Food Nostalgia
December 19, 2020 7:33 AM   Subscribe

The ’90s Issue of Taste The 1990's were in some ways the best decade of the 20th century. It had its wars and tragedies, but the Cold War had ended, the music was great, and there was still hope for a better future. And the food was becoming more and more interesting.

Reading Ruth Reichl's descriptions of the 40 best restaurants in LA (+ some) one is reminded how the former French dominance of fine dining was being replaced by an interest in other chefs and cuisines from all over the world.
Though Starbucks was founded in 1971, it's grand expansion happened during the 90's, not only spreading across the globe, but also inspiring local copycats in places where people weren't already walking around in the streets with grande lattes.
As Reichl writes in her article, Japanese food had been well-known in the US for a couple of decades, but the 1990's were when it spread to Europe, with popular restaurants making sushi accessible to a wider public. Part of the popularity of Japanese food was that it was seen as healthy.
Another food tradition taken up by nutritionists was the Mediterranean diet. Specially Italian food found a renaissance, but with a new emphasis on the authentic regional Italian recipes and products rather than the modified food Italian immigrants have created wherever they settled down.
Not only did the Cold War end, but airfare became cheaper, and people traveled to faraway destinations, where they learnt about other ways of cooking. Many people in Japan became fond of Italian food. And many Europeans and Australians embraced Thai, Vietnamese and Goan cuisine after backpacking there during their gap years.
posted by mumimor (59 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
They also have an article about why kiwi/strawberry things were suddenly everywhere.

It is probably a peak-90's thing for me to note - but some college friends had (and still have!) a public-access TV show, and they devoted two episodes to rounding up as many kiwi-strawberry flavored things and a couple of friends for a live taste-test.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2020 [7 favorites]


I think a lot about the 90s restaurant scene in NYC. It's probably the thing I miss about pre-mega-gentrified NYC. My friends and I didn't have that much money but we ate out almost every night of the week at the most amazing restaurants of all types, in little holes-in-the-wall with young up and coming chefs from all over the world. I got very, very spoiled.

I also curse the fact that my taste got so damned elevated and I am really struggling with all the home cooking I'm doing now.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:27 AM on December 19, 2020 [8 favorites]


Strawberry-kiwi Snapple was a drink I first saw and first had on a hot summer day that was very important to me when I was fourteen -- the first day of a new school and a new life, with a new friend. I got it many times after that, and I remember it fondly, but as I got older and lost my taste for sugary drinks, I forgot about it. This year being what it was, I was longing for the past so much that I snapped it up immediately when I found a bottle of it (plastic now, of course). It was awful. I don't now if it's that Snapple changed the formula, or the drink in a plastic bottle doesn't taste right, or I just got old.

I remember the odd Snackwells devil's food mini-cakes, the ones that were like a plastic sac of coated marshmallow over a spongy brown-flavored center. They weren't what you would call good, but they were addictive, if only because I wanted to pop the exterior membrane over again.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:38 AM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


Ah Zima, we hardly knew ye.
posted by nkknkk at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]


I think a lot about the 90s restaurant scene in NYC.
Oh yes! How did I not put some elements of that in my post? It was an amazing time.

The -90's were my coming of age period regarding food. I was a good enough home cook before then, but a lot of things combined to wake my curiosity and elevate my taste, as you put it. One of them being living in New York for a while.

After I read the Taste issue, I took out some of my old -90's cookbooks, and some have aged really badly, with their annoying focus on health and diets and quite uninspired recipes. Back then I don't think editing and testing was much of a thing for most cookbooks.
But I also found a book by a local (Danish) chef which is also badly edited, quite weird, and where you have to know how to cook already to use it, but which is clearly a forerunner for NOMA and everything else that happened after that.
posted by mumimor at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


I miss Clearly Canadian. I had that all the time as a kid. There was one flavor that basically tasted like Sprite but better and I would buy it every time it was available.

I also remember when I first tried Kiwi Strawberry Snapple. We were visiting my aunt and uncle in San Diego and they had a couple dozen bottles in their garage. I must have drank like half of them in the course of a few days. Haven't tried it in years though.

