I've just finished reading Laura Shapiro's book Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. It was really interesting to read about how hard manufacturers pushed convenience foods and what a tough sell it was for consumers. No matter how busy women were they didn't seem to be that impressed with convenience foods. Cake mixes were pretty much a failure until they changed them so you had to add your own eggs. I think you had to feel like you were doing something.
I grew up in the 60s and my mother started working full-time when I was around ten. So, we ate our fair share of recipes clipped from women's magazines from that time. We always had the more-time consuming, harder-to-prepare dishes on the weekends, but we ate lots of casseroles during the week. Things like spam with baked beans, tuna noodle casserole, hamburger pie with mashed potatoes and cheese on top, salmon loaf with cream of celery soup (I couldn't manage more than a few bites of this one), and a crazy tuna mixture baked with tater tots arranged in rings on top. I don't think we ever ate this casserole, but it's a good example of the standard fare at the time.
We didn't have a lot of money and she only cooked one dinner—if you didn't eat it, you went hungry. So you learned to like (or at least tolerate) what was put in front of you. But the beauty of growing up and becoming an adult is that you don't have to eat what you don't like any more. So, no more salmon loaf or Spam for me—lima beans either.
I'm not a big convenience food person simply because I try to avoid all those unpronounceable chemicals and prefer the taste of real food. So, except for the occasional craving I get for tuna noodle casserole, I rarely make any of my mom's casserole recipes. I do make several of her more traditional recipes, though. Like this one for meatloaf. If you want that salmon loaf recipe ((((shudder))))), you'll have to find it yourself. :)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup grated onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1.5 to 2 pounds ground beef or a combination of beef, pork, and veal
Beat eggs with the milk. Add grated onion, salt, pepper, and sage. Add the breadcrumbs and soak for a few minutes until they absorb the liquid. Mix in the ground meat and pack into a loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1.5 to 2 hours. spreading ketchup over the top before the last half hour of cooking.
We always had this with mashed potatoes and green beans. I've made it with other accompaniments but they just don't feel right. And it makes wonderful sandwiches the next day.