Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sept. 10, 2016 (lots of commemorations tomorrow for 9/11), and TV Dinner Day.

I’m pretty sure this is an indigenous American habit, but when I was a kid the family would watch television while eating special TV dinners you could buy frozen at the store and then reheat. Each one consisted of an aluminum tray with several compartments: one for a “meat”, one for potatoes, and then several vegetables. They were dreadful, and I’m not sure they even make them any more.  And we, like many other families, had a set of TV. Dinner Trays: folding trays on legs that you could set up in front of a chair. The idea was to watch television and eat at the same time. Here’s a TV dinner in situ (this one even has dessert: baked apple slices); you can see more here.

tv-dinner-magnet
 This is more or less the kind of metal tray we had when I was young (richer folks would have wooden ones):
screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-5-44-35-am

Does anybody still do this? If you’re “of a certain age,” as they say, you’ll remember these.

On this day in 1960, Abebe Bikila became the first sub-Saharan African to win a gold medal (Rome Olympics); he ran the marathon in bare feet! And, on September 10, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider, the instrument that found the Higgs Boson, was turned on in Geneva.

Notables born on this day include Arnold Palmer (1929), Roger Maris (1934), and Misty Copeland (1982). Those who died on TV Dinner Day include Mary Wollstonecraft (1797), Huey Long (1935; he was assassinated), and Jane Wyman (2007). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, the Princess is fishing for compliments:

Hili: How do I look?
A: Amazing.
Hili: I thought so.
p1040819
In Polish:
Hili: Jak wyglądam?
Ja: Wspaniale.
Hili: Tak myślałam.

67 Comments

  1. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I remember TV dinners, not that we did them a lot. Rather reminiscent of airline meals.

    But I thought everyone ate while watching TV? Don’t need any special gear, just a plate, some frozen thingies and a microwave…

    cr

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      P.S. We also had a table like that. Mostly used for doing jigsaws on. You could put it away in a corner – carefully – with the jigsaw half done and retrieve it later.

      cr

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        and…

        ” he ran the marathon in bare feet! ”

        So? I go everywhere in bare feet too, when I can. Just think of the energy saved in not continuously accelerating heavy shoes right at the ends of your legs (where the extra mass has the maximum inertial effect), not to mention all the extra useful cooling you get.

        cr

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    That was a delightful recap of the TV dinner phenomenon. I recommend “70’s Dinner Party” on Twi##er which I saw Prof. Cobb following. My grandparents had the tables, faux wood.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I think watching tv during dinner is now considered bad form, for families anyways.

    • Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Yes, the TV is quite a distraction with everyone looking at their phones and all.

    • Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      “I think watching tv during dinner is now considered bad form, for families anyways.”

      I think the opposite is true. When I was a kid we couldn’t even have the TV on while we were having dinner. Nowadays, with both parents working, it’s rare people even have dinner together as a family.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    We had several TV trays when I was growing up but we never ate the TV dinners. We always ate dinner together at the kitchen table and used the trays for snacks.

  5. James A Sulzer
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    The band ZZTop had a song about TV Dinners. Not one of their hits!

    • Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      It was a hit in Texas, but all their songs were hits in Texas.

  6. Chris G
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Yes we had similar frozen TV dinners in compartmentalised aluminium trays when I was growing up here in the UK. (Wonder how the aluminium/aluminum schism came about? Interestingly, the auto-spellchecker at play here shows the former (UK) version to be the correct one – I feel honoured).
    As for the dissonant compartmentalising of main-course and dessert, tis not so dissimilar to that of religious-scientists experience (definitely awarding myself a point for that oh-so-clever analogy. You’re all very welcome!)
    I don’t have a stand-alone tray-table, but I was delighted to discover late in life the cushioned tray i.e. a bean-filled cushion attached to the underside of the tray to keep things more stable when scoffing in front of the TV, stops the tray sliding off your legs,
    Chris G.

    • kieran
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      It’s Humphry Davy’s fault. He started with aluminum then changed his mind to aluminium later. He’d also used the ium ending on a number of other substances so it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
      No idea why the early one stuck in America but not in England.

    • Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      That’s interesting – I grew up in the UK but never saw one and had always assumed they were purely an American phenomenon.

      The element Al is weaker in north America due to its vowel-deprived state. To compensate for this Reynolds wrap is thicker than its British equivalent.

      Apparently the spelling changed in the US somewhere around the end of the nineteenth century. Aluminium (which just got auto corrected to aluminum on my laptop) had predominated until that time and the switch occurred gradually between the 1890s and 1920s.

      Sulphur/sulfur has similar issues – one is probably more yellow than the other 🙂

      • Gareth
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        They are still a big thing in the UK, but the aluminium has long sicne been replaced by plastic.
        Originally it was basic stuff like a roast dinner, or bangers mash and gravy, now its everything, Chinese, Italian, TexMex, everything.

