Sunday, July 25, 2010

25 July 1956 “Cooking and Life : The New and Old Way.”

56woman'sday This image from June 1956 Woman’s Day shows the Old and New way of cooking (Click to enlarge and Read).
I found it interesting on many levels. First off, we have the comparison of the Old way with an older woman who ‘has the time’ to prepare all her food from scratch. While the ‘new’ way by the younger woman mentions that she most likely is a working woman. So, even here in 1956 it is not completely uncommon to hear of or know working women. I think the idea that all women are at home is probably not true, but it is true that many woman do see being at home with a husband as an actual goal. To modern women this seems an affront or somehow shocking. Yet, I think there are many busy working wives who would gladly become a stay at home, so not sure why we have such a taboo about that.
Secondly, what I found interesting is that myself, since my trip back to the 50’s, have begun to move away from the ‘new’ way shown here to the old way. Surely in 1956 I am older than the young 20 something woman in the article, but I am not as old as the grandmother image. So, I wonder if I would truly, having come through what  I would have come through in history, would probably have a mixture of these two.
It has only been since my voyage back that I have learned to bake bread and cakes from scratch. That I take it in a matter of course to whip up homemade pancakes or waffles for breakfast without Bisquick. Even my veg is more often than not cut up from fresh (especially now that it is summer, come fall and winter I will have more  of my own canned to access).
In the beginning of my project I was all Wonder Bread and Jell-o. I mean, I felt the need to try and use and make the old pre-packaged things available. What I now think is rather spot on, is that in so doing I probably did recreate what I would have done. I would have been intrigued by the new. I would have tried it and found that it was okay, but not comparable to homemade, which I would have been used to and grown up with. So, I gradually moved back to the ‘old way’. Of course in reality I was just learning the way to make more things from scratch, but you know what I mean, the 50’s me was simply, “returning to the old way”.
wonderad It’s very easy to cook the NEW way here in 1956. There are so many things pre-made for my convenience.hashad miraclewhipad
nescafead I don’t even have to wait to brew coffee the old fashioned way if I don’t want (though the flavor is different as is the price). Even our sweet drinks are easy and plentiful, no squeezing lemons or crushing fruit to make summer drinks. Of course the result, they are easier to have and will increasingly be in our children's hands as time goes by and so increases their waistlines and diabetes. Yet, simply being responsible with such easy products could be useful and not harmful, but with ease comes disinterest and laziness. Who knows what kids are drinking, I can’t be bothered, I have to work and get home and nuke dinner.
So, what I really see happening here in 1956 is rather similar to 2010. There is a new crop of young wives and teens who are going to grow up with this instant world. Here they will become used to such ease and will slowly leave off the domestic arts. Today in 2010, the young do not know a world without the internet and digital devices. The old way for them, talking to someone in person rather than texting, or writing a paper after reading a book or going to the library rather than cutting and pasting info from websites and sites such as SPARKNOTES so they don’t even have to read the entire book. Again, I find the parallel between then and now. The threshold to the modern world truly lives here in 1950’s. The choices we make, however, leads us to where we are now, but if we go back and try new choices, reset the clock as it were, can we change our own modern reality and the way we make choices? It seems, at least by my reckoning, that we can.
I think the happy medium I have now between these Old and New way of cooking described in this article is a good balance. I honestly enjoy taking the time to steam my own asparagus and make hollandaise from scratch as described in the old way, but if I were in a rush and many things planned, I could easily use frozen veg, but instead would have made my own homemade ahead of time and kept it in the ice box. And I think that is the glaring difference. I have learned, as my 50’s counterpart would have inherently known, to plan for that rainy day.
There is no prep work any more. We don’t think ahead about our savings and retirement, let alone our dinners. Even our government these past ten years has been so shortsighted and has planned for nothing to the point that we are now borrowing to pay for the care of our elderly in Medicare and Medicaid. So, when even our own government and parents are completely oblivious to the adage “a penny saved is a penny earned”. So, if we are all happy to live in debt and to simply exist from moment to moment with no thought of tomorrow, no wonder it is so easy to slide into this ‘new way’ of cooking. It is in comparison not as extreme here in 1956, but I can tell you as an older homemaker, I would most likely look at my younger married nieces or friends and think, “Hmmm, this must be from a box” or “In my day, we’d have shucked our own peas and used butter not margarine”.
There will always be the contrast of the old vs. the new, but what I have come to realize is that rather than it be a war of who wins, it if it is a great learning experience of what works best for me and for our future (and not just my future, the world  for others as well) then that is the right path. We like to think there is no ‘right path’ and that we can, we modern people, do whatever we like. I think we are coming to find in our environment, politically, financially, environmentally, and in the family unit, that is not true. That same lesson keeps coming back to me again and again:REPSONSIBILITY. Every time I uncover more aspects of 1950’s it is always there, staring up at me with its knowing eyes. Be responsible for yourself and your actions and the world around you will be better.
That’s a lot of realization from plucking your own chicken, I know, but that is how it comes to me here in 1956. And, now I am even considering the older old way, the way of my own fictional grandparents here in 1950’s, raising my own chicken to kill and pluck. It all leads down a path of what is doable and makes sense for you and also helps out the bigger picture. Whenever I stop and think about the modern world and our current financial situation of debt both amongst our people and the insanity of our government, I can feel helpless. I can almost feel that modern, “Oh well, can’t fix it, just use up what you want, get a joy ride and go out in a ball of fire” attitude that seemed to prevail from the late 1960’s to now. Yet, I realize, my own actions can make a difference in my sphere and if it is infectious enough to bleed out to others, than one never knows. At the end of the day, when I am stuffing my chicken and making my potatoes from scratch, I feel connected to my home and my food. I feel the positive result in my bankbook, as it really is cheaper to cook from the basics, and I feel a sense of accomplishment and a hope. That is another main element I have learned here in the 1950’s, HOPE. There is a joy to a new day to learn more and want to keep growing both in my skills and in my education. The Old modern me would often face a day with ‘well, what do i do today’ even when I was a busy working woman, my free time was often just spent wasting away in front of the tv or buying things I didn’t need and couldn’t use because I was too busy working anyway.
So, take what you will from this article on the New and Old way of cooking, but do consider Responsibility and Hope, no matter what decade you live in,  as a good recipe for a happy life.
Happy Homemaking.


