No One Could Be Nostalgic About These Vintage Recipes
These days, Boomers love to mock Millennials over the generation’s alleged obsession with avocado toast. However, these recipes from the not-so-distant past serve as a reminder that picking on someone's meal of choice is a two-way street.
From cakes filled with tuna fish and cottage cheese-slicked "salads" to gelatin encased meats and veggies, these vintage recipes from the 1970s and earlier aren’t for the faint of stomach — unless you're a Jell-O enthusiasts.
This ironically named "Perfection Salad" is a far-cry from perfection in our opinion. In fact, the only way to make a salad less exciting is to take all of those uncooked veggies and encase them in a tower of Jell-O.
The origins of the popular "jello salad" can be traced back to this award-winning 1904 recipe, which was submitted to Better Homes & Gardens by Mrs. John E. Cook of Pennsylvania. Although the dish is best served chilled, filling gelatin with shredded carrots, cabbage, green pepper, pimiento and apple juice just sounds like a hot mess, regardless of the temperature.
Everyone loves a good finger sandwich at a get-together — or ripping off a hunk of one of those three-foot-long party subs. The only drawback? Those hors d'oeuvre-friendly sandwiches don’t have a super refined aesthetic. Enter the "Party Sandwich."
Although recipes for this once-popular soiree dish differ, they all hit upon the same general idea: Assemble a sandwich as if it were a cake or dessert loaf. Stuff white bread and your favorite filling — shrimp salad? Cheese-pecan? Bologna? — together, frost with a cream cheese concoction and decorate with pimento olives or whatever green garnish is on hand.
Crown Roast of Frankfurters
No, these hot dogs aren’t praying to the cold-cut deity Oscar Mayer, and they certainly aren’t trying to look like an octopus — at least, we don’t think that’s the goal here. Back in the day, it was all the rage to dress up cheaper food items by making them into (alleged) works of art.
Unfortunately, this frankfurter dome — and whatever sort of slaw is protruding from the center — is less masterpiece and more obscene. Long story short, if you want to serve some sort of sausage and cabbage combo, we recommend sticking to something tried and true, like bratwurst and sauerkraut.
Ham & Bananas Hollandaise
There’s nothing like eggs Benedict — an English muffin topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Throw in some ham? Sure, sounds great. Trade the bread for a banana? Absolutely not.
Here, we have a casserole dish of bananas, all individually wrapped in ham-blankets and drowning in a hollandaise sauce so yellow it looks like scabs of Kraft cheddar cheese. While a sweet-and-savory combo, especially at breakfast, can really hit the spot, this bananas Benedict is far from "a-peeling."
At first glance, this ad doesn’t look strange, until you realize the "gravy" is actually chocolate sauce. Unfortunately, Kraft — the makers of everyone’s favorite mac and cheese — are to blame for trying to dress up "the natural goodness of nature’s potato, the Potato."
Marketed as a condiment that would make kids excited to eat their veggies, Potato Fudge was a versatile item. They added the sauce to diced potatoes to make "fudge nuggets," or mixed it into mashed potatoes to create the "sow trough," which Kraft claimed would make your kids "snort, wallow and roll in the chocolatey flavor."
Lime Cheese Salad
No, this isn’t some sort of handmade glass bowl from the ‘50s — it’s a Jell-O mold. There are more layers to this upsetting dish than you may see at first glance. If your eye is immediately drawn to the center of this dish, you aren’t alone. We’ll get to that.
The instructions that come with this lime Jell-O recipe card seem straightforward at first. That is, until the card instructs you to "fold in one cup of cottage cheese." If you’re wondering what the mold-like speckling around the base of the gelatin is, that’s it. To top it all off, the concoction is garnished with lettuce and filled with the ever-vague "seafood salad." We’ll pass on that…
Cup Steak Puddings
In theory, this recipe isn’t a terrible idea, but the execution seen on this old recipe card is lacking, to say the least. The card claims that you’ll be "charmed with these dainty little puddings — so wonderfully light and digestible when made with ‘Atora.’" If you’re wondering what Atora is — and why it’s a selling point — you aren’t alone.
