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Monday, January 22, 2024

My Thoughts, Reviews and Observations of Last Week's 50's Dinner

I had a lot of thoughts about this meal and the cookbook from which the recipes came. First, I want to say we all commented that the entire meal was really good. Here are my thoughts on the different recipes.

Club Chicken Casserole (all of the full recipes are in this post)


  • butter
  • all-purpose flour
  • chicken broth
  • can of evaporated milk
  • water
  • salt
  • cooked rice
  • cooked chicken
  • canned mushrooms (I skipped)
  • canned pimento (I skipped)
  • green pepper
  • almonds

The things I liked about this recipe:

1) It used basic ingredients. Many creamy chicken casserole recipes call for a can of creamed soup. This one used a sauce made from butter, flour, chicken broth, and evaporated milk. I made my sauce with homemade chicken stock and soy milk in place of the evaporated. In my opinion, the green pepper is a must in this recipe, but the mushrooms and pimento are optional as far as flavor goes.

2) The recipe used common leftover foods -- rice and chicken. This casserole would be a good one to follow roasting a whole chicken or subbing leftover cooked turkey after the holidays. Rice is a common leftover food in our house. Because half of us like brown rice and half of us prefer white rice, when I make rice to go with dinner, I make a pot of each. For this casserole, I used a combination of leftover brown and white rice.

3) It was fairly fast to put together. Actual hands-on time was under 30 minutes. 

4) The casserole was suitable for making ahead then holding in the fridge until just before baking. The recipe didn't call for covering with foil, but I did anyway. I baked it for an additional 10 minutes to compensate for it being chilled before cooking.

5) The recipe is versatile. I thought of several variations to the vegetables and topping with this casserole. In place of the peppers, mushrooms, and pimento, one could use about 2 cups of chopped broccoli and then top it with shredded cheddar cheese in the last 10 minutes of baking. Other vegetables could also be substituted or used in addition, such as frozen peas, canned green beans, or chopped frozen spinach. Toppings other than almonds would work, too, such as buttered bread crumbs or cracker crumbs. My thought is this recipe could be used as an outline for a basic chicken and rice casserole, modifying according to what one might have on hand.

6) This was comfort food at its best -- creamy and savory. Yet, this could also be a "company" dish to serve for a casual evening with friends or family. I mentioned previously that my mother used this as a luncheon dish. She also served it at bridal and baby showers. This was one of her signature ladies' lunch dishes.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

1) The portion size. The full recipe says it makes 8 to 10 servings. I made a half-recipe (so 4 to 5 servings according to the cookbook). I gave my husband extra and myself less so he would have enough. My daughters are not huge eaters, so they had just a little more than I did. We all cleaned our plates, something that doesn't happen often in our house. A half-recipe just barely gave us 4 servings. Two thoughts -- perhaps in the 1950s, folks ate less, or perhaps families would have had some sort of bread served with this meal.

Cabbage Plate (the hot vegetable side dish for our meal)


  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • onion
  • sugar
  • salt
  • vegetable oil
  • water
What I liked about this recipe:

1) Again, very basic ingredients -- foods that I have on hand all through winter. And not just basic ingredients, but budget-friendly produce items.

2) This vegetable dish was surprisingly flavorful. I wasn't sure we would like it, but we loved it. One daughter asked me what it was seasoned with, and I told her salt and a bit of sugar. She thought certainly there were other seasonings added. The combination of flavors came together to produce a delicious side dish.

3) Actual hands-on time was under 10 minutes.

4) I was able to make this ahead up until the cook stage. I had it waiting in the saucepan, ready to cook near the last minute.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

Absolutely nothing! It was a budget vegetable dish that was also very easy to make. I'll be making this over and over all winter.

Pickled Beets


  • beets
  • water
  • vinegar
  • brown sugar
  • salt
  • cinnamon
  • ground cloves

What I liked about this recipe:

1) It was very quick to make. I used canned sliced beets. I chose to julienne slice them. I could have just used the slices as they came out of the can and saved myself 4-5 minutes. In total, I had this made and in the refrigerator to chill in about 8-9 minutes. If I had made this with the whole slices, I think I could have made the marinade in about 3-4 minutes, using the microwave to heat it before pouring over the drained, canned beets, then getting it all into the fridge in about 5 to 6 minutes.

