For today’s post, I thought I would delve once again into history, specifically Summer, 1948. A few months ago, I asked my mom to bring me some old women’s magazines that she collects for her artwork. I think there are few things that give you a more approachable sense of an era’s preoccupations, interests, and general culture than print magazines. Often, the most interesting part of them is the advertising and other filler that shine a light on what people were doing, buying, needing and wanting. In this case, I wanted to look specifically at what the magazines could tell me about what was popular kids’ food, and how they advertised family-friendly foods. The magazines my mom chose for me are issues of Women’s Day from the 40s and 50s, and there is one I found particularly nice from August 1948.
A few things always strike me in these magazines. One is how blissed out everyone always looks. Perhaps today’s reader feels that a certain cynicism is their due, but this is not the case here, amidst the winks and smiles. I always search the expressions for a hint of irony, but I’m not sure I see it. In the world of 1940s and 50s advertising, there doesn’t seem any limit to how transformative any product, no matter how trivial, can be. Take this V-8 ad, for example. Not only is V8 the best thing to ever happen to this family (thanks to a wise choice by a sensible mom, who is a frequent character in ads from the era) but the ad exhorts us to give V-8 to our children at every meal…and in between!!
No doubt this sort of drastic recommendation was common in an era when all bets were off in terms of how new products might replace old practices. Every generation in recent memory has given their children milk, but we have something new and better!! V-8! These ads and others remind us that there was a time not so long ago when technology was full of boundless promise, and it seemed certain that progress would solve all problems sooner or later, and most likely sooner. There is a charming optimism in all of this.
It undoubtedly also gives us the science-fiction sort of aura that was clearly appealing at the time, even for food. While modern American readers are happy to have their cell phones sound as though they were imported from outer space (Android, etc), their lunch meat not so much. Of course now, the language of science experiments brings up a whole slew of fears in consumers, and the food industry spends its time trying to convince us of the fairy tale that our food comes from an old-fashioned farm nearby. That makes some mid-century ads seem awfully strange to our modern eyes.
Another one that I found very funny in that same vein is this one for a toothpaste which will leave your mouth “antiseptically clean” thanks to “WD-9.” Sounds dangerous!!
It’s also fascinating to look at the pictures and descriptions of food and to realize that what we find “mouth-watering” is in fact at times rather cultural. Some of the recipes in these magazines sound downright nauseous to our modern sensibilities (jellied spam salad, anyone?). So now for a recipe. Here’s an ad for Mazola Salad Oil that I can’t say made me salivate, but I liked the sound of the last recipe, for a potato soup. Since I was a kid, I’ve always really liked simple potato onion soups and so I decided to try this one. It came out great! I lightened it up just a bit and it was perfect.
Ritzy but Thrifty Potato Soup
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup onions or leeks, or a combination
- 3 cups diced raw potatoes
- 1 cup water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups milk
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions or leeks and cook for 12-15 minutes until tender but not brown.
Add potatoes and water and simmer, covered, until potatoes are soft, 20-30 minutes. Mash the potatoes in the pot with a masher or force some of them through a sieve. Add the milk and seasonings and mix thoroughly. Heat again on medium and serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired.