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Dinner and a DVD: ‘Bridge of Spies’

BridgeOfSpiesBlurayComboBridge of Spies is possibly Steven Spielberg’s most mature film to date; it tells the true story of attorney James Donovan, who successfully negotiated the prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union that rescued downed spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers in 1962. Donovan had previously been the defense attorney for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, the prisoner exchanged for Powers. In the negotiations, Donovan also arranged for the release of American economics student Frederick Pryor, who had been arrested in East Berlin during the building of the Berlin Wall, and accused of spying.

The film is a look back at a time of political fear and paranoia, and documents the impact it had on ordinary people in America, from children preparing for global nuclear war to acts of terror perpetrated against those seen as “helping the commies”; Donovan’s family has their windows shot out as a result of his defending Abel. It’s a compelling story and very timely, given the current political climate. You can read my full review of Bridge of Spies at Geekdad.

There is a scene in the film where Donovan’s family is having dinner; the meal is a typical upper-middle-class family’s dinner of the late 1950s; we see meatloaf, peas & carrots, and rolls. There was probably also another side-dish, which we can speculate on. The scene ends before they get to desert, but we have a suggestion.

We posted Terri’s meatloaf recipe about six months ago, so we’ll focus on the other dishes.

The peas & carrots we see at the table were most likely a bag of frozen vegetables, boiled to mush and served with plenty of butter, cream and salt & pepper on top. One thing that has definitely changed over the past 50 years is the move away from overcooked vegetables smothered in sauces. Birdseye is still out there, so if you want an authentic ’50s meal, grab a bag of succotash or another veggie assortment of your choice.

A lot of popular side-dishes of that era have thankfully fallen from favor over the decades; casseroles, fruit-laden jello, molded applesauce concoctions, and a variety of compotes and other delights fabricated from canned fruits and convenience foods. If you want to explore the world of the mid-century suburban culinary experience, here are a couple of typical recipes which you can serve, either ironically or sincerely, courtesy of the 1960 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal Cookbook.

Mid-century cuisine. People used to eat all those molded jello things.

Mid-century cuisine. People used to eat all those molded jello things.

Duchess Potatoes
6-8 potatoes, boiled
1/3 cup hot milk
4 egg yolks
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Rice or mash the boiled potatoes while still warm. You should have about 5 cups. Add the milk and beaten egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper and beat until smooth and fluffy. Use an electric mixer if you have one. If you have a pastry bag, use a star tube and make rosettes; if not, drop in fluffy spoonfuls on a plank or baking sheet. Broil a few minutes until tinged with brown. Six to eight servings.

(Wow, that’s a lot of salt!)

Molded Spinach Salad
6 packages frozen chopped spinach
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
6 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley/
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon chervil

Dressing
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons grated cucumber

Cook the spinach according to package directions. Drain well and cool. Add the sour cream, celery and onion. Season with vinegar, parsley, salt, tarragon and chervil. Mix well. Pack the mixture into a 2-1/2-quart ring mold or 8 custard cups and chill well for at least 2 hours. Unmold. Serve with sour cream and cucumber or other dressing. Eight servings.

(I have no idea what chervil is. Google says it’s “French parsley.” There is a reason people don’t eat these things anymore.)

As for dessert, there’s really only one choice. Bridge of Spies is, at its heart, a rumination on what it means to be an American, what values are core to our identity as a nation, and how difficult to live up to those ideals it can often be, especially in the face of fear and fear-mongering. The only choice for dessert, then, is the one that’s so American it has become the very definition for the word.

We’re partial to this Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie recipe, though it’s not really accurate to the period, but that hideous-sounding molded spinach monstrosity pretty much covers the “accurate to the period” part, so it’s okay to finish off with this delicious dessert, made even better by the addition of a really good vanilla ice cream.

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