I consulted my borrowed 1942 cook book by Meta Given, 'The Modern Family Cook Book' which describes spaghetti, macaroni and noodles as used in the American diet chiefly as a substitute for potatoes. She further goes on to say that these starchy 'cereal foods', as she declares they are, offer little nutritive value alone except as a source of energy. She also states that all macaroni and noodle products should be rinsed after cooking and draining. That is no longer recommended! In Alton Brown's book, 'I'm Just Here for the Food', he clearly states that pasta should be boiled in generously salted water without oil (it does absolutely no good) and after draining should not be rinsed. How times change. But let's return to the 1930's.
In 1937 Kraft introduced it's boxed 'Macaroni and Cheese' product which made life much easier for homemakers when rationing during World War II was in full swing. In 1943 one box of Kraft Mac and Cheese only cost 1 ration coupon. That was a deal. In fact, cheese sauces were the first introduced to the public as a good pairing with 'macaroni' or 'noodles'. We didn't start to become comfortable with the word 'pasta' until much, much later. Remember, during the 1940's we were at war and anything Italian was well...not tolerated well. Gold Medal Foods printed some recipe cards during this time that attempted to encourage the use of 'Macaroni as a Food'. They said Arnold Lorand, 'the famous nutrition specialist of Carlsbad, says: "We have every reason to give first place to macaroni as a nourishing food." And this, 'Charles E. Sohm, public analyst on subjects of nutrition in New York, says: "Macaroni deserves a far more prominent place among cereals in the homes than it occupies at present."
This brings me to an interesting part of our nation's history. During the 1930's President Roosevelt created the Federal Writer's Project under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration as a make-work initiative for authors. Their mission was to chronicle the eating habits and traditions of Americans. This 'America Eats' project was abandoned in the early 1940's because of the war. In Mark Kurlansky's book, 'The Food of a Younger Land' he explores this project and provides some of the manuscripts to give us all a clear picture of what life was like for Americans 'before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional.' If you consider yourself a 'foodie' or just someone intensely interested in our nation's history,I highly recommend this book! Kurlansky highlights one WPA author named Mari Tomasi who wrote about something called 'Italian Feeds' that were popular in Barre, Vermont. Barre (at the time the largest granite center in the world) attracted hundreds of skilled workers from northern Italy. Many Italian women discovered they could make a business of hosting 'Italian Feed' nights in their homes. Mari Tomasi goes on to describe the feast awaiting the customers in these homes but felt the need to describe in great detail what ravioli, prosciutto and antipasto are along with other Italian specialties. These foods were 'exotic' and rare during this time period unless you lived in a place like Barre, VT where many Italian immigrants had settled.
Let's flash forward to 1955. This is the time of themed dinner parties and experimentation with International cuisine. I purchased a 1955 Italian cook book recently and love it for one reason. The original owner had written notes throughout the cook book as she used it! It's one of a kind now! This cook book, 'The Art of Italian Cooking' by Maria Lo Pinto offers explanations of Italian cooking terms and tells us that 'pasta' is dough! She enlightens the American cook by describing 'ricotta cheese' as Italian cottage cheese and informs us that the fancy sounding 'prosciutto' is nothing more than Italian ham. She further states that in order to make most of the dishes contained in her cook book you will have to venture into an Italian market. That might be a problem in 1955 depending upon where you lived! But as the years progressed into the 60's and 70's more and more Italian dishes were being served and our palates were being stretched.
Here is a recipe that has floated around in my family for years (note: I am not Italian but married a man who is half Italian). This recipe is the actual recipe printed in a newspaper insert called Today's Living dated June 25, 1961. I have a somewhat updated recipe that I'll share sometime in the near future but it's basically the same. My husband's Italian and Polish recipes will be saved for future posts, too!
2 Tbsp. butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 pound ground beef
1 can (1 lb., 3 oz.) tomatoes
2 cans (1 lb. each) chili with meat
1 8 oz. package spaghetti*
3 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup dairy sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large skillet melt butter; brown garlic, onion, and ground beef. Drain off excess fat,** then add tomatoes and chili; simmer about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain. Remove skillet from heat and stir in Cheddar cheese until melted; then fold in sour cream. Combine chili mixture and spaghetti, mixing well. Turn into 2-quart casserole. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Yield: 10-12 servings.
Note: Chili-Ghetti may be prepared ahead and refrigerated until ready to bake. It may also be frozen after baking.
*Just a quick thought. All recipes for pasta or macaroni call for a 7 or 8 oz. package of macaroni, noodles or pasta. Try finding that now. Almost every package I currently have is 16 oz! But beware, food packaging is doing something magical...look for all those boxes of pasta to shrink to 13.75 oz! And the fun part - you'll still pay the same amount!!
**First time I've seen a direction in these 'retro' recipes to drain off excess fat! Were we starting to get a clue?
Speaking of 'getting a clue'. If you're at all concerned about eating pasta that is more healthful for you, check out this Dreamfields Pasta website and see what they have to offer. I've tried it and it really is good! Here's a link to a Dreamfields coupon if you're going shopping soon and want to try something different!
Just for fun - Here's the commercial from 'Prince Spaghetti'! A classic.