Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Food Fads

I've been reading a book titled Food Fads: Seven Decades of Food Fads, and it's a real revelation. I'm amazed at how our tastes have changed over the years, though the book begins in the Twenties, when I was not around. I don't suppose I remember much about food until the late Forties or Fifties, but I'm blush to think how many faddish foods I've cooked. In the Twenties, with refrigeration new, jellied salads were all the thing, and they stayed there until at least the Fifties. Consider ginger ale salad with pears, peaches, pineapple, walnuts and served with mayonnaise and lettuce. "Foreign" cooking was just beginning to make its way--tamale pie, Spanish rice, spaghetti. With the Thirties and the Depression came comfort food--sweet potatoes with marshmallow (oh, do I remember that though my mom always added a generous helping of bourbon), Welsh rabbit, creamed chipped beef. And then there was the introduction of Chinese food to American cuisine--chop suey and chow mein. Who eats those now with all the sophisticated Asian food available? Trader Vic's is quoted a lot.

And then the Forties, the war years of rationing. One recipe that intrigued me was boiled tongue (preferably smoked or cured). I grew up eating tongue and to this day I love a tongue sandwich (which I can get in the local deli, though many of my lunch companions look askew at me). I also grew up eating lamb kidneys, but alas they're never available. I'd really like to try a couple just to see if I still like them, but when I asked at Central Market, I was told you had to order them by the case--a little more than I was up for. After the war ended there were exravagant meals, with such delicacies as strawberries Romanoff, vichysoisse, and crepes suzette.

In the Fifties America celebrated its own food--barbecue (barbecued bologna? please!), baked potatoes, three-bean salad, and, of course, cooking with Campbell's soup--which I still don't think is a bad idea. There were even recipes for Spam meatloaf and Spam Quick Stove-top Special. I used to eat Spam as a kid--my mom would score it like a ham and cover with cloves and brown sugar. I remember liking it, but the fat content scares me away today. Chafing dishes were a big fad as was fondue, and, of course, cocktail parties with all the dips, etc. But there was also bologna pie--where did all that bologna come from? And then Julia Child burst on the scene, bringing exuberant French cooking to America. Two recipes I remember from the Sixties that were favorites: bourbon balls (I had a friend whose husband ate them by the handful and said, "There here are really good!") and Grasshopper Pie. The recipe in the book is the closest to the one I used to make and have lost--I'll have to make it for Jamie, who loved it. But then there are such atrocities as Tang pie (right, Tang powder for making a drink) and Tang tea. But there were extravagant dishes, like Lobster-Asparagus Mousse and Hot Crap Dip.
The Eighties brought more extravagant dishes--Americans were living well and experimenting more, and it was reflected in the food they were eating--the recipes of Paul Prudhomme, recipes using New Mexico's blue corn, lots of chocolate both dark and white and fresh new Italian recpes--no more spaghetti and meatballs.
The Nineties were the fusion decade, when we blended cuisines from all parts of the world, particularly pan-Asian cooking and Caribbean flavors. If you think we didn't eat differently, consider Calypso Pork Loin with Black Beans or fresh peach salsa.
The book is full of recipes, though I doubt I'll cook many of them, but it's a nostalgic trip through the past--and those of my generation will be amazed at how our food tastes have changed--and how many fads we fell into it.
Tonight I fixed Christian a belated birthday dinner--he celebrated his birthday in Jamaica last week. No food fads here: the birthday boy had steak while Jordan and I ate chopped steak and Jacob had chicken nuggets (with lots of ketchup)--such is the budget of a new retiree. I added baked potatoes for Christian and Jacob and salad for all of us. It was all festive and fun, and I'm enjoying seeing so much of them.

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