Thursday, February 21, 2013

21 February 1950 “Buying Food, Working Women, Food Prices, 7 Food Groups, and Meal Extenders”

pinkfridge “The American Housewife, who has a more important occupation? Wife, Mother, Laundress, councilor,maid, chef, purchasing agent, all of these are her duty at one time or another.” Or so says this fun little film on buying food. I believe I may have shared it with you sometime back in ‘56 but its worth a look see again:

Today we are in 1950. This film, rather close to War Time, seems to contain many frugal aids. They even mention to pay attention to the important information on the product and not the ‘flowery language of advertising”. It is also interesting that there various “GRADES” of canned goods to meat. This no longer exists. I have a faint memory of Grade A or B on egg cartons when I was a child in 1970’s, but have forgot until I saw this movie mentioning Grades. This frugality toward the homemaker will already be greatly changed In ten years, in 1960, when such advice will be replaced with ‘ease of cooking’ with more products to purchase and an increase in Homemakers returning to the workforce.

Though many women were in the workforce during the war, that changed dramatically when the ‘boys came home’. Alas, it did not last long for women began to find themselves returning to work by the end of the decade. There was some increase due to societal changes as well, but we must remember there was not a moment one day, as is often portrayed by Hollywood, when women became angry, burned their bra and marched off to work. In many cases it was due to increased consumerism and the gradual influx of ‘what we need’ changing. The 1950 frugal housewife didn’t have half of the boxed, pre-made items that were becoming to seem simply a necessity by 1960. So, two cars, needing more items, increased outings for entertainment, more TV per household and so on. Here we see in this chart that just from 1955 to 1960 married women at work went from below 30% to almost 35%. And of course by 1980 50% of married women were also in the workforce.


One reason I thought it’d be interesting to look at meal stretchers and food costs today was the result of reading my own blog the other day. I read an old post from 1955 (2009) and saw how I mentioned that today food is much cheaper than it actually was in 1955 when we adjusted for inflation. And my realization that today, 2013, food prices are actually getting to be rather close to what they were in 1955. Yet, we have many more costs with higher taxes on everything including more taxes expected from lower earning families. The income tax, as an example, from a 1950’s paycheck often didn’t exist or was very low for working and lower middle incomes. And back in 2009 we had a 2% reduction in Federal Income Tax, which has just been reversed as of 1 January 2013. However, now we have higher prices since 2009.

Another thing I found interesting was during 1955 I used an inflation calculator to determine that in 1955 $1 then was equal to $7 in 2009,when I began my blog. Today, using the same calculator for 2013 for this post, I found that today’s 2013 conversion puts the 1955 $1 at $8.60. That is interesting because the minimum wage in 1955 was put up to $1 and I had followers mention that even in their own state, the min. wage was not $7. That means today, however, that the national minimum wage would be $8.60 but in fact today it is still 7.25. And my state of MA, which sets higher than federal, is below $8.60 as well at $8.25. I just found that interesting within the confines of my little experiment how much inflation and price change has come about.

Now let’s look at food costs. In the paranthesis are the price at the time for the 1950 food and then under 1950 is the adjusted to today’s money price.

FOOD                                                                   1950                      2013

Apples 1 lb. (.20 cents)                               1.90                        2.25

Coffee 1 lb  (.37 cents)                                3.54                        3.99 (for ground 12 oz-less than a pound) 14.99 lb whole bean

Chicken 1 lb.(.43 cents)                              4.11                        2.99 (in 2009 I paid sometimes only .79 cents in current money)

Ground Hamburger 1 lb. (.30 cents)             2.87                        2.99

Bacon 1 lb. (35 cents)                                3.34                       4.50

sugar 5lb bag (43 cents)                             4.11                       3.99 (I would sometimes buy this same bag in 2009 for under one dollar!)

Ritz Crackers (.32 cents)                           3.06                        3.59

Gallon of Gas ( .18 cents)                          1.72                         3.89

And the list could go on and on. I just wanted to point out that while in my 1955 (2009) food was cheaper and so in some ways evened out that we had to pay more in tax and car and housing costs (but less in income tax). Yet today, 2013, the prices are closer to a few years after WWII but with many added costs. And we must remember a 1950 housewife would have laughed in your face you mentioned it cost $100 a month for TV and another for the phone.

Now, from a 1940’s Betty Crocker book, which I most assuredly would have on my shelf in 1950. we see that how food was meant to be eat is much different than what we are lead to believe today about the 1950’s. I remember I did a post in the 1955 year about that misconception of what we today think the 1950’s family was eating. Here we have SEVEN food groups and when you look at the breakdown of how much of each we are meant to eat each day, it is much healthier than we do eat today.

For example we see in the meat and poultry section we are expected to only eat ONE serving a day from this group. And it suggests only 3-4 eggs a week. Today, we surely eat meat more than one serving a day. And with modern desserts or even trips to breakfast restaurants, that weekly serving of eggs would be in one meal!

I had to laugh when I read the milk group. It recommends only 1 pint a day for adults that are not nursing mothers. One pint is 2 cups or 16 oz. This is funny to me, because as some of you know I am now working part time three days a week at a local cafe and a medium latte has 16 oz of milk in it. And that is simply someone’s casual ‘coffee break’ amount of milk. And this chart mentions that the 16 oz you are meant needs also to be counted if in soups or desserts.

We can also see that leafy greens and yellow vegetables are in a separate group from cabbages and tomatoes and fruit. So really two servings of fruit and one of veg a day. And the largest serving recommendation is the grain group. We are beginning to see that grains in forms of cereals and whole wheat breads and quinoa are more healthy for us. Yet, in the late 40’s grain for breakfast and small amount of meat would be the norm. This is interesting and fun to look at. And might even be a good way to start out ones shopping list. IF we consider how much of each of these a day we can break our weekly shop to a 7 day menu and therefore control the cost more effectively.


From this self same war time book we see some meal extending recipes. With meat being dear and very expensive, a homemaker had to make that meat stretch. Again, another misconception that the 1950’s dinner was dripping in steaks and red meat morning til night. This was not actually true until factory farming began to really take off in the 1980’s.

Oatmeal/porridge is a great extender to foods. Eaten on its own it can fill you up and of course fulfills one of  your three servings a day. Here are some simple ways to use it to extend your food. I really want to try this vegetable soup version. And you can see that though once laughed at, saving meat bones and boiling for stock may soon become a modern woman’s habit. When meat continues to rise in price (I could buy good cuts of beef in 2009 for my 55 experiment at $1 a pound. I now found it hard to fit into my budget as it is often 4.99 for the lesser cuts and better cuts up towards $9 a pound).


I am a lover of meat pies and such. I can make a mean steak and kidney and many leftovers often get the benefit of my pastry making for leftover suppers. Here we see a ham loaf that I think could be made with any leftover meat. Many modern gals may soon want to invest in a meat grinder. I use mine often. I have one built into my old 1951 Mixmaster and also a hand crank version which is permanently affixed to my counter, I use it so often. You haven't have a burger in the summer until you have used the cuttings from left over better steaks and made it into ground beef even mixing in leftover poultry as well.

And of course meat lasts longer if it isn’t ground until needed. As once ground it increases the surface area and thus spoils faster. Ground beef is the quickest to go bad. Here is the recipe which would work with any meats I feel. And sliced cold with some salad greens and homemade dessert would make a wonderful lunch box treat for hubby or for the working homemaker.


Oatmeal/porridge can be used in many ways to extend meat and this scrapple sounds rather good. The meat patties topped with bacon could look rather gourmand plated with a few steamed veg and a drizzle of a homemade white sauce across the plate. It would look very modern and be the envy of any dinner party. In fact, dinner parties may come to be the way for families to help one another with rising costs, less work, and devalued money.oatmealscrapple

With Ritz crackers today in 1950 being 3.06 a box (and more today) homemade crackers could be a boon. I often make homemade Cheese crackers and here is a recap of those:

cheesecrackers1 Look how flaky and wonderful. Here is the simple recipe. You can always fudge here or there. More oil if you need, less, more cheese. You want the dough to be easily made into a ball without sticking to your fingers. You can even sprinkle the top before baking with Romano or Mozzerella, garlic salt, what have you, go nuts.

50’s Gal EasyCheezy Crackers

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons soft butter

1 cup grated cheese (your choice of cheese, a medium to hard cheese preferred)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, but recommended)

4 tablespoons olive/vegetable oil

Mix the ingredients until dough like and then for easy rolling, place between two layers of waxed paper.cheesecrackers2

cheesecrackers3 With a knife cut Cheese Cracker size squares (about an inch square) and then poke holes with a fork. This allows for flaking and puffing of crackers and even cooking.

Cook in a 350 F oven for about 25 minutes. Watch them and then decide how dark you like them. This first batch, which is lighter, were so good and had a more gourmet taste, like a cheese straw. But, I found if I cooked them a bit longer until they turned a darker orange, they tasted SO close to the Cheezit brand crackers (without the chemical engineering to not stop eating of course).

cheesecrackers4 You can see the do not have to be all uniform and look lovely in a jar on the counter. They last about five days in a sealed jar. These are easy and well worth the little time to make them. You could make a double batch the day before a picnic or beach outing and surprise your family or friends. They will ask for me, believe me.

I have not as yet tried these made with oatmeal/porridge, but shall do.


And of course a final bit of wisdom for the wartime and 1950’s homemaker, save your drippings!


I began this in 1955 and continue to do so today. I started using an old coffee can but now have a darling vintage ceramic version with a lid that sits on my stove top. And sometimes, like at holidays, if there is an overabundance of the drippings, I simply leave it out to congeal and then the fat on the top (which turns white) goes in one glass jar and the more jelly like clear goes in another. These are both good for various things. The white you can substitute in baking or cooking recipes for lard/butter and the clear is wonderful for soup stock and brown gravies. Waste not want not may have been laughed at a few years ago, but if prices continue to rise and the dollar buys less, such laughter may die down to questions such as “Now, how do you stretch your food budget?” And though one would be want to laugh at the grasshopper when he has fiddled away the summer while you worked hard to prepare for the winter, a good homemaker and a good neighbor of course takes such a person in hand and begins the education we must all go through. And again that value of the homemaker, the most important job in the world so says our little film in 1950, again gains prestige and value.

Now for a fun end to this day in 1950, a look at ladies fashion and a kitchen design from 1950’s. Have a lovely day and as always, Happy Homemaking.

mrstruman Mrs. Truman and friends 1950. The longer skirts of the New Look.

50shoes 1950 shoes, still rather 1940’s of course. I adore the blue heels and those red wedges would be a dream to shop in.

1950vacuum And a new bagless vacuum for 1950, certainly to be on many homemakers Christmas lists by the end of this year!


  1. I love the film, but what is most interesting to me is the lack of reference to the idea of having leftovers. Throwing away all the oysters and rutabaga made me twitch LOL
    Your cracker recipe looks so tasty so I will have to give it a try.

  2. I'll have to give your crackers a try. They seem much better for you than store-bought ones with all the un-pronouncable ingredients!

    I'm interested to hear more about using the drippings. For example, we use a good bit of ground beef since it's so much cheaper. What can I use the leftover fat for after browning the beef? How would I store it? Is there anything I have to do to it before using it in other recipes? I guess I'm thinking more along the lines of schmaltz from chicken fat (which I haven't made before), but can it be done with any meat fat? [I'm hoping my questions make sense!] Thanks!

  3. I think I will talk more about saving and using drippings in my next post!
    MissFifi-I thought it odd as well, the throwing out of the leftovers. But, I think they were meant to be the 'bad' shoppers. Though, honestly, those oysters would have been made into a chowder or stew as well as vegetables. And that old stale cake would have been an easy bread pudding. But, perhaps there in 1950 we are beginning to see the thin end of the consumer wedge. The abundance post war will , as we all know, lead to waste today that people then would never have considered and their parents could not have even have conceived!

  4. A fascinating post. However, reading the prices you described I am amazed at how cheap food is in America. In Australia we pay at least twice as much for almost everything you describe (the chicken, coffee, bacon and mince), and petrol costs around $1.50/litre. How do your farmers not go broke when they must receive very little for their produce? Are they heavily subsidised?

  5. This is a wonderful post! Now I know where my mamma got some of her recipes! I learned at a very young age not to "waste" meat juices/fats, and when I married the first time, I had a very slim budget for food, which I stretched until it practically screamed. What will happen to all the ladies of today who think that cooking is putting something into the microwave??? I grieve for them. They had no idea what real cooking is...much less food budgets and how to stretch their dollars. Thank you for posting!

    Kathleen in IL

  6. This is an intriguing post from an increasing number of women working outside the home to the cost, convenience, and recommended quantities of food. The two, I believe, have some level of correlation.

    As more women went into the workforce, they were crunched for cooking time (I am making the generalization that women were the primary cookers in the home at the time.). With a little extra money, more funds could be spent on groceries but less time was available to make a meal at home. The lure of convenience foods (much of which was a by-product of WW II research) was introduced, such as frozen TV dinners and cake mixes, to help with days of time crunch. From there, it snowballed.

    Today, our markets swell with more processed, convenience-added benefits. Basic foods, such as plain oatmeal are eclipsed by foods that require low involvement, low understanding of our food. For example, not many today would even know how to begin to grind their own meat, and so buy it pre-ground (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.). But what is exactly in that ground meat? Hmm, we may not know until we hear about "pink slime".

    Pre-flavored, pre-shaped, pre-sweetened cereal offers the easy "solutions" while too many pick up plain oatmeal and ask, "what do I do with it"? There are more and more options in the store aisles (as well as fast food), begging us to open up the wallets wider and extend our waistlines. We simply don't need all of this food. It's a confusing, stressful economic black hole.

    I am not against all convenience food, but I think the term "convenience" needs to be stressed and realize these things are used and consumed on occasion - not a daily lifestyle. I think it's a shame when we automatically default to food that is made from industrial ingredients by surrendering our knowledge of food, its preparation, and its origin. There is something deeply meaningful and experiential when one forms a meal from one's own hands.

  7. Just a thought. The minimum wage as of 1970 in Ohio where I lived was $1.75 an hour! Sounds low now but we rented a house and with much frugality and prayer we lived what we thought was very well. House rent was $70 a month. We sure were not the only young couple living on that wage either. Sarah


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