My Snackwells experience was mostly related to their mini chocolate chip cookies. On the box they said (and I think this is verbatim) "Snackwells Bite Sized Chocolate Chip Cookies are made with real chocolate and deliciously fun to eat!". I thought it was such a hilariously terrible phrase that I couldn't stop laughing. "Deliciously fun to eat". They paid someone to write that.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


BTW, I didn't include this because I don't know any of them, but: 27 Classic Foods from the '90s
posted by mumimor at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2020


Lay’s launched one of the most famous product missteps in the history of American consumerism. WOW chips, introduced in 1998, promised the same potato chip flavor with only one gram of fat per serving—a feat made possible by frying in a synthetic fat substitute called Olestra. Almost as soon as the chips hit the market, accounts started to pour in of horrible stomach woes caused by the chips.
Ah, yes, the food that answered the question on everybody's lips: Can you curl into a fetal position on the toilet?

I had a boss in the early 2000's who kept cases of Kiwi-Strawberry Snapple stacked in her office.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:56 AM on December 19, 2020 [5 favorites]


I remember I tried snapple for the first time the same summer I had Thai food for the first time.

Cue the Hank Hill reference, but Thai was introduced to me a "like spicy Chineese food" and I went probably until 2000 that I realized Thai food was from Thailand, and not some regional Chineese dish. I was well aware of Chineese vs Japanese at an early age, and think I had Vietnamese food before I realized what Thai food was. My neighborhood dry cleaners was Korean, but I can't recall ever having Korean food until moving to LA in the oughts.

My other big 90s food memory was pizza buffets with desert pizza. In in the late 1990s Sobe started supplanting snapple.
posted by CostcoCultist at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


27 Classic Foods from the '90s

I always wondered why Fruit by the Foot didn't go the Froot Loops root and call itself Froot by the Foot. Does Kellogg's have a patent on the word "froot," or is it just the same stubbornness that keeps the people of Ohio from adding a silent H to the state's name to make it into a palindrome.

I ate a lot of Lunchables as a busy student in the 90s. They were easier to throw in a backpack than a traditional packed lunch, and the bite-size aspect made them easier to eat while you're doing something else.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:02 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


BTW, I didn't include this because I don't know any of them, but: 27 Classic Foods from the '90s

That list has an...expansive...definition of the 90's.

[And the fake juice in a barrel suuuuuucked.]
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2020 [6 favorites]


[And the fake juice in a barrel suuuuuucked.]

It tasted like sweetened liquid plastic.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 AM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]


I liked it because it tasted like sweetened liquid plastic. I also once got "strawberry candy" that was just flavored corn syrup in a tube. Loved it.

The WOW Doritos did taste just like real Doritos, the one time we got them, but I ate them very gingerly and no more than three in a day, for fear of the consequences. If you ate real Doritos like that, you wouldn't need Olestra.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2020 [7 favorites]


That 27 foods list definitely hit a lot of things I remember eating in the late 80s and 90s, but not what I would call totally representative on the era.
Maybe the ghost busters themed Hi-c juice boxes scream 1989-90 to me.

On a note related to my Thai comment above, I believed my local donut shop was Vietnamese, but in retrospect may have been Cambodian. It did not have a steam table Chinese, although we had plenty of that elsewhere.
posted by CostcoCultist at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


I have such a complicated relationship with '90s food. On the one hand, it's when I became an adult, learned to cook, started going to restaurants independently, and what have you, and it also really was a time when American food culture became much more curious about and open to the rest of the world. But I also spent most of that decade in various stages of eating disorder recovery, and my relationship with food was really fraught and miserable. In my memory, '90s food was an exciting adventure, and it was also a minefield of anxiety and self-loathing. I'm not sure that sun-dried tomatoes merit so many conflicting emotions!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2020 [6 favorites]


If you ate real Doritos like that, you wouldn't need Olestra.

Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper chips are so hot I can't eat more than 3 or 4 at a time. The bag lasts a week and a half! They're really good crunched up in chili.
posted by oulipian at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2020


The Immigration Act of 1990 brought 20 million immigrants to the United States.
That could be the whole cause right there for the US. I know there were curious cooks beforehand because I was one, and my neighbors were, and I still have some of the cookbooks with mail-order options in the back for what are widely available ingredients now. And I think it’s evident that we still have a lot of people who distrust the unfamiliar. So - were the 1990s a similar change in cuisine in other countries, especially non -English-speaking ones?
posted by clew at 10:56 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


And the food was becoming more and more interesting.

