Classic Americana

Nothing says as much about classic Americana (as in the culture found in the south, the midwest, etc. as opposed to New York-New England or California) as the Church Fundraiser Cookbook. Often a gift from a grandmother, who was on the committee that helped raise funds to publish the books to sell, these are full of recipes that we all know by heart without needing a cookbook. But I love them.

I was up to visit Kat of 3 Bedroom Bungalow again yesterday, and discovered that she had a few of these classic cookbooks, including a brand new arrival. I sat down to page through, and was immediately carried back to a totally different time and place. It does not appear to matter much that Kat and I are from different parts of the US, and that the places of our birth were separated by well over a thousand miles. The recipes are almost all the same.

Now what’s amusing about these recipes is the set of ingredients thus contained. Most of them have been designed for pantry staples, and in a few cases freezer staples. But they admittedly do not rely much on fresh produce, which I admit I did not see much of (aside from lettuce leaves) until I was an adult. But to me, that’s okay. And to the visiting Brit who wants to complain about the “convenience” foods that make up a large proportion of the ingredients list: at least these dishes were assembled at home, in the kitchen, by mom or dad or grandma or grandpa. Yes they may have some shortcuts and some ingredients you’re not used to, but I still would rather have this than a pre-packaged sandwich or an M&S microwavable meal.

I’ll not bother with methods or amounts, just ingredients. See if any of these ring a bell.

  • Mexican Bean Dip: refried beans, taco seasoning, cream cheese, shredded cheddar. (Add green onions in the more sophisticated version, as well as perhaps jalapenos, ground beef fried with onions and even salsa or taco sauce)

  • Fruit dip: vanilla, sour cream, cream cheese, sugar
  • “Salad”: pistachio pudding, cool whip, canned crushed pineapple, pecans, marshmallows
  • Soup: cream of mushroom soup, frozen broccoli, velveeta
  • Casserole: ground beef, onions, cream of celery soup, canned corn, tater tots
  • Dessert: jello, fruit cocktail, cool whip, cottage cheese
  • Wreath: crescent rolls, cream cheese, diced ham, diced bell peppers, broccoli florets (fresh produce!)
  • pigs in blankets: crescent rolls, sausages

I could go on for days. Really, I could: whole cookbooks worth. But I think you get the drift. Simple, semi-homemade foods. Mostly originally from recipe books published by people like Jell-O and Pillsbury. American classics.

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11 responses to “Classic Americana

  1. I don’t see any green beans in those items. I can’t believe there aren’t any green beans there. Green beans seem to be an absolute staple!

  2. I thought the green bean casserole (the only item I know which has a large quantity of green beans from cans) was too well known to include–but I see I was wrong.

    Green bean casserole: canned beans, cream of mushroom soup, French’s onions.

  3. I had so much fun reading through those cookbooks and laughing with you. Remember, grape jelly and chili sauce.

  4. Yeah, Kat, that’s your recipe, I do admit to never having seen that particular version with the grape jelly. But I can totally see the brilliance in this frame of reference!

  5. Ooh, that’s my favorite ‘salad’ from childhood. Though, mom’s version used fruit cocktail instead of pineapple.

  6. Puleeese! At least an M&S sandwich would contain fresh ingredients – your recipes sound as if they have been extruded rather than cooked (or, as you say, assembled

  7. foodlover, it’s not a fair comparison–many of these are “vintage” recipes from a time when fresh produce was not readily available in middle America, and dating from the time when my grandmothers were feeding my parents. I wonder what was at M&S in the 50s, and was it as glorious as you claim it is now? (Of course, I have a gag reflex that prevents me from eating soggy bread so M&S sandwiches that have been sitting on a shelf all day are not something I’ve even tried!)

  8. Well, I wouldnt have described it in those terms, but gag certainly describes my realtion to most of those recipes! What was in M&S in the fifties was mostly large knickers and crimplene suits, but they dont sound much more indegistible than Classic Americana food

  9. Oh I was getting homesick reading this! I have a couple of cookbooks like this from an aunt who was a school dinner lady, the books were created to raise funds for the school–same idea. Yes, lots of Cream of Mushroom casseroles. The recipe I miss from family reunions and pot lucks is the 7 layer salad. It seems like there were things like peas and lettuce and cheese (probably velveeta) etc. Maybe I liked it so much because it was one of the ONLY fresh things! Maybe if I had it now it would be less than interesting.

    I agree with your comment that these recipes come from a time in the states when fresh produce was rare unless you grew up on a farm (and even then fresh stuff was only available in the summer, the rest was home-canned for winter). Its what these recipes represent that is more important than actually planning a dinner party around them… now there would be a challenge for you!

  10. Oh reading that my Nebraskan childhood flashed before my eyes, and it was not a pretty sight. My Mom had heaps of these books, but I am not sure why, as we seemed to live on a rotation of the same six or seven meals. Mom had many wonderful qualities but imaginative cooking was not one of them.

    I’d rather have Marks and Spencers King Prawn noodles ready meal any day.

    Looking back the thing that strikes me most is that there seemed to be no variation in meals across the seasons.

  11. I’ve noticed over several decades that the church cookbooks usually contain excellent recipes. I’ve also seen that cooking styles change a lot over time. Most of the foods I grew up with in the 50’s and 60’s seem long gone (try finding a book now with good casseroles, for example).

    Expat 21

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