Who doesn’t love a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, turnip and all the other goodies, but the leftovers are just as good in sandwiches, soup and all kinds of other things. I recently made something with turkey leftovers that we haven’t had in many years—hot turkey sandwiches. Perhaps it’s because all the bread and gravy offends our low-carb/low-fat sensibilities these days but we rarely have things like hot turkey sandwiches anymore. My father also loved ordering hot beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes whenever he ate in a restaurant. The funny thing is, when I was growing up, none of us had weight issues or had to go a gym. We were never overweight despite eating potatoes twice a day, and pie, pudding, cake or another dessert at every meal. I’d often come home from school and whip up a brown sugar sandwich or ketchup sandwich on white Wonder Bread to tide me over until supper.
That prompted me to think about other dishes we grew up with in the fifties that are rarely seen on dinner plates today and less often on restaurant menus. A friend went to a breakfast chain restaurant the other day and when he asked for a toasted western sandwich he was told they don’t have it—at a restaurant specializing in breakfasts. Flashback to a sexy, young Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces when he goes into a restaurant and requests toast, only to be told they don’t have it. “Then I’ll order a toasted chicken salad sandwich,” he says. “Hold the chicken, hold the mayonnaise, hold the lettuce” and you know the rest. My friend should have said, “You have bread; you have eggs; you have ham; you have onions, don’t you? Then you can make me a toasted western sandwich. Hold the chicken salad.”
Whatever happened to grilled cheese sandwiches in restaurants? Or the quick and economical Salisbury steak? I clearly remember going to the lunch counter at Woolworth’s many years ago and having their “diet lunch” which consisted of a ground beef patty, a scoop of cottage cheese and slices of syrupy canned peaches. Woolworth’s German chocolate cake (which was rather expensive at forty cents a slice) covered in rich thick icing made with cocoa, brown sugar, butter, walnuts and coconut was to die for. That was before we discovered those tiresome nutritional guidelines or Weight Watchers rules, when we could still choose all those wonderful food choices we no longer choose.
When I lived at Willard Hall at Yonge and Gerrard Streets in Toronto in the sixties, I used to regularly go to Bassell’s Restaurant on the corner which was a popular meeting spot. I’d order sliced bananas and cream and a pot of tea. And they definitely served toasted westerns and grilled cheese sandwiches, with a dill pickle and a handful of potato chips on the side. Fran’s Restaurants were a Toronto landmark renowned for their rice pudding. When was the last time you had nice warm, creamy rice pudding with lots of raisins in it and cinnamon sprinkled on top? Or pie? Real, home-made pie with fresh pastry and fruit filling made by your mother and a scoop of fresh (not aerosol or an edible oil product) real whipped cream on top. And don’t get me started on butter tarts with melt-in-your-mouth light, flaky pastry and the goo running down the back of your hand.
One of my girlfriends married a farmer whose mother made fresh pie every single day when he was growing up. When he married my girlfriend his circumstances were reduced to fresh pie only once a week. The things we sacrifice for love. A neighbour of ours used to make the most incredible flapper pie. Made with a freshly rolled Graham Wafer butter crust (not the prepared store-bought kind) and creamy custard filling with mile-high meringue, my mouth starts its Pavlovian drool just thinking about it. Believe it or not, there was a time when a woman’s worth as a wife was measured by her ability to make a good pie. It’s becoming a lost art.
How far we’ve fallen. Despite no longer eating the wonderful comfort foods we grew up with, many of us now struggle with weight issues, cholesterol, blood pressure and other diet-related ailments. And we can no longer go into any restaurant and order a toasted western, hot turkey sandwich made with real not pressed turkey, or freshly-made rice pudding. While these foods might not make us healthier, I have no doubt they’d make us feel happier. Especially if that warm piece of fresh pie were raspberry. And I’ll take a piece of German chocolate cake to go —for later when I’m feeling peckish. Put the kettle on.
What fifties foods do you miss?
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