#132 Peas & Carrots
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Well, that’s what happened to those early TV dinners after you took them out of the oven: the vegetables & mashed potatoes (or whatever that white stuff was) were hardly separated by the compartments in the aluminum trays, and would inadvertantly cross over to mix with each other. The gravy would also get into the act sometimes, too.
Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner was Swanson’s original TV Dinner, 1953
Sumptuous, and how! Have you ever seen such a Thanksgiving spread? See how ultra-white those potatoes look? They really were that color! Notice how the package resembles a TV screen. From the Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine, January 20, 1957.
To me, that was the second best part of the TV dinner flavor, where the different foods would intermingle. (It’s probably why I like peas & mashed potatoes mixed together.) But my favorite sensation was the smoky flavor of the mashed potatoes that always got burned on top, creating a tasty, crispy crust. Of course, that meant that the vegetables got singed too, giving them the flavor of today’s trendy roasted vegetables. (Were TV dinners ahead of their time?) Unfortunately, it also meant that in selections such as “Roasted Turkey with Stuffing” the “stuffing” was more like toast where it got burnt, especially when it didn’t even get mixed with the gravy in the production line. (Is that why I also like my toast and English muffins charred all the way to black?)
Named & marketed for an entertainment phenomenon
The first Swanson-brand TV Dinner was produced in the United States and consisted of a Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cornbread dressing, frozen peas and sweet potatoes packaged in a tray like those used at the time for airline food service. Each item was placed in its own compartment. The trays proved to be useful: the entire dinner could be removed from the outer packaging as a unit, the tray with its aluminum foil covering could be heated directly in the oven without any extra dishes, and one could eat the meal directly from the tray. The product was cooked for 25 minutes at 425 °F (218 °C) and fit nicely on a TV tray table. The original TV Dinner sold for 98 cents, and had a production estimate of 5,000 dinners for the first year.
The name “TV dinner” was coined by Gerry Thomas, its inventor. At the time it was introduced, televisions were status symbols and a growing medium. Thomas thought the name “TV Dinner” sounded like the product was made for convenience (which it was), and the Swanson executives agreed.
—Wikipedia article (verbatim)
New & exciting: dessert!
Dessert was introduced in 1960. Note the 99¢ price. What’s interesting, is you can still find TV dinners on sale for 88¢, over 50 years later.
In 1960 a small compartment was added between the vegetables and potatoes which contained another course: dessert! It was usually something like a chocolate brownie or fruit cobbler. I always looked forward to the dessert, but sometimes it was a total failure when, unlike the delicious accidental combination of peas & carrots & potatoes, it turned out to be peas & carrots & apple crisp & mashed potatoes. (The apple crisp was never crisp, either — always mushy or downright burnt.)
Innovation & end of a deliciously baked (or burnt) era
Around 1967 the microwave oven forced the TV dinner tray to switch from aluminum to plastic (unless you wanted to destroy both your dinner and your brand new appliance) . I miss eating out of a metal tray (I have no idea why), but the real downfall for me was how the food tasted after it was cooked. No more overbaked potatoes, no more scorched stuffing. Once in awhile I’ll purchase a TV dinner (when they’re on sale for 88¢) and I still missed those flavors. (I almost placed a microwave TV dinner in the oven once to relive that flavor but realized my dumb idea in time. Burnt potatoes, yes; burnt plastic, no.)
Amana Radarange circa 1976.
NO ALUMINUM TV DINNER TRAYS, PLEASE!
Image from thehenryford.org
To this day, peas & carrots is one of my favorite vegetable side dishes. Sometimes I even make it my main course. In fact, sometimes I’ll finish off peas & carrots & mashed potatoes in an oven to get that burnt flavor and crispy crust. Much as I love fresh & frozen peas, I detest the flavor of canned peas. (No, I don’t slice and dice my own like I should.)
Do you remember the original TV dinners where all the compartments mixed everything together?
Or the exciting new dessert compartment? Do you miss the old aluminum trays like I do? Ever blow up your microwave like I almost did? Share your memories with fellow ampersand fans & TV dinner fans.
Please comment here.
Production notes for #132 Peas & Carrots:
Original size: 20x30 inches
Program: Adobe Illustrator (main illustrations and typography), Photoshop (to modify background watercolor paper)
Font: Desyrel (duplicate letters slightly modified)
Ampersand: watercolor images depositphotos.com, pea & carrot shapes by Chaz, watercolor paper background by psdgraphics.com
watercolor images depositphotos.com
watercolor paper background psdgraphics.com
Swanson Turkey Dinner package: boingboing.net
Swanson Turkey Dinner print ad: thewritelife61.com
Family with TV dinner tray (and TV): i0.wp.com/www.mortaljourney.com
Amana Radarange: thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/
Articles about the TV dinner:
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