  1. My Grandma grew up during the Depression and was a working mother in 1956 (she would have been 36 years old in 1956). I know she would have taken help from ready-made things, although she always made certain things from scratch like mashed potatoes and stuffing. However, canned foods were a staple in her house probably because she was used to the home-canned vegetables, which she knew how to prepare but didn't have the time for. I grew up in the 60's and 70's with ready-made foods, too, and now that I'm in my 40's I've come full circle to the way of cooking and almost all of our food from scratch. Yes, I have the time but it's one way of saving so much money and saving our health, too.

  2. I think you make some very interesting points. My husband's maternal relatives were farmers, and I bet they were happy not to have to kill and pluck their own chickens all the time, but they did it some of the time. His grandmother was a fabulous cook in the southern tradition and made a lot of things from scratch and of course seasoned with ham. She may at one time canned her own vegetables and fruit and my husband's mother still did on occasion. I think like anything, it is a matter of choice. It's nice to have the convenience items but to know that you can make something from scratch, grow your own food, can your own, etc. is invaluable, especially in these times. If we do get away from oil, our food supplies may well have to be local, what is grown locally, slaughtered locally or on our own properties.


  3. I think that what you are doing is wonderful. However, with your home-baking from scratch, growing your own produce, and having chickens in your yard, you seem more like a 1930s depression-era woman that a 1950s gal.

    Your blog is teriffic!

    (born in 1930)

  4. I know, sometimes I think that as well, but then I consider fictional me would have been a child in the 30's and would remember my own Depression era mother and homelife and with my personality, I would most likely still like to 'throw it in' as it were. In some way I feel 1950 was as far back as I could go at first and let my modern self still feel connected to what is usual, packaged goods, tv sliced bread, but now that I am here and seeing what we have made since then, I do often think like a 30's or 40's woman.
    Thank you, I am glad you enjoy my blog. Oh and my real mother was born in 1930 (she had me in her 40's)

  5. Yes Responsibility and Hope... May we all desire and achieve them. Thanks for the specifice examples and thoughts. Great post, as usual. Linda

  6. I had no idea prepackaged salad greens had been around so long! I thought they were a product of the last 20 years or so.

    My grandmother was in her late 30's and early 40's during the 1950's. While there was a lot of convenience she did take advantage of (she group up as a sharecropper's daughter, so buying already dead and butchered meat was a convenience)of because she lived in the city at the time, she still definitely did things the "old" way.

    However, a lot of that was a matter of money for her. My grandfather was a factory worker in the central California East Bay, and hung his pride on the fact that he was the breadwinner. My grandmother helped make ends meet by providing childcare in the neighborhood and taking in laundry and mending. They were still very poor, though. My father (born in 1952) remembers the long discussions of whether to invest in a telephone! For my grandmother, keeping a vegetable garden in the back yard and cooking from scratch were how she made sure they could eat at all. Buying canned goods rather than canning her own simply wasn't a feasible option for them.

  7. My Mother was a young housewife in the 1950s. She grew up in the country without any mod cons and saw her own mother work very very hard to feed and clothes 8 children. Mum was picky about which convenience foods she would use. She would never , ever use any kind of package cake or biscuit mix, all baking was done from scratch and housewives who didn't were talked about. She didn't bake bread though and was happy to buy white sliced loaves delivered by the milkman along with the milk and cream each morning.
    She used frozen peas and beans when fresh wasn't available but didn't use any other frozen or canned vegetable apart from the occasional can of asparagus. It was all about taste really. If a packaged item didn't taste as good as the fresh one why bother.

    Have you read ' Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America' by Laura Shapiro. It talks about this topic and is very interesting.

