In 1957 I was 13 and lived in the Midwest. We had a jar of cherries in the door of our refrigerator and I can’t remember ever using them. We also had peanut butter, Cheese Whiz and Jell-O in that refrigerator.
When Mom cooked seafood, it might be tuna noodle casserole made with Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup, noodles and canned tuna. When dieting, ladies would have iceberg lettuce with a scoop of cottage cheese on top, two canned peach halves and a maraschino cherry.
That was 58 years ago and we were headed in a different direction. Instead of “farm to table” cuisine, we were hoping to escape that world of tedious and time-consuming food preparation and embrace a new world of technology — and with it, the good life.
The words “convenience” and “fast food” hadn’t yet been coined, but Birds Eye was growing fast and the microwave was only 10 years away. Processed foods were viewed as a scientific breakthrough to make our lives better. The “Farm Journal Country Cookbook,” copyright 1959, has a “five star recipe” for fried chicken in which the chicken pieces are dipped in “dry salad dressing mix” along with a little flour, then dipped in “prepared pancake mix batter” before frying in a Dutch oven. And the maraschino cherries? They were sparingly used for “Skillet Pineapple Upside Down Cake,” placed in the center of the canned pineapple slices. Here are some retro recipes to stir your memories:
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Cook 6 ounces (1/2 package) medium egg noodles in 2 quarts salted water, drain and place in a large bowl.
Heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1/2 cup finely diced onion, 1 cup finely diced celery and 1/2 cup finely diced green pepper. Cook for 5 minutes at low heat and add to the cooked noodles.
Heat 1 can of cream of celery soup and 1 cup milk in a small saucepan and add to the bowl of noodles.
Open a 9-ounce can of tuna, drain the water and break up the tuna into small pieces. Add this to the noodle mixture along with 1/2 cup mayonnaise. Add 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese and a teaspoon salt. Blend this whole mixture together with a rubber spatula and place in a 8x11x2 casserole. Chop 1/2 cup sliced almonds and mix them with 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the casserole and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
(Adapted from the “New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.”)
Place a 2-pound piece of fresh turkey breast in a soup pot and add 4 cups unsalted chicken stock to the pot. Add half an onion, chopped, 1 stalk of chopped celery and 1 chopped carrot. Season with a bay leaf, 6 parsley stems and 3 sprigs of thyme tied together with a string. Simmer until turkey is fully cooked, about 45 minutes.
Cool the turkey, remove the skin and cut into 1-inch pieces. Strain and reserve the stock.
Heat a saucepan and melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 3 tablespoons flour and cook for 3 minutes. Whisk in 2 cups of the turkey broth and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons Madeira wine.
Separately, cook 1/2 pound of spaghettini in 3 quarts boiling water and drain. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pasta and set aside.
Trim and slice 1 package of white mushrooms and sauté them in 2 tablespoons butter. Combine the sauce, mushrooms and turkey in a bowl.
Place half of the pasta in the bottom of a casserole and pour half of the turkey mixture on top. Put the rest of the pasta on top and cover with the remaining turkey mixture. Mix 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese with 1/4 cup bread crumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes and serve.
(Adapted from “Culinary Classics and Improvisations” by Michael Field.)
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add 1 cup light brown sugar and cook until melted and bubbly.
Drain 1 large can of pineapple slices, reserving the juice. Remove the skillet from the heat and place pineapple rings around the skillet and one in the center. Put maraschino cherries in the center of each ring. Cut the remaining pineapple rings in half and stand them up around the sides of the skillet.
Whisk together 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup shortening and 1/2 cup milk until smooth. Add 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of the pineapple juice and beat another 2 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture at low speed, scrape down the sides and remove.
Pour this batter over the pineapple mixture in the skillet and bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes. Cut around the sides with a paring knife, place a serving platter over the top and turn upside down. Serve warm or refrigerate.
(Adapted from the “Farm Journal Country Cookbook.”)
Using an electric mixer with a paddle, beat together 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup shortening until smooth. Blend in 1 egg, 1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice and 2 tablespoons milk.
Place 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate in a small dish and microwave for 30 seconds to melt. Add the melted chocolate to the batter.
Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Gradually add this flour mixture to the batter at low speed. Remove the bowl, scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and fold in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/4 cup chopped maraschino cherries.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spoon the cookie batter — about 2 heaping tablespoons per cookie — onto the parchment. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Cut extra large marshmallows into thick rounds. After removing the cookies from the oven, press the marshmallow rounds down onto the hot cookies and place them on a rack to cool.
Set up a double boiler and melt 11 ounces milk chocolate morsels along with 2 tablespoons shortening. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies and place a maraschino cherry on top of each cookie. Refrigerate until firm.
(Adapted from the online blog “Ann’s Entitled Life.”)
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].