The 1960s were the most turbulent decade in this country since the Civil War.
The war in Vietnam roiled the nation. The fight for civil rights caused another, sometimes violent divide, and women disrupted the status quo by asserting their independence. The birth control pill ushered in the sexual revolution.
Yet in the world of food, the changes were less revolutionary.
Women beginning to enter the workplace – and the idea was still new and quite unusual – meant the trend toward convenience foods continued to grow. With Julia Child’s cookbooks and popular show on television, plus the culinary influence of Jackie Kennedy, many of the nation’s cooks turned their eyes to France as the most sophisticated and desirable cuisine in the world.
The rest of the nation’s cooks looked westward, to Polynesia. Americans flocked to anything tiki, such as the famous Polynesian-themed Trader Vic’s restaurants that were considered wild and exotic.
Cookbooks of the era took ordinary dishes, added pineapple to it, and called it Polynesian. Parfaits were popular for dessert, possibly because of the interest in French food. And gelatin came into its own as a way to make ordinary foods more fun.
One of the more disturbing tendencies in the decade was the insistence on giving cute names to dishes that probably should not have been invented in the first place.
Sundae Bubble Crown was a layered dessert with cream puffs and ice cream. Coconut Ham Slice was ham, mandarin oranges, coconut syrup and flaked coconut.
Fruited Chicken en Creme hit the trifecta with cream of chicken soup, pineapple chunks and grapes. And the less you know about Paradise Chicken Salad in Pineapple Boats, the better.
(Really? OK, you asked for it: You add pineapple chunks to curried chicken salad, mix in a combination of bananas and peanuts, top with coconut and mandarin oranges, and serve in boats made out of hollowed-out half-pineapples).
Perhaps the decade’s quintessential dish was sandwich loaf. Not a shower was held that someone did not bring out this astonishing creation. It was as much a part of the celebration as the mother-to-be or the blushing bride.
A Sandwich Loaf begins with a loaf of bread, which is sliced horizontally several times. It is then reassembled like a layer cake, but instead of frosting between each layer you put chicken salad, egg salad, chopped tomatoes and deviled ham mixed with pickles. The loaf, which is now tall and quite heavy, is then frosted with a mixture of cream cheese and mayonnaise, thinned with a little light cream.
I tinted mine light green and decorated it with flowers made from olives and pimentos. It seemed like a 1960s kind of thing to do.
The whole idea sounds dreadful and looks … amusing … but it actually tastes quite good. And why wouldn’t it? Each of the fillings is homemade. And because I could not find the right size and shape of unsliced bread anywhere, even my bread was homemade (I used a recipe that takes just one hour to make).
A sandwich loaf requires a lot of effort, so I rewarded myself with a nice grasshopper pie. Based on the cocktail that was popular in the ‘50s – and the ‘60s, too – Grasshopper Pie is a delightful blend of chocolate and mint, with cream and other good things.
Though it is anchored in a sturdy crust made from chocolate wafer cookies, the filling itself is impossibly light and delicate. It’s like a minty cloud that melts in your mouth.
My entree was a more substantial dish, beef stroganoff. If there were a meal that was almost as ubiquitous in the 1960s as sandwich loaf, it was beef stroganoff.
Hearty and with a hint of the exotic – the recipe really did originally come from Russia – beef stroganoff mixes thin strips of lean beef and mushrooms with a cream sauce that has been flavored with onions and beef stock. A bit of tomato paste, which is apparently an American-only variation, adds depth.
And it is all served on hot, buttered egg noodles. If you haven’t had beef stroganoff in awhile, and I certainly hadn’t, you might forget just how delicious it can be.
Finally, I turned to breakfast. Pancakes. Everybody loves pancakes. One 1960s way of serving them was called Hawaiian pancakes.
What makes them Hawaiian is the same thing that would have made them Polynesian: Pineapple. OK, there are some macadamia nuts sprinkled on top, too. But pineapple is the star in this dish, and it is used in two ways.
First, the pancakes are topped with pineapple syrup, which is just the juice from a can of crushed pineapples that is boiled together with maple syrup; the fruit adds a light, refreshing boost to the syrup. And then the crushed pineapple itself is blended into a cup of sour cream.
It tastes awful. The thing about sour cream is, it’s sour. While sour cream pairs well with, say, potato pancakes, the same cannot be said for pancakes that are sweet. So I simply sweetened it up by adding powdered sugar to the pineapple and sour cream.
That did the trick. The cream still had a hint of sourness to it, but it was now sweet enough to accompany the pancakes.
And the name for this mixture of sour cream and pineapple? That may be the most Sixties thing of all. The 1967 Betty Crocker cookbook the recipe came from calls it Aloha Cream Topper.
