I’m no David Foster Wallace (well, no one is anymore), so as much as I’d like to, I’m not going to segue this into a History of Recipes-as-Advertisements from the Middle Decades of the 20th Century. I will however, point out that this is gross.
Just in case you’re in a big hurry to flip over to HRO or somesuch nonsense, I’ll recap the recipe. (1)Squish some biscuits together and put them on a pan. (2)Then mix evaporated milk, parmesan cheese, and something called Onion Salt (perhaps the tears of children weeping from onion oils?) and dump it on the biscuits. (3)Cover whatever lumpy dairy Ipecac you’ve just invented with tuna fish, oregano, and your choice of Heinz and Sriracha. (4)Bake, Throw Away, Go to Golden Nugget Instead.
I’m going to hazard a guess that microwave dinners and Just Add Water foods are what put an end to the glory days of recipes like this one, and while Stouffers seems a little better than tuna pizza made with PET milk and biscuits, Hamburger Helper doesn’t (nevermind Tuna Helper). However, I would ask you to please take a closer look at the details of the recipe, because I believe I have found a small, but important, marker of Human Progress therein.
3. Spread cheese mixture almost to edge of biscuit; cover with 1/2 cup Catsup or Chili Sauce, then with a 7 oz. can of Tuna, drained and broken into pieces.
Now you might be thinking that’s not so important, really. I mean, it’s gross, yeah, but not such a big deal. I would disagree. However, if you were to look at this and other recipes for “ethnic” foods from that particular era (the above being published in March 1958), you’d find a trend, of which this particular ad-cipe is representative (and, yes, I’ve looked over a few in my day). What counted for exotic, far-flung foods in those days seems to include, largely, Italian, Mexican, and (very basic) Chinese dishes including pizza, tacos (usually pronouced tay-coz) and something particularly odd called “General So’s Chicken.”
The categorization of these foods as exotic or strange (or, especially in the case of Italian food, as ethnic) belies a more insular United States of America. Further, the use of more classically American ingredients, like ketchup instead of the more complex tomato sauce now common on pizza, or chunk-light Starkist instead of more genre-appropriate (and less nauseating) toppings like pepperoni, hints a certain inability or unwillingness to incorporate foreign designs in the American Kitchen.
Food is the most basic and immediate manifestation of culture, and the “normalization” of foodstuffs (in other words, the Americanization of cuisine) is a demonstration of the going strategy for dealing with foreign cultures at the time – forced assimilation. No one was being held at gun point, mind you, but articles of culture were stripped of their authenticity, of the smell of the home country, and turned back out as American items. This is the same process by which we ended up with Southwest Eggrolls, indoor soccer, and knee-high mocassins (it should be noted that I’m not damning this cultural function outright – I find Southwest Eggrolls to be a fine, delicious metaphor for the Pluralism of the American Social Fabric, although I did blow out a knee playing indoor soccer, so it just goes to show that it’s no good to be dogmatic about any of this stuff).
So what’s my point? Well, to be blunt, it’s that we’ve come a long way from putting ketchup on pizza. And from using biscuits as pizza dough, and from mixing PET milk with parmesan cheese. Instead, tomato sauce, pizza dough, and mozzorella (ricotta, parmesan, et al) are now staples in the American pantry, no matter what the country of original of the family. So too are “exotics” like tortillas, soy sauce, salsa, garlic, bananas and vodka. Recipes for pad see ewe, borscht, mango chutney, and good ol’ chicken pot pie now live together in harmony in our cook books. And aren’t we all-the-more well fed for it?
(Also worth noting, as an aside: step 2 instructs the Chef to use an “ungreased cooky pan,” which reads much different these days than I imagine it did 50 years ago, but might be a pretty appropriate descriptor for just what you’ll have there if you combine all the listed ingredients.)