a vibrating bed (or massaging bed; whatever) that was coin operated. Out west we always looked for a motel with a pool. That was a real luxury!

          We took three trips to California by car while I was in school. The first one when I was five, another when I was 15, and the third when I was 16. The last one was a winter trip, and we spent Christmas in Vegas and New Year’s in LA. Got to see the Rose Parade in person! After that, we took Hwy 1 up the coast to northern California to visit my brother, then back home the northern route via Tahoe, Carson City etc.

          Also drove to Florida and to Washington D.C.

          Liked by 3 people

          • czarowniczy says:

            Things were so much more different before the ‘hurry up and get there’ road systems, there was the ‘there’ destination and the ‘on thw wat there’ trip, both neat.
            You can still see traces of those old motels and diners down Hiway 11 hereabouts, almost gone but hanging on.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Went to Florida. 7 hours with my Grand Daughter driving (she’s 16). 80 miles an hour, with her hands in the air like she just don’t care! Just like my Mom (she always said she had a heavy foot when the police pulled her over).
    The music was different (J. Cole vs Sinatra). So was the prices!
    It’s been a long time since I’ve been on such a trek. A lot has changed, but a lot is still there if you look for it.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. czarowniczy says:

    Went outside for a while to look at the forested area (lotta trash, not that many trees) to see what I should cut. I was standing in the woods, quietly looking at the mess when I caught a movement to my left front thru the trees. My mind said it was my dog but something else said ‘no’. I focused and there was a very large doe that had stopped about rwenty feet from me, just outside the woodline. She was just standing there looking around. oblivious to my standing there.
    I finally clapped my hands – she looked straight at me but didn’t move. I clapped again but she just did a little hunch-up kind of quick movement but still stared at me. I finally yelled and shook a sapling and she up and ran – though not in a panicky mode. Oh the curse of being stupid and tasting good.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Menagerie says:

    I was born in 58, so nothing to contribute, but I love this post. Excellent idea Stella.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The Tundra PA says:

    Love this post, Stella! I was born in ’52, and don’t seem to remember much of family dinners before about 1960. Loved it when my mom made spaghetti with meat sauce (ooh, so Eye-talian!) and salad consisting of iceburg lettuce, tomato and mayonaise.

    Offering for your amusement:

    Lileks is a great humorous writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Menagerie says:

    How about a post on old tv shows from the same era, or even by decade? I would love to see some from the 50s and I remember great shows from the 60s and 70s too.

    Remember the rabbit ears? We kids had to adjust them until the picture was just right. And there were tv repairmen. Now I guess that career is gone too. We haven’t had a tv worked on since…can’t remember when.

    Which leads to more reflection. There used to be a guy who did small appliance repairs aand fixed broken lamps, miscellaneous things near where my dad’s business was.

    People used to get everything fixed back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stella says:

      I remember taking tubes from the tv to a shop that had a tube tester, then replacing the bad ones. At least that’s what my dad did! Then there were all of the adjustment knobs, remember? Horizontal and vertical alignment, contrast etc.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Menagerie says:

        Oh yes, I remember. And at, what was it, midnight, they had the national anthem and then there was snow until the morning show came on. Of course we just had the three stations, ABC, NBC, and CBS.

        Since there were so few choices, that made competition, especially hometown news shows, very fierce. Most of the women like my mother chose favorites and boy were they loyal to their favorite news and weather people.


    • stella says:

      Maybe I’ll repost that one I did about growing up in the 50’s. Talked about Mickey Mouse Club, and some of the other tv programs we watched as kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. John Denney says:

    My favorite birthday cake ever was when I was about nine. Angel food cake with diced marachino cherries in it. Mom used some of the marachino syrup in the batter, too, so the cake had a pink tinge. I had discovered the municipal swimming pool by that age, and demanded a pool party, and that my birthday cake frosting be swimming pool blue.

    A favorite summer food session was extended family gathering at my uncle’s place. He had a huge strawberry patch, and the women and kids would pick strawberries while the menfolk went and got a 25 pound block of ice. Other women mixed up eggs, sugar, vanilla, and milk and put it into the cans for the ice cream makers. Other women mixed up the batter for shortcake. The men and boys broke up the ice in a gunny sack ( I still remember the fragrance of wet burlap) and packed it with rock salt into the ice cream makers and started cranking. Meanwhile, the women and girls hulled and sliced the warm, ripe, fragrant strawberries and doused them with sugar.

    At the end of the afternoon, we’d have fresh, warm, shortcake with homemade ice cream, topped with those great strawberries. I haven’t had strawberry shortcake that good ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. auscitizenmom says:

    We were Southern, so we had either roast beef, potatoes, and carrots on Sunday, or fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy (and we NEVER put the gravy on the fried chicken), and a vegetable. We had ham sometimes and at least 2 or 3 meals a week were pinto beans and cornbread. Mama would make an angel food cake, slice it into thin layers and put vanilla ice cream between the layers, then put it in the freezer. It was so good in the summer. Something I noticed, men who would most of the time turn down dessert, always wanted a piece of that cake. It was so refreshing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stella says:

      Hey, I’m from the north, and our Sunday dinners sound like yours! Vegs in the summer were whatever was in season in the garden.


      • auscitizenmom says:

        We ate a lot of canned vegs. Daddy always grew tomatoes, but not much else. We would buy fresh vegs from stands sometimes. My parents grew up on farms and really liked fresh vegs but had been in the Navy for a long time at places where we couldn’t always get them.

        Liked by 1 person

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