2) It made a tasty cold vegetable dish that gave the meal flavor and added color. Pickled beets are always a winner in my book.

3) As far as winter salads go, pickled beets, made from canned beets and scratch dressing ingredients, is a budget-friendly dish. At Walmart currently, a can of Great Value sliced beets is 78 cents. All 4 servings would cost me about 90 cents or less, including spices, sugar and vinegar.

4) This was another make-ahead-and-let-it-sit recipe, so I was able to make this early in the day and it was ready to serve at mealtime.

What I didn't like about this recipe:


Apple Brown Betty


  • stale bread
  • butter
  • apples
  • sugar (brown or white)
  • lemon juice
  • lemon peel (didn't have this)
  • water
What I liked about this recipe:

1) It was delicious without being overly sweet -- a little bit of tang, a little bit of sweet, and a nice crispiness to the top crust. The bread crumb layer on the bottom completely held together, making a soft "crust". 

2) Brown Betty is frugal, using stale bread to make both the crust and the topping. I used bottled lemon juice, which I always keep on hand. And I skipped the lemon peel.

3) It's an easy recipe to put together, easier than a pie or cobbler, perhaps on the same level as making a crisp. Although this recipe called for bread crumbs, I've seen other Brown Betty recipes that just used torn bread. I used a blender to make the crumbs. And I left the peel on the apples.

4) I baked this in the morning and then warmed individual servings in the microwave at serving time.

5) Brown Betty is a versatile dessert. The recipe suggested a couple of alternatives, chopped rhubarb or blueberries. This would be a good way to use any kind of surplus and over-ripening fruit.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

Once again, nothing!

Note: The recipe also called for a homemade lemon sauce topping. I completely spaced that and didn't fully realize until near dinnertime. The dessert was delicious as it was. I think Brown Betty would also be nice topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Key takeaways from this menu:

There are a few recipes in this cookbook that do call for convenience items or more expensive cuts of meat. But on the whole, these recipes focus on simple scratch-cooking techniques using basic, humble ingredients. The recipes are easy to follow and don't take as much time as one might expect, especially if putting together a whole meal. I spent about 2 hours, total, making this entire dinner for my family. 

For being as easy as it was to make, these were all very frugal recipes, some using leftovers, others using the most basic, budget-friendly ingredients. I didn't need to go out and buy anything special to make any part of the meal.

I will be making all of these recipes again in the future. 

If you have access to some old cookbooks, you might enjoy making a meal from a different era. Perhaps you'll be surprised as I was that many of these old recipes are fairly simple and very budget-friendly.


  1. Nice summary of your recipes. Do you write comments on your recipes when you try a new one? I always do, because I know I won't remember the variations that I prefer from time to time.

    So interesting that the chicken recipe made a smaller-than-expected amount. I wonder if it was usual for people to eat more side dishes back then? I could see where that would be a budget move, to encourage folks to eat less of the dish containing meat and to fill up on less expensive items.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Yes, I do make notations. But I usually use a pencil and write faintly because I don't want to spoil the pages. Silly, I know. My mother made comments in the margins in her cookbooks. I love finding those, seeing her handwriting.

      That's a really good point, and perhaps why the casserole would make smaller portions. When these recipes were created, we were just coming out of WW2, when a lot of folks kept large vegetable gardens. Garden produce would be practically free, so filling up on veggies would be more economical than filling up on meat. Also, I think bread would have also been an economical food, even if it was commercially made. So a plate of bread slices with a small plate of butter would be a way to stretch the main dish. Thanks for your insight.

    2. Kris and Lili -- When I ate at my grandmother's house, every single meal had a new entree (pot roast, ham, etc.) with rice or potatoes or macaroni or beans, but the table also was padded with sourdough bread and margarine, cottage cheese, leftovers from the day before (whatever we didn't finish off at suppertime), canned vegetables, salad, canned fruit, maybe jello, and a host of condiments and jams/jellies. Milk WAS also served, as Live and Learn mentioned. So, there was plenty for everyone to eat, no matter their tastes or appetite. She raised four kids of her own, plus half the kids in the neighborhood at one time or another, plus having some extra family member living in constantly for 50 years and passels of grandkids/greatgrandkids staying over the last years; so she did this all on a pretty tight budget, but no single dish had to "carry" everyone for the entire meal. Sara

    3. Hi Sara,
      That's interesting to read about how your grandmother did meals. Thank you for sharing. I love that she brought out the last meal's leftovers to re-serve. How very thrifty of her, and a clever way to make sure leftovers did get eaten.

