216 Miles For A Can Of Stew

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Yes I did.  I drove 216 miles (round trip) for a can of beef stew.  Well, six cans, actually.  And I would do it again.  You might ask “why?”  And it would be a reasonable question.  It’s like this:

As I have written before, my mother was, well, how do I say this.  Let’s just go with “not the greatest cook in the world.”  I have written in some depth about this before, in the context of her (in)famous potato soup.

The short version is that cooking was just not where Mom’s interests or talents were to be found.  Also, she was single for much of my childhood and worked full time so that time for the kitchen was a scarce thing.  The result was that I grew up eating a lot of food that came from boxes and cans.

Some today would consider this a terrible childhood experience, something that could lead to a home visit by the good people at Child Protective Services.  But I found it a fabulous time to be alive.  The 1960s and 70s was right smack in the era of the great mid-century Factory Food Boom.  Companies like Kraft and Campbells ruled American kitchens in those days.  Fresh meat and vegetables?  Pffft.  Those were for people on farms or those too poor or backwards for the glorious concoctions that came from America’s great cold-war resource: the factory kitchen.

All the salt, sugar, fat and chemical preservatives anyone could possibly need was conveniently incorporated in delectable staples that were as easy as heat and eat.  And in the pre-microwave era that was my habitat, boxes and cans went into pots and pans.

To this day I retain a taste for SPAM (as you already know) and for such things as Chef Boy Ar Dee canned ravioli.  And even today nothing beats sopping up that factory-fresh tomato sauce than a silky-soft slice of Wonder Bread.

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I was in my mid teens before I had any idea that gravy came in any way other than in a can.  I wonder if you can still buy Franco-American canned beef gravy?  My Mrs. would surely recoil at the stuff, but it is the taste of my childhood.  It made many a gray-ish, overcooked roast edible.  And one thing Mom did really well was mashed potatoes, and the canned beef gravy perfected them.

Then there was the stew.  One of my favorite childhood dishes was canned beef stew ladled over sea shell macaroni.  Don’t start with me on the shape of the macaroni.  It is just not the same with elbows. But other than the shape, one brand of boxed macaroni was (and is) pretty much like the others.  Who says I am hard to please?

Armour beef stew (in the blue can) was always the choice over Dinty Moore (in the red can).  I have no idea why.  Probably for the same reason Mom always bought cars from GM instead of Ford or Kleenex tissues instead of Puffs.  You are either a Republican or a Democrat, a Lutheran or a Catholic, and once you make your choice, well then that is your place in life.  Because that was how my mother thought. (Yes, as a matter of fact she was of German ancestry.  How did you know?)   Dinty Moore was for others.  We were Armour-beef-stew-people.

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I rebelled during my college years when I got to buy my own groceries and tried Dinty Moore.  My college roommate Dan came from an exotic family who bought Dinty Moore beef stew (and Chryslers).  I felt rebellious and wanted nothing more than to strike a blow for independence.  I didn’t buy GM cars and defecting to the beef stew in the red can seemed like a natural next step in a life of ever-increasing rebellion.  But it Just. Wasn’t. The. Same.

Why does one company’s beef stew taste so much different than another company’s beef stew?  I have no ideas, but it does.  Real foodies would probably recoil at trying either and would find each equally noxious.  There are things all over the internet lamenting how awful the contents of each of the cans is, no matter the color on the label.  However, for those of us deeply schooled in the lifestyle of box and can eating, this was a serious thing.  Red can = Fail.

And therein lies the problem: In the modern foodscape that is the canned meat aisle in the grocery store, Dinty Moore is kicking the everloving snot out of Armour in the Great Canned Beef Stew Competiton.  Shelf space is like gold in the modern supermarket and the big get bigger while the small wither away.  Go into any store and Dinty Moore will be spread out like a college freshman home for break.  But poor Armour has all but gone extinct.

There was one bright spot – a local grocery chain that was my Armour Beef Stew oasis in what had otherwise become a grocery desert.  They talk about “food deserts” which are poor neighborhoods not served by a decent grocery store.  Well lemmetellya, not being able to find my blue-can stew makes for a pretty arid shopping experience.  And then good ol’ local Marsh Supermarkets finally went under.  I hated to lose the option of a local grocer, but when that local grocer was my only source for my Armour beef stew fix, well this was bad.

But . . . Jungle Jim’s.  It is a place in Cincinnati, Ohio that is a food shopper’s mecca.  Imagine a grocery store that is bigger than an average Sam’s Club and Costco store put together and which has specialty foods from almost every country in the world.  It is a place where you can get your fix of Irish cheese and German mustard and fresh vegetables and seafood for Vietnamese cuisine.  But forget all that – they have American canned stuff too!

Alright, I am not going to lie and say that we went only for the canned beef stew.  Mrs. JPC likes a brand of seltzer water that they sell and a certain English tea.  Don’t ask me which one, there was a whole wall of them and as a non-tea drinker, they all sort of ooze together in my consciousness.  We also stocked up on some of my favorite fruitcake and several other things.  So out of the $230.42 that was the day’s total only some of that was for the six cans of stew I liberated.  Yes, every single one they had on the shelf.  The stuff is even getting squeezed out of Jungle Jim’s!  And for those who are curious, there was God’s plenty of Dinty Moore there.  Life is not fair.

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Evidence that the Armour can has switched from red to blue. And no, there has not been a sighting of a chunk of beef of this size in a can of stew since the days of the Nixon Administration (if even then).

So now I am set.  Like the early settlers, I have my provisions in for a long, cold winter.  There are several boxes of sea shell macaroni in the pantry and now six highly prized cans of my Armour stew.  I will not care that every other person who dines in my house (either regularly or occasionally) will look down on my favorite meal and probably refuse to join me in it.  That’s all right – not everyone has the courage to live the dream.  Let alone drive 216 miles to attain it.

