Cooking with Campbell’s Soup

by Maria on December 16, 2008

Most families have their own cooking lore, developed through accident and necessity into an unimpeachable canon of family food. The culinary canon of my childhood seems quaint, now that I live in California. Orange juice was a Christmas day treat. Corn on the cob was a summer treat (though we bought it frozen – in fact, I never saw a cob with the leaves around it until I was 18 and came to America for the first time). We competed for second helpings by gnawing off every bit of flesh till the cob was as bald as a loofah.

On our birthdays, we could have our favourite dish. The boys always chose sirloin steak. I still pick either my Mum’s Beef Stroganoff (fillet beef, onions, mushrooms and cream – not at all close to the authentic stroganoff) or a recipe that had somehow come to us from Australia: Pork Teko Teko. Pork Teko Teko is a long fillet of pork, bundled in rashers and baked, served with a cream, white wine, mushroom and onion sauce. So basically my idea of bliss is onion flavoured cream served over clotted rice, with an optional first class protein on the side.

Nowadays, if a few of the adult children are left to our own devices in my parents’ house, we make Spaghetti Bolognaise. It’s nothing like the real thing. It’s much, much better. Fry the onions in salty butter, brown the minced meat with them, plop in a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, simmer and serve on a plate of spaghetti. Nothing communicates comfort to me more than our bowdlerized version of this classic dish. For a few years in our teens, we used the new jars of pasta sauce, but reverted to Campbell’s in time for college.

Novelty is the last thing we want. I provoked a stand up row with my next youngest sister two summers ago by insisting on whole wheat spaghetti. Over dinner, Leah was gracious enough to concede that the brown pasta was surprisingly good. But it gives me a little pain even now to think of how angry we both got about something so trivial on one of probably only a dozen evenings we’ve had together in the last couple of years. Family food is important stuff, and is not to be messed with.

I’ve often assumed that some time in the seventies, magazines popularized the use of Campbell’s soup as a cooking sauce, and that’s where we our family recipe came from. But I’ve just started reading Mary McCarthy’s “The Group” and learnt that Campbell’s soup cooking was a 1930s phenomenon. The Group is about a clique of Vassar girls who graduate in 1933. It is a wonderful piece of inter-war social history, and a great yarn. Kay’s husband is the appalling Harald, a talentless bully who admires Robert Moses’ freeways and civic planning, and believes scientific intelligence and the technocracy will, after a brief struggle, make capital irrelevant and bring about the ascent of “his class, the class of artists and technicians”.

Part of Harald’s forward-looking ethos is his cooking repertoire which consists of tinned minced clams (yurk!) and;

a quick and easy meat loaf his mother taught him: one part beef, one part pork, one part veal; add sliced onions, pour over it a can of Campbell’s tomato soup and bake in the oven. Then there was his chile con carne, made with canned kidney beans and tomato soup again and onions and half a pound of hamburger; you served it over rice, and it stretched for six people.” Harald also “put garlic in everything and was accounted quite a cook”.

Harald rails against conservatives’ aversion to canned goods, insisting that modern machinery and factory processes have eliminated all danger of bacterial infection and that Campbell soups are better than anything the home cook could achieve. Kay enthuses about innovations like Pyrex, iceberg lettuce and Corn Niblets. It’s the culinary equivalent of the Italian futurists, except twenty years later in a bourgeois kitchen.

This points to a subtle but important distinction. Just as one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, Harald’s chile con carne is clearly vile, while the almost identical Farrell bolognaise is an institution of family life. His attachment to Campbell’s soup represents a misplaced trust in modernity and his bizarre recipe of class resentment, 1930s corporatism and machine love. Our love of Campbell’s, by contrast, is charming, retro, and not at all smug.

Especially at this time of year, family food traditions are created every five minutes and followed faithfully for life. I know on the face of it they’re completely arbitrary; this year’s make-do becomes next year’s holy sacrament. But one whiff of frying onions with tinned tomato soup and I’m ten again, sitting elbow to elbow on a converted church pew, worrying about homework, laughing at the baby in its high chair, and hoping we’ll have ice cream with wafers for dessert.



riffle 12.16.08 at 8:39 pm

As an American, I used to be stumped when UK and Commonwealth people would say “Spag Bol.” I later found out it’s short for “Spaghetti Bolognaise,” of course, but the term isn’t used much where I’m from. While I’ve had Bolognese (sometimes quite good) in restaurants, the generic UK Spag Bol seems much more like what I as a child of the USA used to call “spaghetti,” or, when pressed, spaghetti with meat sauce. Or Ragu with hamburger (Ragu being an early widespread brand of commercial bottled sauce, before the profusion of brands in recent years and before I’d ever heard the word “pasta”). As the classic Andy Griffith show episode showed, it was pretty common in the US even in the mid-1960s, and the secret ingredient was always oregano.

