Canned corn and beans: Did the 1970s ruin vegetables?

I didn't try a fresh beet until I was 40 years old. My mother always served them from a can. Roasted beets are a revelation to me. My kids loved them but they were kind of messy to make. I posted this shot on Facebook and food writer Elizabeth Lee Greene had some wise advice for me for the next time. (I will post her advice below.)

I didn't try a fresh beet until I was 40 years old. My mother always served them from a can. Roasted beets are a revelation to me. My kids loved them but they were kind of messy to make. I posted this shot on Facebook and food writer Elizabeth Lee Greene had some wise advice for me for the next time. (I will post her advice below.)

I’ve been trying to introduce more vegetables and new vegetables to our family each year, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the vegetables that I grew up eating.

I’m not sure if it was my mother’s cooking or just the 1970s but our vegetables were almost always canned and almost always awful.

Canned yellow corn or canned green beans were served each night with a meat and a starch – rice or mashed potatoes. Occasionally we would have canned white corn niblets or canned beats, which I thought were gross.  Sweet potatoes were sometimes baked but those were served more as a starch than a vegetable. Broccoli was about the only thing served fresh from the ground, other than iceberg lettuce for salads. (Every now and then my mom would plant a garden and we would have more fresh stuff then but usually in salad form.)

But canning wasn’t new in the 1970s  (it actually developed before the Civil War) so I’m not sure why canned vegetables were so popular. I think what changed was mothers working and coming in at 5 p.m. to throw a dinner together.

My mother worked full time and would often get home between 4 and 5 p.m. We did have a home-cooked meat every single night but maybe adding in a fresh vegetable was too hard or time consuming. And making a nice homemade veggie is more time consuming than opening a can.

Spaghetti squash took a long time to cook in the oven but food writer Elizabeth Lee Greene says I could have done it in the microwave about eight minutes. She advises to cut it in half and put it on a microwave-safe plate cut-side down. Microwave on full power. She says the inside still comes out like spaghetti but be careful of the steam.

Spaghetti squash took a long time to cook in the oven but food writer Elizabeth Lee Greene says I could have done it in the microwave in about eight minutes. She advises to cut it in half and put it on a microwave-safe plate cut-side down. Microwave on full power. She says the inside still comes out like spaghetti but be careful of the steam.

For example, I bought spaghetti squash to serve last week but never could find the hour and twenty minutes necessary to roast the squash before scraping out the insides. I finally put it the oven on Sunday afternoon to scrape out to use for Monday’s night’s side dish. Even though I had already baked the squash, I still had preparation for the recipe. I was supposed to saute a onion and garlic in butter. Add fresh herbs and then saute with the spaghetti squash. I didn’t have the fresh herbs on hand so I used dried herbs which didn’t really work very well. If I make this again, I will look for a less time consuming recipe.

Last week I also roasted beets for the first time. They didn’t take that long to roast – maybe 45 minutes – but it was very messy to peel them and cut them into little squares. (See photo.) I put a little olive oil and salt on them to roast and all the kids ate them up. I have broccolini that they like blanched quickly in pasta water and then sautéed with pasta, olive oil and cheese. And I have some kale in fridge that I haven’t dealt with yet. I want to make kale chips but I have to read up on how to do it.

My kids like vegetables now and hopefully that will continue. I do think it’s all about the preparation but it does add time to the meal prep. So my question is were canned vegetables just life in the 1970s or the advent of the working mom or just my mom? How do you make vegetables appetizing to your kids?

(Food writer Elizabeth Lee Greene advised me to wrap my washed and trimmed beets in foil before roasting. Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour or until a knife will go through. Then after they cool to touch, you use the foil to to pull the skin gently off. So you never touch the beets. She likes the chill them and use on salads with walnuts and goat cheese! This is a great spaghetti squash recipe that Elizabeth recommended too.)

