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Beatles 50th Anniversary on Ed Sullivan Show: What was America eating in 1964?

Beatles 50th Anniversary on The Ed Sullivan Show
Beatles 50th Anniversary on The Ed Sullivan Show

It was 50 years ago today (So want to say, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play… but that's getting ahead of things.)

Fact is, it was 50 years ago the Beatles sang their way into America’s homes: What we were eating?

What better way to really celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on CBS TV’s Ed Sullivan Show -- the night that brought the Fab Four right into 73 million American living rooms – than to take a peek at what American menus looked like.

What were we eating as mid century America watched the incredulous performance that changed entertainment forever and set the stage for a revolution in music, fashion, attitude and more?

Perhaps the TV trays were set up – a new, favorite way to eat and watch the country’s window on the world: television and its popular, must-see sitcoms and variety shows, especially, I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show.

The family might have been watching their black & white screens while they dined on space-aged dinners wrapped in foil and yet more foil. Swanson and Banquet Frozen Foods reigned.
(Surely this was the beginning of the demise of family mealtime where conversation and manners were learned and exercised.)

While the mop-topped lads from Liverpool sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Mom and Dad might’ve had a cocktail in their hand.
The popular drinks of choice then enjoyed during cocktail hour were whisky sours, sidecars, or Mai Tais.
“Finger foods” or party snack appetizers were Chex Mix or Ritz crackers and Cheese Whiz sprayed out of a can.
Or how about Melba toast with Neufchatel cheese as an hors d’oeuvre?

The 1964 World’s Fair in Queens and its World of Food pavilion introduced families to international cuisine beyond what was considered the epitome of gourmet dining: French food.
Julia Child’s French Chef was published the year before, helping burgeoning gourmand home cooks discover French cuisine.

According to Gourmet Magazine, the Bel-Gem - Belgian Waffle was introduced to America at the World’s Fair.

There were no fast-food chains there as one expects at events and concessions today (oh, blessed times of yesteryear…) but there were exhibiting brands displaying their very American offerings. Gourmet cites Hershey’s, Morton Salt, and Miller Brewing Company as examples. There was also Heinz and its “Magic of Food” that was presented in the “Festival of Gas Pavilion – a cheeky poke at Heinz beans fueling the gas pavilion is a time capsule send-up on The Vodka Party blog!

The brands promoted their canned or frozen foods used in myriad ways: cream of chicken soup used as a sauce, catsup as sauce, lots and lots of casseroles that allowed all the condiments to just get mixed together in the sauce (there’s a distinct pattern here), processed cheese and frozen fish sticks as …


Research shows that so many of the “foods” of 1964 were what might be considered today as “corporate food.”
Betty Crocker was thought of as a benevolent aunt or neighbor and her visage along with Aunt Jemima’s graced many products and cookbooks.

The following list of popular foods in 1964, courtesy of, surely suggests the nascent processed food industry was at the starting gate.
There is an unmistakable thread line from brand introductions to today’s food crisis.

Most often, these foods aren’t described as cooked or prepared - rather as “introduced.”
That action alone should’ve been the warning flag!
But hey, it was the era of food as technology vs. taste and convenience seemed to be paramount:

1964 Food Introductions:
Buffalo Wings
Coca cola in cans
Ruffles potato chips
Lucky Charms breakfast cereal
Bugles, Whistles & Daisy*s snack foods
Chiffon Margarine (fooling Mother Nature was ad slogan), Seven Seas Salad Dressing
Yoplait Yogurt
Awake synthetic orange juice
Maxim freeze-dried instant coffee (ads promised “percolated coffee without percolator!”)
Carnation Instant Breakfast
Instant mashed potatoes

A typical dinner was cooked by Mom and could’ve included any of these recipes:

• Oven cooked pot roast with onions, potatoes, and carrots
• Fried Chicken
• Mac N Cheese with cut up hot dogs in the serving dish
• Tuna Noodle casserole with Mushroom Soup, peas, and canned Durkee onion rings or nut bits
• Jell-O “fruit” desserts

Swedish meatballs, pigs in a blanket, and Tomato aspic or savory Jell-O-O flavors including celery, Italian or tomato in salads, were fancy food items for a bridge party or special occasions.

Tonight’s Beatlemania anniversary is a special occasion -- so make a pitcher of whisky sours. Chex Mix and pot roast can’t hurt, especially after cocktails.

Whisky Sour recipe courtesy of Jessica Wohlers, master mixologist, head bartender at Cienfuegos restaurant.

Whisky Sour
2 oz rye whisky
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 simple syrup
.25 egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters

Mix together ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour.

(Perhaps a slice of orange or lemon on the glass…)

Cienfuegos might just be the place to watch the Beatles 50th Anniversary, too.
95 Avenue A, NYC

This Vintage Whisky Sour recipe from the 1948 “the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” by David A, Embury.
One has to appreciate the artful approach to cocktail recipes and this one’s looonngg-ish, chatty style. Note how much narrative is devoted to what combines “pleasingly” and what does not work! Curious way to present a recipe…

Whisky Sour

1 part Sugar Syrup
2 parts Lemon Juice
8 parts Rye or Bourbon

Two or three dashes of Angostura to each drink constitute a pleasing addition to this drink.
Lime juice may be used in place of lemon, but, to most tastes, lemon combines more pleasingly with whisky than does lime. Scotch or Irish may be used in place of rye or bourbon, but the smoky taste of Scotch does not combine pleasingly with citrus juices.

A Whisky Sour without the sugar is sometimes called a PALMER.

CBS is marking the event with a multimedia celebration at 6:30 ET/3:30 PT

Twist and Shout.

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