Baby Boomer Cooking

In the 1950s, most American pantries included processed and packaged foods, according to Laura Shapiro in Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Over the next decades, many people ate an array of processed foods in various recipes-Jell-O salads, green bean casseroles, and Kellogg's Rice Krispies treats are just a few examples. Often recalled with smiles, these classic recipes conjure memories of learning to cook, sock hops, and early rock and roll music.

Packaged, processed ingredients defined foods like Sloppy Joes, Macaroni and Cheese, and Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies. Canned soup enhanced casseroles, crushed potato or tortilla chips topped them, and baking mixes requiring eggs or oil made the packaged product recipes seem homemade. Shapiro says that even gourmet chef James Beard had acknowledged that some of the mixes on the market were good by the mid-1950s.

In the 1960s, I discovered Mom's stash of food company recipe pamphlets tucked away in the back of the pantry. Among my best finds were Aunt Jenny's Favorite Recipes made with Spry vegetable shortening, a 'Recipes from the El Molino Kitchens' booklet from a stone-ground flour company, and the annual 'Pillsbury Bake-Off ' recipes. For many budding chefs and bakers, these product pamphlets offered a treasure trove of recipes and an invitation to cook.

'Quick' and 'easy' became new buzz words in cooking. Uncomplicated recipes meant aspiring chefs without any kitchen skills could learn to cook from booklets. However, salt-laden processed ingredients caused sodium levels to soar. Many of today's cooks think twice about sodium, fat, and sugar levels before recreating favorite nostalgic foods, no matter how fondly they remember the recipes.

I've experimented with many recipes from the 1950s and '60s over the years. I updated flavors and took out dairy, meat, and salt. With some simple substitutions, many old-time favorites can be made to fit today's more healthconscious kitchen.

The following recipes offer tips and techniques for turning classic recipes into vegan delights.


(Serves 4)

This is a variation of a wilted greens salad with bacon. Smoky tempeh strips lend flavor, and the carrots or apples add a sweet dimension.

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 strips smoky tempeh strips
  • 1 cup grated carrots or finely chopped apples
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar or plain vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper

Pour boiling water over cabbage and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Pour olive oil into a heavy skillet and heat. When hot, add tempeh and cook until crispy.

Drain cabbage and place it in a bowl with carrots or apples; blend in vinegar and pepper. When tempeh strips are cooked, crumble over the cabbage and blend in. Serve this salad with Sloppy Joes or Barbecue No-Meat Loaf.

Total calories per serving: 98 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 224 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams


(Makes 4 sandwiches)

*Pictured on the cover. This is a vegan version of a popular 1960s hot sandwich. Tempeh provides the perfect, beef-like texture for the filling. Look for this soybean product in the refrigerated section at natural foods stores.

The chili-infused tomato sauce, molasses, and vegetables make this dish so good, kids ask for more. If you don't have zucchini, use diced carrots, rutabaga, or celery instead.

  • 2 Tablespoons safflower oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced zucchini
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
  • One 15-ounce can low-sodium tomato sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 vegan burger buns

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, onions, chili powder, and zucchini. Stir, reduce the heat, cover, and cook until the onions are soft, approximately 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and tempeh. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.

Blend in the tomato sauce, vinegar, molasses, corn, salt, and cayenne. Cover and cook for 15- 20 minutes or until the tempeh is heated thoroughly. Add more salt, if necessary. Lightly toast buns in a nonstick skillet. Serve tempeh mixture over buns.

Total calories per serving: 411 Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 53 grams Protein: 19 grams
Sodium: 292 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Ditching Meat and Dairy and Losing Fat


  • Try dried and cooked or canned beans of all varieties. When beans are paired with meat, it's easy to replace the meat with more beans or to add diced carrots, zucchini, or corn.
  • Tofu and tempeh products also top the list for meat substitutes, but check the sodium content of products such as Fakin' Bacon before using. To give tofu a more 'meaty' texture, pan-fry cubes in a small bit of oil until browned on each side. Tempeh should be cooked before using and can be sliced, cubed, or crumbled to replace meat in recipes. Tempeh can absorb oil like a sponge, so when frying, use a non-stick pan or lightly spray a pan with oil before using in recipes.
  • Emphasize bold seasonings like rosemary, sage, or smoky chipotle chiles.


