It was a time that believed in Science; believed firmly that intelligence would lead to progress, that education was the key to personal, professional and collective societal success. I have previously talked about how important the Space Program was to the country at the time, and also shared my memories of the World’s Fair; we were in constant anticipation of the next new invention, endeavor, or discovery. And while often these jumps forward would indeed be in the fields of Astronomy, Physics or Natural Science, there were also the ones that affected our daily lives. And nowhere in the house was this influence felt more profoundly than in the Kitchen.
As all kids do, we were fascinated by and wanted all of the many new products we would see advertised on the shows we watched. As the Winchell Mahoney show or Officer Joe Bolton went to commercial, those sly companies would buy airtime for their new products marketed directly to kids our age. They were sure, and they were right, that we would then bug the hell out of our parents until they bought us whatever the item was.
And the products were plentiful, and some quite good. As it was the Space Age, one of the most desired was something called Tang, which I just found out, is still around. It was an orange powder, that when mixed with normal tap water, created a semblance of orange juice. Now this item had been around a while and sales were poor, but when Astronaut John Glenn made it known it was the preferred drink of the Mercury Space Program, well then look out. Sales sky-rocketed and we along with thousands of other kids around the county who wanted to be Astronauts (remember this was a time when Science was revered, not scorned), begged our parents to bring home the Tang! And they did. They must have thought that compared to a lot of the other stuff on the market, this one was fairly healthy, and they were not immune to the pull of Space – hell if it was good enough for a National Hero, it was good enough for their kids.
Another favorite of ours was Fizzies. These were little discs of condensed powder that when plopped into a glass of water, released their pent-up carbonation and turned the water green (for lime), red (for cherry) or blue (for grape) – instant soda! My favorite was actually the Root Beer flavor. It was another product that had been invented in the 1950’s but didn’t catch on until around 1962 when it went national. Interesting that at the same time, Alka Seltzer, another old timer was being discovered by the masses and challenging the old stalwart Bromo Seltzer (Italian families, of course, used Briochi). Same concept, different result. This one, however, did meet its end as it was made with Cyclamates and when the rules tightened on what should be allowed in kid’s foods, well Fizzies didn’t stand a chance. After all, there was nothing natural about it at all. It was just good tasting, and fun to make. They tried to make a few comebacks, but in 2016 they were discontinued completely. I miss them and as Les is all too aware, if they were around today, at least one closet would be filled with them.
It was a great age for cereals as well…think CoCoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, and Trix! The more traditional cereals got their place in the Hall of Fame for packaging little mini-boxes of their cereals in a shrink-wrapped block that you could just tear open the side of each and pour milk right in – why dirty a bowl?? And let us not forget Jello, Spam, and Velvetta, all monuments to the marriage of Science and Food.
And for non-edible items, there were household essentials like Saran Wrap and Reynolds Wrap which started out as“Aluminum Foil”, and you can tell a persons age by how he or she refers to the food wrap. If someone says “Give me the Aluminum Foil” you know that person has been around a while.
I have been around a while.
But back to food, perhaps the most important innovation was, of course, the introduction of the TV Dinner. Aptly named for the age it became famous in, names like Swanson and Banquet made full meals in aluminum trays with neat little ridges to separate your entrée from your vegetables and your dessert. You got your Meat Loaf, your Mashed Potatoes, your Green Beans and even a small portion of Peach Cobbler. Brilliant. I loved them. Still do. My all-time favorite was Swanson’s fried Chicken dinner – it became so popular that the company started to market boxes of just the chicken pieces so people could create their own side dishes to go with it. To this day, at least in my warped memory, that was some of the best Fried Chicken I ever had. Swanson pretty much closed up shop, but still markets the Hungry Man line, and some pot pies, and yes every once in a while, when Les is out of town, that’s on the menu (and you can’t beat the clean-up). Heck, when I was alone for Thanksgiving, that Hungry Man Turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy was just the right combination of convenience and comfort.
For kids at the time, these products made eating and drinking fun.
And after all, if you are not having fun when you are eating or drinking, you are doing something wrong.