34 comments Add your comment

jarvis

October 22nd, 2013
8:16 am

Canned veggies are the worst. I don’t even get why my mom did it. We had a HUGE chest freezer. Why didn’t she buy frozen veggies? Not as good as fresh, but a thousand times better than canned.

My wife...

October 22nd, 2013
8:31 am

…can make any canned veggie taste just like the real stuff – you just have to know how to season the stuff with fat back and other “farm” essentials and then you will not know the difference – and, yes, we are over age 55 but under ager 65…

My wife...

October 22nd, 2013
8:32 am

…but, there is nothing like fresh or fresh frozen veggies…

Patrick

October 22nd, 2013
8:39 am

I think it depends on the brands. I’ve noticed some brands of canned veggies tasted better than others. Also, some veggies don’t translate well when canned. They’re best fresh or frozen. When they’re canned, a lot of enzymes break down in the produce, which can alter its texture, flavor, and overall condition.

I think canned vegetables have gotten better today than they were 20, 30, or 40 or more years ago. I think companies have improved on the processing techniques to help prevent loss of flavor or texture, and to help prevent or slow down any breakdown of the vegetable itself.

You should consider home canning, Theresa. It’s not as difficult as some may make it seem. You can buy all your vegetables fresh, either from the grocery store, from a farmer’s market, or grow them yourself, and then can them. My parents grow tomatoes, green beans, corn, and crowder peas (similar to black-eyed peas) every year. My mom will can them all after cooking them down. She’ll make sauce out of the tomatoes (only thing we really use them for) for homemade spaghetti sauce or to use in chili or stew. I remember one year bringing a couple of quart-sized jars of green beans into work for a potluck, and a few people got excited, knowing full well they would taste way better than the canned green beans from the grocery store. They grow other veggies as well, but these are the only ones canned.

cobbmom

October 22nd, 2013
8:40 am

The only canned veggies that come into my house are tomatoes and black beans. I use frozen and fresh. We belong to a farm co-op and get baskets of fresh fruits and veggies all year. We don’t have a choice as to what is in the basket but they tend to stick with popular items as basics each week and change up a few items for variety.

Spaghetti squash is easy, bake it upside down or microwave, use a fork to take out the shreds and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

I work 7 days a week as a teacher, weekends are spent grading papers, writing lesson plans and all the special ed paperwork. I also cook dinner and breakfast 6 days a week. I pack lunches for all four of us each weekday because good nutrition is important to me as a mother.

cobbmom, you are...

October 22nd, 2013
8:47 am

…a good mom and person – thanks.

iRun

October 22nd, 2013
8:59 am

I’m the same as cobbmom with canned stuff – tomatoes and legumes (we generally eat black beans, red beans, and chickpeas).

Most of the veggies we eat, including green or wax beans, are frozen. I cook fresh on the weekend.

I think the main reason we didn’t have them in the 70s was the lack of microwaves. I mean, they existed but they didn’t really become a household staple until the 80s, if I remember correctly. So, veggies were really only cooked on the stove or oven. And while it doesn’t take that long it sure is easy to pop them in a bowl in a microwave.

We east most of our veggies steamed.

For the spaghetti squash, like your friend said – slice it long ways, scrape out the seeds/pulp, cook in the microwave, then fork out the “spaghetti”, then dump it in a skillet with a little olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. It’s fantastic.

Once Again

October 22nd, 2013
9:10 am

Of course “working moms” didn’t just happen. Rampant government spending under Johnson on the pointless Vietnam war and his unaffordable “Great Society” programs (the war on poverty, Medicare, etc.) and the continuation of this spending under Nixon drove national debt and taxes way up. Additionally, the government was printing massive amounts of money to pay for all of this and Nixon’s taking of the US off the limits that gold imposed on the money creation machine kicked inflation into high gear. Just to stay afloat, most households became two employee households. It was inevitable in such a situation where neither parent was able to stay home that packaged foods like the newly-introduced “frozen TV dinner” and lots of canned foods would become more prevalent.

