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Kids cooking up mid-century treats in Heinz History Center |
Food & Drink

Kids cooking up mid-century treats in Heinz History Center

Candy Williams
| Wednesday, February 6, 2019 1:30 a.m
The instructions booklet that came with the classic Westinghouse range in the Heinz History Center’s 1950s-era kitchen includes vintage recipes.
Children learn basic cooking skills with the help of Heinz History Center staff at the museum’s “Hop Into History” programs.
Kids get to chop, roll, mix and measure at “Hop Into History” cooking programs at Heinz History Center.
Young participants in “Cooking Up History: Mid-Century Treats” on Feb. 13 at Heinz History Center will get to see what kitchens looked like in the 1950s.

Kids in Mariruth Leftwich’s upcoming “Cooking Up History: Mid-Century Treats” class at Senator John Heinz History Center weren’t born yet when foods like Spam and Swanson’s frozen TV dinners first appeared on supermarket shelves.

They missed the heyday of mom’s tuna noodle casserole, the peak of popularity of Strawberry Jello Pretzel Salad — a classic treat and staple at community church picnics — and the debut in 1955 of Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole, which is still a traditional dish at many Thanksgiving family dinners.

Preschoolers have an opportunity to step back into a kitchen of the 1950s and the museum’s kitchen classroom to cook recipes from their grandparents’ generation Feb. 13 as part of the history center’s “Hop Into History Early Learners Program,” which provides hands-on sessions designed for 2-to 5-year-olds and their caregivers.

This is the first time the program is exploring the post-World War II era with “Cooking Up History: Mid-Century Treats.”

Leftwich, director of education at Heinz History Center, says the class was a perfect fit to tie into the museum’s current “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation” exhibition, which features a 1950s-style kitchen as part of its Westinghouse Collection.

Blast from the past

The kitchen vignette is a blast from the past, with its vintage appliances that include a 1925 Westinghouse “automatic” electric range, a two-door Westinghouse refrigerator dating from 1930, the first year the company manufactured electric refrigerators, and other early appliances, including a coffee pot, waffle iron and electric fan.

“We can stand there in the kitchen with the kids and literally transport them back to that era,” says Leftwich, program instructor.

Then it’s off to the kitchen classroom to prepare and taste some 1950s-style foods.

The instructor found some familiar recipes among the History Center’s extensive collection of cookbooks originating from western Pennsylvania churches, auxiliaries, athletic teams, neighborhoods and civic organizations.

She has a treasure trove of cookbooks from which to choose. Examples include “Cooking with Rizzi by Rizzi DeFabo with Cassandra Vivian” (2010) from Rizzo’s Malabar Inn, Crabtree, and “Art in the Kitchen” (1995) from the Women’s Committee of Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, to “Without Reservations: Select Recipes of the Junior League of Pittsburgh (1991)” to “Springdale Methodist Episcopal Church Cookbook: tested recipes contributed by members and friends” (1914).

Mystery dessert recipe

She hadn’t yet decided which recipes the kids would make; the class typically has time to prepare three treats. She’s considering “Mystery Bars,” a dessert included in the cookbook that came with the Westinghouse range.

“The only thing is I couldn’t find anything mysterious about them, except maybe the coconut,” she says with a laugh.

Another possibility is the popular Jello salad that was trendy in the 1950s, made with crushed pretzels as the base, with frozen strawberries and canned crushed pineapple. She’s still debating two other 1950s favorites, tuna-noodle casserole and deviled eggs.

“The cooking programs are popular and we always like to include hands-on elements so the children can do things like chop, roll, mix and measure,” she says. “When we pick recipes, we have to make sure the kids can manage the directions.” Some ingredients, such as Jello, are made by the staff in advance.

‘Inclined to Eat’

She says she’s trying to incorporate more cooking classes for another series for 5-to 8-year-olds, “History Explorers,” including a program from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 20, “Inclined to Eat: Classic Pittsburgh Recipes.”

History Explorers sessions are $8 for both youth participants and adults. “Hop Into History” for ages 2-5 are free with an adult regular admission.

The museum’s Detre Library and Archives welcomes cookbook donations to the collection; anyone interested should contact Heinz History Center.

This recipe is from the Brentwood Civic Club Cookbook (1960).

Strawberry Pretzel Salad (Gerry Franz Sullivan)

Mix/press into a 9×13 cake pan and bake 7 minutes at 400 degrees and cool:

2 cups pretzels, crushed (use small pretzel sticks)

3 tablespoons sugar

34 cup butter or margarine, melted

Blend the following and spread over cooled crust in pan:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 small container whipped topping

1 large package strawberry gelatin

2 cups boiling water

2 10-ounce packages frozen strawberries

1 small can crushed pineapple, drained


Dissolve gelatin in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries and drained, crushed pineapple. Chill until almost set and pour over cream cheese mixture.

Chill until ready to use.

Tuna Fish and Noodle Casserole

1 8-ounce package of noodles

1 7-ounce can of tuna, flaked

1 No. 2 can mushroom soup

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 teaspoons pimiento, cut fine

1 8-ounce can mushrooms

1 cup corn flakes, crushed


Cook noodles in boiling, salted water for 20 minutes, then drain off water. Put in greased, 3-quart casserole. Add other ingredients in order given. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Serves 6-8.

Mystery Bars


1 cup enriched all-purpose flour

12 cup butter or margarine

112 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons enriched all-purpose flour

12 teaspoon baking powder

14 teaspoon salt

12 cup shredded coconut

1 cup chopped nut meats


Sift flour once before measuring, then sift again. Cream butter with 12 cup of the brown sugar until smooth.

Add the flour and mix to a crumbly mass. Pat it evenly into a well-greased pan, and bake until pastry is delicately browned, at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, beat the 2 eggs until light and lemon colored.

Add the 1 cup brown sugar and vanilla and mix. Add the 2 tablespoons flour which has been sifted with baking powder and salt. Add coconut and nut meats.

Spread over the baked pastry and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.


Cut in lengths 1×4 inches.

Makes about 2 dozen.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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