Growing up in a small mining town in California’s Mojave Desert, we didn’t have access to a lot of variety when it came to grocery shopping. But my mom, in true post-World-War-2 fashion, was an enthusiastic supporter of every new thing that came on the market. So despite our little store’s limited potential, we kids sampled the best that America could offer in ingenious new foods.
Was it convenient? It landed in Mom’s shopping cart. Was it fast? She was on board. If Uncle Ben could make rice cook in half the time, that’s what we were having. Aunt Jemima offered pancake mix that already had all the stuff included; you just added water. Were Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben married? It seemed likely. Was Mrs. Butterworth a distant relative, or a little something-something on the side? You had to wonder.
Dad didn’t get involved in the kitchen very often (being the outdoor barbecue expert), but he seemed as pleased by these fantastic new time-saving foods as Mom was. As a Marine accustomed to eating Spam, Dad was more than happy to see the green Jello salad with its suspended bits of fruit cocktail, or the orange jello mixed with cottage cheese. It was colorful, it was fun, it doubled as a dessert, and despite its rather low-rent image now, there was no meal Jello could not brighten.
The novelty of Jiffy-Pop, the ease of mixing up Tang orange drink, outweighed any lack of taste in those years. No one expected Tang to taste like fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was more about saving labor. Who wanted to squeeze a bunch of oranges?
Many of Mom’s favorite products of the 50’s and 60’s later fell out of favor, to be replaced with new trends in cooking (I was glad to see the most frightening thing in the kitchen – the pressure cooker — go to the garage). No more canned strawberries; no more boiling vegetables till they were soggy. But Mom retained her love of the newest and latest all her life. She had no less than six Swiffer products in her pantry at last count. And she passed along her embrace of American ingenuity to her daughters, who now squirt Crystal Light into their water bottles and are always ready for the next new thing.