From a Generation of Aspics and Canned Ham: A Look Back on Vintage Recipes
Mr. King, October 4, 2018
In our modern age of celebrity chefs, endless food bloggers, and a million Pinterest boards full of gluten-free goodies, it’s easy to become cynical about our obsession with beautiful organic, non-GMO dishes (see the recent debacle over Avocado Toast).
But let’s take a step back into the dregs or our recent culinary history to truly savor the abominations that our parents and grandparents dabbled in: a world obsessed with jelly, Jello, and all manner of gelatinous molds strangely referred to as “salad”.
EXHIBIT A: THE WEIGHT WATCHERS RECIPES of 1974
Because of course there’s a Tumblr devoted entirely to these recipes (http://weightwatchers1974.tumblr.com/). And it is a terrifying wonderland.
Fancy exotic-sounding name? Check.
A Jello mold referred to as a “salad”? Check.
A wildly unappetizing photograph of the finished dish? Check.
It’s a prototype of everything wrong with mainstream 1970s food culture. This “salad” is made from chicken broth, gelatin, and cottage cheese. Keep in mind this was considered health food.
And all things considered, it almost seems appetizing in comparison to, oh, let’s say something like this gem:
One has to admire the architectural skill involved in this dish, if nothing else. And they refrained from titling the recipe something exotic like “Parisian Cabbage Delight”.
That’s a pound of frankfurters making a tower that holds boiled cabbage. And pimentos, of course. The people of the 1970s were obsessed with pimentos – as a nice “color garnish” in a salad mold, or as an important ingredient in the ubiquitous “pimento loaf”.
Of course it’s a salad! Look at all that raw broccoli!
At some point, someone decided that a nice, healthy snack would involve blue cheese, cottage cheese, and buttermilk run through a blender and then frozen into a solid block, garnished with wilted raw broccoli. It’s unclear how one would serve this – would you chisel off a piece of the ice-cheese and throw a few broccoli florets on top of it? The mind reels…
EXHIBIT B: The Wild World of Vintage Recipe Cards
If your stomach is up to the challenge, you could waste entire days marveling at the gastronomic horror shows on display at vintagerecipecards.com. It’s a seemingly endless scroll of recipes from a thankfully bygone era. Some “highlights” include:
Forget plain old cheese or sausage and pepperoni – what pizza has really been missing all these years is TUNA AND PEARS! I almost didn’t believe this one was real, and I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of flavor nightmare this pie delivers. I’m tempted to serve it at my next party. Or better yet, someone
This one’s got it all – tuna, cheese, bread crumbs, macaroni and olives (with pimentos, of course) – all in convenient loaf form! It’s not quite as hideous as the tuna pizza, but it still deserves an honorable mention.
It’s a miniature Devil’s Tower of terrible food ideas. Who wants to eat a side of plain old roasted vegetables? Let’s encase them in a gelatin mold to make them much more palatable! Pairs well with a crisp white wine, apparently. Bon appetit!
Inspired by this trip down memory lane, we dusted off an old Kraft Recipe book and tried our hand at a few of the recipes – and created a recipe “how-to” film to go along with it.
An easy refreshment for your next party! That’s right, it’s grape jelly and ginger ale. That’s it. You can actually feel your teeth rotting just looking at this concoction.
It’s colonial! It’s salad! Who thought it would be a good idea to mix carrots, celery, raisins and Miracle Whip into a jello mold? Like revenge, it’s a dish best served cold. Actually, scratch that – please don’t serve this at all.
At least it’s easy to put together, especially if you substitute a loaf of Spam for the canned ham. Throw in a handful of pimentos if you want a little extra color.
Next time you feel like complaining about a Twitter account dedicated to organic kale or gluten-free pastries, remember the molds, salads, and fish loaves of years gone by – and be thankful how far we’ve come.
It’s enough to make you want to make a nice batch of avocado toast!