      We rarely had leftovers when I was growing up. My mother served from the stove and made sure to divide it all up according to our needs. So imagine my surprise when I find we do have leftovers often enough. I think my mother just had a very good sense of how much any one recipe would make. I have felt slightly annoyed when we do have leftovers, as I worry it will spoil in the fridge. I may try what your grandmother did and just add those leftovers to the table at dinnertime.

  2. Sounds like this meal was a rousing success! When I was growing up in the 60s, most people I know had a plate of bread on the table, so that may have been filling some of the calories for the meal. And I think they drank a lot more milk than people do today - another filling food.

    1. Your comment about milk made me laugh. My MIL is a huge consumer of milk. When we visit, we are all given a large glass of milk at each meal. I like milk but that feels like a bit much. It's a quirk that my family smiles about. :)

    2. Hi Live and Learn,
      I think you're right that there were other filling foods on the table. About drinking a lot of milk -- my grandmother drank milk daily for her entire long life. A tall glass of milk with dinner would definitely fill me up. I can definitely see how a plate of bread on the table would be helpful for anyone still hungry. If my husband finishes his dinner quickly, I frequently offer bread and butter or bread and gravy if I've made a gravy to go with meat that night.

  3. I always write comments about a recipe mostly using "good", "excellent" in the margin somewhere along with a date that I made it. I'll write substitutions in there as well. My parents were immigrants in the 50s and we were born they brought a very frugal living experience to the table. They gardened for everything that was "put up" in jars or the freezer. We rarely had bread as a filler at the table but had potatoes as the filler. There was always plentiful veggies either from the jar, the freezer or the root cellar which was a water pump room in the basement that was no longer used. Desserts were always home canned fruit like peaches, cherries or prunes and often we didn't even get dessert. Saturday nights dad peeled an apple for each child and the game was to see if he could peel it without breaking the peel (he used a knife and not a peeler). Having our own whole peeled apple as exciting and we had to eat it all around the core without leaving edible pieces on the core. We rarely had fresh oranges, plums or bananas. I think we each got a cup of milk but never more than one cup. We had a sandwich for lunch and also took that to school until we discovered we could "work" in the school kitchen doing dishes for a free lunch in high school. Mom saved all the bread ends in a bag in the freezer and for a treat she would make stovetop bread pudding for a delicious breakfast when the bag got full. That was a favorite.
    P.S. Lili, thank you for nudging us to remember the good things of our childhood. I think this would be a good conversation to have with my husband in the evenings.

    1. Hi Alice,
      Those are lovely memories you have of your childhood with your parents. Thank you for sharing them with us. European countries suffered much more than the US or Canada during WW2 and in the decade following. Your parents' frugality is very understandable.

      When my children were little, they went through a phase where they didn't like crusts on their sandwiches. I just said fine, and bagged all of the cut-off crusts for the freezer. About once every two weeks I had enough to either make bread crumbs for topping casseroles or make a bread pudding to use for dessert. Like your mother, waste not want not.

  4. I could never prepare a complete meal: entree, sides plus dessert for my family. My mother was an avid cookbook reader. She borrowed cookbooks from the library and bought many cookbooks for her own collection. She copied recipes in a composition book so she wouldn't soil the pages. I still have all her written books and cookbooks but I'm not able or willing to make food that fancy. I've kept some recipes that I tried and liked in my early adult years, and now I look for recipes that are simple and healthy for my later years.

    Thank you for sharing your experience down memory lane. Those cookbooks are so nostalgic and full of comfort foods. Sometimes it's nice to eat that way again.

    Have a wonderful day,

    1. Hi Laura,
      Your mother sounds like she was a very careful person. With my own cookbooks, I'll make notations, but very faintly and in pencil. Especially with the cookbooks that belonged to my mother, I don't want to ruin the pages. I do really love seeing her notations in her handwriting. With that thought, I may begin to leave more notations for my children to find in my cookbooks once I'm gone. At this age, I wish I had more notes from my mother to read and reread.

      Wishing you a beautiful day in your island paradise, Laura!


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