Don’t let ‘em lie to you: I know with all the cooking shows, people try and act like, in the past, American food, though artery-clogging, was hearty and simple. Meanwhile, many argue, today’s chefs have gone bonkers, working to outdo each other with odder and even odder ingredients, methods of preparation, plating, and the like.
Well, if you really think so, try and hold down your lunch just imagining what anybody you love would do if you sat this, below, in front of them: A whole pheasant, tail feathers, head, eyeballs, beak, and all, surrounded by greens, and, incidentally, plunked down next to a roasted version of itself.
Baaroomph. Around 8pm, one day over sixty years ago, somebody probably ran out onto a busy city street and upchucked all the previous week’s electrolytes. I know that because the above is a print ad for Niblets Whole Kernel Corn, from pg. 10 of the Nov 11, 1946 issue of LIFE magazine. (“Gay Color – Good Eating,” blares the headline. Wow.)
That retina-scalding, ornithological centerpiece, above, says the copy, was
prepared by Louis Diat, Chef, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, New York City—a spectacular way to serve pheasant…the casserole of meat flanked by the brilliant plumage of the bird itself. And what goes better with pheasant than the gold of Niblets Brand whole kernel corn, the tender flavor of its sweet young kernels?
A little context, admittedly, might be helpful here. This is, literally, the postwar period; WWII had ended a bit over a year before. Julia Child wouldn’t start teaching French cooking for another half decade. American women probably wanted to do something exciting in the kitchen, after years of shortages and rationing.
Minnesota Valley Canning Company probably seized the opportunity to market arguably the second-most generic vegetable known to humanity, after rice, by linking it to exotic dishes and fantasy. They knew full well their target audience would never go to the Ritz-Carlton, but would be entranced by its world-renowned reputation for luxury and excitement. They certainly knew that the chef there woulddn’t have touched Niblets, above, to make a meal for his discerning clientele. Notice they never claim he does in the text, but just strongly associate it with his food?
Fortunately, Minnesota Valley Canning smartened up and realized that they needed to talk to regular people, and heightened both the visibility and branding opportunities in the green giant on their label, even ultimately sprouting a little giant called, of all things, Niblet. (Green Giant was a ho, ho, ho.)
But, thankfully for all of us, they stopped trying to sell housewives the myth that their hard-working, meat-and-potatoes husbands would stomach the sight of an undressed bird, still smoking with buckshot, on their dinner plates. After all, supper’s the time for family talk, not taxidermy.