Why Tuna Noodle Casserole Is The Quintessential '50s American Dish

The 1950s was known as a time when Americans fell in love with packaged foods including everything from Swanson turkey and mashed potatoes TV dinner to Campbell's soups. It was this brand's cream soups that ended up in many casseroles, none more a symbol of the decade than tuna noodle casserole.

Images of the 1950s often show a perky woman with styled hair wearing pearls, a dress, and a half apron who is smiling while preparing food with the sparkling appliances in her kitchen. While this may have been the era's ideal of the perfect homemaker, in truth, Americans loved to eat easy-to-make meals. That's why the tuna noodle casserole dish was so perfect in a time when people wanted a filling yet easy dish to please the whole family, even the pickiest of eaters.

Tuna noodle casserole's origin is linked back to the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s, according to Taste. The first recipe for the casserole dish was printed in 1930 in Sunset Magazine and was called "Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole." That same year, a similar recipe called "tuna fish and noodles casserole" in The Modern Hospital magazine (per Taste).

A symbol of 1950s home cooking

While its recipe was first published in the 1930s, it was in the '50s that tuna noodle casserole really gained popularity in mainstream America, becoming regular part of the dinner and potluck lineups. According to Delighted Cooking, the reason people loved to make tuna noodle casserole in the 1950s was because it was made with packaged foods and was easy to put together.

Campbell's describes tuna noodle casserole as the "original dump-and-bake dinner" and still promotes the recipe on its website. The recipe calls for cooked noodles, cream of mushroom soup, tuna, buttered bread crumbs, and a few other common ingredients. Campbell's encourages home cooks to get creative, suggesting crackers instead of bread crumbs and corn instead of peas. 

An original 1950s Betty Crocker recipe calls for tinkyada noodles, 6 ounces of drained canned tuna, diced green bell pepper, chopped pimiento, chopped onion, cream of mushroom Soup, broiled mushrooms with juice, and grated cheese, states Food. The classic recipe has been updated since then with modern recipes that include carrots, portabella mushrooms, red bell pepper, spinach, reduced-sodium chicken broth, and canned tuna.

Next time you are craving a classic American comfort food, go ahead and make a creamy dish of tuna noodle casserole.