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In the 1950s, experimentation and convenience were critical to cooking

  • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

    Dole Pineapple Jell-O in a Can.

  • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

    Bacon-Wrapped, Velveeta-Stuffed Hot Dogs.

  • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

    Steak Diane.

  • ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

    The Tuna Ring.

The decade began with a bloody war in Korea that came to a conclusion, of sorts, that satisfied no one. Later, the turmoil of the fledgling civil rights movement led to a sense among some that the nation’s fabric was beginning to fray.

So, what brought us together? What could the entire country unite around? A green bean casserole.

In 1955 a team of cooks led by Dorcas Reilly at the Campbell Soup Co. developed the dish as a way to entice housewives to use canned soup for purposes other than making soup.

The recipe caught on as few ever have — the original recipe card now resides in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. It contained everything that cooks of the era were looking for: the convenience of food from cans, a sense of homey comfort and just a touch of the exotic from the crunch of canned french-fried onion rings.

The ’50s were a time of culinary experimentation. The overwhelming impulse was to save time and effort, so premade foods and ingredients were pressed into service in every way imaginable.

Anything that could be done with Jell-O was done. The Hawaiian Pineapple Co. (now Dole Food Co.) recommended replacing the juice in a can of sliced pineapples with green gelatin, allowing it to set in the refrigerator and then sliding the whole thing out of the can. The result was a molded cylinder of neon lime gelatin and pineapple slices.

Or you could make a Tuna Ring by baking canned tuna fish into a dough made with Bisquick (the advertisement read, “Bisquick’s going to help you more than any other package in the grocery store”).

Although Velveeta was invented in 1918, it came into its own in the 1950s. Velveeta — at the time an actual blend of Colby, Swiss and cheddar cheeses — was added to pretty much everything. One favorite dish at the time was a hot dog stuffed with Velveeta, wrapped with bacon and broiled.

Yes, it tastes as good as you think. And yes, it’s as bad for you as you think, too.

When midcentury sophisticates splurged on a fancy meal, there is a good chance it was steak Diane, one of those forgotten dishes that should be revived; it’s simple to make yet complex on the palate. You begin with filet mignon, cook it quickly and use its pan juices to make a sauce with cream and mushrooms.

And then, the highlight: Douse it in cognac or brandy and set it aflame. The presentation is impressive no matter what decade you make it in.

For a sweet finish, a drink that, in its own way, is also quintessentially ’50s: The grasshopper, garishly colored, is equal parts creme de menthe, creme de cacao and cream, shaken over ice.

It’s dessert in a glass. And it’s wonderful, like a liquid peppermint patty.

Dole Pineapple Jell-O in a Can

Hawaiian Pineapple Co., 1955

  • 1 (20-ounce) can sliced pineapple
  • 1 (3-ounce) package lime gelatin, such as Jell-O

Pour liquid out of can. In a separate bowl, make gelatin according to package directions but using only 1/2 the water. Pour gelatin into can. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

Run hot water around outside of can to loosen the gelatin. Turn the can upside down on a platter and remove the bottom of the can. Push from the bottom so the pineapple-gelatin mixture slides out of the top in a can-shaped cylinder. Cut between slices to serve. Serves 4.

Per serving: 162 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 3 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 39 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 98 mg sodium, 23 mg calcium

Bacon-Wrapped, Velveeta-Stuffed Hot Dogs

  • 4 hot dogs
  • 2 ounces Velveeta cheese
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 4 hot dog buns

Preheat broiler. Slice hot dogs down the middle but not quite all the way through. Stuff each with a thin slice of Velveeta. Wrap hot dog with bacon.

Broil about 4 inches from the cooking element until cheese has melted and bacon and hot dogs are done, about 10 minutes. Serve on buns. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional analysis: 307 calories, 19 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 14 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 1 g sugar, no fiber, 923 mg sodium, 86 mg calcium

Green Bean Casserole

Campbell’s Soup

  • 1 (10-1/2-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 dash black pepper
  • 4 cups cooked cut green beans
  • 1-1/3 cups canned french-fried onions, divided

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in a 1-1/2-quart casserole.

Bake 25 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Stir. Sprinkle with remaining onions. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 156 calories, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 4 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 3 g fiber, 498 mg sodium, 66 mg calcium

Tuna Ring

Betty Crocker Co.

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons Bisquick, divided
  • 1-2/3 cups evaporated milk, divided
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
  • 2 (7-ounce) cans or 3 (5-ounce) cans tuna, with oil, drained and flaked, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped pimento
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish, an 11-by-7-inch baking dish or a 9-inch ring mold.

In a medium bowl, blend 2 cups of the Bisquick, 2/3 cup evaporated milk, 1/3 cup water, eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Beat vigorously 30 seconds. Mix in 10 ounces of the tuna (1-1/2 of the 7-ounce cans or 2 of the 5-ounce cans), 1/4 cup cheese, onion, pimento and celery. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over top. Bake 30 to 35 minutes.

To make sauce: Put remaining 2 tablespoons Bisquick, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in small pot off the heat. Gradually stir in remaining 1 cup evaporated milk and 2/3 cup water. Stir in remaining tuna. Heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.

Remove tuna ring from mold. Serve sauce in bowl in middle of the ring. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 358 calories, 18 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 116 mg cholesterol, 21 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 1,088 mg sodium, 234 mg calcium

Steak Diane

Saveur

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 (4-ounce) filet mignon or sirloin steaks
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1-1/2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 ounces oyster or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup cognac or brandy (optional)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high. Season steaks with salt and pepper, and add to skillet. Cook, turning once, until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, 4 to 5 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to a plate.

Return skillet to high heat and add stock, cook until reduced to 1/2 cup and add 1 tablespoon butter. Add garlic and shallots, cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Pour into bowl and set aside.

Return skillet to heat and add remaining butter. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release liquid, it evaporates and mushrooms begin to brown, 2 minutes.

Add cognac and carefully light with a match to flambee; cook until flame dies. Stir in reserved stock, cream, Dijon, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Return steaks to skillet, cook, turning in sauce, until warmed through and sauce is thickened, 4 minutes. Stir parsley and chives into sauce, pour sauce over steaks. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 467 calories, 39 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 106 mg cholesterol, 23 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 387 mg sodium, 33 mg calcium

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  • Remember too these cooks came from a generation that dealt with the American Depression and the rationing of war years, many learned to do with what was available.

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