        When I lived in the UK, I would always have one or two in the freezer, the tedious once a week to Asda way of life there made it a necessity as a plan B.
        Now that I live in the Netherlands, if I want something I go for a walk or a bike ride, so there is no need, my diet improved just by living here, and the extra exercise is a bonus.

        • Lurker111
          Posted September 10, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, you don’t want to nuke aluminum in the microwave. Not unless you’re ready for some pyrotechnics. Especially do not nuke, say, an Arby’s sandwich, still wrapped in their paper-and-foil wrapping. You’ll get a fire.

          • Lurker111
            Posted September 10, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

            _its_ paper-and-foil wrapping. Sheesh.

            And, the original TV dinners were heated in the oven, which is why you could get away with the aluminum.

  7. Debbie Coplan
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    TV dinners were especially good while watching Leave It To Beaver.
    A great combination of food and entertainment.

  8. kubla
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Oh, ‘TV dinners’ still exist, but they’re not called that. They’re just frozen dinners w/ you can microwave or heat up w/ a regular oven. They even come in low-fat versions.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Yeah. And the trays aren’t aluminum anymore.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        Probably two reasons for that – first, plastic’s cheaper. And second, I’m not sure how an aluminum tray would go in a microwave oven…?

        cr

        • Christopher
          Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

          I think another big reason is that people are too impatient to wait the required 30-50 minutes heating up the aluminum tray TV dinners, while one can tuck in to a plastic tray TV dinner in about 3 minutes in a microwave. Or better yet, heating it up in a vintage Amana Radarange microwave! (not kidding, my father still has one he got from my great uncle, of an ancient vintage but it still works)

          • Jeff Lewis
            Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink

            Not just impatience, but practicality. We have a microwave in the break room at work. I can’t see the company springing for a real oven.

            • Christopher
              Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

              Certainly true in your case, but I was thinking about people at home, not at work. I know quite a few people who take frozen meals (not the traditional TV dinner) for lunch at work. Those are often in that waxy cardboard stuff though, especially the pastas. Those seem to do fine in the microwave. and now that I think about it, anyone who eats at restaurants like Applebee’s or Panera is eating quite a lot of microwave food, whether they know it or not. All of them, however, are lacking the nostalgic kitsch-factor of a true aluminum tray TV dinner.

            • rickflick
              Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

              Do we need a national microwave oven day? They are now ubiquitous. Why not? There seems to be day for just about everything.
              *googling*
              Oh, no:

              http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/national-microwave-oven-day-december-6/

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                You do realise that a kitten got microwaved when you had that idea?

              • rickflick
                Posted September 10, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                I heard they turn into birds after 5 minutes on high. Don’t know for sure though. How could we find out?

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Exactly what I was going to point out. Foil got phased out for plastic as microwaves became more common and the preferred method of reheating. I’ll admit that my memory of the foil days isn’t great (I was pretty young), but it seems to me that there’s even more variety in TV dinners these days. Or do I just notice it more because I’m the one doing the shopping now?

      Personally, I’ve always loved them. They were a special treat when I was a kid, and now as an adult, they’re my lunch nearly every work day.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Yes. And the diversity is quite impressive. I have to admit that they can be pretty good as well.

      • Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

        They still have them, and I still eat them.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        “Can be pretty good” ; and some plumb culinary depths where they look up to the deep-fried pizza.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Weirdly, “TV dinner” is actually what’s known as a “genericized trademark” something that was originally a copyrighted brand name, but became used by the public for any instance of the product- such as “Xerox” instead of “photocopy” (even using a “Canon” photocopier), “Kleenex” instead of “facial tissue”. However, now people just say “frozen dinner”.

      Bayer even had a trademark copyright on the name “aspirin”. But courts ruled that when the patent on aspirin expired (in 1917), any company could label their product as “aspirin”.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Bayer even had a trademark copyright on the name “aspirin”. But courts ruled that when the patent on aspirin expired (in 1917), any company could label their product as “aspirin”.

        Hmmm, I thought that Bayer lost the “aspirin” patent and trademark as part of the expropriations at the end of WW1.

  9. Sarah
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    We never had those TV dinners at home, but they were very convenient for a grad student living alone in the 60s.

  10. James Walker
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Gah, I remember those frozen TV dinners growing up (in Canada in the 70s). Both my parents worked, and had different schedules, so we rarely had a full sit down dinner together. I think the TV dinners also saved my parents a lot of planning and preparation. We had plastic and metal trays that could be collapsed (and would sometimes collapse while you were eating if you weren’t careful).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Both my parents worked, and had different schedules, so we rarely had a full sit down dinner together.

      Same reasons ; summer Sunday evenings only. (Winter, Dad and I would often be off to do nature reserve maintenance work.)

