Canned Mixed Veg - © 2024 - Del Monte

Retro Canned Foods That Are Still Going Strong

They were an essential part of my childhood dining experience. I just assumed every mother used canned foods – when I was 10 years old. But now, they’re hardly ever heard about, let alone used. Or are they? Many of them are still in stores! (See photo, above.)

Canned Foods - © 2024 -

My mom couldn’t have made a supper without canned foods back then. It was barely 15 years after the Second World War. The ‘fresh produce’ habit was decades in the future. And canned fruits and veggies offered a reliable option. Their quality and availability were uniform around the year. They were never ‘out of season’. And the price stayed pretty much the same, week to week and year to year.

These days…

I only have a handful of canned goods in my pantry. Erin just HAS to have her Bush’s Original Baked Beans and Chef Boyardee Ravioli. They’re her go-to emotional-eating soothers. I also have canned kidney and black beans – which I use exclusively for chili and refritos, respectively. I have a can or two of chick peas, for falafel and hummus. And a can of creamed corn – the secret ingredient of my (in)Famous Corn Bread recipe.

I’ll admit, I stock a lot of the same foods my Mom bought in cans. But I prefer the flash frozen form. I’ve always got sweet corn kernels and green peas in the freezer. They’re called for in so many recipes – from Asian to African to Pan-European dishes! I also have bags of frozen blueberries and raspberries on hand. They’re great for everything from topping ice cream to adding to your breakfast porridge to anchoring amazing smoothies.

But there are some canned items Mom used to rely on that I haven’t bought in years…

“Like what, Maggie?”

Well, kids… Where do I start?

Cherries / Cherry Pie Filling

Thanks in part to the intensive marketing of ‘serving suggestions’ by the makers, Canned fruits and prepared pie fillings (‘cherry’ was the poster child) were adopted as the norm by millions of North American Moms in the 1950s and 60s. It was the earliest mass outbreak of the ‘convenience’ phenomenon. Anything to make tour life easier! See, also, Apple, Blueberry and other once-popular prepared pie fillings…

These days… Most moms not only don’t use the canned fruits – they don’t even make their own pies. It’s just too easy to get them from the supermarket. Although I do know of at least one small but dedicated foodie cult that loves to eat these, sweet, sticky, gooey preparations right out of the can…


Not a fruit, per se, but a pie and tart filling, nevertheless. It was wildly popular when I was a kid. Everybody with any modicum of English heritage in their ancestry just automatically made a mincemeat pie for Christmas dinner. But I never heard of anybody making their own. There was always a ‘run’ on canned mincemeat in early December. Many Moms made a special trip to the store to get theirs before it sold out.

These days… Few folks under the age of 60 bother to even search out a mincemeat pie at the supermarket, much less make their own.


About the only way you could get mushrooms back in the day was in a can. And they were all the same variety: Baby Buttons. Mom didn’t stock them in, as such. But she did make sure they were on the shopping list if she planned to serve steak with fried mushrooms and onions. Or wanted them for a coming stew.

These days… Only older folks use canned mushrooms. Out of habit.

Corn, Peas, Carrots, Mixed Vegetables

Another sop to ‘convenience addiction’. They were always at hand to add to soups, stews and casseroles. Or by themselves as a side. An easy way to get a blast of colour and flavour. The component items of Mixed Veggies usually included carrots, green beans, peas, corn and lima beans. With the carrots all neatly cut into little cubes.

These days… You can still get canned veggies. But a lot of folks (myself included) prefer the flash-frozen versions. They’re good quality, and the price is right.

Soups, Stews, Chili, et al

A household staple when I was a kid. When in doubt, or rushed, Mom would heat up a can of Campbell’s soup for lunch. A special soup lunch would include Tomato, with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side. Or was the soup on the side? Anyway, most Moms had multiple canned ‘entrées’ on hand at any given time. Including stews, hashes, chilis and baked beans.

