Sunday, January 12, 2020

Aunt Lyd’s Goulash

Time for a retro recipe!

Great Aunt Lydia Meyer provided this recipe about 1984, though I’ll bet she’d been making it for years. Aunt Lyd, Grandma Renner’s younger sister, who lived off of West McCarty, on Hamlin Street, in one of those nifty 1920s/1930s homes with the tall, steep gable soaring over the front door.

Her husband, Adolf, was a letter carrier for the post office—a physical job, for sure—and they had two robust, busy sons, so with all that activity and appetite surrounding her, she knew how to make satisfying meals in a hurry. And inexpensively.

Since there were lots and lots of women in the same situation, the following dish is hardly unique. Most of us who grew up in the middle twentieth century have memories of eating some kind of gloppy hamburger-based stew called “goulash.” It didn’t help that it sounded a bit like “galoshes,” which puts one in mind of mud, slush, and other sloppy things that collect on the ground. But honestly, we loved it.

The concept of “goulash,” although somehow loosely connected to an ancestral idea in the Old World (e.g., Hungary), constitutes a central branch of a wide variety of midcentury American tomatoey, ground-hamburger-and vegetable, one-dish meals called “goulash.” In Sue’s family, when her mom produced a goulash dish, Mr. Ferber would chuckle and call it (affectionately, but no doubt to Mrs. Ferber’s chagrin) “slumgullion.”

If we’re critical, and we’re being honest, this is not food to savor, except occasionally as a retro recipe—a way for us midcentury babies to plumb childhood memories of suppertime and potlucks. Mostly, it’s valuable as a quick, tasty way to feed a bunch of hungry people using things you have on hand.

Which means: “mom food,” or “church lady food.” (With the recent cold, snowy weather, I made this recipe as a meal for my parents and brother.)

Also, since we’re being critical, we owe a salute to our moms for improvising such tasty meals, on a shoestring, using what was in the freezer and cupboard. Boxed Hamburger Helper would soon come along and tell them, “you don’t need to mess with all that stuff; just brown some hamburger, add water, and stir in our box of sodium and dried-up things.” And compared to that, goulash seems like a meal made with actual love and care and creativity.

As a hot stew, it’s also perfect for wintertime eating.

I’m sure you can find lots of similar recipes, maybe even better ones, online, but here’s Aunt Lydie’s version. My suggestions follow the recipe.

Aunt Lyd’s Goulash

Brown ½ pound of hamburger; add ¼ cup chopped onion, and ½ cup chopped celery. Cook until tender. Then add 1 package of frozen succotash, 1 can tomato soup, 1 tsp. sugar, and pepper and salt to taste, and a little chili powder, and a little green pepper.

Simmer for 45 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Suggestions and notes:

  • “Package of frozen succotash”: in the past, frozen vegetables only came in ca. 10 oz. boxes. Maybe you can still find 10 oz. boxes of frozen succotash, but to replicate this dish, you may have to buy frozen lima beans and corn and measure out about 5 oz. of each. You could also use canned instead of frozen.
  • “1 can tomato soup”: this would have been a can of condensed Campbell’s tomato soup, used in the condensed form.
  • Obviously, the variations are endless.
  • Finally, if you add a little Italian herbal seasoning, or oregano, it would probably be even more tasty. Just sayin’.

Fun fact: I had to look up the spelling for slumgullion for this post!