Growing Up in the 50’s: Groceries

Groceries in my house happened once a week on Friday night. My father came home with his pay and handed my mother some cash. Before making dinner that night, since there was absolutely nothing left from last week’s shopping excursion, my mom took the cash and headed to the supermarket. There she bought one full week’s worth of food.

soup cansSome of the staples included:

Fish for dinner that night, usually mackerel (which I hated) or flounder. Since a large percentage of the people who lived in our town were Catholic and at that time weren’t allowed to eat meat on Friday we sort of just went along with the custom.

There was a Sunday roast, usually beef or pork. It was eaten mid-afternoon, around 3 p.m. Sunday was also the only day we had dessert, often involving a baked apple.

A couple cans of frozen orange juice concentrate.

peasFrozen vegetables, seven packages of them, one for each day of the coming week. Peas, corn, carrots, green beans, lima beans, all frozen and sealed in plastic. I don’t think we really had salad but if there was lettuce around it was always iceberg.

Several cans of soup, usually Campbell’s. Each day’s lunch included a can of soup.

The rest the week’s meals included one night of some type of moderately priced steak, like a sirloin. One night of chicken, either fried or broiled. Some type of ground beef concoction like meatloaf. And a spaghetti dinner with either meatballs or sausage.

It is amazing that my mom could come home from work, head out, buy the whole week’s food and make dinner and have everything she needed for the rest of the week. She always took me along to the grocery store. I wanted to be the one to grind the one pound of Eight O’Clock whole bean coffee she bought. My dad’s main contribution, other than bringing home the cash, would be to help freeze the meat we weren’t using until later in the week. We had a milkman who delivered fresh milk in bottles and could be tapped for other dairy products like eggs and butter, as needed. We also had a breadman who brought one loaf of white bread every Thurday.

In an era where many of us are focused on buying fresh locally-sourced produce this may not sound too appealing. But in the 50’s the focus was on modern conveniences. The boil-in-a-bag frozen vegetables were a staple at a time when the infrastructure wasn’t in place to preserve and transport fresh fruits and vegetables from whatever places they grew. They were a substantial improvement over the canned variety. The supermarket itself was a modern convenience of the 50’s growing ever bigger, more numerous and more diverse. And unfortunately keeping us away from the butcher, the farmer and baker.

Juice from concentrate kind of sucks but in the 50’s we were satisfied with our ability to have seemingly fresh juice sitting in the freezer. We were fascinated with modern food handling and processing technology. It enabled us to buy food grown or raised in other parts of the country and the litany of chemical additives extended shelf life to heretofore unthinkable lengths. We didn’t ask whether that meant better.

Aside from the impressiveness of the logistics of the whole thing, there are two things I am thankful for in the way my mother managed meals.

We ate together as a family every night. We all sat down together at the same time in the dining room with no TV, radio, phone, etc. It is a habit that I have continued with my own family. While there are times when one of us are out, five or six nights a week the three of us sit down and eat dinner together achieving at least 20 minutes of freedom from the plethora of devices we own.

And secondly, there was never any soda or candy in our house. Even though our choices may have been limited off-season we always had enough fresh fruit to last through the week and that is what we had for snacks. And there were always those cans of juice concentrate. To this day I don’t drink soda or eat candy because of the way I was brought up.


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