Food, Glorious Food!

by Susie Hodgson

It’s the Burbank Historical Society’s 50th anniversary and we’re celebrating all year. In this column, so far I’ve written about the clothes of 50 years ago (1973) and the music of the time, so why not look at the food of the year? Hey – we all gotta eat!

Not surprisingly, the most popular foods of 1973 reflect what was going on in society at the time. There were hippies, many of whom were protesting one thing or another, including their parents’ food. With the hippie movement came health food, rebelling against the processed, canned and frozen food that had so delighted their folks. Remember wheat germ? Remember "The Moosewood Cookbook?" What, you still have your copy? Then you remember 1973!

Another movement was feminism, or women’s lib. Gloria Steinem, who created MS Magazine, became a big name in the early ‘70s and millions of women, clad in skirted-suits with high collars and bows, went to work. Career jobs. As a result, the early ‘70s saw a marked increase in easy dinner preparations. (After all, guess which spouse still made dinner.) Harried Moms turned to such dinner hacks as Hamburger Helper, Hungry-Man Frozen Dinners and Libbyland frozen dinners just for children. Wives also delighted in that relatively new contraption, the Crock Pot!

And in contrast to these movements, by 1973, there was also a desire to be seen as sophisticated, even international. The early ‘70s spelled a rise in Hawaiian dishes, Mexican foods, Chinese and most of all, French. Or at least what Betty Crocker-like Americans perceived as French, so add a fattening sauce to that hunk of meat! (By the way, you can stir up a “delicious” sauce in mere minutes thanks to that Knorr envelope of what they allege to be Bearnaise!)

So what was the #1 dish in 1973? Think hard. A hint would be bridal shower gifts.

It’s Cheese Fondue! Every perfect ‘70s family had a fondue set. You could easily pick one up at an S&H Green Stamp redemption center -- and thousands did.

Let’s take a look at the history of Cheese Fondue. The word “fondue” is derived from the French word fondre which means to melt. They say the fondue concept goes back to about 800 BC, but it became big in the 1800s in wintry Switzerland. When it was cold, the peasants did not have access to much fresh food, so they used some of their old cheeses and stale bread to create what has become a delectable delicacy.

Later, in the 1930s, the Swiss Cheese Union in Switzerland began an aggressive campaign to promote Cheese Fondue. After going on hiatus during WWII, the Union took up their marketing ploy again and did well – but they had yet to capture the rich American market. That achievement would occur in 1964 at the World’s Fair in New York where the Swiss Pavillion served Cheese Fondue at their Alpine restaurant -- and the fad soon spread throughout the U.S.

By 1973, many a Brady Bunch-like family were hosting fondue parties. People would gather around the fondue pot sitting atop a sterno flame. Each eater would hold a long, sleek fork, and skewer and dip a chunk of bread into the melted cheese. If they had been in Switzerland in years past, they would have been sipping wine and trying not to drop their bread into the cheese. If they did, they would face a funny punishment which could range from having to sing a song to being forced to run outside in the snow naked!

When the Swiss would get to the end of their cheese, no, they didn’t sop up the last of the cheese with their bread. They let the cheese heat until it was toasted, and when it was finally crispy, it was pulled up and eaten. It’s reminiscent of an artichoke heart -- well worth the wait! In French, they call that last crunchy flat piece of cheese a religieuse which is French for nun. There are many stories for why they call it that but no one is really sure. For instance, some say it’s because the cheese piece looks like a nun’s cap; others have even accused nuns of stealing and stashing the coveted cheese rinds! You decide.

Are you hungry yet? Are you about to head off to your kitchen to search your fridge? Why not come visit us and check out our Museum’s two furnished kitchens?! It’s a real blast from the past! Just don’t forget: Hey, we all gotta eat!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum NOW CELEBRATING OUR 50TH ANNIVERSARY!

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site:

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