I’ve grown away from most of the food I ate as a child, living far from the south now. But when I have something that’s cooked the way it was when I was a kid (especially something simple like rough crusty cornbread, mandatorily unsweetened), it hits what “comfort food” marketers are trying to replicate. I’m sure birds who eat that specific berry instead of the similar-looking but slightly poisonous one feel much the same sense of comfort.

I would give a good cornbread recipe to wrap this comment up with a Campbell’s-soup-like ribbon but it’s nearly impossible to get the right kind of corn meal if you’re not in the South. Have your southern friends send you some White Lily cornbread mix and follow the directions.


Watson Aname 12.16.08 at 8:41 pm

And here we are, 75 years later, and the best tinned soups are still mediocre, the best pre-made soup stocks not even that. That’s progress for you!

I’m with you on the odd place that comfort foods can take you. Sounds like an interesting book, too.


Buster 12.16.08 at 9:08 pm

The “mushrooms and cream” you mention in the second graf is the same as Campbell’s “cream of mushroom” soup, right? Is this one of those varies-by-side-of-Atlantic labels?

Assuming yes, that is exactly the Stroganoff I grew up with, served either over egg noodles or rice, depending on children’s demands of the day.

A friend and I just had a terrific holiday party with midwestern American food as the theme. I made 7-up salad (jello, whipped cream, canned fruit, marshmallows and shredded cheddar cheese) and he made cream-of-mushroom based “tater tot casserole.” Wouldn’t want it more than once a year, but it did us right for the night.


giotto 12.16.08 at 9:20 pm

Here at McGill student groups raise funds by selling snacks outside the classroom where I lectured this semester; a popular item was grilled cheese sandwiches, which smell like comfort to me. In my parents’ house, grilled cheese sandwiches (bland white bread, American “cheese,” grilled in margarine, of course) ALWAYS were served with Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I asked my class if it had been the same in their houses, and a surprising number of hands went up. I’ve wondered ever since where that combination comes from. Must have something to do with a Campbell’s marketing campaign, or a recipe booklet, or a Campbell’s Quick and Easy Lunch Ideas (or some such) ad in Better Homes and Gardens ca. 1950… I should have asked how many of them grew up with tuna fish casserole, with the dreaded Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup (and the broken potato chips sprinkled over the top) or that damned green bean casserole with Cream of Mushroom soup, canned water chestnuts and those pre-fab onion rings on top.

God willing, I’ll never have to eat any of those again.

And don’t get me started on Jell-O salads. . . .


tariqata 12.16.08 at 9:54 pm

It is interesting what we find ourselves liking foodwise.

I actually grew up really hating Campbell’s soup – especially tomato soup – by itself, and we never used it in cooking. But, after I moved out on my own, my grandmother gave me a crockpot and a book of recipes for it, one of which was green beans and barley made with cream of mushroom soup, and it is astonishingly tasty.

I just don’t tell anyone what the base is.


Brennen 12.16.08 at 10:00 pm

This is a wonderful post.

In our house, grilled cheese was Velveeta on sliced bread with margarine spread on both sides before it went on the griddle, Campbell’s Tomato Soup on the side. Macaroni & Cheese, similarly, had to be made with Velveeta. My parents no longer cook much like their own parents did, but I think these things are vestiges of a wholehearted post-depression / post-war midwestern embrace of convenient, “modern” foods. My dad’s mom had cooked with lard on a woodburning stove, and she was perfectly happy to embrace Crisco and an electric range…

(I’ve been thinking for a while that this all has a lot to do with why people in places like Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri are so obviously committing slow suicide with their eating habits.)


