As Americans prep for Thanksgiving, Pictorial has decided to honor our communal gorging by taking a look at promotional recipe pamphlets of days gone by.

Welcome to 1979 and the full flowering of the notion that all food should come from cans, boxes, or freezer packs. Behold Cooking With a Difference, a pamphlet of recipes, every single one of which involves a can of Carnation evaporated milk. That’s the surprising difference—evaporated milk.

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Meatballs in onion sauce, shoestring potato-tuna bake, zucchini-onion bake, rice and mushroom bake, all the bakes. They’re incomplete without a can of thick, creamy, evaporated milk.

“Turn out meals that earn compliments for your cooking with Carnation, the velvetized evaporated milk! Keep sauces creamy and rich...casseroles moist right through baking... salads and desserts light and calorie-low with new Velvetized Carnation. It’s the milk for cooking.” Sorry—wouldn’t milk be the milk for cooking?

But let’s not get sidetracked with silly little questions like that. Ladies, we have work to do.

In addition to providing a thousand different ways to use canned milk, this booklet divides its recipes into the presumed stages of a woman’s life. First comes “Lazy Ways for Lazy Days,” featuring two young people decked out in yellow at an orange porch set, kicking back with breakfast. You’re a young married and it’s fine to “Day Dream,” which is the second spread, featuring “chicken skillet for two.” Onward to “the Handy Homemaker....that’s you!” as you get a grip on household management and cake baking, then it’s “Parties for Pennies” and “Leftovers in Disguise.” After all, “part of a clever homemaker’s job is to be ingenious with leftovers!”

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Then it’s time for homeownership. That would be the stage of your life that brings this beauty:

What’s interesting here is the relentless emphasis on budgeting and penny-saving—a good reminder we’re on the other side of the prosperous 1950s and now a woman’s job is to make that dollar stretch, not to request a bright pink appliance every year. The dessert section opens with: “What’s for dessert... with 48 hours to payday? A fine question to ask! But there’s no need to serve expensive desserts with Velvetized Carnation Evaporated Milk in your kitchen.” Jesus, no wonder the “malaise” speech went over so poorly.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel! “Knock on wood... you’ve made it through five years! 1,825 days ago, you survived the rice, old shoes and wedding cake. Five years later, the ‘noose around your neck’ (the mortgage), has loosened part of its grip and bright spots are brighter.” Getting a little personal, aren’t we, Velvetized Carnation?

Naturally, motherhood is the next step—despite women’s lib men are still, apparently, incapable of following simple instructions to anything other than a grill.

Then onward to quiet anniversary dinners for two and patio parties with friends, where over Ham Tetrazzini for 12, somebody will convince you to vote to Ronald Reagan.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

Original scans of “Cooking with a Surprising Difference.”