Mark and I were talking last night about cubed steak in the South versus cubed steak in the North. Down here, it’s breaded and fried like a lot of other things. We call it country fried steak. It’s delicious. In my childhood in the North, it was broiled. Not much point in debating the merits of that.
But it got me to thinking about why my mother never made anything that required actual cooking. And that led me to wonder what foods she grew up on. My mother was born in 1916 so her food memories would have been made in the 1920s.
So I did a little research – and Bingo! – the secret to my mother’s love of boxed things revealed itself.
“The most striking development was the shift toward processed foods. Where housewives had previously prepared food from scratch at home (peeling potatoes, shelling peas, plucking chickens, or grinding coffee beans) an increasing number of Americans purchased foods that were ready-to-cook. World War I brought about new methods of food processing as manufacturers streamlined production methods of canned and frozen foods. Processed foods reduced the enormous amounts of time that had previously been taken up in peeling, grinding, and cutting.” (1920-1930.com)
- Wonder Bread (1920): I didn’t think there was any other kind of bread until I was in my 20s.
- Welch’s Grape Jelly (1923): Ditto. What is this thing called strawberry jam? I had never heard of it until I was well out of childhood.
- Peter Pan Peanut Butter (1928): The only brand in our house 30 years later.
- Velveeta Cheese (1928): Truly astounding! Validation of my own continuing love of the processed cheese food. And, yes, a standard sandwich in the Chapin household of the ’50s was Velveeta sliced and placed atop a mayonnaise-laden piece of Wonder Bread.
Other foods advertised in the 1920s were also hanging around our house 30 years later: Log Cabin Syrup, Van Camps Pork and Beans, Grape-Nuts (still my cereal of choice today!), Cream of Wheat (Northern grits – kind of), and Maxwell House Coffee (who knew our coffee was named after a Nashville hotel – maybe that’s what lured me to the South).
So now I’m thinking what will be hanging around Noah’s kitchen 30 years from now that’s sitting in my pantry today? Yes, Velveeta will still be sitting jauntily on the shelf, probably with exactly the same packaging. But he’ll also have DiGiorno Pesto Sauce for pasta, Thai Kitchen Cocoanut Milk for curries, and Supremo Chorizo for quesadillas. Will they seem as old-fashioned in 2042 as Wonder Bread seems today? Fascinating question, that.