#132 Peas & Carrots

132 Peas & Carrots
#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

from Wikipedia:

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[3] 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 1976

Amana Radarange circa 1976.
Image from the​hen​ry​ford​.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 deposit​pho​tos​.com, pea & carrot shapes by Chaz, watercolor paper background by psd​graph​ics​.com
watercolor images deposit​pho​tos​.com
watercolor paper background psd​graph​ics​.com
Swanson Turkey Dinner package: boing​bo​ing​.net
Swanson Turkey Dinner print ad: thewritelife61​.com
Family with TV dinner tray (and TV): i0​.wp​.com/​w​w​w​.​m​o​r​t​a​l​j​o​u​r​n​e​y​.​com
Amana Radarange: the​hen​ry​ford​.org/​c​o​l​l​e​c​t​i​o​n​s​-​a​n​d​-​r​e​s​e​a​r​ch/
Articles about the TV dinner:
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