In my small Canadian city, we suddenly had internet cafés serving toothpicked wraps made of spinach tortillas, full of grainy hummus and bean sprouts, which we ate while trolling self-proclaimed Klansmen in chat rooms
posted by Beardman at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]


"The 1990's"
The 1990s
Brought to You by the Committee to Save the Apostrophe from Abuse
posted by davebarnes at 11:11 AM on December 19, 2020 [12 favorites]


downtohisturtles - Clearly Canadian is back! Well, sort of? I don't know who is making it but it is available in some places here in Maine, including the convenience store a block from my house. I haven't been able to find it in a grocery store, though, and the single bottles are $3 a pop. Oh well, better than nothing!
posted by mbatch at 11:21 AM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


So - were the 1990s a similar change in cuisine in other countries, especially non -English-speaking ones?
Yes! This is another thing I had planned to include in the post, but I couldn't find the good links to document it. The 90s brought a huge change in the immigration patterns in Europe, for which the continent was wholly unprepared. It's a long story and I am tired, but basically before 1990, the only immigrants who brought "foreign" restaurant foods to Europe were Chinese, and in France, people from the Maghreb (and of course there were Italians from the south who migrated inside Italy and throughout the EU. And Greek restaurants are a thing in Germany, I know not why). In the decades before that, immigrants who came to work in factories and mines had also inspired groceries and street food vendors with foods from Turkey, Jugoslavia and North Africa, and to some degree refugees from the Levant also brought some produce and spices, but they didn't open restaurants. When the Cold War ended, the whole pattern of immigration changed. People came from different places, and they had different backgrounds from before, when they were either dissident intellectuals or illiterate workers.
Also, the changing perceptions changed what people did. When they arrived during the -70's, Vietnamese immigrants might start a "Chinese" grill. But when people started traveling to Vietnam (or just Paris, where the Vietnamese community is big), and appreciating Vietnamese food, the same people would change the menus towards the food they loved.

Sadly this whole change is probably why a very large part of Europeans are fearful, or even hateful towards immigration. At least the 1990s was when the hate became widespread and to some extent socially acceptable.
posted by mumimor at 11:24 AM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


The Colored Sugar-based Snacks of My Youth Are Superior to the Colored Sugar-based Snacks of Yours: A Disquisition
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:29 AM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that kiwi and strawberry basically share the same sweet-tart-seedy profile, and swapping out ratios in a blind test on these products would be indistinguishable.

The 90s for me will always be the decade of non-fat everything, sun dried tomatoes liberally applied across the menu, and the glory days of pine nuts before the plague of Chinese pine nuts brought pine mouth with them, making every fancy salad basically a game of Russian roulette with my taste buds.

Oh, and fancy grocery stores that had a whole six different kinds of olive oil, can you believe it?
posted by St. Oops at 11:42 AM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]




Ah Zima, we hardly knew ye.

Where I grew up in Canada, you could tell who had a sibling or other connection over the age of 21 (or good fake ID) if they showed up to a party with Zima (you could get it in Michigan, but not in Ontario).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:01 PM on December 19, 2020


I miss Clearly Canadian.

Mom used to buy it for us as a treat when I was a kid.

Noticed it on supermarket shelves around here again sometime last year. It's still the shiznitz!
posted by porpoise at 12:15 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


it just the same stubbornness that keeps the people of Ohio from adding a silent H to the state's name to make it into a palindrome.

It's not stubbornness so much as wanting to avoid off-to-work-we-go jokes, really.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2020 [4 favorites]


The rise of roasting vegetables in US restaurants was a 90s phenomenon. Here’s Florence Fabricant in the NY Times, 1993:
“Dry-heat cooking in an oven has traditionally been associated with meat, poultry and game. Indeed, large cuts of meat and whole poultry are often called roasts. But increasingly, chefs are roasting other foods like fish, vegetables and fruit, finding that the technique seals in and intensifies flavors, imparts an attractive burnish and often uses less fat than some other cooking methods.”
In a perhaps related development, I also think of 90s cooking in the US as the decade when goat cheese really came on the scene for a lot of people.

