In my perusal of mid-20th century cookbooks, I’ve noticed the recipes contain a stunning array of canned foods.  It’s my guess that when the modern convenience craze began rolling in a big way and homes were being filled with “labor-saving devices,” food manufacturers jumped at the occasion with a little too much enthusiasm.  (The very fact that food could be considered “manufactured” should have given someone a glaring clue…)

I suppose housewives, enthralled by the idea of spending an extra hour or two at Mildred’s bridge party, thought they could come home, open a few cans, gussy them up, and ta-da!  Dinner!  This sort of cuisine delighted no one, ever, and thankfully, many of these tinned wonders disappeared along the way as manufacturers stopped canning everything they could squeeze into a cylinder.

If you had been cooking in the 1950s, take a look at these oh, so convenient canned wonders you could have chosen for your main dish (and all these are really found in the “Jiffy Cooking” section of the 1958 Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking):

  • beef and kidneys
  • tongue and tongue loaf
  • chicken fricassee
  • chicken a la king
  • codfish cakes
  • Welsh rabbit

And for side dishes,

  • canned cooked rice
  • canned tomato aspic
  • canned dandelion greens

And for dessert, how about some canned fig pudding, complete with that tinny taste?

And don’t forget potted meat, the particular delicacy still easily found in stores and, I confess, my cupboard. Not everyone has a thoughtful sister-in-law who cleans out the potted meat shelf at the local scratch-n-dent store and gives it to you for your birthday.

As I walked past the freezer section at the grocery store today, I saw frozen pre-made single-serve tubs of oatmeal. (What better way to entice you out of bed in the morning?)  A few shelves away were packages of frozen mashed potatoes.  And then there’s the pre-cooked, vacuum-packed bacon, milk in a cardboard box, frosting and cheese in tubs–shelf-stable for years, and a vast number of other foods preserved and packaged for maximum storage time at the expense of nutritional quality and most notably, taste.

Hmm. The cans may not be as popular these days but maybe some things haven’t changed after all.

As we re-learn the old ways of preparing and storing food, I hope that these technological wonders we have accepted as food will one day be as unappetizing as the early canned experiments.

photo source

4 thoughts on “Cuisine a la Can

  1. I seldom buy any manufactured ‘foods’, but I do occasionally buy SPAM, because, well, I actually like the stuff. It brings back childhood memories of my grandparents, who liked it. I will buy certain box mixes, like the Tony Chachere’s Cajun mixes (jambalaya, dirty rice, etc), simply to make quick meals on busy days. However, I also make a huge fresh salad to go with it, to hopefully offset the processed aspect of the meal!

    1. Oh, I dearly love SPAM. As much as I try to cook healthy, from-scratch meals, some days those boxed convenience foods are a lifesaver! I try to keep a few around, too. It’s better than running out for fast food, anyway.

      (Can you just imagine the texture of canned dandelion greens?)

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