THANKSGIVING IN THE 1950’S

Many things come to mind when the 1950’s are mentioned…rock-n-roll ruled, movies lit up the drive in theaters, Elvis was on the radio, and everyone drank Tang. But if there’s one thing that this decade has, it’s BOOMS. Booms were all around – the economy was booming, the “baby boom” was happening (about 4 million babies were born each year during the 1950’s), and suburbia was in the midst of a huge population boom.

It’s not surprising that this baby boom and suburban boom was happening at the same time. As soon as Word War II ended, huge developers started to buy property on the outskirts of cities. Modest and inexpensive houses were built there, and they were homes that were perfect for young families. (and returning GI’s.) Most had informal “family” rooms, and open floor plans with backyards. Suburbs in the 1950’s were nicknamed “Fertility Valley”.

Many women in the 1950’s were raising busy families, and learning to cook the latest and greatest hot dish. Holiday meals were touted from Betty Crocker to Better Homes & Gardens, so Thanksgiving was front and center come November.

If you happen to browse women’s or lifestyle magazines of that time, you’d notice that the ladies-of-the-house were breaking out the fancy china for the Thanksgiving table, perhaps the Russel Wright set, or the Sale Paden City Rose set. The “good” silverware would also be used, all polished and gleaming. Speaking of gleaming, it was amazing how fancy the ladies looked while preparing this huge meal! The women were in high heels and dresses, and the men wore their Sunday suits and ties. (But that shouldn’t surprise-this was the era that touted the June Cleaver-vacuuming-the-house-in-high heels” phenomena).

You’d also notice certain food staples that are still popular today. Canned cranberries first became available in the 1950’s, kicking off that tradition. Filling your 1950’s gravy boat on the table is also a must, and also don’t forget the tuna noodle and green bean casserole and deviled eggs. The BBQ was also the popular choice, with suburban families enjoying cooking in their own backyards. This decade also marked the beginning of ethnic foods, mainly entering America with the returning GI’s. Good companies were quick to catch on, and “Americanized” versions of egg foo yung, pizza, lasagna, and enchiladas were popular.

Thanksgiving is a holiday where the spotlight is on the food. For fun, we “set the table” for a 1950’s Thanksgiving meal – and we welcome everyone to share their own 50’s memories of this holiday!

Appetizers for the day:
Fruit cup
Seafood cocktail
Dried beef rolls
Cheerios cocktail snacks (aka: Chex mix)
Cheese ball
Deviled eggs
(To see these apps in action, be sure to check out Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, revised and enlarged, 2nd edition, 1956.

Salad:
Three-bean salad
Cole slaw
Clam broth (or mushroom)
Cucumber Salad
Gelatin & fruit salad molds

Soup: (keep in mind, canned soups ruled this era, thus all the casserole dishes)
Cream of chicken
Cream of mushroom

Main course:
Turkey with the fixings (bonus: it looks just like the perfect turkey in the Betty Crocker cookbook)
Baked ham with glaze
Scalloped chicken supreme
Swedish meatballs

Vegetables:
Buttered vegetables (canned or frozen)
Creamed asparagus
Mexican corn sauté
Creamed onions (with mushrooms & peas)
Green peas with sour sauce

Desserts:
Velvet spice cake
Butterscotch brownies
Angle food custard
Ice cream with cherries
Cherries jubilee
Melon balls and sherbert
Orange snowballs

In the 50’s, there was much to be thankful for – the entire decade was known for creating contentment and stability for many young, American families. While today’s world may seem a little more complicated, the tradition of Thanksgiving is still the same. Give thanks! (And drink Tang).

Rachael Doukas