A dinner from nothing

Photograph of spaghetti and left over casserole from Australian Home Beautiful, September 1951

A dinner from nothing, Australian Home Beautiful, September 1951, p58. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums

After being inspired by her research, intern Elizabeth McKinnon tried out being a 1950s hostess for a night…

Through conducting research for the Eat Your History project, searching through original Australian Home Beautiful magazines in the Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, an emerging theme of the ‘Housewife as Hostess’ became apparent throughout the decade. The post war commercialisation of kitchen appliances sparked social change for the 1950s woman, from being a slave in the kitchen to having comfort and convenience in cooking.

A particular article struck me in the September issue of 1951 of how a hostess should cater for her husband bringing home unexpected dinner guests. Other than scolding him greatly after they leave, several dishes are suggested if all you have is a can of corn, some left-over meat and a couple of vegetables in the fridge (see recipes below). Putting my hostess skills and these recipes to the test I created a dinner from nothing for my “unexpected guests”. And they were kind enough to recreate a few original advertisement poses for some funny pictures!

Even though my “unexpected guests” were expected, time just got away from me and I didn’t start cooking until after they arrived. Thankfully these recipes were what they claimed to be, simple to cook and quite tasty. The guides to being a wonderful hostess in The Australian Home Beautiful magazines stress that the dinner table and kitchen should be immaculately presented. Silver (or in my case stainless steel) cutlery should be polished to perfection and glasses arranged in perfect order. Not to mention keeping yourself looking neat as a new pin throughout the night!

No dinner party is complete without dessert – keep a look out for the ‘spinning sugar cake’ that I made in an upcoming post!

Quick corn chowder


  • 1 Small onion (chopped)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon butter
  • 1 tin Sweet corn
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper
  • dash Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon parsley (chopped)
  • Small cracker biscuits (I used slices of bread)


This dish was definitely the hit of the night! The recipe and original photograph (Australian Home Beautiful, September 1951) was a little more watery than my end result. This recipe was so simple and stress-free to make, and for a student’s budget extremely affordable! It is very easy to imagine this dish being thrown together in a matter of minutes for unexpected guests.


Photograph of quick corn chowder in vintage ramekin
Fry the onion in butter until a pale colour then add the rest of the ingredients except for the parsley.
Laminex advertisement (detail), Australian Home Beautiful magazine, October 1954, p36. Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums
Bring to boiling point and taste for flavour. A little more water may be used to extend.
Photograph of a recreation of a Laminex advertisement from Australian Home Beautiful magazine. October 1954. Advertisement depicts a group of friends around a laminate table for a dinner party
Garnish with parsley at last moment and serve with a dry biscuit with each portion.


1950s spaghetti and leftover casserole


  • 1/4 packet spaghetti
  • 1 cup minced meat (any kind)
  • 1 tin condensed tomato soup
  • 1 tablespoon tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika


This recipe (Australian Home Beautiful, September 1951) was very simple to cook and tasted like a sweeter version of Spaghetti Bolognese. To dull down the sweetness of the tomato soup in the mixture, adding a wide variety of vegetables would be a good option.


Photograph of mince meat cooking in a frying pan on a stove top and spaghetti pasta boiling in a pot
Preheat oven to 200C and grease 4 ramekins with butter.
Photograph of a broken collander
Cook the spaghetti as per the instructions, then drain.
Photograph of spaghetti and left over casserole in vintage ramekin
Mix all the ingredients together and transfer into the ramekins.
Bake for about 20 minutes (while the corn chowder is being served).