Jared 12.16.08 at 10:06 pm

The McCarthy novel sounds fun. It’s strange that these family dinners are seemingly so similar to everyone’s dreaded institutional meals. As in Pynchon’s Vineland (1990) when Prairie Gates teaches the Ninjettes how to cook Spinach Casserole using the Universal Binding Ingrediant, which is cream of mushroom soup. It’s a big hit.

“What were you going to serve them?” she couldn’t help asking.
“Dip,” chirped a Mill Valley real-estate agent.
“Smores,” chuckled a Milpitas scoutmaster, “with maple syrup.”
“New England Boiled Dinner,” replied an ex-institutional inmate with a shudder.

Part of the joke being that Pynchon comes from an old New England family and probably had lots of that as a child.


Brennen 12.16.08 at 10:15 pm

Might the essential difference (and the source of horror) be that institutional meals are prepared at scale?


Righteous Bubba 12.16.08 at 10:22 pm

Merry Christmas!


mollymooly 12.16.08 at 10:28 pm

For my first attempt at culinary creativity, I did not want to be too elaborate. I steeped haricots blancs overnight and simmered till al dente; then added ripe plum tomatoes, salt, pepper, and some turmeric; and left for 20 mins in a moderate oven. Yes, you’re way ahead of me.


Bloix 12.16.08 at 10:29 pm

I have actually been served chile over Fritos, as if it were edible food.


Barry 12.16.08 at 11:32 pm

Bloix, IIRC it’s called a Frito pie, or chili pie. It was, of course, invented in Texas. Probably by cowboys, who couldn’t get fresh bread on the cattle drives :)

Maria: “We competed for second helpings by gnawing off every bit of flesh till the cob was as bald as a loofah.”

Why, when *I* was growing up we competed for a second kitten by – uh, never mind.

Brennen: “Might the essential difference (and the source of horror) be that institutional meals are prepared at scale?”

That’s a good start, but to get that real institutional flavor, you’ve got to cook it (or put in in the steam table) for at least two extra hours.


Watson Aname 12.16.08 at 11:41 pm

That’s a good start, but to get that real institutional flavor, you’ve got to cook it (or put in in the steam table) for at least two extra hours.

That helps too, to get the full effect I think you also need to cut corners on ingredients. My father has a life-long aversion to milk puddings and the like, having been served a dreary progression of them at school during war years. Of course they couldn’t get real milk at the time, but they were even stretching the condensed powder too far with water by the sounds of it, and no sugar to speak of.


Dave Maier 12.17.08 at 12:49 am

So basically my idea of bliss is onion flavoured cream served over clotted rice, with an optional first class protein on the side.

Works for me too. BTW, what is authentic Stroganoff?


Maria 12.17.08 at 12:59 am

I think real Strog is a dark sauce and quite peppery.

I’m so glad I wrote this post. Afterward, I mooched lunch from an internal meeting. Normally we just get sandwiches, but this was a Head Honcho event where they served, for the first time ever, chicken fillets wrapped in bacon and served in a cream/onion/white wine sauce with rice. I blame the interwebs.


engels 12.17.08 at 1:45 am

A second kitten? We used to dream of eating a second kitten…


gl nelson 12.17.08 at 3:40 am

Hold the salt!


agm 12.17.08 at 3:49 am

I can’t quite recall how I ran across it, but there’s an interesting take on Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom and such here:

In the “convenience cuisine” cookbook by Andrew Schloss called Almost From Scratch, he argued that seasoning mixes, salsas and other stuff in cans, boxes, and bottles actually give home cooks the ability to attempt more ambitious dishes. When a chef walks into the kitchen, the onions are chopped, the stocks are made, the béchamel is ready, and so is the rest of the preparation. The kitchen help does the chef’s mise en place–so why not let the grocery store do yours? Schloss suggested.


sara 12.17.08 at 4:01 am

Waiting for a reference to James Lileks’ The Gallery of Regrettable Food.
Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup as a sauce, however, is the ultimate in comfort food (I liked it at an age when I hated, feared, and despised mushrooms in any form).

The disgusting thing about institutional food isn’t the scale of ingredients, or the cutting corners, as that the scale/pace of preparation means that the kitchen never seems to get quite clean (despite sanitary rules out the wazoo). Ubiquitous dirty dishcloth / rotten meat juices smell. I worked in my college’s dining hall and it put me off eating to such an extent that the school’s medical staff thought I was anorexic.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 4:31 am

agm: by the way, your link isn’t correct it seems.

