Wednesday, April 18, 2012

American Can Company Regional Recipes (1951-1954)

Hello again!

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In speaking of grocery stores and diets this week, I thought we could stay on theme today with a little look into America's cupboard for a very familiar item: the tin can. I was searching the words "delicious meals" on Google Books when I came across two circa 1950 Life magazine with the above advertisements. You never know what kind of wingding thing will come up even when you put an innocuous enough phrase into the search box! "SACK O' SAUCE IN A CAN O'MEAT" was probably not going to win any advertising awards that year for the originators of the phrase, but gosh did it get my attention. The fifties' seem to have been the forefront for a culinary revolution of canned gourmet. Anything you can make we can "can" better, advertisements like this one screeched at the mid century housewife. Pie crusts! Whole chicken pot pies! Chow mein! All you need is a can opener and a brisk, dismissive attitude towards the "made from scratch" school of thinking.

On searching "in a can", I came across this series of menus and recipes prepared by the American Can Company in the early 1950's. You can click on any of the pages to get a better gander at what's inside, or the menu's title for the recipe in its original magazine.

Note! Alma Archer probably does not approve of these menus. Dieters, beware! Can food enthusiasts, rejoice! Non canned items needed are listed in italics.

1) Texas Barbecue Supper:

  • Pineapple Lime Cocktail- 1 can chilled pineapple juice, lime juice
  • Texas Kabobs- 1 can mushrooms, 2 cans Vienna sausages, 1 can luncheon meat, 1 can whole white onions, 1 can pimentos, pickle slices
  • Tomato Barbecue Sauce- 1 can tomatoes, 1 can tomato sauce, seasonings
  • Parsley Buttered Corn- 2 cans corn, seasonings
  • Rancho Salad- 1 can of peas, 1 can of julienne carrots, celery, greens, cheese, dressing
  • Grapefruit-Peach Delight- 1 can peach slices, 1 can grapefruit sections, maraschino cherries
  • Good Hot Coffee- 1 vacuum packed can of coffee


INITIAL ASSESSMENT: I don't know how I feel about the Texas kabobs, owing to a life long aversion to Vienna sausages (though my grandaddy ate them by the case, lingering on the first syllable so he pronounced it more "VY-eee-nah"). And what is it with 1950's people's love of throwing a bunch of vegetables that don't necessarily work together, adding dressing and cheese or mayonnaise and cheese, and calling it "salad"? Can you guys think of any "salads" your parents or grandparents make that just don't make sense? I think I would skip this one save the pineapple lime cocktail, which sounds delicious.

2)West Coast Sea Food Supper


  • West Coast Sea Food Supreme:1 can chicken consomme OR 1 can clam juice (what a decision to make!), 1 can pineapple chunks, 1 can tuna OR salmon, 1 can crab meat, 1 can chow mein noodles, 1 can shredded coconut, flour, seasonings, raisins
  • Green Beans Amandine: 1 can green beans, almonds
  • Tomato Aspic and Asparagus Salad: 1 can aspic, 1 can asparagus spears, greens, French dressing
  • Sunshine Fruit Medley: 1 can fruit cocktail, 1 can apricot nectar, cornstarch

TOTAL NUMBER OF CANS: 11 (plus one REALLY CUTE fish shaped serving dish)

INITIAL ASSESSMENT: Please give me that serving dish. No, really. I need it. I like the sound of this soup way better than the kabobs... I'm interested to see what coconut, pineapple, raisins, chow mein, and SEAFOOD tastes like together. Can cookery sure made some strange bedfellows out of these ingredient!

3) Cowboy Chili Lunch:

  • Chili and Tamales: 2 cans Chili con carne, 1 can kidney beans, 1 can tamales, parmesan cheese, crackers, pickles, olives
  • Boots n Spur Salad: 1 can pears, 1 can peaches, 2 can cherries (light and dark), 1 can lemon juice, honey, olive oil, salt, greens, cinnamon, ginger
  • Dusty Road Dessert: 1 can chocolate sauce, 1 can mixed nuts, ice cream, instant cocoa mix
  • Beer: As many cans as yourcowboys can drink...?

TOTAL NUMBER OF CANS: Undetermined, but at least 10, plus beer.