I remember near the end of the 90s when I was a college student in the Midwest I visited some friends in California, where I had roasted beets for the first time with goat cheese. Sounds like a pretty basic dish, but at the time it really opened some new vistas for me.
posted by theory at 12:40 PM on December 19, 2020 [3 favorites]


I'd also point out that a lot of today's foodie culture had its roots in the 90s. The Food Network started broadcasting in the US in 1993.
posted by theory at 12:46 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, cooked vegetables were generally boiled beyond the point of recognition, and they were disgusting. I remember roasted vegetables as a total revelation, because I hadn't realized that cooked veggies had the potential to taste good and have a palatable texture.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:46 PM on December 19, 2020 [10 favorites]


What has the world come to.
Bill Clinton no longer eats junk food and fruit gushers lack artificial flavors.
posted by mundo at 12:52 PM on December 19, 2020


I also remember the 90s as the time when vegetarian meat substitutes became more mainstream and widely available. I started being able to get them right at Tops instead of schlepping to the natural grocery co-op.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:02 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


The 1990s brought us Surge, the greatest fluorescent greenish-yellow soda that has ever or will ever grace this earth. Sure, there were a lot of missteps in the '90s (damnit, Pizza Hut, there are only so many places you can hide cheese in your pizzas), but if you had to be in middle school, Surge was pretty much the only thing keeping life tolerable.
posted by Mayor West at 1:16 PM on December 19, 2020 [10 favorites]


Fruit by the Foot and Fruit Gushers came out in 1991, the same year the Soviet Union fell.

Coincidence?

Should the U.S. invest in food innovation to combat the rising threat of Putin? Weapons of mass consumption?
posted by mundo at 1:27 PM on December 19, 2020


I'm of the opinion that kiwi and strawberry basically share the same sweet-tart-seedy profile, and swapping out ratios in a blind test on these products would be indistinguishable.

Evidence suggests - not so! The friends with the public access show I mention above name each of their episodes after a memorable quote uttered during that episode at some point - and the first of their kiwi-strawberry taste test episodes was named after one tester's assertion that the reason one beverage tasted different than others was because it had "More kiwi, man! More kiwi!"

(The title of the second episode suggests the tasters had had enough - "May There Be No More Kiwi-Strawberry".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2020


As someone who dislikes strawberries, both the 80s, with their strawberry-banana craze, and the 90s, what with the kiwi-strawberry obsession, were equally challenging for me.
posted by meese at 2:45 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]


Mayor West, I was a graduate student at University of Minnesota in the late 1990s, and they used to park giant tubs of Surge in front of the union and pass it out like candy at Halloween. I always preferred Josta, but I never once wanted a Surge and had to pay for it.
posted by wintermind at 5:24 PM on December 19, 2020 [1 favorite]


shoutout to cumin
posted by thelonius at 5:29 PM on December 19, 2020 [2 favorites]


And then there was the green and purple ketchup, and the pink and blue Squeeze Parkay.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:48 PM on December 19, 2020


As someone who dislikes strawberries, both the 80s, with their strawberry-banana craze, and the 90s, what with the kiwi-strawberry obsession, were equally challenging for me.

I feel that way about raspberries. It seemed like every damn thing from about 1998-2014 was raspberry this, raspberry that, and you couldn't find strawberry stuff anywhere.
posted by Foosnark at 6:48 PM on December 19, 2020


The arusa sandwich from Amer's when he was in Flint circa 1991. The closet I see today is the #34. I tried bribery, employment, and asking for his sauce a sauce recipe like no other for a Mediterranean sandwich. poppy seeds, lemon, something sweetish...
posted by clavdivs at 7:42 PM on December 19, 2020


I have vague memories of a vending machine that sold cans of Surge for 25 cents appearing in my high school for a school year and then disappearing the next. I drank a fair bit of it that year.
posted by Aleyn at 8:00 PM on December 19, 2020


I ate them very gingerly and no more than three in a day, for fear of the consequences. If you ate real Doritos like that, you wouldn't need Olestra.

There’s a diet drug that impedes fat absorption, basically making everything into Olestra. I’ve always wondered how much it’s really the direct effect that makes it work versus The Threat. The Antabuse principle, I guess.

(I’ve also heard terrible side effects from Olestra weren’t all that common but it was a hard sell with the warning printed on the bag.)
posted by atoxyl at 9:00 PM on December 19, 2020


I am a 80s baby who grew up in the 90s eating all of this stuff and now I want junk food pizza and a Cherry Coke followed by some Gushers very, VERY badly
posted by Kitchen Witch at 11:19 PM on December 19, 2020


BTW, I didn't include this because I don't know any of them, but: 27 Classic Foods from the '90s

This sentence says so much. I too have never heard of any of them... "Classic" for some, I guess.

