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Contractor finds culinary time capsule from 30 years ago, unearthing an unwieldy mass of paper that included a glimpse into flavors of school meals past.

Blast from the past: Dusting off recipes unearthed during remodel

An accidental time capsule from the 1980s contains well-loved recipe cards and ideas worth revisiting and revamping for the present day.

High atop a forgotten shelf in a tiny kitchen closet, recipes last seen during the Reagan administration waited for decades before being rediscovered recently during a remodel in Pecos-Barstow-Toyah (Texas) Independent School District.

The district’s five kitchens—untouched since the late 1960s except to replace broken equipment—have been receiving much-needed renovations, basically completely being gutted and rebuilt from the ground up after floors and walls are demolished, thanks to a bond passed two years ago.

“We are a growing school district and have been feeding students out of closet-sized walk-ins,” says Joy Oram, child nutrition director at Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD.

Two kitchens have already received remodels. While construction workers were getting started on the third, Oram received a call from the contractor working on the project.

“The contractor informed me that we missed some things as we cleaned out the kitchen,” says Oram, who has been at the district for just about a year and a half, but by chance was about to get a greater appreciation for the district’s culinary history. “These were things that had been forgotten.”

Soon, she had in her hands a dusty binder and recipe boxes. Inside were old recipes, some possibly mailed to the district by the USDA, and others handwritten. The pages were brittle and marked with tape that had long ago started to yellow and disintegrate.

“It was easy to see which were the popular recipes,” Oram says, referring to the dog-eared and well-loved sheets of paper. She even recognized the handwriting on several of the notes, from a current staff member who was just starting her school foodservice career at the district in the 1980s. “Many of the staff members in my kitchens have been here for several decades.”

Delving into the recipes, Oram found some oddities: strange recipes she deemed “a bit too old fashioned” to make a comeback anytime soon, like lima bean casserole, croquettes and something called “meat-potato-burgers.”

“Then there were recipes that just wouldn’t make it because of the region we live in…shepherd’s pie for instance,” she says.

But other recipes proved that current classics aren’t too far from the originals. Beef nachos and beef burrito recipes were very similar to what the district uses now. The scratch bread recipe is the same one that’s made now, part of a project in which employees can buy “angel bread” to feed into the “angel fund” that helps pay of negative lunch balances.

And then, there were some cool new discoveries. Several recipes caught Oram’s eye and will begin testing in kitchens for this coming school year.

“There were so many recipes that sound amazing,” she says. “I can already smell the scratch bread and cinnamon rolls.”

Recipes for beef stew will be making a comeback, as will chili mac ‘n cheese, along with an enchilada casserole and some desserts.

“I think with revamping [the new/old recipes] may be able to be served again in our cafeterias,” Oram says. Stay tuned for more on the flashback menu items!

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