Saturday, September 1, 2012

No Stone Left Unturned: The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook (1959)

Hello! I'm a sucker for vintage cookbooks, especially those from the 1950's, so when I spied the 1959-issued The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook at a thrift store recently, I had to snap it up. It also helped that cookbooks were 1/2 off that week, which meant that I spent a whopping one dollar for a volume of over 400 pages. 

Here's what the cookbook looks like, in case you ever want to get one of your own:

Initially, I was charmed by the line drawings therein, which have that 50's  verve:

However, I soon noticed that the writers of this cookbook had left no stone unturned - it appears that virtually any wrinkle in one's meal plans was addressed, along with a dizzying array of social occasions, international menus, regional meals within the US, and more. And all was done in a friendly, breezy tone that was obviously meant to reassure the cook - usually a woman (unless the Man of the House is barbequing or his wife is ill) - that she, and her meals, would be ready for anything.

There are menu solutions offered for the everyday family meals, which address such issues as the one illustrated above, as well as ones like "Sue's always late on Wednesdays", "When Dad comes home for lunch" and "Stragglers for breakfast". 

But where the cookbook really gets fun, IMO, is when social occasions are discussed. Thus, there's a menu for "Come back with us after the sleigh ride", "Come watch the big TV show tonight" and "Back from bowling". None of the food is shabby either - the cookbook has oyster stew for the post-sleigh ride meal, ham rolls with cottage cheese in sour cream sauce for the TV watchers, and potato and salami casserole for the bowlers. There are, of course, side dishes and rich desserts as well. The food definitely seems fancier than what would be served for similar occasions in today's world. I'm thinking that chili for the post-sleigh ride meal and take-out pizza for the TV watchers and the bowlers would be more the norm today!

Moving on, since I'm from the Midwest, I read with interest the narrative for the "Midwest pitch-in party" - what I've always heard called a potluck - with square dancing after the meal. Actually, the cookbook makes other references to square dance parties, so obviously it was a popular dance form back then.

And here's what the "Midwest pitch-in party" meal looked like:

It featured pork roast with dressing, various salads, two kinds of cake, one kind of pie, fudge and beverages. The staged photo made me nostalgic for the Blue and Gold banquets (a Boy Scout event) I used to attend (courtesy of my brother's involvement in scouting) in the late 1960's-early 1970's. Those were potluck affairs as well, and my head used to spin at the variety of cakes and cookies on display (the casseroles, baked beans, and potato salads weren't too bad either). In fact, one year I ate so much cake that I woke up later on that night with a stomachache - yes, I had been too gluttinous! 

Anyway, back to the cookbook - continuing on with the parties and other social events, there are menus for "daytime entertaining", "it's a party", "home for the holidays" "the meals outdoors" and more. 

Too bad I didn't have this cookbook a couple of years ago, when our daughter turned 15. I could have served her and her friends a special meal just for her 15th birthday: Creole chicken and rice, a four-vegetable relish tray, hot buttered rolls, coconut cake, milk and coffee. "...a quite elegant little supper" the cookbook proclaims, and indeed it is. But I certainly wouldn't have served Creole chicken and rice to our daughter and her friends! One look at that stuff and they would have asked to be taken to Wendy's.

"Strictly for the boys" presents a "big, manly soup and sandwiches" - with one sandwich filling suggestion being tongue. I wonder how many people still eat tongue? My dad used to, occasionally, when I was a kid. Again, if my husband would have had a group of men over and served them tongue sandwiches, they would have suddenly remembered that they were needed at home!

Holidays - of course, they're still important social occasions, so "let's have the carolers in", "stop off after the Christmas pageant", and "Come help us trim our tree" are still good reasons for get-togethers - especially if one just happens to have multiple selections of beverages, snacks, cookies and other goodies prepared in advance! 

But if you didn't do as much entertaining as you would have liked in the days leading up to Christmas, there's always the "We're having open house on New Year's". The cookbook explains that "with proper preparation, it can be the most carefree of occasions for the hostess - and one of the most delightful for her guests". Sounds great - until one turns the page and sees that this "carefree occasion" has a menu of nine items and is supposed to serve 24 people. Not sure what's carefree about that!

As I write, it's the so-called last weekend of summer, and as I live near Lake Michigan - and have a friend who follows my blog and has a sailboat - I'll  mention the boating menus. They are entitled "Party on board", "Early breakfast at the mooring", "lunch en route", the very pleasant-sounding "Harbor-lights dinner" (featuring fresh-caught fish) - and this menu:

And this is what the above menu is supposed to look like:

My own family often takes long driving vacations during the summer, so the section called "Meals While Motoring" should suit us, right? The cookbook's suggestion of saving money by taking "meal-makings along" is still a good one. 

Alas, we have fallen far from this concept, since we've yet to plan for the "First day out" by making deviled ham and chopped pickle on thin rye bread or coconut carrot salad to eat at a meal stop. 

And we've really erred by never treating ourselves to "The roadside gourmet" meal - complete with green turtle soup on the rocks, half avocado filled with pickled shrimp, salt sticks, assorted cheese crackers, fresh or brandied peaches and coffee. These delectables were to be purchased from "specialty counters in most markets", the cookbook informs us. So much for saving money on meals while traveling!(And my market is clearly failing, since I've never seen green turtle soup sold to go there - nor brandied peaches, for that matter!)

Oh, there's so much more I could talk about with this cookbook and its no-stone-left-unturned approach. It really was a hoot to read, so if you like this sort of thing, I urge you to get your own copy!


  1. You certainly did get your dollars worth!
    I was born in '58 and I remember our 'roadside meals' consisted of saltines and cheeze whiz. Then it was back in the car with a fresh dose of Pepto-abysmal.
    I too love the vintage cookbooks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Judy! You're just two years older than me then! When I was a kid, our big mealtime-traveling treat was the bag of circus peanut candy that, for some reason, my parents always seemed to buy for excursions to Lake Huron or to Cedar Point.

  3. Thanks for including the "small boat" menu. Now I can see where I've been failing in my meal preparations and entertaining. :) We have done cold chicken before. I wonder what "Jelly Brambles" are? Are those the dessert bars in the front of the photo? This would be fun to try once. Sounds like I might need a new dress too. That is if I am going to entertain properly. :)

  4. Yes, get that new dress - since you've already done cold chicken, you now need to make Baked Chicken Camille for the "Party on board" menu!

    Yes, the Jelly Brambles are the cakes you see in the front - I didn't know what those were until I looked at the recipe. Sounds more like the name of a cookie recipe to me!