Posted by: Erica Retrochef | September 5, 2011

Thrifty Drumstick Surprise

In honor of Labor Day, we wanted to find a recipe that somehow honored hard-working parents. Whether you’re working in a factory, an office, or at home watching the kids — it’s all work, and it’s all hard, and it all deserves respect.

Of course, we’re the RETRO recipe blog, so hard-working “parents” becomes hard-working “moms,” who are more likely to be portrayed as mopping the kitchen than negotiating major business transactions. I’d like to briefly counteract that retro-ness with one of my favorite Sesame Street songs…

So whether she’s busy because she’s a surgeon, lion tamer, astronaut, office clerk, soda jerk, pilots, policewoman, clown, cook, bus driver, author, fisherwoman, dog trainer, mountain climber, lumberjack, housewife, mother, or some combination — I really don’t care. She’s busy, so she needs a quick recipe, and Minute Rice is eager to oblige.

(Of course, microwave meals are a lot more convenient than even Minute Rice, but the microwave wasn’t invented until the 1970’s. Also, an entire prepackaged meal is generally a much more expensive than something partially or completely from scratch; many pre-70’s ads concentrated on the economical value of ingredients, rather than fast prep time.)

Apparently the “surprise” (SPOILER ALERT) is that the drumsticks are made with ground beef and parsley. If this turns out to be super-delicious, it’ll be Thrifty Drumstick Double Surprise.

Just 20 minutes with Minute Rice!


Glamorize the hamburger with Minute Rice! Prepare 1-1/3 cups Minute-Rice as directed on package, adding 1 teaspoon chili powder. Combine 1 pound ground beef, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon sage. Shape into 8 drumsticks; brown in fat. Place toothpick with parsley in small end of each drumstick. Serve with rice and sauce made by heating can of mushroom soup with 1/2 cup milk. Minute Rice takes on the color and flavor of the chili powder deliciously — gives you a dish to make the family sit up and cheer!

That’s right, just 20 minutes! That does sound like a huge benefit for the busy home cook. Is it plausible, though? To answer that question, this week we’re going be attempting our first-ever retro recipe time trial.

I didn’t start the timer until I had all the ingredients on the counter. (It takes about 20 minutes just to run to the store, after all!) I didn’t pre-chop or measure anything, which I usually like to do when cooking (retro or modeern) — most people don’t keep chopped onion sitting around, so ingredient prep is an integral part of cooking time.

I significantly altered this recipe in one respect — I used real rice. I don’t really like the taste or consistency of Minute Rice, and we eat enough rice that I just buy it in bulk, so I’ve got plenty. So maybe this will take longer than 20 minutes…

Ready? GO!

Measured rice, water, and chili powder into pot. Put it on the stove. Time: 1:45

I needed to chop up the sage and onion before mixing with the meat, which took a couple of minutes. The onion alone took two and a half minutes.

Meanwhile, the rice has started boiling. Time: 7:30

Mixed onion, beef, and spices. Time: 9:00

This is surprisingly hard. Remind me why I’m making meat cones again? Time: 10:50

I finished shaping the meat at 11:50 but didn’t put the meat in the pan until 14:01. The interim two minutes were spent trying to clean beef fat off my hands.

Poured milk and soup into pot to start the sauce. Time: 14:43

Turned drumsticks for the first time. Time: 15:31

Turned drumsticks again. Time: 17:37

Cut drumstick open to see if it was done. EWWW, nope! Time: 21:10 (Yup, we’ve already missed the goal.)

Meanwhile, the rice had finished a while ago. I turned off the burner when I noticed the water was all absorbed (approximately 10 minutes of boiling) and let it stand. By 23:02 it was being served onto the plate.

(Technically this platter is from the 70’s, not the 50’s, so it’s the thought that counts.)

At 23:50 I tasted it and said, “Wow, this is really bland!” (Did vintage Minute Rice include salt in the package, or in the cooking instructions? Seriously, white rice has no flavor!)

The sauce was warm so I took it off and poured it on the rice (leaving little pockets where they drumsticks would sit). Time: 25:50


Wait, now I have to add parsley “bones” to these things?!?

Dish is finished and served. Time: 33:36 (phew!)

And that excess time is not because I failed to use Minute Rice! I only would have gotten this to the table in 20 minutes flat if I served E. coli drumsticks (triple surprise?) — I’m not aware of any good way to cook ground beef faster, especially since it got nicely scorched on the outside as it is. If the beef had gone on the stove within 1 minute of being mixed with onion and seasonings, this could be done in 20 minutes.

Aside from being way over on required time, this tasted really mediocre. The rice and sauce needed some salt (rather ironic, since canned soup is very high in sodium) on their own. Together with a bite of well-seasoned “drumstick,” it tasted ok — but that required crumbling the meatballs into bite-size pieces, which makes me wonder why I wasted all that time shaping them in the first place. Meatballs = good, rice = bad, meatballs plus rice = meh.

It’s not a meal that’s tasty enough that I’d want to make sure I had ingredients on hand (ground beef, chopped onion, etc.) and prepped to ensure I could get it from fridge to table in 20 minutes. If I’m that rushed for time, we’ll probably just end up with peanut butter sandwiches.

Advertisement from Life Magazine, May 12, 1952, online at Google Books.


  1. My opinions about the parts of the dish were pretty extreme. The meatballs were really quite good—well seasoned and nicely browned. The rice was terribly, terribly bland, and the “sauce” with it made the flavor much worse. I got a big blob of it that had been pooled under the meat on my second bite, and I felt like I was going to upchuck. With some salt and the meatball broken up into tiny chunks, it became pretty palatable, but then the meatball couldn’t really be enjoyed properly.

    On a completely separate note: It’s sad to see how some of the real Sesame Street muppets have disappeared over the years. When the controversially pink and fairy-winged Abby was introduced some years ago, I remember many commenters comparing her to the existing female cast. Yet nobody seemed to remember Prairie Dawn any more (to the point where some blowhard felt qualified to claim that Zoe was the most important muppet girl in Sesame Street history), although she remains one of my absolutely favorite characters.

  2. So, why the toothpick? Is that there just to hold the parsley in place, or is it supposed to function as a way to hold the meatstick so you can eat it with your hands like a chicken drumstick?

    Love the Sesame Street video–that must’ve been after my time, but yes–sadly more progressive than anything you’re likely to see on kids’ TV today, even though I don’t think we can say that the things the song is about are “common knowledge.”

    What was the name of the girl muppet (the one with the pigtails and the bow in her hair) in this video? She was a regular character, but I’ll be darned if I can remember what she was called.

    • I don’t know what the toothpick was for. I didn’t leave them in (paranoid fears of children impaling themselves while eating), just used it to drill a hole to stuff a parsley stem in.

      The girl muppet there is Prarie Dawn 🙂

      • Or *adults* impaling themselves, for that matter! Not paranoid at all, IMHO. And thanks for letting me know that that was Prairie Dawn. 🙂

  3. That recipe actually looks pretty good, I imagine you can tinker with the ingredients and come up with something fairly edible.

    I remember Prairie Dawn, I thought that was just a beautiful beautiful name. Wanted to name my daughter Prairie Dawn but that suggestion was shot down like a low flying duck 😦

  4. Hi Erica, just to let you know, this post of yours is getting a mention and link in my next post which should be out next week??? Hope you enjoy that as much as I enjoyed reading this! xx

  5. […] And for a double whammy, check out Erica’s great post on Retro Recipes for “Thrifty Drumstick Surprise”. […]

  6. […] And for a double whammy, check out Erica’s great post on Retro Recipes for “Thrifty Drumstick Surprise”. […]

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