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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Dinner at 50's O'Clock: 1950's Pantry Staple Recipes

More recipes from my mother's copy of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, publish date1953

Tonight's 1950's dinner relies on several pantry items. Since I wasn't going shopping specifically for this menu, I needed to find recipes that used foods I had on hand. As it turned out, I used a lot of basic pantry foods, such as canned vegetables, crackers, and canned tuna. The main dish recipe called for a can of condensed chicken with rice soup. I made my own version of a condensed chicken with rice soup. Walmart sells a Great Value brand of this sort of soup for 92 cents, so not real a budget buster to buy a can. But like I said, I was using items I have on hand.

Better Homes & Gardens budget meal recommendations usually have a main dish (one that contains both protein and starch), a hot vegetable side dish, a cold vegetable salad, and a dessert (often fruit). I wanted to try new recipes, and my fresh vegetable selection is limited right now, so I went with two hot vegetable dishes instead of a vegetable dish plus a salad.

Again, I'm feeding a family of four adults.

Here's the menu:

Tuna Bake -- Cheese Swirls
Green Beans in Crumbs
Deviled Beets

I didn't choose a dessert recipe for tonight because our house is currently deluged with desserts that need eating up. We'll have a choice between leftover Valentine's cake, scratch brownies, or blackberry crisp for dessert.

Tuna Bake --Cheese Swirls

Cheese Swirl recipe

This is a no-noodle tuna casserole that is topped with cheese pinwheel biscuits, which are like cinnamon rolls only with cheese as the the filling instead of cinnamon and sugar.

I put the dry ingredients for the biscuit dough together, first. 

Next I assembled the casserole filling. To make the chicken with rice condensed soup, I used a quart of homemade chicken stock to which I added a pinch of thyme, a pinch of sage, the excess onions (about 2 tablespoons) from the casserole base, and some leftover cooked rice (about 1/2 cup). Since my chicken stock was not condensed, I simmered it on the stove to reduce it to equal roughly 10.5 ounces once rice was added. The stock simmered while I was working on other dinner recipes. This was one of two deviations from the original recipe. Canned chicken with rice soup would also have some vegetables in it, like diced carrots and celery.

I used bottled lemon juice, which I always have on hand. The recipe suggests fresh, frozen or canned. Maybe bottled lemon juice was not a thing then?

the casserole filling in the dish,
waiting to be topped a baked just before dinner

The other deviation was I used two cans of tuna instead of one. We all know cans of tuna have become smaller and smaller over the years. My two cans yielded 8 ounces of drained tuna.

I tasted the filling and thought it was quite good and a bit different from standard tuna-noodle casserole fillings.

the biscuit dry mixed with fats

With the biscuit recipe, I used half Crisco shortening and half butter. Although I usually make biscuits with oil, I wanted to stick with a solid shortening in following this recipe. And my cheese is cheddar instead of American. I prepared the dry ingredients of the biscuit recipe with fats cut in early in the day. This would be my one last big thing to do for dinner before baking the casserole -- stirring in the milk, then rolling out and filling with cheese. I wanted to make the recipe as close to the book as possible. In my real life, I could see making a drop cheese biscuit with this casserole filling.

Green Beans in Crumbs

Here's an odd thing -- apparently stores used to sell a size of canned foods that equated to 2 1/2 cups. Most 14.5 ounce cans of vegetables contain roughly 1 1/2 cups. The 24-ounce can, that is also found in grocery stores today, contains 3 cups of drained vegetables. Since I didn't have a No. 2 can of green beans, I used 1 1/2  14.5-oz cans of green beans. (The leftover 1/2 can of green beans will get mixed in with Thursday's vegetables to make a vegetable medley.)

This is a super easy recipe. I was able to put everything except the crack crumbs into a saucepan early in the day and allow it to sit on the counter until just before serving. At that point, I heated the green beans and seasonings/butter through, then stirred in the cracker crumbs just before serving (so they wouldn't become mushy).

all of the green bean dish ingredients
 except the cracker crumbs

Deviled Beets

Today, a deviled food generally means a recipe contains prepared (bottled) mustard and other spices -- think deviled eggs or deviled ham salad. Many years ago, deviling meant a lot of fiery spices were added to a dish. I know my family enjoys mustard with foods, so I thought this might be a good one. 

This recipe also calls for honey, and honey-mustard carrots are always a hit in my house. I used one 14.5-oz can of sliced beets for this recipe, cutting the recipe in half. I didn't have Worcestershire sauce, so I used a substitution recommended by All Recipes online, soy sauce and a pinch of brown sugar. Here's the link to 8 different Worcestershire sauce substitutes.

As with the green bean dish, I assembled the beet one in advance. I made the sauce in a saucepan and dumped the drained, canned beets on top. Just before dinner, I heated the dish and gently stirred it all together.

the beet dish, ready to heat and serve
the orange color of the sauce
 is the combo of mustard and paprika

I don't know if my recipe selection for a single dinner menu would be representative of a typical 1950s meal. As I was cooking, it did seem like I was using a lot of butter. Where I could I used less butter and substituted a little oil or shortening. In the green bean dish I used 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil. In the biscuit dough I used part butter, part Crisco. I didn't want to burn through our week's butter in one meal.

I suspect we will have enough leftovers for lunches tomorrow. I could have cut both the tuna dish and the green bean dish down and still had enough for my family of four.

I'll update with photos of my plate and feedback from my family later.


  1. Comfort food for sure and it all looks good to me. As you mentioned, one of the hardest thing about using old recipes is the different sizes that things come in these days - mostly smaller.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Definitely comfort food with this meal.
      At the table, we were thinking through why no No. 2 cans for vegetables anymore. Our best guesses were a combo of shrink-flation over the years and family sizes are on average smaller now. There is a 28-oz can for vegetables still. So those would work for larger than average families or for gatherings. The other odd thing is folks and recipes don't tend to refer to can sizes by numbers any more. It's almost always ounces.

  2. Sounds like a tasty meal.

    I find that a lot of modern recipes call for fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I read an article recently that recommended freezing fresh lemons and pulling them out as you need them. I tried it, but most of my lemons are still in the freezer. I prefer the simplicity of bottled lemon juice. I'm sure that fresh juice is better, but we aren't that picky. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      Everyone agreed that it was all delicious.

      For my area at least, I priced out bottled lemon juice vs fresh and bottled comes out as more economical. Plus, there's no risk of waste from a half-used lemon sitting in the fridge too long. Yes, fresh probably does taste better. But most of the time so many other flavors are going into a dish that I'm not sure my family could detect whether it was fresh or bottled lemon juice. I don wonder and worry about chemicals added for preservatives or plastic chemicals leaching into the juice. So, that would be a good reason to me to choose fresh over bottled. I may do that when this current bottle is empty. I like the idea of freezing whole or half lemons to juice as needed. Or perhaps, juicing some fresh lemons and freezing in small amounts, like 1 or 2 tablespoons.


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