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Show Us the Meat

Eating meat of some kind at every meal was the ideal for many Americans during the 50’s, and for those who couldn’t afford it, meat was part of the menu as often as possible.  Pre cholesterol-jitters, meat was considered all-essential for one’s well being.  

Although there were, of course, vegetarians around in the fifties, the craze for eliminating meat from the diet wouldn’t happen for over a decade.  “Main course” and “meat” (meaning beef, lamb, pork, veal or poultry) were synonymous.

Popular recipes from cookbooks of the 50’s included directions for making beef Stroganoff, stuffed veal pocket, and dozens of varieties of meat loaf.  Here’s one that appeared as part of a Campbell Soup ad in a June 1958 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal:

Mix 2 pounds ground beef with a can of vegetable soup, an egg, one half cup bread crumbs, a chopped onion, 1 tablespoon each of Worcestershire and mustard, along with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Shape in loaf and bake at 350 degrees for one hour 

Home cooks passed around a recipe for Swiss steak made with canned tomatoes and prepared like the dish served at the Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls.

These meat dishes didn’t come cheaply.  Although stores like Safeway could regularly offer three pounds of ground beef for a dollar in the mid-fifties, smaller mom-and-pop grocery stores couldn’t compete with those prices, so consumers often paid more.  In 1955, the average price for a beef round steak ranged from 87 cents a pound in Chicago to 96 cents a pound in New York City.

A magazine ad in from the American Meat Institute in May of 1950 advised housewives to buy a large roast, and cut it up most economically by first slicing a piece from the round end and chopping that into cubes for stew; then they advised cutting off one piece for a steak; and finally, slicing the remainder in half lengthwise for Swiss steak.

A Kansas City Thrift-Way store advertised a New Year’s Sale on January first of 1955: Swift’s Tenderay T-Bone steaks for 98 cents a pound.  In the issue of the Kansas City newspaper, the Riverside Red X offers a special of lean ground beef for 25 cents a pound.

Instead of cooking that meat at home, some chose to celebrate New Year’s Day 1955 with a dinner out.  For 69 cents a diner at Katz Drug Company could enjoy a breaded veal cutlet for 69 cents.  That complete dinner would include applesauce, fresh roll and butter, garden vegetables, a choice of dessert and beverage.  A big spender could opt for a charcoal broiled club steak for $2.25 at the Golden Ox or perhaps prime rib of choice steer beef, au jus with side dishes and dessert for $1.50 at Overbeck’s Steak House and Lounge.

And, of course, if you were lucky enough to be in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955, you could taste your first McDonald’s hamburger.  It was the first franchise location; a burger would set you back .15 cents.

Peggy Epstein is a retired English teacher and a free-lance writer. Her book "Great Ideas for Grandkids" was published last year by McGraw-Hill. Her articles have appeared in the Kansas City Star, College Bound, Footsteps, Grit, Teaching Tolerance, and others.




1957 Menu ....Thanks Larry Wallace




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