Fortunately for my health, my mom was an avid reader of Adelle Davis and other nutritionists and stayed as far away from canned foods as possible. I remember in the 70s that she bought a Westbend electric Wok. We had never had stir-fried food before and this was a great way to prepare vegetables. It even got me involved in cooking meals and I continue to stir fry most dishes.

So no, I don’t think that the 70s destroyed vegetables, but the economic conditions the government created certainly helped destroy the family and encouraged the consumption of far less healthy forms of food.

iRun

October 22nd, 2013
9:24 am

Wait, what?

Do you think women would not want to have careers, or shouldn’t have careers, if it weren’t for this purported economic phenomena?

Because, while my Mom stayed at home with us 5 kids, she didn’t dig it. She went to work in my Dad’s dental clinic as soon as the 5th child started school and she ran that place until they sold it to my brother and they retired. She was born to run a business and she was great at it.

And I’ve never wanted to stay at home. I’ve got a 12 year old and I’ve worked his entire life. I’ve got a great career that is really important to me, and it’s not just about money. When my son leaves home in 6 years I’ll still be on the upswing and will have decades of advancement ahead of me. You better believe I’m looking forward to that.

Sure, if a woman, or a man, wants to be a stay at home parent then it would be great to live a society that supports that. But please don’t hold that up as the gold standard of parenthood. Or motherhood.

jmb

October 22nd, 2013
9:30 am

I hate canned vegetables but I can take the green beans ( and most others beans) and like the OP said can make them taste close to the fresh ones. It’s all in the seasoning and cook time. I use a ham hock, chicken broth, salt, pepper, a little butter and cook them for about 3-4 hours. Most folks I cook for think they’re straight out of the garden.

K's Mom

October 22nd, 2013
9:30 am

My mom cooked fresh veggies or frozen veggies (usually ones she froze herself). My dad has always been in sales in the ag industry. He would pick up field peas, green beans, ocra and all sorts of other veggies to bring home for my mom to prepare from the farmers he called on. They also helped my grandparents with their garden and would cook and freeze from that.

I only buy canned tomatoes and black beans too. I have found a wonderful farmer’s market and they have a frozen section of the stuff they carry. We eat a lot of green beans, brussel sprouts and spinach salads. I try to add colorful veggies to salads too. My favorites to add are corn, green peas, red bell pepper, carrots and cucs. I made enchiladas this weekend and did a salad with corn, black beans, avocado and a little salsa. My 3yo will dig into a salad if it has lots of colors and I do not put dressing on mine or his, so it is just veggies. Yum!

Just Me

October 22nd, 2013
10:04 am

My mom, a divorced, working mother of 6, never gave us canned veggies or really any processed food and she prepared dinner 7 days a week. Sometimes it was full blown meat, veggie and sides. Other times it was turkey sandwiches with a side of fruit or homemade soup that could stretch for a couple of days and a grilled cheese. I think most veggies were frozen.

As an adult, I’ve always bought frozen veggies but I just can’t take the soaring prices in the grocery stores anymore so now I buy veggies in huge bundles at the farmer’s market (Forest Park) and separate into family meal size portions before freezing. I also prefer frozen over fresh because pre-frozen veggies actually cook faster than fresh. (the frozen water breaks the cell walls, blah, blah, science, science, blah). Saves me plenty of time and lots of money.

Just Me

October 22nd, 2013
10:06 am

oh yeah, just like others have mentioned. I do buy beans and tomatoes canned. I tried using dried beans once and it sucked and took forever, so I stick with the canned beans and tomatoes for my famous chili.

Techmom

October 22nd, 2013
10:11 am

Tomatoes and beans are the only vegetables I buy canned as well. The rest is either fresh or frozen. We normally have a garden so I freeze the extras but we usually end up eating all the tomatoes fresh though so there aren’t enough to freeze. Frozen just taste way better than canned to me (they sort of taste like metal to me).

