Open the cupboard and scan the labels on all those cans of soup, jars of mayonnaise, bags of flour and packages of Jell-O. Most of those food labels probably sport a recipe or two.
In the early part of the century, food companies caught on to the wisdom that if consumers had more recipes that use their particular product, they'd probably sell more. Their logic was pretty sound, and so the practice continues.
Many a great recipe (with greatness being measured here by longevity and popular opinion) first showed up on the back of a box. German sweet chocolate cake, never-fail fudge, green bean casserole and Fluffernutter sandwiches are a few of the hall-of-famers. If all of this inspires long-dormant cravings for foods of the past, read on.
Cookbook author Michael McLaughlin has gone through the dusty clippings of years past and assembled a nostalgic collection of 75 product recipes in "The Back of the Box Gourmet" (Simon & Schuster, $14.95).
The recipes are an intriguing lot, from the Famous Lipton California Dip Recipe (2 ingredients: onion soup mix and sour cream) to Red Magic Meat Loaf and Milky Way Bar Swirl Cake.
Fortunately, McLaughlin has left others to the annals of bad taste. Lima bean panache and olive bologna fingers don't show up in his book, nor are they likely to be reprinted in any forthcoming books on nostalgic cooking.
Here's a favorite of many, the cake form of a pina colada cocktail. The lore is that the drink, a potent combination of pineapple juice, coconut cream and rum, was around in the 1920s. The first canned cream of coconut hit the shelves in 1948 and from that point on, pina coladas became the drink of choice for the luau set. Who knows who first poured the pina colada into a cake mix? People loved it as much as the drink.
Pina Colada Cake
1 package (18 1/3 to 18 1/2 ounces) yellow cake mix
1 package (4-serving size) instant vanilla flavor pudding mix
1 can (15 ounces) cream of coconut
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light rum
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, well drained
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, one-half cup cream of coconut, one-half cup rum, the oil and eggs in a large mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed two minutes. Stir in pineapple. Pour into prepared pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool in the pan 10 minutes.
Invert cake onto a cooling rack. With a skewer, poke holes about one-inch apart in cake, going almost to the bottom. Combine remaining cream of coconut and remaining rum. Slowly spoon over cake. Chill thoroughly.