Just about every year at this time, nostalgia over foods eaten in school cafeterias years ago rears a maudlin head.
How good or bad those school day foods actually were matters not. It's how well remembered, adored and revered they are today that counts.
Judy Gilges of Long Beach writes: "In the cafeteria in the early '60s, they used to make a tuna sandwich and a killer peanut butter cookie. . . ."
Ellen Vakovich remembers a crumb cake sold during nutrition break. "It's been a very long time since I've eaten that great cake," she writes.
So we're back digging in our files for those long-lost recipes for cookies, pizzas, cinnamon rolls.
Experience throughout the years has told us that sweets are remembered most fondly and most frequently. Ranger Cookies (also known as Flying Saucers), the most frequently requested school recipe, was formulated for home use by a cereal manufacturer in 1952, according to school officials interviewed some years ago. Back then the Los Angeles City Unified School District food service director was Helen Crane, who adapted the recipe that has been a favorite since.
Today, an oversized chocolate chip cookie and a plain, moist and dense crumb cake, the standard breakfast item today, are considered the most popular sweets on the a la carte menu, according to Anita King, now head of nutrition services for the Los Angeles City Unified School District.
Today, too, attitudes toward sweets have dramatically altered school menus, particularly the dessert menu.
School district nutritionists have markedly curbed dessert offerings in the School Lunch Program in an effort to conform to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines to reduce fats and sugars in the diet. Today, school lunch rooms are serving occasional cookies such as apple-oatmeal, ice milk and fruit juice bars along with fresh fruit.
"We've gotten away from serving desserts almost entirely in the last seven or eight years. We try to encourage fresh fruit for school lunches," said King.
Sugary goodies, however, have been available on an a la carte basis all along.
Among them is Devil's Food Cake, which was introduced in 1939 to the Los Angeles City Schools by Frances Johnson, when she was a manager at one of the schools. Today, the recipe for the dark, moist cake derives its red coloring from baking soda, not the red food dye used in the past. "The cake is especially good when frosted with Seven Minute Frosting, and dribbled with melted chocolate," suggested King. And there are readers who have reminded us how wonderful that gooey cake was--and is.
Sour Cream Coffeecake, a version of the breakfast coffee crumb cake requested by Vakovich, has been part of the school cafeteria repertoire since 1959 and is still served at special school functions.
A peanut crunch, still requested by readers, was served in the Glendale Unified School District for years and was one of the all-time favorites of that school district.
Among the favorite entrees most requested throughout the years has been pizza, which made its debut in 1957 in the Long Beach Unified School District. Today, according to King, pizza is numero uno, along with tacos and hamburgers.
There was a time, however, when the best-remembered entrees were such school favorites as chopped beef and gravy over mashed potatoes and roast beef hash, no longer served in schools. Readers, however, still request the recipes. And we still print them.
Here they are, along with other old and new recipes from school cafeterias that will no doubt be passed on through the years to come, like heirlooms:
SCHOOL HOUSE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and creamy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until well blended. Combine flour, salt and baking soda.
Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and beat until well blended. Using spoon, stir in chocolate pieces and walnuts.
With ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measure, scoop out dough and drop onto ungreased baking sheet about 3 inches apart. Flatten dough into 3-inch rounds.
Bake at 350 degrees 12 to 14 minutes. Makes 27 (4-inch) cookies.
OLD-FASHIONED COFFEE CRUMB CAKE
3 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons oil
1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
Combine flour, dry milk, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder and soda in large bowl. Set aside.
Combine vinegar and water in measuring cup. Set aside.
Blend together oil, brown sugar and granulated sugar in mixer bowl on low speed 1 minute. Add eggs and continue to blend on low speed 1 minute.