  • Soy, rice, almond, or oat milk easily replaces cow's milk and cream.
  • When making mashed potatoes, use the water from steaming the potatoes to mash them.
  • Make soups creamy by adding a quarter cup of oatmeal to the soup and letting it simmer for a long time. You can also sprinkle a Tablespoon or more of rice flour over the bubbling soup and blend until the soup thickens. Remove one cup of soup near the end of cooking, purée, and stir back into the mix.
  • To boost flavor, stir in fresh lemon juice, or stir a Tablespoon or two of white miso into one cup of soup, then add this to the pot.


  • For scrambled eggs, firm tofu is the best substitute. Just crumble the tofu and add a little turmeric for a golden color. Sprinkle in up to one teaspoon of nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. Also, approximately a teaspoon of arrowroot sprinkled over the cooking tofu can be stirred in for an egg-like texture.
  • One of the best replacements for eggs in baked recipes is a Tablespoon of ground flaxseeds (or flaxseed meal) blended with three Tablespoons of water for each egg to be replaced in a recipe. Use a blender or a hand blender to whip this mixture into a thick, foamy egg replacer. Store flaxseed egg replacer in the refrigerator for up to a week.


People who grew up in the 1950s and '60s recall cans of leftover grease, saved from foods and stored near the stove. Cooking oil was poured into the can after cooking. Also, solid vegetable shortening took the place of lard in many recipes during the 1950s.

Today, safflower or olive oil is recommended for baking, roasting, and sautéing. The texture of pie crusts isn't quite as flaky without hard fats, but cooking and eating with healthier plant-based oils just feels a lot better.


(Makes one 9 x 5-inch loaf or 8 servings)

Barbecue lentil loaf makes the basis for a great 1950s nostalgia meal. While experimenting with lentil loaf recipes, I discovered the real secret to Mom's meatloaf from the 1950s was sage. Lentils mash easily, and the potatoes and bread crumbs help hold this healthful loaf together. The loaf becomes more sliceable as it cools and is even better fried the next day.

  • 1/2 cup gray or brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups washed and roughly cut potatoes, peeling optional
  • Water to cover lentils and potatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 cup vegan barbecue sauce, divided
  • 1 cup diced onions or shallots
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/4 cup crispy rice cereal or finely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Cover the lentils and potatoes with water, garlic, and sage and cook until soft, stirring continuously near the end of cooking until lentils are almost dry. It should take approximately 45 minutes for total cooking. Drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine lentil mixture with 1/4 cup barbecue sauce, onions, carrots, cereal or nuts, and bread crumbs. Mix well. Press into a 9 x 5-inch non-stick loaf pan. Make an indentation down the middle and pour the remaining barbecue sauce in. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until set. Serve with some baked squash or sweet potatoes and Wilted Cabbage Salad or Popeye's Spinach.

Total calories per serving: 113 Fat: < 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 23 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 252 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams


(Serves 4)

The cartoon character Popeye helped boost spinach consumption in the 1960s. Too bad baby spinach wasn't available then. If it had been, I'm sure many cooks would have been a big fan of this easy vegetable.

  • 8-10 cups fresh baby spinach, washed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Steam spinach just until wilted, approximately 1 minute. Set aside.

Cook the garlic in oil until it sizzles. Gently mix in with spinach, salt, pepper, juice, and zest.

Total calories per serving: 32 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: 2 gram
Sodium: 86 milligrams Fiber: 1 grams


(Serves 6)

Nothing is what it seems in this reproduction of the ubiquitous '50s favorite mac 'n' cheese. The idea for this recipe sprang from an Italian cookbook that also used Parmesan cheese. I found that garlic and basil delivered taste without adding any cheese at all. The only trick is to peel the zucchini since the green skin will turn the sauce light green.