I miss the old Milo bar (No relation to Yiannopoulos)
posted by daybeforetheday at 12:40 AM on December 20, 2020


Kiwis are great, and strawberries are great, but kiwi-strawberry is somehow awful.

The main food thing I recall from the 90s is the rise of the "International" section of suburban supermarkets. Before you'd have to go to the Chinese store and the Indian store and the Mexican store and the Middle Eastern store, but suddenly your neighborhood Giant had an aisle that stocked that stuff! I think quinoa and couscous and curry-in-a-jar came later, but even now-staples like chickpeas and Goya brand adobo was fancy back then.
posted by basalganglia at 4:58 AM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]


It was a Canadian restaurant. They cleaned the fish right at your table.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:09 AM on December 20, 2020


One thing that I vividly remember from the 90s and the Ruth Reichl list of top LA restaurants reminds me of is the dawn of fusion food.

And specifically I think of that first generation of fusion food that was about classically trained (by which we mean French trained) chefs experimenting with Asian ingredients. Sesame oil glazing a roast chicken. Seared tuna as a way to introduce sushi to an audience that still wanted a little cooked texture. Lemongrass bouillabaisse. A lot of these were clumsy (curry on pasta), some of it was kitschy (wasabi mashed potatoes) but there were some decent ideas (hoisin barbecue sauce) that actually opened up some palettes. If anything it carved open a space for people of color to start breaking out of the ethnic food ghettos that society had put them in before.

The fusion that I love now are made by second or third generation immigrant kids who grew up mixing and matching the recipes of their parents with the ingredients and flavors of the West. You read about David Chang (Momofuku) or Angela Dimayuga (Mission Chinese NY) growing up unshackled with the idea that Chinese or Filipino food -has- to be a certain way and you can just take all the things that you know of as delicious, understand what makes them delicious, and find ways to improve on that regardless of borders; and it makes for some genuinely exciting stuff. Their creativity is all their own but the audience that they have is built on a lot of teriyaki chicken pizza.
posted by bl1nk at 6:13 AM on December 20, 2020 [3 favorites]


The rise of roasting vegetables in US restaurants was a 90s phenomenon.

I have a pet theory (probably false) that Boomer boiled vegetables are one of the causes of the obesity epidemic. Hear me out.

My parents grew up during the 50s and 60s, in a food culture I would not have enjoyed. Processed foods were seen as nifty and futuristic, vegetables were often canned or boiled, and most dinners revolved around "meat + sides." Obviously if your veggies are prepared in an unappetizing way, what parts of your diet will be seen as most appealing? Probably the meats and processed foods.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and inherited a food culture where "eating your vegetables" was seen as an unpleasant chore. George H.W. Bush was a notorious hater of broccoli. My parents used to joke about being forced to eat liver and brussels sprouts as children. Their memories of vegetables were so negative that veggies were never inflicted them on my brother and I. The way they saw it, they were sparing us. To this day, my father is known to say things like, "I don't eat vegetables." My father, who had a heart attack and quadruple bypass in his mid-50s. So yeah, that happened.

I didn't really discover vegetables until my late teens, when I started hanging out with hippies and discovered that vegetarian cuisine can actually be pretty great! My palate expanded about as far as it could in a Midwestern college town -- Thai, Sushi, Korean, all kinds of tasty things. After college, I moved to NYC and discovered foodie culture, learned to cook, and further expanded my appreciation for veggies. But it wasn't until my early 30s that I had my first tasty brussels sprout.

Yes, the much-maligned brussels sprout, the ultimate veggie my parents promised never to inflict on my brother or myself. What made all the difference? Roasting. I'd had a brussels sprout before then, but it had been boiled. YUCK! All bitter and rubbery and gross. Even the required dollop of sour cream wasn't enough to rescue the poor, mistreated sprout. But roasted? WOW! How could this be? The most-hated veggie of the Baby Boom generation was actually ... really really good! This was a huge mind-opener for me. I was already a veggie fan, but this experience taught me that basically any veggie can be tasty if roasted in the oven and sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. A quick, healthy, delicious side, suitable for any meal.

So, back to my pet theory. My college education, exposure to foodie culture, disposable income, and the requisite spare time to pursue cooking as a hobby? What are all these markers of? Privilege. How many Americans don't have this privilege? Sadly, most of them. Most Americans my age are children of Boomers who grew up hating vegetables and loving meats and processed foods. Those Boomers passed their food culture onto their children, many of whom haven't had my good fortune to discover the joy of veggies.

