Many people who were there have said that the most important part of a Catskills vacation in the 1950s was the food.
Quantity as well as quality.
As my character, Elizabeth Grady, is the manager of my fictional Haggerman’s’ Catskills Resort, it’s important to her what’s on the menu. And there are a lot of menus. Three meals a day in three dining rooms – main, children, staff. Plus, evening cocktail party canapes, midnight dessert buffet, afternoon tea on the veranda, catered picnics, ‘round the clock room service, and special private dinners.
As with many other aspects of researching the Catskills in the 1950s, I had little trouble finding contemporary source material. Many books about the era, written by people who were there, have entire menus printed in them. Did you know that at dinner at a fancy restaurant, you’d have your choice of juice for your first course? Not only did I not know that, I don’t know why anyone would want orange juice before dinner (never mind prune juice).
It was the 1950s: Jell-O salads made with canned pineapple. Aspic molds, cheddar cheese stuck on toothpicks in pineapples (what was it with pineapple anyway?), Cheez Whiz spread on celery sticks, angel food cakes, bright red maraschino cherries in just about everything, including drinks, overcooked beef, boiled potatoes and boiled spinach.
Tastes have changed, and you don’ t often see Jell-O salads or boiled spinach on the menu at a fancy restaurant these days. Fortunately for research purposes, as well as menus, actual cookbooks from the era are still in use in a lot of homes and recipes have been posted on the internet.
I can’t say I tried cooking anything I read about though. Jell-O salads with canned pineapple just doesn’t appeal.
Vicki Delany is the author of the Year-Round Christmas Mysteries, the Constable Molly Smith Mysteries, and, writing as Eva Gates, the Lighthouse Library Mystery. Vicki currently resides in Ontario, Canada. Learn more online at vickidelany.com. Her latest book is Deadly Summer Nights, paperback, Sept. 14, 2021. $7.99, part of A Catskill Summer Resort Mystery, Berkley. Read an excerpt: right this way!