For a texture variation, fry about a cup of sliced mushrooms in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the mushrooms have browned. Add them to the mixture for a 'meaty' texture.

  • 4 cups washed, peeled, and roughly chopped zucchini
  • 5-7 quarts salted boiling water
  • One 12-ounce package your favorite pasta
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
  • 1/2-1 cup toasted bread crumbs

Add the zucchini to a large pot of salted boiling water and reduce the heat. When the zucchini is very tender, scoop it out, place in a strainer, and drain. Save the water. Using the back of a spoon, press the zucchini to squeeze as much water as you can from it. Save the liquid.

Pour the zucchini water into the pot of water and bring it to a boil again. Add pasta and cook until al dente (tender but firm).

While the pasta cooks, place the zucchini in a food processor with garlic and pepper. Process the mixture until very smooth. Season to taste with salt. Stir in chopped basil, if desired.

Place the pasta in a serving bowl and toss with the zucchini sauce. Top each serving with toasted bread crumbs.

Total calories per serving: 261 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 52 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 77 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


Makes 8 cakes)

It doesn't matter whether you peel the potatoes for this recipe. You can leave the skins on unless they seem damaged. If you don't really care about getting browned crispy crusts, fry the potato pancakes without the added oil.

  • 1 pound of potatoes, rinsed (approximately
  • 2 medium potatoes)
  • 1/4 cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive or safflower oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Steam the potatoes until tender. Reserve the cooking liquid.

Mash the potatoes with the margarine, adding the cooking liquid until potatoes are smooth and thick. Combine the potatoes with the onions, salt, and pepper. Form potato mixture into patties.

Brush oil in a non-stick skillet and heat over medium heat. Lay the patties in the pan and sprinkle with paprika. Cook patties until lightly browned, flip, and cook the other side.

Total calories per serving: 9 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 209 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram


Makes one 9-inch cake or 8 servings)

Coconut cake was a winner listed in a Pillsbury Grand National Bake- Off Cookbook. It was a challenge to recreate a moist vegan lemoncoconut cake, but the grapes added moisture as well as sweetness. Eat this cake soon after baking because, each day, the moisture from the grapes makes the cake a little heavier.

  • Vegetable oil and flour to prepare pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 1/4 cups seedless green grapes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil and lightly flour a 9-inch cake pan.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, coconut, baking soda, and lemon zest. In another bowl, combine the vanilla, lemon juice, and oil. Stir into flour, then pour cold water over all ingredients and stir until blended. (Do not overmix, or the cake will be tough).

Pour into the prepared cake pan. Spread grapes over the surface. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Total calories per serving: 285 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 104 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram


(Makes one 9-inch round or one 7 x 5-inch pan, approximately 15 servings)

Cold cereals incorporated into recipes became popular in the 1950s and '60s. Recipes for these tasty squares appeared on Kellogg's Rice Krispies boxes and featured marshmallows melted into the mix to hold the squares together. I eliminated the marshmallows and replaced them with more healthful ingredients, such as nut butter and dried fruit. You could also add slivered almonds or shredded coconut.

Look for rice syrup and rice cereal in natural foods stores.

  • 1/2 cup rice syrup
  • 1/2 cup almond or peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3 cups crispy rice cereal

Place rice syrup, nut butter, vanilla, and raisins in a small saucepan. Heat for a few minutes, and then stir thoroughly. Pour the rice cereal into a large mixing bowl and add in the rice syrup-nut butter mixture. Mix until well-blended. Press into a 9-inch pan. Allow to cool. Cut into bars.

Variation: For a chocolate version of this recipe, melt a 1-ounce square of vegan chocolate into the nut butter.

Total calories per serving: 128 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 20 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 99 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram