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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Thoughts and Review of February's 1950s Tuna Bake Meal

All of the recipes came from Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, publish date 1953. To refresh your memory, here's the menu from the other night:

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

my plate

I had several thoughts about each recipe. Again, my entire family commented that everything was delicious. I was unsure if we'd all like everything. But as it turns out, this was another winner of a menu.

Tuna Bake -- Cheese Swirls (all of the full recipes are in this post)
  • chopped green pepper
  • chopped yellow onion
  • cooking fat (I used vegetable oil)
  • salt
  • flour
  • can of condensed chicken with rice soup (I used homemade chicken stock, seasonings, and leftover cooked rice)
  • milk
  • canned tuna (I used 2 cans)
  • lemon juice
  • Cheese Swirls for topping
to give you an idea of what the cheese swirls were,
this is what the casserole looked like before baking

Cheese Swirls
  • flour
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • shortening
  • milk
  • American cheese (I used cheddar)

The things I liked about this recipe:

1) This recipe called for basic pantry items, such as yellow onions, flour, canned soup (which I was easily able make a substitution), and canned tuna. I also happened to have a green pepper in the fridge needing using, as well as almost all of the rest of the ingredients.

2) Even with making my canned soup substitution, the filling part was still a quick recipe to throw together.

3) The recipe is very budget-friendly. The topping was very do-able and inexpensive. The recipe for Cheese Swirls called for 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. That's really not very much. Canned tuna is under $1 a can in my area still. That's a good price for animal protein.

4) Not only was it tasty and filling, but it seemed "lighter" to me than traditional tuna casserole. I am not a fan of lots of pasta to wade through in tuna-noodle casserole just to get some tuna.

5) This could easily be turned into an all-in-one meal by simply adding 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, such as frozen peas, canned green beans, or chopped spinach. This would be a very good use for fresh spinach that was on its last legs.

6) I was able to put together almost all of the casserole in advance and have it waiting in the fridge to bake just before dinner.

7) Made according to the recipe, this likely would serve 6 adults, or a family of 8 if some were children. We had enough for all four of us both for dinner and a smaller portion for the next day's lunch. I made 12 cheese biscuit pinwheels to go on top of the filling, giving 3 to my husband, 2 to myself, and my daughters took 1 each for dinner. That left 5 pinwheels and the filling beneath each to serve us all for lunch the next day.

8) This was easy to make and didn't dirty too many dishes. I really appreciate that now that I'm washing all dishes by hand.

9) The rice in the soup (or my homemade rendition) added body to the tuna filling. Additional vegetables would have served the same purpose.

10) The biscuit topping was delicious and economical. Some casserole toppings can be on the more costly side, such as potato chips, lots of shredded cheese, crumbled cereal or crackers, or nuts. Scratch biscuits are right there with buttered bread crumbs for a frugal casserole topping. The biscuit topping also served as the starch part of the meal. So a dual purpose topping.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

1) The canned soup. I don't keep canned soup on hand. Even if I did, this would be an odd type for me to have chosen. Since I was able to find an easy work-around for the canned soup, I wish the recipe had just added an alternative to the chicken with rice soup, something such as " or 1/2 cup leftover cooked rice, 2 teaspoons of chicken bouillon granules, plus water to equal 1 1/4 cups."

Green Beans in Crumbs


  • canned green beans
  • butter (I used part butter, part vegetable oil)
  • salt
  • cracker crumbs
  • black pepper
The things I liked about this recipe:

1) We loved this! It was tasty and the cracker crumbs added texture and flavor. The key to making this is to either drain out or simmer out all of the water content before adding the crumbs. While the casserole was baking, I put the saucepan of green beans with butter and seasonings on the stove on Low to simmer until all I could hear was the fat crackling a bit. When all of the water had cooked out, moments before serving, I added the cracker crumbs. There was still a bit of crunch to some of the crumbs.

2) A great use for broken crackers. I used club crackers, but I remember my mother using Ritz crackers this way. It takes fewer crackers than you might guess (1/4 cup crumbs). I crushed about 7 or 8 small crackers and found I had more crumbs than I needed. I saved the remaining tablespoon of crumbs in a sealed baggie, waiting to be added to another dish.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

1) Although this can't be helped, as some things change in 6 decades, the size of can called for is one no longer sold. However, the recipe did provide the amount in cups, as well as size. So I was able to figure this out quickly.

Deviled Beets

  • butter
  • prepared mustard
  • honey
  • Worcestershire sauce (I used a combo of soy sauce and brown sugar)
  • paprika
  • salt
The things I liked about this recipe:

1) This was a very tasty way to serve cooked beets. I'm not a huge fan of hot beets. I prefer them in a marinade and chilled. But I thought these were good, and I will make them again.

2) I cut the recipe in half, so I only used one 14.5-oz can of sliced beets. This was a good amount for our family of four.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

1) I felt it had too much butter. There was a smear of butter on each of our plates afterward. The full recipe called for 3 tablespoons butter. I think one could use 2 tablespoons butter and still have a great tasting side dish.

Key takeaways from this menu:

I missed having a light and cold side dish, like a salad or marinated vegetables. However, this was a filling, comfort food meal that was good for a chilly day. 

While we all liked the tuna bake, my husband really, really, really liked it! The combination of biscuit topping with the creamy tuna filling was a hit with him. We all enjoyed the leftovers the next day, too. Fish is not my favorite food, yet this was very good, and even I liked it the next day.

I'm inclined to make all of these recipes again. In the future, I would turn the tuna bake into a one-dish meal by adding vegetables to the filling. This would cut down on my kitchen time for a meal such as this. I think I spent about an hour to an hour and a half over the course of the day in hands-on work. 

I liked the way the biscuits were prepared. To me, rolling out the dough, then rolling up jelly roll-style and cutting felt less time-consuming than rolling out biscuit dough and cutting with a cutter, followed by re-rolling the scraps and cutting. And yet, the end presentation following the recipe was very nice. My mother-in-law would have been very impressed, if I'd served this to her. Yes, I do think this could make a nice potluck or informal gathering dish. If one wanted to simplify the cheese biscuit topping, drop scratch cheese biscuits (wet biscuit dough with shredded cheese mixed in) or canned biscuits topped with cheese could be used, saving 15 minutes or so on the preparation time.

This was a frugal meal for my family. The main protein was inexpensive (as far as meat goes), and the rest of the ingredients were basics for me to keep on hand. Not only was this a budget meal, but it also used basic cooking techniques, making this a good meal for anyone of any cooking ability to make. Canned vegetables are a big help for meal prep on busy days. There's no cooking, just heat and flavor right before serving.

I've had fun cooking recipes from this 50s-era cookbook. It's been a great way to shake up the cooking doldrums that can set in after many years of family cooking. I'll continue to look through this cookbook and do another meal in March. I hope this has been enjoyable for you to read about.


  1. I think those cheese pinwheels would make anything taste good! Glad you found more recipes to put into the rotation.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      The cheese pin wheels made a delicious topping. I will likely use them on other fillings, perhaps my next chicken pot pie.

  2. I think my family would really like this if I used a can of Costco chicken instead of the tuna, some of use aren't fans of tuna. The biscuits would be a great addition to any casserole that needed to feed a few more people because it makes it hearty.

    1. I think this casserole would be delicious with chicken. If you added some veggies, plus used the cheese biscuit topping, it would be an all-in-one meal.

  3. I am really enjoying your recipes from the past. I prepared the previous dishes and will try these this week. I enjoy cooking and even though it is just my hubs and me most of the time, I am always on the lookout for a new/old twist on the meals we eat. I'll let you know how we like them.

    1. Hi Ruthie,
      I'm so glad you're enjoying these posts.
      I feel the same way, I'm always looking for ways to change up some of our usuals.
      Yes, please, let me know what you think of the recipes you try.

  4. The cheese pinwheels sound delicious. I'm with you on the hassle factor of rolling out and cutting biscuits .... so much so that I put drop biscuits on my casseroles. If I want something to look a little bit nicer, instead of cutting out biscuits into rounds, I've been patting the dough into a rectangle and cutting the biscuits into squares. Much simpler and faster and the leftover dough doesn't taste tough after all that re-rolling.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I was thinking these pinwheels might work well as drop biscuits, just with the shredded cheese mixed into the dough. It might not look as appealing, but the casserole would likely taste the same.
      I like your idea of patting out the dough then cutting into squares. When I make biscuits as a bread side, I either make drop biscuits or I pat the dough into rounds and cut wedges, like I would scones. Whatever works and saves tie, right?

  5. This sounds nice. I was actually planning to make tuna casserole (with pasta) next week, it's winter holiday season so all kids are at home.
    I would LOVE to read through that cookbook! Just to compare how different life was around the world in the fifties. My mother has a cookbook from sixties, and while there is a mention about tins, they are hardly used in any of the recipes, like the upside down cake with pineapple rings. And certainly there wasn't ANY tuna in tins in fifties, only in early seventies, I think. And the use of condensed soups, cream of mushroom etc - not here, not at all.
    But I WILL definitely bake cheese swirls!
    Ulvmor (unable to sign in to comment, a long time issue with google)

    1. Hi Ulvmor,
      It is interesting to see how differently people cooked from decade to decade and region to region. I didn't realize that in other countries, recipes calling for some canned/tinned items wasn't prevalent in the 1950s or 1960s. Thanks for sharing that info. I prefer recipes that call for simple ingredients, as that way I know what is going into my meals. But I use canned vegetables from time to time when the garden isn't producing.

      I hope you and your family enjoy the cheese swirls on top of your casserole!


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