First Draft Follies: “Kids,” Beer, and the 1960s, Part 4

Part One — Part Two — Part Three — Part Four

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. This edition is a true folly and a prime example of why my first drafts are so damn long: I research what is intended to be a minor point, become fascinated by this minor point, and next thing I know, I’ve written an embarrassing amount of completely extraneous text.

The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’m breaking it into manageable bits and posting those bits over the next few days.

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But the sixties was more than kids. Most of the decade’s adults had graduated from high school, a fact that distinguished them from earlier generations, and an unprecedented number had also attended college. Television [which first entered homes in large numbers in the early 1950s] was no longer a novelty, and, whatever its flaws and faults, the “boob tube,” as critics called it, transformed the planet into a global village and enlarged Americans’ perceptions of the world.

Record numbers of Americans worked in “white collar” information jobs, thanks to an economy based in large part on federally funded research and development in sciences old–physics and chemistry–and new–electronics and computing.

Many of the nation’s best minds worked in research parks, universities, and federal offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Washington, D. C., and Palo Alto, and at installations affiliated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Defense Department. They sent men into space and laid the foundations for the computer age that defined the last quarter of the century.

Travel enlarged Americans’ perspectives. In 1950, fewer than a million citizens traveled outside the United States. In 1960, 1.6 million ventured abroad; by decade’s end more than five million people a year were heading overseas for pleasure, and million more lived abroad as military personnel or as employees of multi-national corporations or the U. S. government.

One of them was Julia Child. She and her husband Paul lived in Europe from 1948 to 1961, when they returned to the United States and Julia published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She sold thirty thousand copies of the book in just a few months, but her impact widened in early 1963 when [the television program] “The French Chef” debuted in Boston. By late 1964, the program aired in fifty cities coast to coast, and more than one hundred by 1966, evidence that Americans’ rejection of Bland Nation in favor of a more sophisticated palate.

In late 1966, Child’s face graced the cover of Time magazine, and the nine-page essay inside analyzed Americans’ embrace of “high” cuisine. A shop owner in San Diego reported that he stocked three thousands different “fancy foods, from kippered sturgeon and kangaroo tails to pickled rooster combs.” (*9)

A grocery store manager in Washington, D. C. explained that just ten years earlier, an average chain store carried perhaps a half dozen kinds of cheeses. Now, he said, smart grocers stocked “at least 50 assorted, high-powered imported cheeses.” Residents of small towns could enjoy the new food by joining the “Shallot-of-the-Month” club. (*10)

An array of photographs illustrated the report, most of them showing Americans at work in their kitchens. It’s a measure of the times (and their difference from our own) that the “celebrities” included Vice President Hubert Humphrey, an MIT provost, the wife of an architect, and historian Barbara Tuchman. August Busch III, son of Gussie, was there, too, fixing one of his favorite dishes: “white-winged doves,” broiled with butter and served rare. (*11)

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*9: “Everyone’s in the Kitchen,” Time (November 25, 1966): 74.

*10: Ibid.

*11: Ibid.

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