The 30-Minute Meal Is Not A New Invention



Lately I have been making an effort to catch a program on the Food Network, "Meals in 30 Minutes" with Rachael Ray.

She is a very entertaining host chef and the idea of fixing a fast meal is always appealing.

I also looked into the cost of her cookbooks, and while I enjoy the show, I decided to forego a purchase. Instead, I dug around in my collection to see if I already had a book devoted to 30-minute meals. Actually I have several, but one caught my eye. It is one of my older books, a paperback actually, published in 1939 called "Half Hour Dinners" by Marjorie Abbott.

Can you believe we have been looking for cooking shortcuts that long? I have to admit I was a little surprised when I saw that publication date.

But when you think about it, fast food was probably very appropriate at the time. We were just coming out of the Great Depression and I imagine if you were able to find work, you considered yourself fortunate and willingly put in any extra hours you could. With the horrors of destitution still weighing heavily on the public mind, I suspect almost everyone was doing all they could to rebuild their nest eggs to cushion the future.

Consequently, most likely there was a need to find a way to get a meal on the table after work efficiently -- dinners that took only a half hour, or less, to prepare. So, if the cook was home by 6 p.m., dinner was still ready before 7 p.m.

The author suggested starting with the recipe that will take the longest, then continue with the other recipes according to the length of time.

Another suggestion was to make puddings and gelatin, boiled eggs, cooked potatoes, etc., the night before when they are part of the next night's menu.

She also gave two pages of ingredients to keep on hand as a general rule in fast-food preparation. There was a list of staples and one of canned goods.

Abbott said in her book, "Canned food simplifies your shopping, as you can have upon your shelf about 90 percent of the supplies needed for your dinner."

Each menu in the book is accompanied by its own little shopping list and was designed for two servings, just expand accordingly to feed more.

Here are five 1939 Half Hour Dinners:


Menu: Pork chops with green beans with bacon; baked potatoes; and peaches and ice cream.

Shopping list: 1 can green beans, an eighth-pound of bacon, 4 pork chops, 1 can peach halves, 1 box cornstarch, half-pint of ice cream, two baking potatoes.

Pork Chops

4 pork chops

salt and pepper

fat for frying

Heat fat; salt and pepper the chops and place them in the pan. Fry until well done.

Green Beans with Bacon

1 can green beans, drained

1 1/2 slices bacon, diced

1/4 cup milk

1/2 tablespoon flour

salt and pepper

Fry small pieces of bacon until brown, pour off some of the fat, then add the drained green beans to the bacon and stir until heated. Mix in the flour, add the milk and let boil for 5 minutes. Season to taste.

Baked Potatoes

2 potatoes, halved

Place potatoes in the oven, cut side down and bake for 30 minutes at 375 to 425 degrees.

Peaches with Ice Cream

2 peach halves

1/2 pint of ice cream

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup peach juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Make a sauce by combining the sugar and cornstarch, add water and cook until smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, add juice, combine. Put peach halves in sherbet glasses and fill with ice cream, then top with sauce.


Menu: Beef Wiggle; mashed potatoes; lemon crystal with peaches

Shopping list: 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can peas, 1 onion, 1 can sliced peaches, 1 package lemon gelatin, 2 potatoes and half-pound of ground beef.

Beef Wiggle

1/2 pound ground beef

1 tablespoon chopped onion

1 tablespoon hot fat

1/2 cup condensed tomato soup

1/2 cup peas, drained

Brown the meat and onion in the hot fat, add the tomato soup and peas and heat through.

Mashed Potatoes

2 potatoes

1 tablespoon butter

1/8 cup milk

salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cube potatoes and cook in rapidly boiling, salted water for 20 minutes, or until fork tender. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper and mash until light and fluffy.

Lemon Crystal with Peaches

1/2 package lemon gelatin

sliced peaches

Prepare the gelatin the night before, following package directions and setting up in a flat dish. When ready to serve, cut the gelatin into cubes and fill parfait glasses half full. Cover with sliced peaches, then add more gelatin cubes to fill glasses.


Menu: Pork chop and bean casserole; cabbage and apple salad; coconut cream pie.

Shopping list: 1 can baked beans, 1 package lemon gelatin, 1 jar sweet pickles, 1 bottle of catsup, 1 apple, 1 head of cabbage, 1 head of lettuce, 4 pork chops and a store-made or frozen coconut cream pie.

Pork Chop and Bean Casserole

4 pork chops

1 can of baked beans

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup catsup

Fry pork chops until they are nicely browned and put in a baking dish. Pour baked beans over chops, add sugar and catsup and mix lightly. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cabbage and Apple Salad

(prepare the night before)

1/2 package lemon gelatin

2 teaspoons vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cabbage, shredded

1/2 cup apples, diced

1/8 cup sweet pickles, chopped

Prepare gelatin according to the directions on the box. While still in liquid form, add vinegar and salt. Place in freezer and chill until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Fold in cabbage, apples and pickles and turn into individual mold or one large mold. Chill until firm. When ready to serve, unmold and serve on lettuce leaves.


Menu: Chicken a la King; peas; shoestring potatoes; apricot pudding.

Shopping list: canned chicken -- enough for 1 1/2 cups, 1 can peas, 1 can shoestring potatoes (or a package of frozen hashbrowns), 1 can pimento, 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup, 1 can apricots in own juice (or use a small bottle of apricot juice with the fruit), 1 green pepper.

Chicken a la King

1 1/2 cups canned chicken, cubed

1 green pepper

1 can pimento

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup

salt and pepper

Slice green pepper into thin strips and sauté in fat. Heat soup without diluting, add green pepper, pimento and chicken and simmer for 10 minutes

Shoestring Potatoes/Frozen Hashbrowns

Prepare potatoes per package directions


Prepare peas per package directions

Apricot Pudding

2 slices dry bread, buttered

3/4 cups apricots

1/2 cup juice

1 egg, well beaten

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Remove crusts from bread and cut bread in quarters. Place one slice in small, buttered baking dish. Lay half of the apricots on the bread and repeat with second slice of bread and remaining fruit. Pour juice over fruit and bread. Combine milk, egg, sugar and vanilla and pour over mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


Menu: Corned beef and spinach casserole; Lyonnaise potatoes; pie a la mode.

Shopping list: 1 can corned beef hash, 1 can spinach, 2 potatoes, 1 onion, 1 store-made or frozen fruit pie, half-pint ice cream.

Corned Beef and Spinach Casserole

1/2 cup medium white sauce (recipe to follow)

1 can corned beef hash

1 can spinach, drained and chopped

buttered cracker crumbs

Medium White Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup hot milk

Heat milk and in a separate pan, melt the butter and add flour, stirring constantly. When butter and flour is thoroughly creamed, stir in milk, season and bring to boil, continuing to stir.

Put half the white sauce in a baking dish, add hash and top with spinach, cover with remaining white sauce and sprinkle with crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 to 450 degrees.

Lyonnaise Potatoes

2 raw potatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/2 an onion

salt and pepper

Thinly slice potatoes and onions. Melt butter in pan and fry potatoes and onion for 20 minutes, turning frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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