My mom was never much into canned vegetables and she is NOT a cook either. It’s just as fast to pull the frozen bag out and cook it as it is a can. Maybe frozen weren’t as readily available in the 70s as canned?

@jmb – if you’re cooking green beans for 3-4 hours, I highly doubt there is any nutritional value left in them.

Techmom

October 22nd, 2013
10:15 am

@Just Me – I do cook dried beans on occasion but since they do require more work, they tend to be for soups/ main course of the meal. If we’re making burritos though, it’s way faster to just open that can of black beans.

Derwin0

October 22nd, 2013
10:38 am

Canned vegetables were popular because back then you couldn’t get vegetables all through the year, only when in season for that area. Now though, with advances in farming, transportation, storage, etc…, you can get them year round.

vee

October 22nd, 2013
11:14 am

we lived across the street from my grandparents when we relocated from the farm to the suburbs. my grandparents always had a garden. when he retired he turned the entire backyard into a garden. they always home canned or froze the veggies. sometimes we’d go to the farmer’s market for special items (bushels of peaches, apples, etc) that they didn’t grow themselves. i remember late summer nights with 4 generations of us on the carport “working up” the produce to get it ready for processing. as far as i remember, we were the only “country” people in the neighborhood. we also were the ones with the best tasting meals every night! i still prefer to cook fresh veggies. i’ve retired early and can devote significantly more effort to our meals now. i try to plan meals around what’s available locally. my husband thinks i’m a genious! (poor baby, grew up eating unseasoned store bought canned food only.)

fedup52

October 22nd, 2013
11:40 am

Vacuum packing and freezing makes most of the vegetable taste better later.

jmb

October 22nd, 2013
12:13 pm

Techmom, it’s more of slow cooking/simmer after they come to a boil & I have no idea what the nutritional value is. All I do know is that my family loves them. To me fresh snapped beans don’t taste flavorful unless they are cooked for at least 4 hours or sometimes longer. I was born in the TN hills with a bunch of country cooking family so I guess I’m just following tradition. I have folks often tell me I need to open a restaurant but it’s just not in my cards right now. Maybe one day though.

FCM

October 22nd, 2013
12:16 pm

So my question is were canned vegetables just life in the 1970s or the advent of the working mom or just my mom?

TWG prior to 1960s most moms canned their own veggies for the winter months. Farm to table was not at all unheard of nor was a garden in the back yard. As more women entered the workforce there was less time to do it all (supermom or not)and so canned vegetables did gain acceptance on tables they hadn’t before. Freezer veggies gained popularity in the 80s and they were not as salty/water logged as their canned counterparts.

The other thing to keep in mind is we did not have global sourcing like we do now. We did get Pineapple from Phillipines but most produce was still on the North American farming cycle. Today we can get most any food all year long.

The urban areas were already familar with canned products like milk. Borden was the first manufacturer of canned products as a direct result of the Donner Party.

FCM

October 22nd, 2013
12:18 pm

er the first commerical manufacturer in the US of the style we know today.

Napeolon actually had canned food for his military. Then again he said the army travels on it’s stomach. This proved true for the Confederacy in the War Between the States.

xxx

October 22nd, 2013
12:21 pm

Too bad yall can’t can whinning.

FCM

October 22nd, 2013
12:31 pm

@ Once Again, I mostly agree with you (my Mom was big on Sugar Blues…so very limited refined sugar in our house)…but I think you need to look back to FDR for the social and economic issues leading to the fall not Johnson. Johnson was a great exploiter of FDR’s programs AND he certainly added to the chaos as president.

FCM

October 22nd, 2013
12:37 pm

@ jmb…eastern or western TN? My dad is from rural TN just west of Nashville.

Richard

October 22nd, 2013
12:39 pm

You can’t make the canned stuff taste like the fresh stuff. No shot…never. It’s simple physics. Canning introduces heat to kill bacteria, which cooks the food. Cooking causes a breakdown in flavor/nutrients. You can’t undo that process no matter how hard you try.