 

Photo credits – Sixty year old advertising and pictures of canned goods from random places on the internet?  You must be kidding.

22 thoughts on “216 Miles For A Can Of Stew

  1. I think your taste in food may actually be as bad as mine. 🙂 Glad you mentioned the fruitcakes. I got one at Meijer last week and couldn’t remember who else liked those. Should have known.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I saw the ones at Meijer but have not tried that unfamiliar brand. I took a flier on one from Costco but it was disappointing. Maybe a fruitcake comparison taste test would be a good idea, though not a widely popular one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, a canned stew subscription? My Christmas list just got another item added.

      Yes, I realize that these ancient products only exit because of momentum and that at some point they will be discontinued because the customer base will hit that hard minimum number beyond which there is no viable market. Unless they start selling it at Cracker Barrel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jungle Jim’s is an amazing place (my sister used to work there) and I’m glad you were able to realize multiple key acquisitions between stew and fruitcake. And Mrs. JPC is onto something; the correct tea is quite meaningful in difference; it’s the difference between a good day and a crummy day.

    Reading about your challenges in acquiring the correct stew, a thought occurred to me and, yes indeed, one can obtain 1970s cuisine 21st Century style. The Dollar General Store will sell you all the Armour Beef Stew you want online as will a local offshoot of Kroger. Each cup has 20% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A.

    https://www.dollargeneral.com/armour-beef-stew-20-oz.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe someday I will develop an appreciation for tea. But I can just hear my mother saying “but we are coffee people.”

      Buying online from Dollar General – this concept makes my head hurt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good golly, I’m just hoping that Jungle Pam is the checkout girl at Jungle Jim’s..

    Now, to get back from one kind of cans to another (ahem!), it is good that you are able to get your supplies in the same country. My mother in law is an expat American, and her cooking regimen seems much like your mothers. In fact she is now forbidden to cook Thanksgiving dinner, we always make sure it’s at someone else’s house.

    But there are some things that she cannot do without, such as canned Thank You pudding which she uses to make marshmallow goo salad. And cans of fried onion bits to make that Dorcas Reilly green bean casserole thing. This requires at least one trip per year to Falmouth Michigan (population 1,172) to stock up, a round trip journey of 684 miles.

    It must be worth it to her, but marshmallow goo salad is nobody’s favorite. Green bean thing is good, but I think it would kill me if I ate it regularly due to the bacon fat content.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I might actually like Thanksgiving dinner at your MIL’s. We did the green bean casserole at our dinner too. And for an experiment we made the Nilla Wafer banana pudding (although an old version with scratch pudding). It got rave reviews. Mrs JPC insists on boiling actual sweet potatoes but I can’t see the point when there are perfectly fine canned ones available. Mashed potatoes are (is?) the only side dish where I consider actual raw vegetables as a necessary starting point.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually it’s been 45 or so years since I consumed any RedCanStew. If I can find BlueCanStew out here in the Wild West, I might just become a convert. (I have also owned Ford, GM, Chrysler, Volvo and VW products…guess that means I’m willing to try anything!)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to love Campbell’s French Canadian Pea soup, but it has apparently been discontinued. As has my cookie fave, Christie’s Coffee Breaks. There is no justice in this world!

    I too also loved Cher Boy Ar dee’s ravioli. I don’t think I ever learned the proper way to cook it however without splitting all the ravioli’s open.

    The best I can come up with for canned beef stew is the Campbell’s Chunky kind. However I am still pissed at them for discontinuing my pea soup, so there.

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    • I have never heard of French Canadian Pea Soup. But then I am not French Canadian. If they ever discontinue Bean With Bacon, Campbell’s and I will have a problem.

      I actually saw Cream Of Bacon in the Campbell’s display before Thanksgiving. It sounds both awful and awe-inspiring all at the same time.

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  5. Jim, I live in the Chicago western suburbs and travel 626 months les to get Middleswarth Potato Chips each year. ( I do have relatives and friends to visit when I go east).

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    • Now this is the kind of dedication that makes the world a better place. I miss the regional potato chip of my youth, Seyfert’s in Fort Wayne, indiana.

      Like

  6. I generally don’t consume food out of cans, except as staple ingredients for cooking … beans, tomato sauce etc. Oh, and beer. The great advance of the last 2-3 years isn’t adaptive cruise control and lane correction, but the availability of good beer in cans. Light, sturdy, and stack well in coolers for camping. Though perhaps those are attributes of canned beef stew as well, except for the light part. And it doesn’t even need a cooler. Oh, and and except for th3 good part, also.

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    • I remain a bottle beer guy, myself, but have seen where some good local brews have gone in for cans. I will need to overcome my anti-can prejudice (which seems to be restricted to beer, strangely) and try some.

      One more thing in the canned stew’s favor is that you can consume quite a lot of it and still be safe to drive.

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  7. OK, so how do YOU pronounce “stew”? I pronounce it “stoo”, like stool without an “l”, the same way I pronounce the first syllable in Studebaker. But should it be “styew” … as in rhymes with you or yew (a sin the tree)? By the way, after the original post here, I bought some beef stew meat at the market. I’ll cook it with red wine, garlic, and a bunch of not-to-mushy vegetables.

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    • Haha, excellent question. I think my northern Indiana heritage would have made me a Stoo person. But 35 years in central Indiana has me splitting the difference with the Southerners. I don’t go full Stewe (like the 13 year old girl who goes “Ewwww” when she sees her parents kissing). I guess I bend the end just enough to make it rhyme with “You”.

      And however we pronounce it, your plan for that meat sounds delish.

      Like

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