1957 Pantry – Try Tuna Salad

Hold the presses! On July 11, 1957, the Department of the Interior issued a release to food editors across the nation. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, whose mission is to “conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people,” want citizens from New York City to Newport Beach to . . . “Try Tuna Salad for Main Dish at Picnics.”

I I1957 Tuna Salad

I’m not sure how suggesting a picnic with tuna salad, using canned tuna, meets the Fish and Wildlife Service mission to conserve and protect our fish and wildlife?

But let’s leave that little puzzle and head to the beach! Pack up the plaid Skotch Kooler, the Pendleton blanket, the sand toys, and the transistor radio. Spread out the potato chips, buttered rolls, fruit, coffee and cupcakes. Build a driftwood fire, see the sun set, burn a few marshmallows, and watch the stars come out. It’s summertime . . . .

Image Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior Information Service

1957 Pantry – Lipton Onion Soup Mix

Lipton Dry Onion Soup Mix advertised in the June 1957 issue of ? Photo: Pinterest by beachgal

Lipton Dry Onion Soup Mix advertised in the June 1957 issue of ? Photo: Pinterest by beachgal

In 1957, almost every pantry surely stocked a supply of Lipton Onion Soup Mix. The familiar envelopes filled with powdered ingredients came in very handy for all kinds of meal preparations.

The Thomas J. Lipton Company, born in 1893 as a tea-packing concern, branched out into soup mixes in 1941. Like so many of the new food products in the 1950s, Lipton soup mixes were convenience foods, labor- and time-saving concoctions that were seen as an improvement over old, “from-scratch” cooking methods. Food technology was a science of progress and processed foods were the wave of the future.

According to traveling food culturists Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the Roadfood books, articles, and website, Lipton introduced their onion soup mix in 1952. Two years later, a mystery housewife from Southern California (was she scrambling to serve last-minute guests?) grabbed an envelope of onion soup mix and a tub of sour cream. Stirred and plated with crunchy goodies like potato chips, or kissing-cousin Fritos, and presto-mixo, California Dip was born! The chip-n-dip offering worked perfectly for a cocktail crowd. No plates or utensils. Drink in one hand, leaving the other free to scoop and munch.

The other star pairing for Lipton’s onion soup mix was very likely all-American beef. Memories of meatloaf and pot roast come immediately to mind. Cooks were quick to find other uses for the handy pantry staple. By the mid-1990s, the Sterns report, Americans were ripping open packets of onion soup mix at a rate of a quarter-million per day.

Just what are the ingredients in Lipton Onion Soup Mix? The envelope, please!

Nutrition: Per 1 oz. serving: 20 calories, 0 g fat, 610 mg sodium
Ingredients: Dehydrated onions, salt, cornstarch, onion powder, sugar, autolyzed yeast extract (barley), caramel color, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, monosodium glutamate, dehydrated corn syrup, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, sulfur dioxide (to protect quality)

October 20, 1957 – NYC Mayor Robert Wagner’s Coney Island Campaign Stop

The Mayoral Debate: Catsup or Mustard? Photo: Eddie Hausner, The New York Times Photo Archives, available at the New York Times store

On October 20, 1957, incumbent New York City mayoral candidate Robert F. Wagner, Jr. stopped for a classic Coney Island treat – a All-American hot dog.  On his way to a second-term landslide victory, Democrat Wagner’s alignment with Carmine DeSapio’s Tammany Hall machine during his first election in 1953 instigated a intra-party feud between DeSapio and Presidential Widow Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband Franklin had previously stripped the long-standing political society from federal patronage.  Tammany Hall’s 140-year influence over the city had begun to wane in the 1930’s, with the election of Republican Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on a Fusion ticket.  The 1953 DeSapio-Wagner alliance resulted in a brief resurgence of machine politics in the 1950’s.

Mayor Wagner, a Yale graduate and Scroll and Key member, was born in Manhattan in 1910, the son of U. S. Senator Robert Ferdinand Wagner, Sr.  During his tenure in Gotham he was instrumental in building public housing and schools, creating the City University of New York system, establishing the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barring housing discrimination based on race, creed or color.  He is said to be the first mayor to pro-actively hire a significant number of people of color into city government positions.  The city’s performing arts jewel, the Lincoln Center, was developed while Wagner was in office.  The Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival (now known as Shakespeare in the Park) also took shape during his tenure.  His administration’s inaction led to the out-of-town migration of the Giants and Dodgers baseball teams, although a subsequent commission he formed led to the birth of the New York Mets.

Wagner broke with DeSapio and Tammany Hall during his third-term mayoral campaign in 1961.  His victory set a milestone in New York City, and local machine politics thereafter entered a decline.

October 15, 1957 – Bridge and Cinnamon Coffee Bars

Cinnamon Coffee Bars; Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1957. Photo: Annacia at

On October 15, 1957, housewives across America may have anticipated a fun Tuesday afternoon playing bridge with the girls.  Ladies would have gathered in multiples of four around card tables in the living room for chat, a friendly rubber or two, and light refreshments.  Then, as now, a little something sweet was always welcome with a good cup of hot coffee.  Everyone had their favorite cookie recipes but having company over was often a fun time to try something new.  The 1957 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook included a recipe for a double-your-pleasure coffee-accompanying cookie, “Cinnamon Coffee Bars“.  Most bridge guests probably “bid” for this treat, rather than “passed”.