As to this:
The kitchen help does the chef’s mise en place—so why not let the grocery store do yours

Why not? It’s a silly mischaracterization, that’s why. It may make sense to think of such things are reducing (or rather, changing) some preparation. Why wrap that up with jargon?

I’m all for convenience trade offs where they make sense, but let’s not pretend it’s the same thing, it’s not. And while we’re at it, lets not pretend the market goal here in proposing such recipes in magazines and booklets etc. is anything other than getting you to spend more on high markup processed foods and less on low markup staples and produce.

That’s a little snarky probably. One of my pet peeves is all this push for convenience foods over the last decades has gone so far that people seem to have forgotten some things that were already actually convenient before anyone packaged them up and marketed them to you. Paying more money and little or no savings it time for a “convenient” food that is worse in both taste and nutrition because you haven’t any idea how to do it yourself and are convinced it simply must be more difficult — that’s a lousy trade in my book.

Anyway, sorry if that mini rant is too far away from the very subjective experience of comfort foods that bring back memories, regardless what’s in them or how they’re made.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 4:34 am

Waiting for a reference to James Lileks’ The Gallery of Regrettable Food.

Problem with that reference is that while amusing enough on it’s own, it’s a slippery slope leading to Lileks’ more typical, ah, content. Best avoided.


Delicious Pundit 12.17.08 at 4:39 am

1. Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese was our Friday dinner from time immemorial. It was also the only night of the week we were allowed to read at the dinner table.

2. One of my wife’s best friends grew up in Greenwich, CT, where her home ec class was taught by a divorcee (!, in those days). Apparently, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup was much in evidence.

3. Isn’t Mary McCarthy’s “Birds of America” the one where the main character feels like America is in irrevocable decline because there’s no longer a first course?


Zamfir 12.17.08 at 8:39 am

. One of my pet peeves is all this push for convenience foods over the last decades has gone so far that people seem to have forgotten some things that were already actually convenient before anyone packaged them up and marketed them to you.

YES. I knew students who were saving every penny (for beer), yet spend half of their meal budgets on boxed spice mixes and pre-made sauces. I used to say: if you like this particular mixture, look at the list of ingredients and buy them. It’s cheaper and nine out of ten times it tastes a lot better. But people would stare as if I suggested they go to the store naked (which is of course also cheaper)


Seiriol Morgan 12.17.08 at 10:09 am

I also thought this an excellent post. I’ve recently got very excited by my rediscovery of laverbread, the seaweed dubbed ‘Welsh caviar’ by Richard Burton.

We used to eat it for breakfast as kids. My father would buy it in big plastic bags from Swansea market, and have great platefuls of it in the morning, with cockles and scrambled eggs and bacon. He’d have so much that in the frying pan it looked just like a fresh slightly green cowpat. Meanwhile we’d have small amounts on toast, since it was a bit rich and salty for children to eat by the pound.

I don’t suppose I’d had any for twenty-five years or more. But you can now get it from Parson’s in somewhat more sophisticated 120g tins, which to my delight I discovered being sold in asda up the road from me. Bristol has enough Welsh to make it worth their while, I suppose. The tin comes inside a nice green box, and is a lovely silver colour and pleasantly oval itself, and when you open it up the beautiful laver sits there glistening greeny-black inside it. Then you get it out and spread it on lightly buttered toast, as I have frequently been doing morning and night for about a fortnight now. Its flavour is hard to describe, but I suppose it is something like a slightly meaty fishy mush which at the same time obviously comes from a plant.

Total luxury, then. That Richard Burton had it quite right. And now retailing near me, at only one fifty nine a throw.


Katherine 12.17.08 at 11:27 am

See also pre-grated cheese and pre-segmented oranges. What kind of too-much-disposable-income fool would you have to be to pay a premium to not have to grate your own damn cheese?


Laura 12.17.08 at 11:40 am

Lovely post; so glad you are liking The Group, which I’ve just set as part of the reading for a 20thC women’s writing course next year. I hope you’ll post again about it.

I’ve got a terrible craving for a toasted cheese sandwich now.


Zamfir 12.17.08 at 12:48 pm

Katherine, in my supermarket grated cheese costs about the same as ungrated cheese. There is a very distinct difference in taste however. Pre-grated cheese comes from some scary continuous proces that has litle to do with cheese making.