Now I'm not saying this alone is enough to explain the obesity epidemic. I'm guessing the obesity epidemic is probably more like the crime rate decrease of the 90s/2000s -- everybody's got a theory, and probably most of them are a little right, even though they seem to contradict. But for my money? I'd be shocked if the Boomer boiled vegetable experience wasn't at least part of the picture.
posted by panama joe at 6:18 AM on December 20, 2020 [7 favorites]


I mean, it's more fully-realized than my theory about farm subsidies and high fructose corn syrup.
posted by box at 6:38 AM on December 20, 2020 [1 favorite]




Yeah, but roasted cauliflower is also delicious, and that's a dreaded vegetable of my youth that I don't think is inherently any different than it was when it was boiled and disgusting.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:15 AM on December 20, 2020


I think you have a point, panama joe, but I'm also really curious about why some countries began eating these really bland meaty meals with overcooked vegetables, while others kept on eating delicious vegetable dishes?
When we were kids, our boomer parents never understood why my brother and I fought over the last vegs, not the last meatball. So they were actually good enough at cooking the vegetables, but still saw them as a chore, rather than a delicacy. I love brussels sprouts, and every single other veg. There are so many tastes, whereas pork is the same in every shape or form, or so it seemed to me when I was 12.
posted by mumimor at 8:45 AM on December 20, 2020


One of the US reasons was collusion between the food industry and the food press to sell processed food after WWII, when there was a whole lot of it left over, plus the factories already built. (Cf. Laura Shapiro's Something from the Oven.)
posted by clew at 12:19 PM on December 20, 2020 [2 favorites]


Today I have had almost no internet access. I've been told that the system is overloaded because of lockdown. So apart from walking the dog and looking at the empty streets, I've been looking at my collection of vintage cookbooks. Specifically I've been comparing one from 1888 with two that are parts of a series from 1959-60.
The one from 1888, most of the food we'd eat right away today. We don't eat endangered species like turtles anymore, but surprisingly, the author warns against cruel methods of slaughter. And there are hundreds of vegetable dishes. The author mentions that vegetable dishes are an important part of a sound household economy, but also that stylish dinners often include a vegetarian dish between the main and desert. She is all "eat your vegs" but it's because they are delicious and fashionable and also cheap. She warns against overcooking and has great ideas for saucing vegetables. Her rice dishes are fabulous, but her pasta dishes are horrible.
In 1959-60, the vegs are there for the vitamins, not for the taste. The recipes are disgusting, I mean, out of 1000 recipes, I can perhaps find ten I'd cook today. They swim in margarine and there is a lot of jelly and a lot of the vegetables are canned as in the all time classic: canned green beans mixed with cream of mushroom soup to make a casserole. Sorry folks, but this is not real food. Here, there aren't even good rice recipes, and the pasta is even worse than in 1888.

One thing I thought about is how the work-balance between foods has changed. In 1888, specially fowl and fish were challenges. They had to be absolutely fresh, and you had to clean and part them yourself. They brought a health challenge into your kitchen. For other meats, if you were in the countryside, they were extremely challenging too. They had to be butchered and preserved, and again, safety was a big deal.
Beginning after WW2 this began to change. I've plucked ducks, and cleaned and filleted fish from when I was a child, but that is not the norm it was before the war. Back then, meat was the hard part as well as the expensive part. When you began to be able to buy cheap chopped meat at the supermarket, vegetables became the hard part of cooking. Even as a foodie, it's only rather recently I've come to accept the fact that preparing vegetables takes time. Now I don't mind at all, but earlier it would put me off from a great deal of recipes. Before WW2, it would have seemed light work compared to the other kitchen stuff.

I think one among many things that happened during the 1990s was that we looked at our grannies and their wonderful food and while not understanding everything that had changed, we did understand that their food was delicious. And that part of that deliciousness was their respect for good produce and their knowledge of good preparation/technique. The 1888 cookbook had techniques we see as modern today, even as they are created for coal-fired stoves.

