Monday, May 28, 2012

1960s Working Mom Dinner

Mom in her working days
When I was growing up, my mother worked full time.  This was not quite as common in the 1960s as it is today.  We didn't suffer at all, however, by having a working mother.  When my brother and I were small, we had what today might be called a live-out nanny -- ladies who came to our house and stayed all day to take care of us.  When we were in school, the "nanny" was sort of a cross between a babysitter and a maid, as she had time during school hours to do some cleaning.

I don't remember our first sitter.  She came when my mother returned to work when I was a year old.  We lived in Germany then (my father was military), and her name was Krista, but everyone in our family called her Dee-da because that is how I pronounced her name.  All I really know about Krista was that a bow and arrow accident had left her with a glass eye.

The second sitter was Miss Murphy.  She took care of us for about five years,  during the time we lived in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Miss Murphy was the sweetest lady ever.  She was in her early-mid sixties.  She had never married and lived with her two brothers.  One brother was named Horace, and for many, many years I honestly thought his name was Horse.  Her other brother was Charlie.  He had a real sweet tooth and would mix sugar and water when there was no other dessert at their house.  Miss Murphy would let me sit in her lap during thunderstorms, and sometimes she would let me skip kindergarten if the other kids had been teasing me and I cried before school.  (This sometimes was the result of wearing a hooded raincoat and being called Little Red Riding Hood.) Miss Murphy was very protective of us.  In the summer, she would sit outside in a lawn chair, holding an umbrella for shade, while we "swam" in our little tiny wading pool.  I clearly remember her telling me, "You can drown in a teaspoonful of water."

When we moved to Georgia, Nelly became our maid.  She really was the one most like a maid.  After all, by then I was in third grade and my brother was in fifth.  She wore a white uniform.  Nelly, unlike Miss Murphy, could drive, so she would take us to music and swimming lessons.  She also taught us to play cards -- Fish and a game called Pat, which I can no longer remember.  She was a good cook and would often start supper by putting a roast in the oven.

Despite having this household help, my mother still had to prepare dinner most of the time after she came home.  In those days, a can of Campbell's soup was an easy way to make a sauce for dinner, and there were no foodie blogs or cable TV shows to make working and stay-at-home mothers feel guilty for taking this shortcut.  One of my mother's easy weekday meals was hamburger pie, a one-course meal that -- with a glass of milk -- covered all the bases for a balanced meal for the kids.

Hamburger pie is kind of a variant of shepherd's pie.  My mother always baked it in the oven and served it over mashed potatoes.  I am more flexible (and lazier).  I cook the whole thing in a non-stick skillet and serve it over rice or egg noodles when I am too rushed to make mashed potatoes.

Hamburger pie is not fancy; it won't impress your foodie friends.  In fact, I would never serve it to guests,  but I do make it occasionally when I want something easy and hearty, and I'll tell you a secret -- my family loves it.

Hamburger Pie

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cans (10 1/4 ounce) tomato soup
2 cans (14 1/2 ounce) cut green beans, drained

Break up ground chuck in non-stick skillet.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add chopped onion.  Brown meat and onion together until thoroughly cooked (no pink in the meat).

Spoon out as much fat as possible from the pan.  (If desired, you can remove the meat with a slotted spoon to another bowl and pour out the fat, then return the meat to the pan.)  Add soup and beans.  Combine and heat over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until bubbly hot.

Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or egg noodles.


  1. Sounds like the ultimate winter food! I love recipes like that! We have a fail safe tuna recipe.. it's like a mornay without the sauce. When my hubby was deployed, I ate it at least 3 times a week! :)

  2. What a lovely childhood. I had a working mother too and can definitely relate. I got lost in your stories, and would love to have met this Miss Murphy, sounds like the real deal. Have a nice day!

  3. You look so much like your mother! My mother worked in the 50's and 60' and was not well looked upon by other women in our small town! Thank God times have changed! I think I would have starved without Campbell's soup and it's still what I reach for, as soup when I'm alone, or as sauce when I need a quick meal!

  4. Your mom sounds amazing and kudos to her for finding a way to make a satisfying meal very quickly. I love reading your family stories. :-)

  5. What an interesting childhood you must have had!

    I've been enjoying browsing your recipes. This one sounds great and the lemon pound cake sounds absolutely luscious! It reminds me of the cake my grandmother used to make. I'm going to have to set my diet aside and make it. :)


  6. I love using soup for sauces...especially on chicken.

  7. Love reading about your childhood. My mom went back to work as soon as I turned 3. That dish looks wonderful, looks like something that will hit the spot.

  8. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Your mom seems like a one muti-tasker!


  9. I loved reading about your childhood! I wish you still lived in Clarksville so we could get together sometimes! Have a great week!

  10. Great post: Nothing like combining sweet memories along with some recipes. As for the dish itself, I find it a great option for dinner: the balance between the nutritional value and the preparation time is just perfect. You mum had it so right! :) xoxo

  11. What a sweet post. I love hearing about the background behind the dish. The Hamburger Pie looks pretty good. I love everything in it. I might have to try that for my kids.

  12. This IS a sweet post!
    It sounds like really yummy comfort food.
    I would think my family might like it too!
    Thanks for sharing.

  13. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I was also raised by a mom who worked full-time. My stepdad was a fireman so he worked 24 hours and was off 48. He was the main cook and he was good at it!

  14. Wow, that sounds good. My Mom worked full time starting when I was in middle school. I ended up cooking dinner most nights after that, but it was always something quick and easy and not very edible.

  15. The world is definitely getting smaller! I am a Clarksville native. Lived there from birth thru college, until a young lieutenant swept me off my feet. We married in 1972 and now living in Brentwood, TN. I remember eating something similar, too. What years did you live in Clarksville and where?
    Beckie in Brentwood, TN

  16. I think working in the 60's must have been a very rare thing. I know when I was growing up in the 70's hardly anyone had a mum who worked. I love the sound of your nanny in a uniform! I have never heard of hamburger pie but I can imagine your mother must have needed to take a lot of shortcuts to get dinner on the table for you all - she must have been a very hard worker! xx

  17. I loved reading all about your sitters :) So funny that you thought Horace was called Horse! Miss Murphy sounds like such a gem. Isn't it funny how some things that adults tell us as kids really stick such as your 'teaspoon of water'....Now your Mum's Hamburger Pie looks like my kind of cooking - quick and easy. Thanks for sharing, Maggie xx

  18. I agree with Flowers in the Window...very nice indeed!!

  19. My family just might like this too!

  20. My mom worked full time as a divorced mother of 2. We had the same kind of meals, easy to throw together and we thought it was great. I also learned at an early age to thrown something together for my sister and myself. Sometimes the simplest meals are the best!


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