Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Veggie '50s Thanksgiving

As an early 21st century near-vegetarian, I have it easy. Tomorrow I'm going to pop a Field Roast in the oven and serve it with homemade rolls and some roasted Brussels sprouts. Easy and tasty.

A look at the Unity Vegetarian Cookbook (1955, I think-- my copy is VERY well-worn and several pages, including the title page, are missing, so I got the date off the internet) makes me pretty happy to be veg now.

You can tell from the cover this copy got used! It's also filled with extra recipes-- both hand-written and clipped from the newspaper and pasted over the pages with pictures. I will share some of those later.

The book doesn't specifically mention Thanksgiving, but I'm pretty sure that's what they had in mind for this suggested menu:

Let's see what '50s veg-heads went through to prepare the big feast. You'll notice the asterisk after "Cranberry-Juice Cocktail." That means a recipe is provided, so no cracking open a bottle of Ocean Spray:

I had to include the picture because I love the smiling spoon and tomato. I wonder what those two are up to! I just hope they're not partying with both the grapes and the egg, as that could get pretty weird.

The juice itself doesn't sound bad-- straight-up cranberries, sugar, and water, with a bit of lemon. More work than the bottled kind, but it could be made a day ahead since it has to cool anyway.

I was pretty curious about the main course. What goes into a '50s "Mock Turkey"?

If you guessed that it would be pretty similar to a nutty, eggy stuffing, you would be correct! This actually doesn't sound too bad. It would never fool anyone into thinking it was turkey, but my Field Roast probably wouldn't either. The point is to make something festive.

What goes with Mock Turkey?

Water-Chestnut Fritters! I'm not sure what is festive about canned water chestnuts, but my guess is that most people didn't have access to chestnut-chestnuts, so the water variety had to stand in. Water chestnuts may not be the most exciting fritter add-in, but they're deep fried! They can't taste too bad.

Apparently readers are smart enough to make our own mashed potatoes (no recipe provided), but they go with "Unity Inn Brown Gravy."

The eggs on the "Gravies, Salad Dressings, and Sauces" page really seem to be enjoying themselves, so I let them stay. I hope they don't notice the egg beater in the bowl next to them and panic, as that would certainly ruin the serenity of this scene.

The gravy is flavored with onion, celery, and "Stox Soup Base." I couldn't find much of anything about it (except that Google was convinced I don't know how to spell "stocks"), so my guess is that it was a veggie bouillon brand. Using enough veggie bouillon to flavor 2 quarts of water would probably be pretty similar. I'd want to add some mushrooms, too, but even without them, this doesn't sound half bad.

In the spirit of excess, we still have three veggie sides to go. There's no recipe for coleslaw, but we most definitely have a recipe for the Sweet Potato and Pineapple Souffle:

Is canned pineapple over sweet potatoes better than miniature marshmallows over sweet potatoes? That's the real question for '50s cooks. (I imagine some just dumped on both. Maybe I should look for evidence....)

Plymouth Peas rounded out the veggie offerings:

Who would be excited about canned peas heated up with a little celery, green pepper, and onion, especially when there are so many other offerings? (Canned peas smell like dirty socks that got left in a locker for a few months as far as I'm concerned.)

Then there was dessert. Not a typical pumpkin pie, but something a bit more British:

It's a Spice Pudding filled with raisins, cherries, and figs! Okay, the corn "sirup" doesn't sound very health-foody, but otherwise, this is a good precursor to the molasses-and-fruit combos in '70s "healthy" desserts.

This proves that even '50s vegetarians could put on a big show for Thanksgiving-- one that often sounds better than a lot of '70s alternatives sounded! Have a great Thanksgiving, whether you have turkey, ham, Tofurky, Field Roast, or even *shudder* canned peas on your table!


  1. I was a veggie for 12 years in the 80s and early 90s and here in the UK vegetarian food was pretty much the same as in the 1950s. Nut roast all the way!

    1. Most of the nut roast recipes sounded pretty bland... but then, so did just about everything else! Tastes certainly change over time.

  2. Love love love all the happy drawings! I find it really amazing that this cookbook is from the 50s "the meat n' potatoes" era. Consider me learned :D

    1. I thought you might like the drawings! :-)

  3. Quirky graphics are a big part of the appeal for me when looking at mid-century cookbooks. I love finding old vegetarian ones, even if they do tend to feature the same dishes over and over. Nut roasts (like that Mock Turkey) were big!

    1. I like that this one has a bit more variety than some of the other books I've seen. I have one that seems to be 5000 tiny variations of nut and bean loaves-- none of which sound as if they would have had any flavor.