Use frozen veggies which is good for up to a year. You’ll never be able to tell the difference, and you can prepare/cut/chop things in advance. The wife and I have a freezer full of ziplock bags of chopped fruits/veggies that we can heat up at a moments notice.

Rebecca

October 22nd, 2013
1:31 pm

I recently started buying fresh kale- it’s already chopped up- and stir fry it with whatever vegetables I have on hand, mushrooms, carrots,onions, then add frozen shrimp. It’s wonderful over rice, pasta or grits. I love one dish meals like this. Takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Melody Dareing

October 22nd, 2013
1:39 pm

I cook, write about food and my husband, Chef Mike Dareing and I have a catering company – so yep, I know stuff. We (as in the whole neighborhood) had an organic garden growing up in Alabama, so the only “canned” items I had were those Mama canned herself. Hated buying that stuff at a grocery store when I became an adult! Although I buy fresh (or frozen out of season) most of the time, we do used some canned items now. Those work well for things like bean dips, quick salads, and casseroles. I go fresh with side dishes unless I’m really desperate. I have found if you use things like cayenne, cilantro, and Italian seasonings, you can get away with it, particularly if you mix it with other things like pasta or rice.

Regarding kale chips, all you have to do is cut off the hardest part of the stem, spray a cookie sheet with oil spray, and lay the kale out. Then either spray the kale or brush them with olive oil (if you’re a purist) Sprinkle a little salt on top (or other seasonings like cayenne if you want something different) and bake in a hot oven (350 degrees) for maybe 10 minutes or less. Once they are brittle, they’re done. Be sure to check on them (some ovens run hot) to make sure they don’t burn. http://www.dareingevents.com

Maude

October 22nd, 2013
2:05 pm

Canned vegetables can be good if you know how to prepare them. Yes they are terrible if you just open the can and heat them up.

Once Again

October 22nd, 2013
9:09 pm

FCM – true enough as to the origins of the problems, but the 40’s and 50s saw huge economic booms and tremendous productivity that countered the massive spending left over from FDR and his ongoing programs. Though Korea brought us our highest tax rates it really wasn’t until Johnson kicked the spending into high gear and started really destroying the purchasing power of the dollar that economic hardships started to hit every American family. And while there certainly was a desire for women to have their own careers, etc. there was less and less CHOICE in the matter once the economy’s downward spiral began.

beth

October 22nd, 2013
10:42 pm

My husband LOVES canned veggies and would much prefer to eat them. But since I do the grocery shopping, I buy frozen or fresh. I sometimes relent and let him get canned green beans though. I think it probably has something to do with his upbringing and love for mom’s cooking.

motherjanegoose

October 23rd, 2013
6:32 am

I grew up eating canned veggies and my mother never worked outside the house. We also ate tuna noodle casserole and Jello! I do NOT buy them with the exception of some beans and tomatoes. My husband is happy as a clam with a bowl of canned corn and butter…yuck. He eats canned veggies when I am gone. Also eats boxed mac and cheese….which I never fix. My daughter is an adventurous cook and has introduced us to lots of new veggies. FUN! I love the kale/cabbage salad at Costco. I also love to shop in their fresh produce department.

cobbmom

October 23rd, 2013
9:39 am

I neglected to mention that I grew up on a farm where we grew vegetables that were canned or frozen right out of the garden. My parents also raise grass fed beef so we always ate well.

jmb

October 24th, 2013
9:27 am

FCM – Eastern, near the Kentucky border in a little town on top of the mountain that to this day still only has one redlight. My grandma grew any and everything she could and we only got meat when grandpa went hunting or they took their own that they raised like rabbit & chicken.

bjones

October 28th, 2013
2:51 pm

1) Nuke the spaghetti squash or any other type of winter squash. It takes about 10 min tops. You can even nuke it then put it in the oven if you want the more roasted type flavor.
2) Roast the beets with the skin on; the skins will easily peel off when they’re done.

Using fresh veggies doesn’t have to take a long time.