I guess for cheese it is not so much income as taste that determines which one to use.


ffrancis 12.17.08 at 1:40 pm

You guys got kittens?! All we ever got was hairballs.


Barry 12.17.08 at 2:38 pm

Hey, don’t knock hairball soup on a cold winter day…. :)


Frowner 12.17.08 at 2:38 pm

There’s actually a quite good spice cake made with Campbell’s tomato soup–very easy to make non-dairy or vegan without a loss of quality, too. And a lot of fun to serve it, get compliments and then reveal the recipe, causing universal dismay.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 2:53 pm

I guess for cheese it is not so much income as taste that determines which one to use.

This goes no distance at all towards explaining pre-sliced apples though.


agm 12.17.08 at 5:03 pm

Harping about people spending money on boxed food and other mostly-prepared stuff is half-right and half-wrong. Pre-sliced fruit, at least here, is marketed as a time saver for parents making lunches. You are trading an expense in time for an expense in money. Depending on your income and how pressed you are for time, this could either a wise choice or a foolish choice.

The reason for this is that the true cost of a meal isn’t just the cost of the ingredients, it’s the cost of preparation as well, in time, and energy to cook, and the water used (which bill does noticeably increase if you start cooking and/or brewing more), and other resources. I consciously chose to buy more meals the last couple of years of my undergrad — between work and school I was too strapped for time to cook regularly. It was more expensive, but that was at least another hour a day I could study. The same was true in grad school at points.


Deliasmith 12.17.08 at 5:16 pm

Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea is a collection of descriptions – listings really – of comfort food. These are strong flavours and quick dishes – reflecting I guess the meals prepared in the famously squalid Murdoch-Bailey home.

I ate and drank slowly as one should (cook fast, eat slowly) and without distractions

plain boiled onions with a little cold corned beef

For lunch, I may say, I ate and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery,

Lentil soup, followed by chipolata sausages served with boiled onions and apples stewed in tea, then dried apricots and shortcake

Boiled onions served with bran, herbs, soya oil and tomatoes, …With these a slice or two of cold tinned corned beef

and, to show it’s written from the heart, a repeat

the remains of the corned beef with plain boiled onions


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 5:23 pm

agm, you’re quite right that they aren’t the same things, and I didn’t mean to conflate them in anyones mind.

If you’re actually so busy that you can’t slice an apple, you’ve probably got more fundamental issues going on, but you’re right that it’s a pretty straight trade off: you’re paying more money for something with additional packaging and more risk of wastage for a gain in preparation time… but what you get is very roughly the same product.

What I was going on about at too much length earlier is that sometimes the perception exists of exactly the type of tradeoff you mention (total costs, etc.) but in fact it’s false. You’re paying more money (sometimes a lot) for an inferior result and you aren’t actually gaining anything much for time (and sometimes nothing at all).

Buying meals out is a different set of tradeoffs. As is pre making meals, etc.


Righteous Bubba 12.17.08 at 5:29 pm

If you’re actually so busy that you can’t slice an apple, you’ve probably got more fundamental issues going on

So what?


bianca steele 12.17.08 at 5:35 pm

If you’ve read The Group before watching Mad Men, weren’t you just a little surprised when Peggy’s doctor visit was to get the Pill and not a diaphragm? I don’t know what the relevant dates were for that. (The warning label from the Pill in A.S. Byatt’s novel Babel Tower was a bit surprising too.)

The attitude toward cooking at that time can also be seen in The I Hate to Cook Book. Two complaints I’ve heard from people a little older than me are “My mother only knew how to cook corned beef and cabbage,” and “My mother made recipes out of The I Hate to Cook Book.” Betty Draper would never make Sweep Steak. Only that nasty divorced woman who works in retain and campaigned for Kennedy would.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 5:42 pm

So what?

Exactly. People piss resources away other ways too, every day. Which is why that wasn’t the point at all, as I noted.

I hadn’t really though it through, but I guess why I originally brought this up (the actual point, not the apples) in this thread was the reference to 50’s style convenience food mashups turning into comfort foods through association. Nothing wrong with any of this, either.

That era of marketing particularly evokes the naivety arly relationships with large scale commercially prepared foods. The marks the original rise of food science, which has both surpassed and completely failed to live up to peoples dreams of it, before it had a name. It’s this latter I railed against, a bit.