Serves 8 to 10
Adapted from the American Home magazine, April 1965, via Click Americana.
1 unsliced rectangular loaf sandwich bread, about 1 pound, 13 ounces
Three 2 1/2-ounce cans cans deviled ham
1/4 cup chopped dill pickles
About 1 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing spread, divided
2 teaspoons grated onion, divided
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup cooked chicken, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
3 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons butter, softened
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons light cream
2 drops green food color, optional
2 olives stuffed with pimentos, optional
Pimento strips, optional
If desired, cut the crusts from the bread.
Make ham-pickle filling: Mix deviled ham with pickles. Set mixture in a strainer over a bowl to remove moisture.
Make chicken salad filling: Mix together 1/3 cup of the mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of the grated onion, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, a dash of pepper, chicken, celery and parsley.
Make curried egg filling: Mix together 1/4 cup of the mayonnaise, mustard, the remaining grated onion, curry powder, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, a dash of black pepper and eggs.
Dry chopped tomatoes on paper towels. Lay bread on its side; cut horizontally into 5 even slices (4 cuts). Spread 3 of the slices with soft butter. Spread fillings on the 3 slices that have been buttered. Spread 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise on another slice, and arrange chopped tomatoes on that slice. Stack slices to re-form loaf shape.
Combine cream cheese, 1/4 cup mayonnaise and the light cream. Add 2 drops of food color, if desired. Blend until smooth. Spread mixture on tops and sides of loaf. Chill thoroughly. If desired, decorate with flowers made from sliced olives, with pimento strips serving as petals.
Per serving (based on 10): 593 calories; 45 g fat; 17 g sat. fat; 140 mg chol.; 17 g protein; 32 g carb.; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 894 mg sodium; 67 mg calcium.
Adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook,” 1968.
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound beef tenderloin or sirloin steak, cut across the grain in 1 / 4-inch strips
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
One 10.5-ounce can beef broth or beef consommé
1 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
2 tablespoons sherry or cognac
3 cups egg noodles, cooked
Paprika, for garnish
Parsley, for garnish
Combine 2 tablespoons of the flour and the salt. Dredge the meat in the flour mixture. Heat a large skillet, then add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When melted, add the beef strips and brown quickly on all sides. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic, and cook 3 to 4 minutes until the onion is barely tender.
Remove the meat and mushrooms from the skillet. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to the pan drippings. When melted, blend in the remaining 3 tablespoons flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
Slowly pour in the broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Return the meat and mushrooms to the skillet and simmer until meat is heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir a little of the hot broth into the sour cream to prevent curdling, then stir in the sour cream mixture and sherry. Stir briefly. Heat through but do not let boil; just simmer a few minutes before serving.
Serve over hot, buttered noodles. Garnish with paprika and parsley, if desired.
Per serving: 662 calories; 40 g fat; 20 g sat. fat; 180 mg cholesterol; 30 g protein; 41 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 720 mg sodium; 95 mg calcium.
Adapted from “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook,” 1967
One 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
1 cup sour cream
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 / 4 cup maple syrup
4 ounces macadamia nuts, chopped
Make Aloha Cream Topper: Drain the can of crushed pineapple, reserving the liquid. Stir pineapple into the sour cream. Sift in the powdered sugar and stir to combine.
Make pineapple syrup: Combine reserved pineapple juice and maple syrup. Heat to boiling.
Serve pancakes with topper, syrup and chopped nuts.
Per serving: 362 calories; 17 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 23 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 48 g carbohydrate; 17 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 487 mg sodium; 147 mg calcium.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Recipe from New York Times, 1963
1 1 / 4 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
3 / 4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/3 cup melted butter
1 envelope gelatin
1 / 8 teaspoon salt
1 / 2 cup cold water
3 eggs, separated
1 / 4 cup green creme de menthe
2 tablespoons cognac or creme de cacao
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Mix the chocolate crumbs, 1 / 4 cup of the sugar and the melted butter. Press the mixture against the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 5 minutes and chill.
Off the heat, combine in the top of a double boiler the gelatin, 1 / 4 cup of the sugar and the salt. Stir in the water and blend in egg yolks, one at a time. Place the mixture over boiling water, stirring constantly until gelatin is dissolved and mixture thickens slightly, 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the creme de menthe and cognac. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture has a consistency resembling unbeaten egg white.
Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry, then gradually stir in the remaining 1 / 4 cup sugar. Continue beating until whites are very stiff. Fold them into the gelatin mixture. Fold in the whipped cream and turn mixture into chocolate crumb shell. Chill until firm.
Per serving (based on 6): 380 calories; 23 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 131 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 36 g carbohydrate; 30 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 179 mg sodium; 39 mg calcium.