By Michaela Steil
The coming dine-in theme nights are all decade themes. This Friday it is the 50s! There’s no doubt that the 50s were a time of turmoil with the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and Red Scare, but there were some positive aspects too. Following post World War II success, the USA has a huge economic boom and suburban sprawl. During this time there was a large westward expansion and increase in suburban homes. This was aided by a more widespread use of air conditioning and the automobile making the suburban lifestyle more comfortable.
In the 1950s there was also a change in the way Americans dined. A large influence was the success of McDonald’s in the 40s, as they began franchising in the 50s and in turn expanding across the country. The 1950s saw more than just McDonald’s, other fast food restaurants bagan emerging everywhere, including Pizza Hut (1958), Sbarro’s (1956), Sonic Drive-In (1959), Dunkin Donuts (1950), and Burger King (1954). Eating out was defined by fast food and diners. Diners were popular because they all follow the same basic layout in restaurants, providing a familiar and welcoming environment no matter where you are. This is a trend that fast food establishments followed as well; by having their locations all look the same it would draw in more returning customers because they knew what to expect and felt more comfortable.
In terms of culinary delights that people made at home, the 50s were much different from what we eat nowadays. Since it was a post war period, there was still a huge prevalence of canned and preserved foods. One recurring dish that appeared during my research was Jell-O salad. Flavored Jell-O functions as the base, usually lime, and it is then combined with various ad- ins which are usually canned.
Because Jell-O salads became so popular, in the 60s there was an introduction of special salad flavors including celery and tomato. Sadly these are no longer sold, so if you were hoping to buy them….sorry. However, if you are interested in recreating a similar, but I’m sure just as delicious recipe, Kraft, which owns the Jell-O brand, has a recipe for you! It includes lime jello, cottage cheese, and maraschino cherries. (Some recipes recommend replacing the cottage cheese with mayo for a more creamy creation!)
Canned foods, like SPAM, also remained popular following the war. This also allowed for the increased popularity in casseroles because they could be made with primarily canned goods. Additionally, there was a rise in frozen foods and the TV Dinner! With more widespread use of freezers and with televisions becoming essential part of the American Dream, these frozen meals were increasingly popular with suburbanites.
Luckily though, for our event there is going to be a focus on the diner theme rather than canned goods. That means burgers, hot dogs, fries and shakes. As with other dine-in theme nights, if you dress in theme you will be entered to win a prize! So whether it’s just slicking back your hair like a greaser or going all out in a poodle skirt, you’re entered!
Sources and further readings!