From the archives: Tastes like 1963 again
Readers share stories of chicken, coffee cake
Fifty years ago, cooks still were killing their own chickens for Sunday dinner and a party wasn't a party without Jell-O salad.
When we talk about the 1960s, it's usually in terms of the milestones and sweeping cultural changes that happened in America, not necessarily the food we ate while we (or our parents or grandparents) experienced those changes.
But this was a turning point in food and cooking, too. Within a month of each other in 1963, for instance, Julia Child made her television debut and Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique." Women were simultaneously being told to embrace the kitchen and to get as far as they could from it.
A few weeks ago, I asked readers to tell me what they remembered about food - what they ate, where the ingredients came from, who cooked it, what dishes they still enjoy now - during this year. A number of you sent in heartwarming stories of shelling black-eyed peas on the porch with grandma, making homemade ice cream on Sundays and eating coffee cake after school.
The recently released movie "The Help" tells the stories of several African American maids and the white women they work for in Mississippi in 1963, which prompted several readers to share memories of the women who helped their families.
"Admitting to having grown up with a family maid seems like admitting to a sin these days, but we had one and she was a god in our family, " wrote Nancy Kemler. "Angela was a force to be reckoned with, and a truly gifted cook on top of everything else. She was someone special in our household, invited to family events for years after she retired and until the day she died. I remember so well listening to her and my mother talk at the kitchen table for hours each morning, while drinking coffee and chain-smoking. Both were good Baptist girls who thought drinking was a sin but who loved cigarettes! All the world's problems were solved there."
One of Kemler's favorite dishes that Angela made was a roast beef marinated "for days" in a mixture of Kraft Catalina dressing and red wine vinegar.
Kemler also still thinks about her mother's Seafoam Salad, one of the innumerable Jell-O salads of the day that often included tomatoes, cottage cheese, crushed pineapple, grated carrots or shredded cheese. Mickey Stam loved his mom's Jell-O salad with cheese, pineapple and whipped cream, but also can't forget "the dreaded chipped beef or tuna in mushroom soup over toast."
"Little remains of Mom's cooking, except occasional mashed potatoes, chocolate chip cookies, roast and Christmas cookies, " Stam wrote. "Every few years, I try to reproduce the Jell-O salad, but without the recipe, I end up with mush."
Mary-Love Bigony remembers that her family's maid, Mattie, would strain the bacon grease after breakfast every morning and then reuse it in cornbread, vegetables, soup - "anything that wasn't sweet."
Chicken and dumplings, pot roast, casseroles, fried chicken and biscuits were just a few of readers' favorite dishes that are as popular now as they were in 1963, but few of us are killing the chickens we eat.
"Mama White thought every gal should know how to kill a chicken for a meal, " Kitty Kirkpatrick Page, who was 12 in 1963, wrote in an email. "She'd holler out the back door for us cousins to come watch and here she'd come with the ax."
And then there are the taste memories:
• Lois Bittner grew up on a farm, and her parents raised almost everything that they cooked. "There was hardly a week that she didn't make some kind of coffee cake. It would be fresh and warm when I would come home from school. I always ate more than my share, " she writes. "We weren't rich, but we really ate well!"
• Marilyn Gilbreath, who got married in 1963, also enjoyed her fair share of coffee cake that year. "My friends and I were at a peak time in our lives for hostessing showers and home sale parties, " she writes. "We didn't `own' our best dishes. If one was a hit, you'd see it at almost all of the subsequent gatherings, and the big favorite was Bisquick Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping ... because we always had the staples that it took to make in our cupboards."
• Jerri McNamara still makes her grandmother's strawberry pudding in the same bowl Big Momma used for pudding in Mississippi in the early 1960s. "Of course, it is never as good as Big Momma's, but the memories will always be the same, " she wrote.
• Chicken spaghetti made with a hefty amount of Velveeta is what Carolyn Pursley remembers about food in 1963. "I still make it occasionally today, and the grandkids like it every bit as much as my sister and brother and I did back then."
• Gary Tracy's mom made a lot of biscuits for him and his three brothers when they were growing up in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama in the '50s and '60s, and it is those very biscuits that his children and grandchildren beg him to make when they come to visit or when he visits them.
• Pam Wood was enrolled at Tyler Junior College in the early 1960s, so her favorite food memory from that year were the pecan waffles from the Toddle House, a 24-hour national breakfast diner chain that eventually faded into restaurant history books. "Those thin, crispy, heavenly waffles served just off the griddle and hot enough to melt the butter and warm the syrup. Not too thick, not too chewy, and not cold the way most waffles are served today, " Wood writes.
• Tassa Bishop still makes her mother's goldenrod eggs, a dish taught in home economics classes of toast topped with a chopped hard-boiled egg whites, thick white sauce and grated hard egg yolks. "It's a family favorite of ours, and its popularity has endured, and grown, through five generations."
• Ann Andrews might have only been 10 in 1963, but she appreciates the fact you can get a much wider variety of produce at the grocery store and that we typically use healthier cooking methods now. "Cooking habits have changed mostly for the better. We used to fry a lot and make gravy with many dishes, " she writes. "Both my son and daughter are excellent cooks, and I think I learn more from them than I ever taught them."
• Irene Strait, 82, remembers 1963 well because that's the year she and her husband and four kids moved to Austin to open a music store that would become Strait Music Co. "Ambrosia and apple salad with pecans, celery and a dressing of Miracle Whip, sugar and vinegar. Wonderful."
To this day, when Strait makes meatloaf, she uses a recipe from Every Okletree, a maid who came once a week on Fridays to clean and cook.
2 cups self-rising flour
2/3 cup milk or buttermilk
1/3 cup oil
Stir all ingredients in a glass bowl, using a fork to mix well. Once ingredients are well-mixed, pinch off some of the dough and roll in your hands. Place ball of dough on a greased cookie sheet and flatten with the back of your hand. (I usually place biscuits on sheet so that sides are touching). Preheat oven to 400 degrees and cook biscuits for 15 to 20 minutes (until light brown on top).
— From Gary Tracy
Dan's Favorite Meatloaf
2 Tbsp. dry white bread, soaked in 1 cup milk
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. Worchester sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley, crushed in hands
Black pepper to taste
2 lb. ground sirloin
Mix bread, milk, onion powder, garlic powder, Worchester sauce, salt, paprika, parsley and pepper in large mixing bowl and stir well; add egg and stir well again. Add meat and "squoosh" with hands until holds well together. Shape firmly; I shape it round and put in a heavy black skillet. Bake 2 hours at 350 degrees, uncovered. Baste every 30 minutes with a mixture of 1 cup hot water, 1/2 cup butter, 1 Tbsp. ketchup and 1 beef bouillon cube, stirred until dissolved.
Make brown gravy with drippings in skillet by adding flour, whisking and adding water to correct consistency. Slice and serve. Makes great sandwiches the next day, if there is any left.
— A recipe by Every Okletree passed down to Irene Strait
Paula Deen has nothing on Mama, Maggie