1940s Thanksgiving Part I: Creamed Spinach Casserole

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ah, the joys of having a growing family!
This year is the first time in years that I haven't had to work the day after Thanksgiving.  I worked in retail for most of my life and would always be shackled to the dreaded Black Friday workday. Sometimes it was fun, mostly it was awful. But this year I have a normal adult job and get to spend my holiday driving back from the Bay Area, where we will visit Alex's family. But my family had Thanksgiving early, so my parents drove down from Northern California and I made way too much food as per usual.

This year, I wanted to make some authentic 1940s classics but vegan, of course.  It's no secret that I love vintage everything, and vintage food is no exception.  I love how holidays looked in the past.

The decorations that my grandma would always break out during the holidays were so whimsical and classy, and I have a whole Etsy cart full of things that I remember from being a kid.  I'm going to Christmas it up folks, and I don't care what anyone thinks about it!

But back to the holiday at hand.  Thanksgiving is something people always ask about when they talk to me about not eating meat.  Don't you miss turkey and gravy?! No way! I can make a mean vegan gravy, and honestly if you put gravy on anything it tastes like Thanksgiving.  Normally families of vegans and vegetarians will purchase the obligatory tofurky concoction at the local Whole Foods, and that's all well and good (and super thoughtful to have an option for us!), but this year I wanted to do something a little different. I decided to make 1940s inspired dishes, that come from actual 1940s recipes, but made vegan.  I chose to do a maple glazed meatless loaf instead of trying to recreate turkey or ham (this will be in Part II).  It's incredibly easy, and can be made the night before, which if you're traveling with your food is helpful.  I also decided to skip the green bean casserole (though I made a great one last year) and make a creamed spinach casserole.  I normally make a mushroom gravy, but decided to keep with the spirit of trying new things and go for a heartier, meatier brown gravy to pair with the loaf.  My sister made the stuffing, and I made my thyme mashed potatoes from an earlier recipe, and we had ourselves quite a feast.

In the 1940s, women really had to stretch their dollars when planning meals, since food was rationed and their husbands were most likely away at war. Food that could be reheated and would keep well, and made out of simple, abundant ingredients was really the focus. Women were also encouraged to grow and can their own foods. Pretty much everything during this time was done so that factories could be freed up for the war effort, and so money could be saved to go to the troops.  I took a 1940s makeup class at Besame Cosmetics recently (which was AMAZING, they're one of my fav makeup brands and almost everything in my daily routine is from their store), and a big focus of the class was learning how women did without their favorite beauty products, and how they even made their own.  Luckily, keeping your looks up was still part of the war effort, so women in the military were often given cosmetics by cosmetics companies (especially red lipstick) so they could keep up with their beauty routines and (honestly probably the biggest reason) keep their morale up.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe from Oh Waffle, that was inspired by real 1940s creamed spinach. This recipe is very reminiscent of real 1940s cuisine and is incredibly frugal to make even today.  There are very few ingredients, which is what makes this recipe so delicious and an instant favorite. 

I enjoy cooking during the holidays more than almost any other time, because I get to share what I love with the people that I love.  My parents seem to be please with my recipes (even though the concept of meatless and dairyless is perplexing to them), and my sister is honestly up to try anything, which I love about her.  My brother in law always seems pleasantly surprised.

I can't wait to cook for Alex's family and share my food with new people, and I'm already salivating over starting to plan my Christmas menu...which will be massive and way too decadent.

Happy Holidays everyone, remember to smile.

Rationed Creamed Spinach Casserole

3 8-10oz bags of frozen spinach, chopped
4 tbsp vegan butter
2 cups vegetable broth
3 green onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of paprika
3 tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste
about 3 tbsp Leaf Cuisine Peppery Jack spread
bread crumbs and/or french fried onions to top

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil and drop in all the spinach.  Do not over cook, just heat enough to thaw thoroughly.  Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

 In a large pan, melt butter (but don't brown) and toss in garlic and green onions with salt and pepper.  Saute until fragrant, then add in the flour and broth.  Let flavors mingle and bring to a low simmer.  Stir in the pepper jack spread and melt.  Once the mixture is slightly bubbly, toss in the spinach.  Stir until the spinach is evenly coated and the mixture is evenly distributed.  Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs and french fried onions (one or the other if you prefer, I like both).

Bake for about 15 minutes until onions are browned and casserole is nicely bubbling.
Serve hot.  Traditionally, this is served on top of mashed potatoes, but I serve alongside the rest of the meal in the place of green bean casserole.

This recipe is very easily reheated in the oven, so enjoy leftovers!

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