Have you ever looked at a recipe in a mid-century cookbook and thought, “Ew. That is so nasty.” But you couldn’t stop looking at the recipe.  Or thinking about it. As time went on, you kept going back to the book, thinking,  “I wonder what it tastes like?”

My husband, Tom and I had those thoughts all the time, until we decided to do something about it in March of 2009.  Now we make one crazy mid-century recipe every week, eat it for dinner, and document the whole thing for you, the readers, right here on this blog.

First published on my other blog, No Pattern Required, the Mid-Century Menu has gotten some press, both good and bad.  Some good reviews and a whole lot of bad ones.  Some say it is a waste of time and energy, but Tom and I don’t think so.  Why? Well, like it or not, these horrible recipes are part of the culinary evolution of our country.  The pilgrims didn’t just come across the water on the Mayflower with their heads stuffed full of Asian fusion cuisine. It was a long, painful and sometimes disgusting road that lead to our current national gourmand status. Most people like to forget about it. I think we should embrace it. Yeah, at one point it was the height of fashion to have sour cream mixed with powered french onion soup mix at your party. Let’s acknowledge it and be proud.

The culture of post-war America was rife with enthusiasm for the new and improved, the do-everything gadget, and prepared foods in a can. This attitude invaded everything, and housewives were treated to something they had never had before: a short-cut for dinner. Some of these shortcuts worked, and some of them didn’t. We all know about the ones that did. They are with us in the form of Bisquick pancakes, tuna noodle casserole and even the aforementioned French Onion dip.  But what about the stuff that didn’t work out?  Ketchup as a quick sundae topping. A salad suspended in Jello. These are the things this blog seeks to acknowledge, and to drag out of our collective closets and into the bright light of day.

Mentions of The Mid-Century Menu in the Press

22 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. allison January 26, 2012 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    how can anyone think this is bad?!?!

    • RetroRuth January 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      Awww…thanks, Allison! That is what I think, too! 🙂

  2. Sara Boretz March 30, 2012 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    I just found this. I too am fascinated by old cookbooks and have some “lovely” ones with lots of jello and franks. You are brave people, keep it up.

  3. Beth Simpson May 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Today is my birthday, and I am sitting on pins & needles waiting for my cake to cool. It started with my husbands birthday – he wanted a Red velvet cake. So we started making all those old cake recipes. Fruit cocktail cake, rum cake, poke cakes of all persuasion. But today – thanks to you – the ultimate….Tunnel of Fudge. A fondly remembered cake that hasn’t passed these lips since before I had hips for it to settle on. Thanks, I think. Love your blog!

  4. Skinnylizzy December 10, 2014 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    I’m having a mid century christmas party! Bacon wrapped pineapple, cheese ball, deviled eggs too. AND lots of vintage drinks!

  5. OLD&GRUMPY March 31, 2015 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    My mom made Sea Food Surprise. If it came form the sea AND a can it got baked with noodles and some sort of white sauce and veggies. I LOVED IT!!

  6. Susanna July 7, 2015 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    What a fun project! I am a history geek, 50s enthusiast, and foodie, so your blog is my dream. I’m trying to study the history of food in college. I can’t wait to start following along your adventures! Keep it up!

  7. Ross Hooper August 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    I’m thrilled to discover another aficionado of old cookbooks!

    • RetroRuth August 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm - Reply

      Welcome, Ross!!! Happy to have you! 🙂

  8. Cara September 20, 2015 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    I love you, I love this, I love vintage cookbooks and your blog makes me laugh so hard I choked. I’m glad I’m not the only one who cooks from vintage cook books and recipe cards and you have inspired me to get braver, one of these days I’m actually going to make that meatball recipe with ketchup that looks like an autopsy on the recipe card because the colors are so VIVID. As for those that say your hobby is a horrible waste of time, I say they have a stick up their butt and need to pry it out. Have they never needed to have a good laugh before they fall asleep at night? What weird time wasting hobbies do THEY have and are hiding that they feel a need to pass judgement on someone else? Keep up the good work gal, I can’t wait to see what recipe you will test next and thanks for the Black Magic Chocolate cake recipe, it allowed me to have a great conversation with my mom about food from her childhood. That one is going into my personal recipe file and written in INK.

  9. Sherry February 7, 2016 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Looking forward to new treats!

  10. Carolyn March 11, 2016 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    I just came across your site and feel like I’ve found a soulmate! I love cooking from my 50’s and 60’s cookbooks, and have had some spectacular results, both good and bad. A Jell-O salad with ham and mayonnaise comes to mind…I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eyed that Sparkling Red Rouser recipe. Can’t wait to see what you get up to next!

  11. Cathi March 31, 2016 at 12:05 am - Reply

    I love this blog and website!!! You collect and create all the best ingredients:
    Grim purpose(ham banana casserole)
    I was born in 1957, and I love seeing these old cookbooks again. Like you, I collect and treasure each one.

    • RetroRuth March 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Cathi! So glad you enjoy it! 🙂

  12. dale August 9, 2016 at 2:10 am - Reply

    Listen to me ruth, your blog is awesome. I just spent about two hours high traversing this magical site, I’m 22 and male and definitely not in your target demographic. rock on

  13. BJ Strickland September 10, 2016 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I just found your site. As a 61 year old, I grew up with most of the things you post and I survived just fine. One of my favorite cookbooks is “A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband,” with, presumably, 1000 recipes and a cute little story winding through it about a newly wed couple setting up house in the 1930s or so. There are a lot of decent recipes in it, great for a single person or a couple and the portion sizes aren’t humongous like they are by today’s standards, so good for those watching how much they eat. I look forward to more on your pages. Thank you!

    • Mark Mulcahy November 18, 2017 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      Ruth writes “Yeah, at one point it was the height of fashion to have sour cream mixed with powered french onion soup mix at your party. Let’s acknowledge it and be proud.”

      BJ Strickland writes you grew up with these….me too at 60! I still love French Onion Soup w/sour cream. Yummm!!

      And what… there’s actually a cook book out there from when, the 60s? “A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband”! Sounds perfect.

      Thanks for all your hard work…keep it up! Cool idea.

  14. Karen October 19, 2016 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    What an awesome idea for a blog! I love to boggle at what passed for mid-century food. How did we ever move away from entombing everything in gelatin?

  15. Stephanie January 19, 2017 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    I definitely don’t think it’s a waste of time since I do the same thing on my YouTube channel. I love your recipes and love that your husband is into it as well. Keep up the good work!

  16. Kayla February 20, 2017 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    This blog is so much fun. I love vintage stuff too and would love to try the vintage food. The closest I come right now is my 1971 Tuna Chow Mein Casserole that has been a family favorite my entire life. I just read some of your blog and I think the Prune California Cream Salad will haunt me forever.

    On the flipside, I’m looking forward to making the upside down apple cider cake. That looks delicious! I’m trying to decide if placing cooked apple slices at the bottom would be even more delicious!

  17. Jennifer September 12, 2017 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Yeah, I still think that it’s ok to serve onion soup mixed with sour cream for a dip at a party! LOL It’s my favourite dip! LOL I’m so glad I found this blog! It’s awesome!

  18. Sylvia Lovegren September 29, 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

    Came here from the Smithsonian article about you and couldn’t agree more about the Under the Sea salad. It was one of my grandmother’s “company” dishes, always served on a bed of frizzy lettuce (which no one ever ate) and a dab of mayo on top. My grandmother always made sure to have her best green and white china when she was serving this salad, so everything matched. Nice memories. Great blog!

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