Cinnamon Coffee Bars

1/4 cup shortening, or softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup hot coffee
1 1/2 cup flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
For the Glaze:
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 t vanilla
1 T water

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Cream together shortening or butter, brown sugar and egg, then stir in coffee.  Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Blend in raisins and walnuts.  Spread mixture in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes.  Mix together ingredients for glaze.  Cut cake into bars and frost with glaze while warm.

September 18, 1957 – Wednesday Night Tuna Noodle Casserole

Mmm, mmm, good


On September 18, 1957, American housewives may have celebrated the half-way point through their week by making a sure-to-please family dinner favorite, Tuna Noodle Casserole.  There were probably as many recipes for tuna casserole as there were families, but some ingredients seem classic – canned tuna, egg noodles (no one called it pasta, yet), condensed soup, and something crunchy.  The following recipe is shared by a ’50s kid who relates, “One of my childhood favorites.  My mom made it even better than all the other mothers because she used potato chips in it.”

1950s Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 lb bag of broad egg noodles
1 large can of condensed Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, and the same size can of milk plus one more cup
2 large cans of tuna, drained (prefer light instead of white)
1 large bag of salted potato chips, crushed
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cook the egg noodles according to the directions on the bag.  Combine the cream of mushroom soup with the milk.  Crumble the drained tuna.  In a bowl, combine all of the above with 3/4 of the bag of crushed potato chips and salt and pepper.  Place in a buttered casserole dish.  Sprinkle remaining chips on the top.  Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes.

August 30, 1957 – The Labor Day Weekend Begins

1957 Corvette Travel Trailer with Fun Accessories. Photo source: Tin Can Tourists

On August 30, 1957, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Americans young and old, big and small, got ready to celebrate the last official weekend of summer.  Whether it was to the beach or the pool, the mountains or the desert, the grandparents’ or the Grand Canyon, everyone worked together to pack the station wagon, the trailer, or the ice chest with everything needed to enjoy these final lazy days in the sun before school started and the routine of life kicked in.

Depending on where you were going, you might have packed fishing rods, tennis rackets, horseshoes, inner tubes, a ball and mit, or a new-fangled Frisbee.  Into the plaid cooler might have gone Oscar Meyer wieners, jello salad, three-bean salad, watermelon, grape Nehi, and iced tea.  The cupboards in trailers, the baskets and hampers, could have bulged with Del Monte catsup, French’s mustard, buns, Ritz crackers, Mix Trix (or Chex Mix), marshmallow bars, and butterscotch brownies.

Dads packed their portable grills and asbestos mits to do justice to the thick steaks and ribs buried in ice (don’t forget the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt!).  For breakfast, kids were already busy laying dibs on their favorite mini-boxes of Kellogg’s Variety Pack cereals.  Mom and dad looked forward to eggs, bacon, and Chase & Sanborn coffee – lots of it – or Bisquick pancakes with Log Cabin syrup.

Don’t forget the aluminum folding chairs, kerosene lantern, and bug spray.  Tuck in beach towels and baby oil.  Grab the dog, lock the door, and hit the road!  Summer’s almost over and there’s no time to waste.

August 28, 1957 – Congress Passes the Poultry Products Inspection Act

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

On August 28, 1957, the United States Congress passed the Poultry Products Inspection Act. This comprehensive piece of legislation established uniform standards for inspecting all varieties of poultry to prevent diseased or contaminated birds from entering the food supply. Prior to this date, the US Department of Agriculture had monitored poultry quality only at the invitation of individual poultry processors. The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act required processors to cooperate with government inspectors. Provisions of the act also spelled out penalties for companies selling contaminated products or failing to maintain sanitary conditions in their plants.

Specifically, the act, under the governance of the Department of Agriculture, established rules for pre- and post-mortem inspection of poultry, with procedures for the quarantine and disposal of products deemed unfit . It authorized the establishment of sanitary practices for facilities and equipment which would also be verified by inspection. It established labeling standards, listed prohibited practices aimed at circumventing quality assurance, and specified fines and even possible prison sentences for those companies not complying with the regulations.

Some exemptions to the act’s provisions included those individuals who raised and slaughtered their own poultry, poultry processed for uses other than human consumption, and, curiously, pizza! The USDA inspectors evidently didn’t want to maintain a presence in the some kitchens (and felt it necessary to state so). Here’s how they spelled it out:

“The Secretary shall exempt pizzas containing a poultry product from the inspection requirements of this chapter if –

(A) the poultry product components of the pizzas have been prepared, inspected, and passed in a cured or cooked form as ready-to-eat in compliance with the requirements of this chapter; and

(B) the pizzas are to be served in public or private nonprofit institutions.”

In other words, no USDA inspectors wearing hairnets in school kitchens (among other places)!

The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act remained in force until July 31, 2014, when new regulations were established after much wrangling between the USDA, the poultry processing industry, and labor unions. The government wanted processors to perform some of the poultry inspections themselves, freeing government inspectors to focus more of their attention on sanitary conditions in general. Feathers flew and the poultry processors and unions opposed this, but the USDA prevailed. The processors also wanted to speed up the production line from 140 to 175 chickens per minute, which the unions opposed, and which the government decided to veto.