Another thing that happened was the new patterns of immigration. My cookbooks are Danish, and in 1959, only a few people had a fridge, but people aspired to be modern, and eat processed food. In the USA fridges were the norm, and only a small elite challenged the "positives" of modern life, like TV dinners. In 1990, an Indian household might still not have had a fridge, but they did have a rich food culture, and by then things had changed: people all over the world began to research their "granny" food.
posted by mumimor at 2:28 PM on December 21, 2020 [12 favorites]


For SF people, this feature is nostalgic and interesting. Lulu! I forgot about that place. Family style plates.

My memories of SF restaurants in the 90s would be about Asian fusion (The House) and some upscale nouveau Asian (Firecracker, Slanted Door when it was still on Valencia). Lots of tapas. So many lousy tapas. Lots of crepe places, the breakfast ones with the giant chalkboards with a thousand types, but also Ti Couz.
posted by vunder at 11:25 AM on December 22, 2020 [2 favorites]


My parents grew up during the 50s and 60s, in a food culture I would not have enjoyed. Processed foods were seen as nifty and futuristic, vegetables were often canned or boiled, and most dinners revolved around "meat + sides." Obviously if your veggies are prepared in an unappetizing way, what parts of your diet will be seen as most appealing? Probably the meats and processed foods.

This is yet another area where I've come to realize just how exceptional my parents are. My mother was raised exactly this way - but when she was raising me in the 70s and 80s, she was already cooking the way people started in the 90s - vegetables steamed until crisp-tender, not as much red meat. And vegetables were always present. We couldn't even order takeout pizza without Mom slicing up a couple of summer squash to steam up and serve along side.

And my brother and I grew up liking vegetables - one of my most vivid childhood memories is of the time my brother and I got in trouble for sneaking out to our grandparents' vegetable patch and clearing out the entire pea crop just by snacking. (Although, not TOO much trouble - just a gentle lecture about sharing. I think in the back of her mind Mom was also thinking "my children are voluntarily eating vegetables, I shouldn't mess with this too much.") She also rarely did processed stuff - no sugar cereals, no MSG. And my parents weren't even hippies or foodies or anything like that at the time; I have never been able to figure out how they came to think that way. It is likely the same guardian angel that has kept them away from Fox News.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on December 22, 2020 [3 favorites]


When I was very little I didn't care so much for beets or spinach. Then I realized that the flavor I didn't like was the vinegar my mother put on them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:11 PM on December 22, 2020 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager I used to wonder why Grandpa wouldn’t eat healthier. He’d been diagnosed with heart disease and it seemed silly to me that a grown man would choose food over life. To me, more vegetables seemed like a fair trade for more time in the 21st Century. My Grandpa grew up in India without any modern conveniences and only recently did he have a telephone, electricity, and a T.V. in the house. Why trade time that could be spent with these modern luxuries for only some curry? It was the year 2000, and his village would soon have access to blazing fast 56K Internet!

I’ve sometimes astounded family and friends with the ease I eat healthy. Lentils, vegetables, whole grains are all things I enjoy. My Grandpa though, different story. He’s always been motivated by food. The tasty kind. He even risked his life for it once. Heart disease is dangerous but nothing compared to a Bengal tiger.

When my Grandpa was a teenager, a tiger tried stealing one of the family’s goats late one night. The goat wasn’t happy about this and immediately woke the family up with its loud complaints. My Grandpa ran outside in the pitch dark, with no knife, no stick, not even a flashlight. He proceeded to grab one of the goats legs and engaged the tiger in a game of tug of war.

Facing off against a tiger is not particularly wise. It’s like India going against the British military. In a physical battle, it’s not going to end well for the Indian armed with a stick while the British have guns. My Grandpa didn’t even have the stick.

Fortunately my Great Grandpa was outside as well and he did have a stick. Like Gandhi, my Great Grandpa realized that sometimes you can defeat a tiger without any guns. My Great Grandpa used the stick to non-violently bang the stick against the ground. This created a loud, booming sound that frightened the tiger away and my Grandpa, plus the goat, lived to see another day. Well my Grandpa lived a lot longer, the goat unfortunately was cooked into curry.

Personally I would never risk my life for a goat. For me technology and electricity are my goats. Even then, I wouldn’t ever fight a tiger to protect my WiFi. I’d be pretty upset though, and tweet about it, if it ever got snatched one night. Plus I’m vegetarian now. The scariest animal that would try to steal my vegetables is a hungry rabbit. For my Grandpa, heart disease nor tigers would keep him from enjoying nice food. He’d bet his life on it.
posted by mundo at 11:53 PM on December 22, 2020 [5 favorites]


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