American Favorite Dishes, circa 1958

When I first started cooking for my family as a young teenager, there were usually seven or more people eating dinner.  I learned quickly how to double and triple recipes!  And then My Honey and I set up house and it was just the two of us.  It took me a while but I finally figured out how to make smaller meals or to plan new meals based on the leftovers (I became very adept at “feeding the freezer”).  Most of the “meals for two” cookbooks that I found usually consisted of rather fussy meals.  I guess they were geared to special dinners, not everyday cooking.

A few years ago, I came across Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book from 1958.(Disclosure: I earn a commission from Amazon if you buy a copy of the book via my link).  It has “491 recipes and menus including a When-Company-Comes section.”  “Betty” tells us that the book is

“designed especially for you brides, business girls, career wives and mothers whose children are away from home.  We believe that dinners for two can be just as exciting, varied and delicious as those for a larger number.”

To get the ball rolling, “Betty” starts out with “American Favorites.”  Apparently, over a period of years, the home economists at General Mills asked  thousands of homemakers throughout many parts of the United States the following question: “What is your favorite dish?”  Here then, are the top 12 dishes from 1958 according to Betty Crocker:

  1. Broiled steak
  2. Roast beef
  3. Fried chicken
  4. Baked ham
  5. Braised pork chops
  6. Spaghetti with meat sauce
  7. Apple pie
  8. Strawberry shortcake
  9. Ice cream
  10. Broiled hamburgers
  11. Beef stew
  12. Baked beans

I tried to find a modern version of this list.  I thought it would be fun to compare “yesterday to today” but all I found were hundreds of pages claiming various foods were America’s favorite.  I hadn’t even heard of Texas Caviar until 15 minutes ago, but apparently it is one of my favorite foods!

I notice that almost all of the items on the list are pretty straightforward and require minimum of fuss.  Nor do they require slaving over the stove for hours.  Other stuff can be done while the food cooks itself.  Makes me wonder…where did we get the idea that mid-century housewives slaved over the stove?