Maria 12.17.08 at 5:50 pm

I’ve not yet seen Mad Men, as I don’t have a telly at the moment. But I was surprised at how detailed and matter of fact the descriptions were in The Group of Dottie’s deflowering and trip to the woman’s doctor. It’s a fascinating read and I probably will take up Laura’s suggestion to write some more about it when I’ve finished.


Watson Aname 12.17.08 at 5:51 pm

“of early relationships” , not sure what happened there.


Tom Hurka 12.17.08 at 6:11 pm

As a kid I gave my mother, who was a really good cook, The I Hate to Cook Book, not really knowing what was inside. Not a good idea.


Jim Harrison 12.17.08 at 10:25 pm

If you know how to cook, it’s easy to forget that lots of people don’t know how to do even simple kitchen tasks. Have you ever watched a non-cook trying to peel a clove of garlic?

My nephews used to give little onion-chopping machines for Christmas. Some of the devices were rather admirable in their useless ingenuity, but they were all harder to clean than the knife I use to chop up an onion in maybe 30 seconds.


Barry 12.17.08 at 11:39 pm

I second this. When somebody doesn’t know much about cooking, doing anything is time-consuming and expensive and has a high failure chance. To a surprising degree, to somebody with moderate cooking skill.


Theron 12.17.08 at 11:40 pm

Re: Frito Pie – there is the baked version, but the best is when you just open up a small bag of Fritos and pour chili into it. Got me through many a freezing football game when I was in marching band. The home food we had all the time was Tex-Mex – I grew up in GA, but my family is from Texas. Rice, beans and corn tortillas (not those flour abominations) – hard to go wrong. More often than not, we had tostadas. Some years ago tostada shells disappeared from most grocery stores. I have no idea why – they are so convenient and versatile. I have to get them from the Mexican grocery store now, which is fine, except those brands are more fragile, and about 20% or so of the bag goes to waste through breakage.


Matt 12.18.08 at 12:14 am

I’ve had a somewhat different experience, I guess. Growing up I ate a lot of food whose chief virtue was that it wasn’t very expensive. (I don’t think it was unhealthy, though- just cheap.) At the time I liked most all of it. Years later I asked my mother for the recipes of some of the items (tuna patties, various other dishes) and made them myself. Maybe I just a lack her touch (though she did do a pretty good job of teaching me to cook) but now rather than find them “comforting” I found them bad. I asked her about it and she said that she’s always found them not so good, either, and that she’d made them because we were poor and had stopped making them when we got more money. The “comfort food” of the bad food of one’s childhood has never really worked for me.


Dave Maier 12.18.08 at 1:13 am

When I was a kid we toasted cheese meant american cheese on white bread. Recently, though, we’ve been having cheddar on pumpernickel, which I find heavenly – try it some time if you haven’t (make sure the cheese is melted through).


Liz D 12.18.08 at 1:55 am

Katherine @ 25: What kind of too-much-disposable-income fool would you have to be to pay a premium to not have to grate your own damn cheese? Round these parts, grated and bulk Kraft-type cheese are similar in price. You take 2 (or 3, 4, or 5) famished adolescent males barging into the house at about 3:30 pm, and frozen grated cheese + frozen (or fresh) flour* tortillas + a hot griddle + about 3 minutes = eno

*Theron@43 — seems to be a regional variation. For us, corn tortillas for enchiladas and other baked recipes; flour for quesadillas and burritos.


Liz D 12.18.08 at 1:58 am

Sorry, must have done something. SB:

frozen grated cheese + frozen (or fresh) flour* tortillas + a hot griddle + about 3 minutes = enough calories to tame the ravening horde.


sharon 12.18.08 at 12:44 pm

But why would you slice an apple for a school lunch? Children generally have a full set of teeth by the time they get to school, don’t they? And they’ve worked out how to use their opposable thumb thingies?


Sandy D. 12.18.08 at 3:50 pm

You slice an apple for a school lunch, because otherwise they take two bites out of the apple and throw the rest away. Much better to send a couple of slices or half an apple sliced.

I grew up in the 70’s eating an amazing dish called “Six Can Casserole” – one can cream of mush, one can cream of chick, evap. milk, chow mein noodles (another great 70’s food), and two small cans chicken. Mix and heat. I still make it every five years or so as a tribute to my small town midwestern roots.


tariqata 12.18.08 at 4:24 pm

But why would you slice an apple for a school lunch?