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Hard to believe any of the items in the foil tray depicted in the photo actually came off a farm (or in the case of the apples, I suppose, out of an orchard).

    Maybe because I was the least fussy eater, when the fam had tv dinners, I always got stuck with the mega-mysterious Salisbury Steak.

    • Christopher
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      The only time I ever ate veal was in a TV dinner. It is quite depressing that an animal lost its life to become such a disgusting and inedible item of “food”. When I found out what veal actually was (or in this case, was supposed to be) I felt even worse. Of course, in all fairness, it probably wasn’t real veal. The turkey dinner was by far my favorite, Salisbury Steak was good, (I use the term lightly) but I needed the mashed “potatoes” in every bite to get through just about everything on the tray.

  12. Christopher
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Yes, TV dinners and TV tray tables featured heavily in my childhood. My father’s family ate off of the tray tables exclusively as TV was/is central to their lives and the kitchen table was always piled with a mountain of junk. The TV dinners were great for me as a “latchkey kid” (remember that term from the ’80’s?) as I lived with my mother and stepfather who both worked full time. Summers were prime time for me heating up a TV dinner, or a frozen pot pie, but mostly in the microwave in plastic trays by the time I got to middle school but I did eat many out of aluminum. My favorite dessert was that weird cranberry thing that came in the turkey dinner. The potatoes were always frozen on the inside while the cranberries were molten and the turkey was dry and crunchy on the edges. Those were the good ol’ days.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Yes, unless you have not been to a large grocery in the U.S. you would certainly know that frozen foods takes up a large area. More frozen today than there ever was back in the TV dinner days. And many of those items are much better frozen than in cans. Most likely far more people today who cannot afford fresh vegetables and therefore would not know the difference.

  14. Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I grew up in the 70’s with a single mom who worked long hours to support us, so yeah, I remember TV dinners well. It was mostly Swanson’s in those days, and does anybody remember the ones that came with SOUP? I love soup so I eagerly anticipated these, but it was damn near impossible to get the heated dinners out of the oven without slopping the soup over everything. (There was an extra foil cover over the soup compartment but it wasn’t very effective.) Soup in the turkey wasn’t so bad, but it did nothing to improve the desserts. 😦

  15. Jeff Lewis
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    TV trays are still around. The problem is that even though they’re really good at one function, they’re a bit of an inconvenience to set up in the first place, and a pain to store when not in use. The coffee table or just setting the plate on your lap work well enough to make the trays unnecessary. I don’t keep particularly close track of where my family eats meals, but probably around half of the meals we eat at the house are in front of the TV, especially on week nights.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      My ‘TV tray’ is my knees. Though it has to share them with my laptop. Some balancing skill required to keep the food out of the keyboard…

      cr

  16. David Duncan
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    My family had dinner at the kitchen table, in the… you guessed it: kitchen. The Tv came to us for dinner, it was on castors and was rotated into one of the doors. We never had TV Dinners, mum always cooked something made from scratch.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Seldom you see the kitchen table and eating in the kitchen anymore. Partly because of so many kitchen appliances today there is little room. They make completely separate dining rooms now which no one eats in except special occasions. Maybe they just want mom to do more work hauling everything long distances.

  17. Steve Brooks
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    When I was divorced in 1973, my wife kept most of the furniture, including the dining table. My share amounted to one chair and a TV tray. That tray served as my dining table for most of the next year. Since I also lost a TV in the big deal, I bought a television, a Sony 15″ model, and watched the evening news while sitting in my only chair and eating off of my fiberglass tray. That tray is now hanging on a nail in my garage. I keep it just in case.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted September 11, 2016 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      In case you get divorced again?

  18. mfdempsey1946
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Would Hili turn up her nose at a TV dinner?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      To quote my wife on her first encounter with British “sausage” (“quiet at the back there!” and “Titter ye not!”)
      To quote my wife on her first encounter with British “sausage”, “This is not sausage.”

      Would Cyrus turn his nose up at a TV dinner?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        ‘It’s sausage, Jim, but not as we know it’

        cr

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 11, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          We have use that one since.

  19. Barb
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I’m old enough to remember TV dinners but I don’t remember eating them. My Mom worked part-time so we usually ate home cooked meals at the kitchen table. Eating in front of the TV with TV tables was a treat that didn’t happen very often.

    Doesn’t everyone still have TV tables?? We have 2 sets of wooden ones (does this mean we’re rich?) One set upstairs to hold snacks beside the table when my bridge buddies come over and the other set downstairs in front of the TV. The only time my husband and I eat at the table is when we have guests.

  20. Posted September 10, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    There is a great scene in the 1968 movie Bullitt where Steve MacQueen does his weekly grocery shopping. He walks down the freezer stacking Swanson TV dinners. I would post a clip if I knew how without violating the Roolz.

