Some food, some drink.
Flashback 1981: The Hays, Kansas Travenol Community Cookbook
I really dig the whole community cookbook thing. They are a cultural history that almost anyone can relate to (everyone gotta eat). I recently acquired a new gem for my collection: Travenol's Finest: Employee Cookbook, which was released in November, 1981 by the employees of a medical products company that up and left good ol' HaysUSA in 1984 (The space has since been reoccupied by folks that manufacture batteries). These are the favorite recipes of working-class boomers and their depression-era parents, many of which are of Volga-German ancestry, which means we're talking practical and usually very filling dishes. As long as I was flipping thru the pages, I decided it might be a good idea to digitally archive my copy for posterity. For the full-on, twenty-nine-years-ago experience, I even tried my hand at a couple of selections from the book for a family cook-out.
I've also done a video showcasing the "Salmon Party Ball" recipe from this article. You can scope how to make this easy recipe via this companion post!
My college job was a factory job. It was great, because I got to not think about school and get paid for it. Even if you don't always get along with everyone there, when you bring a large number of folks together in one place that are all doing the same thing, a sense of community develops. I have fond memories of that community, and I think that's why I was so excited to dive into this cookbook and see just how folks were living back when my biggest concern was the Saturday morning cartoon lineup.
A Memorial Day family cook-out was upon us, so I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to do a couple of dishes from this book. I paged thru the whole thing about three times looking for something to fix that wasn't going to embarrass me to make. The fact of the matter is, you can't go two pages in this book without encountering pasteurized process cheese, cream-of-something soup, or non-dairy whipped topping. It's not that I'm trying to be a food snob; these are the kind of recipes I was raised on. These are the recipes your mom picked up from a friend at church social after sampling it in the potluck line. Even if the nutritional value is questionable, you can't argue the cultural significance. In the end, I said to hell with it, quit looking for the high road and embraced my inner processed-food. My database doesn't allow for multiple recipes per article, so click on the headers below for the goods.
When I was growing up, you could not go to a picnic, potluck or barbeque without seeing at least one bowl of this green-hued wonder of food chemistry on the buffet. Fast, easy, and everything you need is in your pantry - in 1981. I had pecans and that was about it. I'd like to think that's a testament to how home-cooking has changed in the last three decades.
I couldn't really think of a good way to “improve” or modify this dish at all (more green maybe?), so I prepared this Watergate as wrote. If you always add the whipped topping last, taking care to fold it in, you're never gonna screw this up.
Salmon Party Ball
I reeeealy wanted to leave this recipe alone, but In the end, the ingredients wouldn't let me do it. I can afford to be a bit choosy when it comes to salmon, as I get my supply replenished yearly from my wonderful Alaskan relatives. At our house, “canned” salmon is home-processed, wild-caught sockeye. There's serious love that goes into every jar, so I wanted to do the fish justice. Most of the key flavor elements were in the ingredient list, but not in sufficient amounts. I used green onions instead of grated. It's less fussy to chop green onions than it is to grate off some big-honkin' tear-jerker, and it's prettier anyway. I also had to double all the seasoning ingredients, except for the salt which I used a full teaspoon. I also ended up drizzling a bit of Sriracha on the top before serving. Is there anything that couldn't use Sriracha?
If you don't have time to flip thru the entire cookbook, I'll leave you with some highlights -
- Page 6 – “Appetizers” are made with hot dogs, bacon, and grape jelly. The King would be proud.
- Page 11 – A formula for that mystery wedding punch
- Page 37 – A fruitcake recipe featuring candy orange slices.
- Page 47 – A cake made with a can of tomato soup.
- Page 52 – A frosted rum cake that employs a full cup of rum (hell yeah!).
- Page 56 – A cherry mash that showcases the versatility of canned cherry frosting and paraffin wax.
- Page 82 – Don't even bother reading the casserole section if you're scared of canned soup.
- Page 113 – Never made a Ritz cracker pie? Now's your chance.
- Page 126 – Food made for company warrants two cans of condensed soup.
- Page 138 – Mock chicken is hamburger. Now you know.
- Page 141 – Ten different meatball recipes(!)
- Page 166 – Find out what happens when cottage cheese salad gets “unusual”.
- Page 177 – A soup from a person who cooked for JFK. What's difficult to discern is whether or not this particular dish was on the menu.
- Page 180 – If you're raised Volga German, cream noodles are a vegetable.
Oddities aside, There are some real gems in this book (I've actually made the page 6 Appetizers; there will be no leftovers). The Watergate salad is just how you remember it: fluffy, sweet, tangy, and able to maintain its composure even under the duress of triple-degree temperatures. The salmon party ball was an unexpected success. Put out the crackers and stand back. If you're serving booze, your guests will soon crave salty, spicy protein, and this dip works like a champ.
In case you missed it, here is the link to all 184 pages of the Travenol Community Cookbook.