So that you can eat the slices of apple with slices of cheddar cheese on top, of course. Still my favourite snack!


Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 12.18.08 at 5:53 pm

Our Christmas morning treat was Lustre grapefruit segments in syrup. We far preferred them to actual grapefruit.

The dirty culinary secret in our house is that my mother thickens her soup (chicken and vegetable made with homemade stock and pureed fresh veg) with Thick Chicken packet soup and also thickens her stew with either Scotch Broth or Beef and Vegetable packet soup, depending on whether it’s lamb or beef stew. And they’re all absolutely delicious.


Michael 12.19.08 at 12:08 am

About twenty years ago on a trip back to the States we bought a wonderful cookbook called White Trash Cooking. I feel the discussion needs that book. It wasn’t exactly what my Arkansas gramma used to cook, but was rather distilled essence thereof. I never had the potato chip sandwich (white bread, mayonnaise, potato chips), but it spoke to my childhood when I read about it. And what about pickled pig’s feet, my dad’s favorite? Then there were those biscuits and redeye gravy, not to mention the pork chops swimming in their own grease. And best of all — yes, we’ve already hit on this — the corn bread. And nobody has mentioned punkin pie, which my English wife finds puzzling, since it seems no more than a vehicle for spices and sugar. Yeah, so? And what about the Dagwood sandwich, which had everything the fridge could throw at it: baloney, velveeta, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, catchup for some, green pickle relish for others, etc. etc.? My patience with English food, nay, enthusiasm, stops with the English sandwich, a pale imitation of the real thing (reminiscent of the mashed potato sandwiches that Blondie made for Dagwood, but we won’t go there.) You’ve got me started. I’m going down and raid the fridge. It’s called ‘grazing’ by food social scientists. I call it life.


Kaleberg 12.19.08 at 4:58 am

I can’t stand Campbell’s soup now, but I used to love it. (Lately I’ve been on the Food Snob Diet and have lost 20 lbs and kept them off, so I’m with George Orwell on the unsuspected upside of snobbery.)

Back in the 1930s, Campbell’s was famous for buying some huge percentage of New Jersey’s tomato crop. New Jersey, if you didn’t know, is still The Garden State. The trucks at the plant backed up for miles. and they did huge batch runs and cranked out a year’s worth of soup inside of a month. Remember, if you wanted tomato products before then, you either had to wait for late summer, own a heated greenhouse or can your own. Campbell’s tomato soup was part of a nutritional revolution. The 19th century diet was much more seasonal, and for a lot of the year, it was pretty god awful.

It’s easy to put down industrial food now that we worry about poor people getting too fat rather than too skinny, but something amazing happened between 1890 and 1930. Manufacturing, which includes food processing, increased in efficiency by two or three orders of magnitude. All those pipes and tubes and cams and gears and electric eyes and automatic temperature controls were revolutionary, as were home refrigerators, automatic gas ranges, and electric toasters. In the 1930s, and the post-war 1950s those conveniences and convenience food really were part of the brave new world, it’s just that most of us are too young to remember what it was like before then.

We’ve been going through some old family recipes from the 1950s. (I’ve been scanning them so I can find them on my computer.) The one for crab imperial was great, even if it didn’t call for cream of mushroom soup. We’re trying the Coca Cola cake next, but I doubt we can find real Coca Cola anymore.

(P.S. You can substitute butter, cream and mushrooms for cream of mushroom soup, and you can cook down a few fresh tomatoes in olive oil if you don’t have any Campbell’s handy. We’ve also found that a good farmhouse cheddar makes a good substitute for those American cheese slices or Velveeta. Hmm, I may have an idea for a cookbook here.)


dr ngo 12.19.08 at 8:49 pm

In terms of substituting and upgrading (gentrifying?) one’s diet, my wife offers the following observation WRT tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

She started many years ago, as per the thread, with Campbell’s condensed TS and Velveeta or “American cheese” on white bread cooked in margarine. One of her great “comfort foods.”

Now when she’s gloomy I fix her Progresso Hearty Tomato Soup and aged cheddar on some kind of “artisan” bread sauted in real butter (or, occasionally, bacon grease).

Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. Or not.

[Sprinkle in diacritics to taste.]

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