  21. Claudia Baker
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    TV dinners were a big treat at our house. You got one for your birthday dinner, while everyone else had to eat boring homemade food. My mother cooked for 10 (!) people every day – eight kids and 2 adults. Everything was made at home by her, and we kids thought of anything “store bought” as very special and delicious. For example, on Sundays, my grandparents would come over for dinner and always brought store-bought cookies or pie, which we kids loved. While we were eating the crap stuff, the adults would tuck into a fresh fruit pie, still warm from the oven. We were so used to homemade, that we were sure we were getting the better deal. Haha.

    Eating in front of the TV never happened. It was all 10 of us around a big, rectangular dining room table, every night, no matter what. Even as teenagers, nobody ever missed the family dinner.

    I tried a TV dinner a few years ago, just for the hell of it. Ugh. Horrible.

  22. Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “They were dreadful, and I’m not sure they even make them any more.”

    That has to be the most obviously elitist thing I ever heard you say. lol

    • Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Ignore what I said above if you were strictly referring to the aluminum tray part. Now they are microwave safe.

  23. Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “of a certain age”… I still have one of them.

    Don’t use it to watch TV, but it’s a cheap, temporary additional surface for my painting supplies.

    I actually recall the moment when my grandparents got wooden ones–that was a treat for them. My grandmother and I used to watch M*A*S*H while eating TV dinners, though by the time I came around, I believe they were contained in partitioned cardboard. The peas and carrots were treif, but the mashed potatoes and chicken were tasty.

  24. Gabrielle
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in the 1960s, and fondly remember Swanson TV dinners, and the Encor ones, too. We had the TV trays, but I don’t recall ever watching TV and eating the dinners, which tasted ok to my then 10 year old self. They were a a real treat, and plenty salty.
    One day at work a while back, one of the engineers was joking about setting up a TV ‘room’ in one of our cubicles, complete with a big screen TV, TV trays and TV dinners. We (both 50-ish) were laughing away, while my much younger coworker was mystified as to what a TV dinner is (was).
    Remember the frozen foods that came in plastic bags that you cooked by boiling in water? I happily remember them from the 1980s, just before microwaves became available.
    My late mother, who was firmly wedded to our GE toaster/oven, refused to get a microwave; she thought they were bad news and would ultimately prove to be harmful, in one way or another.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I remember all that. Your description induced a vision of warehouses full of food in plastic bags being transferred one at a time into microwave trays and put back in the grocery stores. They couldn’t really have done that could they?

  25. Posted September 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I had a pizza plate on my keyboard just 10 minutes ago, watching TV.

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Reading the comments, there seems to be a common meme that ‘home-cooked’ is *always* better than store-bought. Surely it depends on the cook?

    cr

    • Posted September 12, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      And the item. I’d never trust myself to make (say) banana loaf, so I buy it. But I make my own stirfry sauces (often from other sauces combined with fresh ingredients).

  27. jahigginbotham
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    We occasionally had them, but at the dinner table. [I don’t recall why, maybe just a special treat.] The only time i remember watching TV while eating was JFK’s funeral. [We had beef liver, which i do not like.] My favorite was the Swanson’s Salisbury steak. i loved the mashed potatoes and gravy.

  28. marlonrh
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    “And, on September 10, 2008, the Large Hadron Collider, the instrument that found the Higgs Boson, was turned on in Geneva.”

    I’ve been told that they had three screws left over but started it up anyway.

  29. Posted September 11, 2016 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    As a child I considered TV dinners a treat; my mother never made fried chicken, and I loved everything about the fried chicken ones except for the edible-but-flavorless veggies. Still, they were a nice break from the overcooked squash that I would have had as a veggie if my mother had cooked. (She was a master of meat, a queen of potatoes, and determined to overcook most veggies.)

    We tended to eat in the living room in front of the TV at most dinners, but used simple lap trays. It was frustrating, because a show would come on that I really liked, we’d eat, and then 2/3 of the way into the show I would be commanded to go do dishes. It was critical, for some reason I never fathomed, to be washing dishes when I was sill trying to get the last bite down.

    As to the free-standing TV trays with legs: really useful little things! Once you have a set (they’re actually pretty cheap at a Big Box Store) you realize all sorts of temporary and not-so-temporary uses for small tables… and very few of them involve eating in front of a TV.

  30. steve
    Posted September 11, 2016 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    We ate them about once every two weeks. The Salisbury steak and the fried chicken ones were the best.

    We ate them at the kitchen table too.
    I loved them, especially the “apple pie” dessert.

    After all of us kids left the home, whenever my parents had my wife and I over for supper, my dad would walk around the table quickly scooping up any food left in bowls or plates and putting it in the little compartments of TV dinner trays he had saved.

    He would freeze these so he would have home-cooked TV dinners stored in the freezer.

    He thought this was the greatest idea ever. My wife tried to eat fast enough so that her food would not be removed to become part of a TV dinner.


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