  8. I love doing things the old way! I hardly use any prepackaged stuff other than things that I can only get packaged like olives and things like canned tomatoes in winter. Sure it means spending a lot of time in the kitchen but I love that. I think it helps that I'm vegan. No temptation to buy 99% of the junk food out there. I make my own seitan, tempeh bacon, and deli slices because the stuff in the store isn't as good and it's way more expensive. If you want to eat healthily you either need to pay a small fortune or put in the work and I'd way rather put in the work.

  9. Very interesting blog and comments! While my mom (married 1950) made a lot of things from scratch, she was and still is fascinated with/appreciative of time savers and ready made food. As a kid growing up we always had instant mashed potatoes and cake mixes, but she *always* made pies [and other things] from scratch - well, wait a minute - she used canned pie filling except for rhubarb pies, which we grew and cut up ourselves. OK - that brings me to my point, which is: what I see being lost is the ABILITY to make things from scratch. It's the "Knowing How" that's fading away, although I do see a renewed interest. For e.g., I might buy and cook a frozen pie for dessert, but if someone gave me a few stalks of rhubarb right now I could go into the kitchen and make a pie, crust and all, from scratch w/out even needing to look at a recipe. But, have I passed that knowledge down to my kids? No! I haven't! And that's not right; that's where the "Ability and Know How" is being lost. I think people are still fast learners - look how many folks are putting in gardens now that maybe never even had one growing up. At any rate, for numerous reasons I don't think we can ever afford to lose the "Know How" to do a lot of things ourselves. My goal today: teach kids how to make a pie from scratch. Just because!!

  10. Another quick comment - the "Eagle" wallpaper in the background of the woman cooking the modern way - my folks have the same wallpaper (it's actually blue) in their house. It's been there since the early 60's. We kinda joke about it now but apparently at the time it was a big deal style. I love seeing it in the woman's kitchen!! Great paper - it's been up all these years for my folks, it survived us kids, and it looks good as new. Tough stuff, ha ha!

  11. harper-so my 'fictional me' would be the age of your grandmother. As I am closer to 40 than 20 and I think that allows me, as well, the lee way to garden, make from scratch more so than if I were 20 in 1956. It would just be a nice mix of the two. And really, today, we could have that. What I think is REALLY important today is if we need mixes and ready made, to try and make two days out of the month to MAKE THEM! Cake mixes, pancake/biscuit mix, pie crust, cookie dough, even whole pizzas, all of these are easily made from scratch and stored in the freezer, that way you get the best of both worlds! Instant easy on some days but made from what you KNOW is going inside.
    Jenny-wow good on her, your mother, 8 children! She sounds lovely. I have not read the book you mention as one drawback to 1956 (besides the use of my computer that made it through the time machine-haha) is I only read up to 56 right now. I am assuming that is a modern book since it discusses the 50s. I know I keep mentioning it, but I do really think it would be fun to take what I have learned and some of my blogs thus far and make a book myself. I just need to decide how best to focus it. Today books really seem to demand to be highly specialized into one project "how to sew how to cook' etc, but for me, the experience has really been "How To Live" and not sure how interesting that would be overall.
    fullhouse-that is so true the KNOW HOW is really important. I am glad to hear you are going to teach your children. Good job! We all can make a difference every day. It is important for all of us to make sure we can learn and pass down the homemaking skills. It is such an important part of our human history.

  12. i think that there are still women today that see their husbands and households as their "career" in life. myself, i have 7 children, and i have been married almost 18 years. my husband brings in the money, i keep the house, take care of the kids, and do all the things he cant do because hes at work...its sort of a team work thing i guess. i dont understand why some ladies think that being a housewife is somehow a bad thing. i also cook everything from scratch, simply because it would be far too costly to buy premade stuff. if i didnt have so many kids, i imagine i would be living off of nachos and burgers.

  13. I'm sorry I don't have time to read your whole post right now. I just took a glance and wanted to comment. My grandmother would have been almost 50 in 1956 and my mother in her twenties with one child and another one born that year. Both worked full-time outside the home. My mother worked outside the home until she was 75 years old. She loved it. (She was probably a true super mom.)

  14. The new trend seems to be doing things the old way. I'm sure there are various reasons for this current trend, but I'm happy to see it regardless of the reasons.

  15. Packrat-how interesting to see the other side of the coin. I was glad to see represented in the article that it seemed normal for a woman to be working, although you do notice that she is still the cook while working and not the man. That seems to be the case in many modern marriages as well. Before my trip the the 1950s I did more of the cooking when I was also working, but hubby did sometime and we ate out a lot. I have to say, I am really happy with our system now, it seems to happily satisfy both our needs and neither of us feels put upon as we are doing a full share of 'living' breadwinner/everything else.

  16. 50sgal, You are right about the working woman doing most of the work at home, too. My mom did almost all of the work at home while my dad sat. (That is why I was so adamant about the men in my family helping around the house.) Interestingly, my grandfather (a whole generation older) often helped with the cooking, babysat, and was known to vacuum, sweep, dust, mop, and make beds. The difference? My dad's mother waited on him hand and foot. My grandfather's mother passed away when he was really little. His father and his grandfather owned butcher shops and grocery stores (in two small towns a few miles apart). The children were the ones who did the cooking and cleaning at home and at the stores.

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