I think Mom served baked beans with chunked hot dogs, and toast on the side, for supper regularly. Usually the week coming up to payday, when cash might have been getting short. And I still crave Mom’s Tuna & Noodle casserole, thrown together using a couple of cans of Cream of Mushroom soup.

These days… Most folks opt for take-out, often from the supermarket’s ‘prepared foods’ bar.

Spaghetti, Ravioli, et al

Thank Chef Boyardee for inventing canned pasta. Yes, he was a real Italian chef who came to America way back in 1914. Within 10 years, he had worked his way up to Head Chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York. And by 1929, his first mass market canned product, Spaghetti, was in stores. Just about every kid hoped mom would have something from a Chef Boyardee can ready when they came home from school for lunch.

These days… It seems a lot of folks still eat canned pasta – now available under many brands including house brands and NO-Names. Alas… Kids aren’t even allowed to go home for lunch from school anymore.

Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, et al

Everybody had canned salmon and/or tuna in the house. One major vector for their use was chunked into salads and casseroles. The other was as the protein for the then-ubiquitous ‘salad’ sandwiches.

These days… We still love salmon and tuna salad sammys. Along with chicken and egg. But that’s about the only reason most folks now buy canned fish.

SPAM, Corned Beef, Deviled Ham, et al

Relics of the Second World War, or the pre-war period, that were popularized the world over during the conflict. And they became family staples when ex-servicemen brought home a taste and certain ‘fop0ndness’ for them. Literally everybody had one or the other, or both, in the house at all times. A lot of kids – and dads alike – enjoyed SPAM or Canned Corned Beef sandwiches for lunch more than one a week. They were also embraced as substitutes for bacon and ham on breakfast and supper plates.

These days… SPAM is still going strong, bringing out new flavours just about every year. The familiar yellow Fry-Bentos Argentinian corned beef can is also still on supermarket shelves. Seems these iconic retro foods just won’t die. And have won new fans generation after generation. Maybe its addiction to the high-salt content?


The Dole company not only pioneered pineapple growing in Hawaii, it created the old, standard favourite: Pineapple Rings in juice. They were immortalized as add-ons for baked hams as well as in countless desserts. The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is the poster child, there. And who can forget that famous serving suggestion: plopped on top of a breakfast grapefruit half? See. also, Crushed Pineapple and Pineapple Chunks…

These days… Pineapple rings are definitlety considered retro. So much so that they still sell in appreciable quantities, to folks who want to indulge in retro dishes.

Peaches in Syrup, Fruit Salad, et al

These iconic goodies – canned in perfect vertical halves – were everybody’s favourite. Especially in winter when fresh fruit like apples and watermelons weren’t available. We had them over ice cream, in cobblers and crisps, and just by themselves, ice cold from the fridge, in a bowl. Sometimes with a drizzle of cream. And more rarely with whipped cream.

These days… Almost everyone under the age of 60 spends most of their time lamenting the price of fresh fruits. Especially perishable examples like Peaches. And canned fruits are all but forgotten.

My take

Nutritionists hasten to defend canned foods, insisting their less-than-shining reputation is undeserved. Canned fruits and veggies, they point out, are packed within hours of harvesting, and they are brought in from the field at their peak of freshness and flavour. Sealed in their cans, they sleep contentedly until you open them. And they’re (almost) as good as the day they were picked.

One big advantage: Canned foods are the darlings of survivalists and folks who fear food shortages. Because they keep for years on the shelf without the need of electricity, which a freezer can’t ‘live’ without.

For the record, frozen fruits and veggies are also flash chilled within hours of harvesting. And they rest just as peacefully in the freezer until you thaw them out. But they have one big advantage over their canned cousins. They’re never ‘slimy’ or mushy; never overcooked. And they haven’t lost any of their natural goodness to the par-cooking canned foods get, part and parcel of the pre-sealing sterilization process.

And, for the money – which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a big issue these days – they taste SO much better!

~ Maggie J.

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