Sunday, March 11, 2012

Healthy Eating, ca 1971--on the cheap

I was cleaning out old cookbooks and found amongst them a mint-condition September, 1971 issue of the magazine "Family Circle." Its "Annual Budget Food Issue: 200 delectable ways to save money on meals" was the draw, including a cover story on "Family-pleasing main dishes from 11 cents to 59 cents per serving."  (I was just reminded that keyboards no longer have the "cents" sign; the headline had used it.)

Published about a decade before obesity rates began their precipitous climb, the issue did contain a fold-out "Good nutrition for Good Health" section listing food groups, with calorie, vitamin, fatty acids and carbohydrates counts of specific entries, for home cooks to "clip and save! Use every shopping day!"  We were told adults needed 2 servings from the "meat group," two cups from the dairy group, 4 cups from the fruits and veggies group and 4 servings from breads and cereals, every 24-hours.  In fact, nearly every ad for comestibles contained the 4-petaled food groups symbol with the slogan "Eat the basic 4 foods every day."

Lucky for us, we could use the magazine's recipes to provide all this for just $17.81 for a week of dinners for a family of four.  Each menu included "bread and butter" (12 cents for the entire family), as well as coffee or milk at 43 cents.  The big expenses were for protein: "Double-treat roast chicken" was 93 cents, Sauerbraten $1.44, Beef Stroganoff with Dill cost $1.12, and Stuffed Breast of Veal, $1.16, for a family of four.

"Our home economists have confirmed what you already know," the editors solemnly reported in 1971: "food prices have been soaring." They continued, "Two years ago they made a similar analysis of food costs in this area. Then, frozen cod fillets were 55 cents a pound; now they're 69 cents.  Carrots were 15 cents a pound; now they're 21 cents.  Margarine was 30 cents a pound; now it's 43 cents. And on and on..."  The magazine then detailed Henry Thoreau's food budget for eight months of sustenance at Walden Pond--$8.74.  Their reaction? "Oh, for the good old days!"

Indeed. Am I the only one who's noticed that pasta, on sale, has escalated 50% in the last few months, from about $1 for 16 oz. to $1.50?  Or that increasingly, it's packaged in 12-ounce bags and still going for the newly-bloated dollar-and-a-half?

Nearly everything in the supermarket has escalated in price over the past few months, probably as a result of increased fuel costs.  I haven't heard Pres. Obama or any of the other politicians address consumers' food costs specifically, but no longer are they a minor issue.  Any candidate who craves the feminine vote should connect on this.  Yes, men cook; men also go to the supermarket. But what percentage of users of coupon sites are men? Who better remembers what broccoli cost last year?

The '71 "Family Circle" is amusing for its advertisements, a large proportion of which are for cigarettes.  The issue's back cover shows a couple with feet dangling off a dock, the man taking a drag; the sunhat-wearing woman demurely holds her smokeless cigarette. A carefree weekend moment, with the ad-line, "It's only natural." Meaning, "Only natural menthol...not the artificial kind...That's why Salem tastes as fresh as Springtime..."

Also in the magazine is a full-page cartoon featuring a pack of Doral cigarettes that sings ("Taste me, taste me!"), another color page showing a flower-power dressed young lady adoringly eyed by a man at a soiree with the words, "Parties? She loves 'em...Music? Anything from Bach to rock. Her cigarette? Nothing short of Viceroy Longs."  "Farewell to the ugly cigarette," announces another full-page color ad. "Smoke Pretty. Eve."  True and BelAir brands also beckoned readers.

Anachronisms bring a smile. "Fresh new items in your supermarket," headlines another page-size ad showing stalks of corn sprouting packs of Kodak film, including the short-lived 126-size cartridge. Perhaps my favorite major ad shows two interiors: "Same room--so many ways to decorate it"...with walls covered with garish Con-tact paper in "flocked 'Empress'" and "Wormy Chestnut."  And where would our parties be if not for Brown 'n Serve sausage chunks with maraschino cherries served on toothpicks?

But some things never change, including our need to eat, and the desire to make meals easily and cheaply. With the plethora of recipe sites on the web, cookbooks are obsolete (hence my purge) but a good dish is always worth circulating.  No doubt, few chefs are now sending for the free booklet from Ac'cent (which is basically pure MSG) called "More Ta'am in Your Cooking with Ac'cent" ("Old-World Jewish food using Ac'cent plus recipes for such dishes as pirogen, a fried dough with meat filling, chopped Liver Spread and Baked Flounder with Cucumber..."). But some of these vintage recipes still hold appeal.

I have to modify a bit to suit kosher rules, but here's one that sounds interesting:
Potato Moussaka
3 medium onions, chopped (I'd use one)
6 tbsp. butter/margarine (I'd use olive oil)
1 lb. soy-based fake ground beef (original calls for real meat)
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 cup water
3 eggs
1 cup light cream or milk
2 pounds potatoes, sliced (I'd use a Cuisinart)
1/4 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

Saute the onions in 2 tbsp. butter til soft in a large skillet. Add the fake meat and stir, cooking, 3 minutes. Stir in parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and 1 tbsp. flour. Add the water. Cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat
     Separate 2 of the eggs; beat yolks with 2 tbsp. cream/milk in a small bowl. Stir into "meat" mixture.  Beat the 2 egg whites until stiff; fold into the meat.
     Heat 3 tbsp. of the butter/margarine in a large skillet. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring several times until half done.  Grease a 10-cup baking dish with remaining butter; sprinkle with bread crumbs. Layer meat and potatoes in baking dish, ending with potatoes. Bake, uncovered in 350-degree oven 30 minutes. Beat the remaining flour, cream/milk and egg together in a small bowl. Pour over top of potatoes. Bake 10 minutes longer.
    The 1971 "Family Circle" then adds, "Makes 6 servings at 37 cents each."

Now, I don't understand moussaka without eggplant, so I'd put sliced, roasted eggplant in those layers, but that's just me.  Might bring the cost per serving up to, oh, 43 cents.

Do we really pine for those good old days? Was life simpler and worthy of nostalgia?  Actually, this frozen-time magazine, with its emphasis on domestic arts, shows we're still pretty much consumed with the same basics of daily living, just using updated terms. In these yellowed pages is a story about a woman In Rockville, Indiana who makes 15 kinds of candy, jellies, jams and fruit breads (a female CEO).  There are "3 Famous Chefs and their favorite low-cost recipes" about James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne, all still subjects of foodie veneration. And there's emphasis on the self-satisfaction that comes from kneading, rolling and shaping your own bread--might be called "slow food."  It's a reminder that most Americans give politics an "eh," and then turn to deciding what's for dinner.

Admittedly, I don't cook during the week, saving my efforts for lavish Sabbath meals prepared for a table-full of guests. My husband and I forage leftovers the rest of the time, especially since becoming empty-nesters, though we do sit down together to share our gleanings.  But there's something about an enticing dish I can't resist, and my bulging manila folders of excised newspaper recipes will never see the recycle bin. Maybe because the meals at which we enjoyed these foods comprised the stuff of our lives, and spiritually confirm the maxim that you are what you eat.


  1. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  2. It is amazing how times have changed.

    The induction of processed and quick foods have certainly not led to our health. Nothing like a good, from scratch dinner!

    David,, "Salt and Light"

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