INITIAL ASSESSMENT: I'm biased because I just read a Sunset Party Planning book that talks all about having a cowboy party for your little buckaroos, complete with chuck wagon and cow roping games, but I would do this. I don't think I've ever had a canned tamale! The unadventurous cuisine of my household growing up didn't give me much of an opportunity, but all that can change! How cute are the names of these dishes, also.

4) Pacific Coast Chowder Supper

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  • Clams Catalina: 1 can clams, 1 can anchovies, green pepper, pimento, bacon, "sea food shells" (What are sea food shells? Also, only two cans in this recipe?!)
  • Sea Fare Chowder: 1 can cream of tomato soup, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 can white tomatoes, 1 can peas, 1 can tuna, 1 can crab meat, grated onion, light cream
  • Patio Salad: 1 can green beans, vinegar, olive oil, seasonings, cabbage, olives
  • Golden Fruit Pie: 1 can orange juice, 1 can fruit cocktail, pastry shell, egg whites, gelatin, water, almonds
  • Specially Good Coffee: 1 can of coffee


INITIAL ASSESSMENT: I think this was the menu that interested me the most from American Can's whole marketing-angle: homemakers can try menus of food they wouldn't normally use because of the ingredients' scarcity in their region through the magic of canned food. Plus, the Sea Fare Chowder sounds really good right now. For some reason. I don't know why. PS Did everyone have a secret arsenal of fish shaped dishes in the fifties'? Because here's another one. Covet!

Last but not least:

5) Baltimore Buffet

  • Glazed Party Sliced Ham: 1 canned ham, 1 can peaches, cloves, fruit marmalade, brown sugar and spices, almonds
  • Chicken and Crab Casserole Maryland: 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 can boned chicken, 1 can crab meat, 1 can mushrooms, onion, milk, seasonings
  • Arundel Salad: 5 cans vegetables of your choice (peas, green beans, lima, corn, etc), French dressing
  • Hot Buttered Biscuits: 1 can of biscuits
  • Fruit Cream Tarts: 1 can of pineapple chunks, pastry shells, vanilla pudding, heavy cream, sugar, cornstarch

TOTAL NUMBER OF CANS: 14 (plus four cute, illustrated, Dyna Moe like party guests)

INITIAL ASSESSMENT: This menu includes a dish with chicken and crab TOGETHER IN AN UNHOLY UNION OF CAN COOKERY. I just don't know how to feel! Would it be delicious or disgusting? The whole-ham situation is intimidating, but look how pretty the table looks in the below spread. I might try this one as well.

What do you think? Are you brave enough to serve your guests dishes that were made from 90% canned materials? Are you, like me, the type to have a slight bias towards canned ingredients as not being "as good" as fresh, spurning the notion that they'll last longer and are more convenient for the sake of perishable but not-old food? Which one of these would you try, if sufficient courage was raised?

Til next time!

Further reading:
History of the tin can (there's a wikipedia article for everything)
American Can Apartments (in Louisiana)


  1. 'Semi-Homemade', 1950s! I prefer fresh ingredients like you, but can you imagine how exciting our grandmothers and great grandmothers must have found this stuff to be? I mean, I can't imagine the days before prepackaged everything! What a time saver for those overworked mid-century house gals!
    My grandmother used to make the 'Golden Fruit Pie'. She called it something else, but that sounds like the same recipe and it was really good.
    I'm a sucker for canned biscuits...we've already discussed the canned biscuit donuts I love so much!
    All the salads sound nice, except the one with tomato aspic. Anything with 'aspic' in it makes me think of cat food. Not an appetizing thought!
    And just for the record, I've decided that Sack O'Sauce In A Can O'Meat sounds completely scary, but not nearly as scary as today's pink slime....Just sayin'.

  2. I have to believe this played into the bomb shelter mentality of the time. Sure there is convenience and selection. This was a time when America was scared of nuclear war, communist take over and growing the economy and the population after WWII. The switch from bombers and aircraft carriers and into cans for the housewife seemed like a logical switch! I say yuck to most of these dishes. I would lose twenty pounds if this was all that was on the menu at a "fat farm". Plus, when you think of how many can never became recycled and ended in a dump, I shudder. "The depression was over and we are going to use aluminum like never before". Great posting of a time long gone, yet so close thanks to you!



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