Nostalgia or the Future

I admit, I’ll eat anything. And these babies are no exception. Never met a frozen dinner I didn’t like.

Growing up my Mom was simply amazing.  18 kids (yep that’s right) all needed to be fed, bathed, clothed, schooled, nurtured and loved. Never complaining – just a constant outpouring of “Mom love.”  I was reading an article the other day, and it sent me back to one of my favorite Mom treats as a kid …TV dinners.  Those amazing inventions of meat, gravy, veggies and dessert, all organized into a foil plate.  Every once in a while, as a treat, we got to use our folding TV tables, (remember those great inventions) and watch our favorite shows while eating dinner!  I can remember later on having those thin rectangular boxes stacked up in the freezer with the name displayed (having to turn my head sideways to read which one of them I wanted next!) And I have to admit it – to this day, I still love the taste of them – the standard pre-packed Swanson specials, like turkey and stuffing, along with the multitude of frozen goodies we can find at the grocery store.  With the advances in freezers, packaging and processing, there are so many things we can find in the frozen food aisle – including international foods.  Special thanks to Smithsonian and Wikipedia for the info and YouTube for the video.  Enjoy the trip down memory lane for those of you who can relate – and shoot me a message as to your personal favorite.  YUM!!

  • In 1925, the Brooklyn-born entrepreneur Clarence Birdseye invented a machine for freezing packaged fish that would revolutionize the storage and preparation of food. Maxson Food Systems of Long Island used Birdseye’s technology, the double-belt freezer, to sell the first complete frozen dinners to airlines in 1945.
  • Plans to offer those meals in supermarkets were canceled after the death of the company’s founder, William L. Maxson. Ultimately, it was the Swanson company that transformed how Americans ate dinner – and it all came about, the story goes, because of Thanksgiving turkey.
  • According to the most widely accepted account, a Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the company’s frozen dinners in late 1953 when he saw that the company had 260 tons of frozen turkey left over after Thanksgiving, sitting in ten refrigerated railroad cars. (The train’s refrigeration worked only when the cars were moving, so Swanson had the trains travel back and forth between its Nebraska headquarters and the East Coast “until panicked executives could figure out what to do”). Thomas had the idea to add other holiday staples such as cornbread stuffing and sweet potatoes, and to serve them alongside the bird in frozen, partitioned aluminum trays designed to be heated in the oven.
  • Betty Cronin, Swanson’s bacteriologist, helped the meals succeed with her research into how to heat the meat and vegetables at the same time while killing any food-borne germs.  Her history is a bit different – saying that Gilbert and Clarke Swanson, sons of company founder Carl Swanson, came up with the idea for the frozen-meal-on-a-tray. Whoever provided the spark, this new American convenience was a commercial triumph.
  • In 1954, the first full year of production, Swanson sold ten million trays. Banquet Foods and Morton Frozen Foods soon brought out their own offerings, winning over more and more middle-class households across the country.  Initially called “Strato-Plates,” America was introduced to its “TV dinner” at a time when the concept was guaranteed to be lucrative: As millions of women entered the workforce in the early 1950s, Mom was no longer always at home to cook elaborate meals—but now the question of what to eat for dinner had a prepared answer.
  • Frustrated, some men wrote angry letters to the Swanson company complaining about the loss of home-cooked meals. But for most, TV dinners were just the ticket. Pop them in the oven, and 25 minutes later, you could have a full supper while enjoying the new national pastime: television.  The top shows in ’55 were The $64,000 Question, I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show… (can you remember the name of the mouse puppet on the show?)
  • In 1950, only 9 percent of U.S. households had television sets—but by 1955, the number had risen to more than 64 percent, and by 1960, to more than 87 percent. Swanson took full advantage of this trend, with TV advertisements that depicted elegant, modern women serving these novel meals to their families, or enjoying one themselves. “The best fried chicken I know comes with a TV dinner,” Barbra Streisand told the New Yorker in 1962.
  • By the 1970s, competition among the frozen food giants spurred some menu innovation, including such questionable options as Swanson’s take on a “Polynesian Style Dinner,” which doesn’t resemble any meal you will see in Polynesia. Tastemakers, of course, sniffed, like the New York Times food critic who observed that TV dinner consumers had no taste, but later found another niche audience in dieters, who were glad for the built-in portion control.
  • With the help of Pittsburg Steelers “Mean Joe Green”, Hungry Man dinners were introduced – for those with larger appetites – (made me smile J)
  • The next big breakthrough came in 1986, with the Campbell Soup Company’s invention of microwave-safe trays, which cut meal preparation to mere minutes. Convenience food was now too convenient for some diners, as one columnist lamented: “Progress is wonderful, but I will still miss those steaming, crinkly aluminum TV trays.”
  • The production process of TV dinners is highly automated and undergoes three major steps – food preparation, tray loading, and freezing. During food preparation, vegetables and fruits are usually placed on a movable belt and washed, then are placed into a container to be steamed or boiled for 1–3 minutes. This process is referred to as blanching and is used as a method to destroy enzymes in the food that can cause chemical changes negatively affecting overall flavor and color of the fruit and vegetables. As for meats, prior to cooking, they are trimmed of fat and cut into proper sizes. Fish is usually cleaned and cut into fillets, and poultry is usually washed thoroughly and dressed.
  • Meats are then seasoned, placed on trays, and are cooked in an oven for a predetermined amount of time. After all the food is ready to be packaged, it is sent to the filling lines. The food is placed in its compartments as the trays pass under numerous filling machines; to ensure that every packaged dinner gets an equal amount of food, the filling devices are strictly regulated.
  • The food undergoes a process of cryogenic freezing with liquid nitrogen. After the food is placed on the conveyor belt, it is sprayed with liquid nitrogen that boils on contact with the freezing food. This method of flash-freezing fresh foods is used to retain natural quality of the food. When the food is chilled through cryogenic freezing, small ice crystals are formed throughout the food that, in theory, can preserve the food indefinitely if stored safely.
  • Cryogenic freezing is widely used as it is a method for rapid freezing, requires almost no dehydration, excludes oxygen thus decreasing oxidative spoilage, and causes less damage to individual freezing pieces. Due to the fact that the cost of operating cryogenic freezing is high, it is commonly used for high-value food products such as TV dinners, which is a $4.5 billion industry a year that is continuing to grow with the constant introduction of new technology.
  • Following this, the dinners are either covered with aluminum foil or paper, and the product is tightly packed with a partial vacuum created to ensure no evaporation takes place that can cause the food to dry out. Then the packaged dinners are placed in a refrigerated storage facility, transported by refrigerated truck, and stored in the grocer’s freezer. TV dinners prepared with the aforementioned steps—that is, frozen and packaged properly—can remain in near-perfect condition for a long time, so long as they are stored at -18 °C during shipping and storage.
  • This past year, approximately 130 million Americans consumed a TV dinner.
  • With restaurants closed during Covid-19, Americans are again snapping up frozen meals, spending nearly 50 percent more on them in April 2020 over April 2019, says the American Frozen Food Institute. Specialty stores like Williams Sonoma now stock gourmet TV dinners. Ipsa Provisions, a high-end frozen-food company launched this past February in New York, specializes in “artisanal frozen dishes for a civilized meal any night of the week”—a slogan right out of the 1950s. Restaurants from Detroit to Colorado Springs to Los Angeles are offering frozen versions of their dishes for carryout, a practice that some experts predict will continue beyond the pandemic.

VIDEO: Make your own TV dinner! 
Swanson 1958 commercial. Wow!



Me, too.
As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I.  Love.  My.  Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me a
quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!  
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good.  :-))))  
Have fun!!


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