The first day of March reminds me of an old saying Mother would recite that had everything to do with the fickleness of Wisconsin weather. It came to mind once again during a recent record-breaking episode of sunshine and warmth as I thought about what March might have in store.

“The north wind will blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the poor birdies do then? They’ll go to the barn and keep themselves warm and tuck their little heads under their wings, poor things.”

Back then, my imagination would immediately carry me from the house where we lived on Talmadge Street to a house out in the country with a barn nearby.

Thinking back through the years that followed, those seasonal surprises bring back memories of the fierce and unexpected mid-March snowstorms that often arrived about the same time state high school basketball tournaments were held at the UW Field House and how it immobilized the city and the LOFT (Lots Of Fun Times) on East Doty Street where we hung out every weekend. And when the evening games ended, depending on the weather, hundreds of high school students from throughout the state whose teams were competing joined in for a weekend of fun with LOFT Director Ace Karp watching over us like the great father he was.

All of this, of course, prompts thoughts of the food served and enjoyed during the 1950s when I was in high school. Experiencing March Madness, its snowstorms, attending those basketball tournament games, and lots of fun times at the LOFT until graduating from East in 1956 have all become great and special moments to remember.

Kitchen-tested recipes from a small soft-cover cookbook, “Best Recipes of 1954,” brought back many memories of the good meals Mother made while I was growing up that included the only meal I didn’t like besides beets in any form. Compiled with family-style recipes from the files of experienced household cooks, all “Best Recipes” were designed to serve six portions. I’m not sure why I couldn’t tolerate this dish because it sounds much better today than when I was just a youngster.

The recipe called for a #2½ size can of tomatoes. Modern cooks are likely more comfortable with ounces. According to Utah State University Extension, a #2½ can is about 3½ cups or 27 to 29 ounces.

For those who liked Spanish rice better than me, here is the recipe to enjoy again.

Spanish rice

¼ cup olive oil

1 onion, minced

1 green pepper, diced

½ cup diced celery

1 cup rice

#2 ½ size can tomatoes (about 3 1/2 cups or a 27 to 29 ounce can)


1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon chili powder

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion, green pepper, celery, and rice. Cook until the rice is browned, stirring with a fork. Add tomatoes, salt, paprika, and chili powder. Cover, and simmer very gently, without stirring, about 1¼ hours, or until tender; add water if the rice becomes dry. Add the cheese and serve. Serves 6.

Although this baked bean recipe from the 1950s lacks can and bottle sizes, it can be prepared as a main supper dish by adding 6-9 frankfurters, sliced and mixed through before baking.

Baked bean casserole

2 large cans baked beans

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

5 tablespoons brown sugar

½ bottle of ketchup

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon vinegar

Brown onion in a little butter until golden. Add green pepper the last few minutes, then stir in the brown sugar and ketchup and blend well together. Place in a casserole, adding the last two ingredients. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Serves 6.

This I would have liked, and so would my father, and son, Mike.

Coconut brownies

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 squares bitter chocolate

1/3 cup butter

2/3 cup flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup shredded coconut

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons melted butter

Beat the eggs until light, add the sugar and beat well. Blend in the chocolate, melted with the butter, in the top of a double boiler. Mix in the sifted dry ingredients. Add the vanilla and half of the coconut. Place in a greased 8X8X2-inch pan. Top with the other half cup of coconut mixed with the tablespoon of sugar, and the 2 teaspoons melted butter. Bake in a 350 degree oven 35 minutes. Cut in squares while still warm.

Consider this 1954 recipe a sign of the times.

Eisenhower beef stew

2 pounds beef stew meat

2 tablespoons butter

2 cans bouillon

1 can water

Bouquet garni (3 sprigs parsley, ½ bay leaf and 2 sprigs fresh thyme tied in cheesecloth)

12 small Irish potatoes, halved

1 bunch carrots, cut in 1-inch lengths

12 white onions

2 large tomatoes, cut in eighths

Salt and pepper to taste

Flour for thickening

Brown beef cubes in butter over high heat. Add bouillon and water. Simmer, covered, until meat is nearly tender, about 2 hours. Add bouquet garni, potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove bouquet garni and drain off liquid. Make gravy using 2 tablespoons flour for each cup of liquid. Return gravy to pan and cook over low heat, stirring, until well-thickened. Makes 8 servings.

Recent request: A chili recipe involving boiling ground beef in water and the reason why it is done.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at