In fact, we’re still wondering too. Atora is a British brand of shredded suet, a.k.a. the hardened fat that’s found around the kidneys of cows and sheep. Used in pastries and dumplings, Atora has a real purpose. However, these individually portioned puddings, which look like microwavable dumplings gone to mush, look downright unappetizing.
We can’t tell what’s more comical about the image on the left: Is it the ridiculous pimento-olive eye or the fact that the ad is so insistent about the mold being "Real Cool!"? As far as the image on the right goes, it’s a toss up between the detailing, which looks more like red licorice than strips of pepper, or the strange abundance of decorative lemons.
The ad claims that the mold is both easy to use and makes a product that is "grand to eat." While shaping canned tuna into a fish isn’t exactly five-star restaurant worthy, you have to admire the way this simple innovation tries to dress up a cheap go-to. On the other hand, the wetness, the density — none of it makes the fish look enticing.
Philadelphia Cream Cheese Melon
If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably wondered why every fruit salad has an overabundance of honey dew melon. To put it simply, the melon is a filler fruit — it’s no one’s favorite, but it takes up enough room to help round the salad out.
Apparently, our pals from yesteryear also wondered what else could be done with honey dew, and it looks like the best they could come up with was shearing off the melon’s skin and frosting it with either (or both) Hellmann’s mayonnaise or Philadelphia cream cheese. Oh, and it’s stuffed with fruit in gelatin — the vintage recipe staple.
Ham in Aspic
By the Middle Ages, cooks discovered that meat broth could be thickened into a jelly, leading to the use of gelatin in meals. Popularized by a 19th-century French cooking technique, gelatin-based dishes became all the rage yet again in the 1950s, particularly in the U.S. Enter aspics.
In general, aspic refers to a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin. Some folks dubbed these concoctions "jello salads," kicking off an era of misappropriating the word "salad." A popular dinner staple in the ‘50s, aspics allowed cooks to show off their artistic skills. While this lima bean, ham and olive aspic may not sound appetizing, you’ve got to admire the commitment to the aesthetic.
7-Up & Milk
These 7Up ads from the 1950s shed light on a truly upsetting craze. Instead of adding chocolate syrup to milk, all the cool kids were mixing in 7Up, the "all-family drink." Back in the day, soft drinks claimed to have health benefits. 7Up, in particular, claimed to be so pure that even infants wanted to guzzle it.
"It’s a wholesome combination — and it works!" one ad claimed, suggesting mothers with fussy kids mix the fizzy beverage into their babies’ bottles. Allegedly, the combo makes a "delicious blended food drink," but, for now, we’ll stick with mixing blue Powerade with Sprite at our local Taco Bell self-serve soda machine.
Igloo, or snow hut shelters, are often associated with all Inuit and Eskimo peoples, but they were traditionally used only by the peoples of Canada’s Central Arctic and Greenland’s Thule area. Not only were 1950s-era Americans getting their facts wrong half the time, they were also guilty of appropriating and exoticizing other cultures.
Here, we see a snow shelter transformed into a way to let your meatloaf and mashed potatoes mingle. Who shapes their meatloaf into a domicile? And who drinks milk with vegetable aspic? The entire meal on display in this image is offensive in some way, except maybe those fairly average-looking green beans.
Frozen Cheese Salad
While some dishes are best served cold, most are not best served frozen. Ice cream aside, a frozen meal usually means the chef didn’t prepare — or microwave — it properly. Believe it or not, this thoroughly unappealing recipe comes straight from the pages of a Weight Watchers cookbook.
Interested in trying a forkful? No problem — this one’s easy enough to throw together. Just blend up some cottage cheese, blue cheese, lemon, chives, barbecue spices and Worcestershire sauce, toss it in a freezer tray and then flank the loaf of cheese with uncooked broccoli. As is customary, you’ll want to garnish it with very, very, very thin slices of pepper.
Terrine of Garden Vegetables
Although vegetable terrines are common in other parts of the world, they aren’t an American staple — at least, not anymore. Perhaps the worst part of this particular item is the way it’s shaped and served like a four-layer birthday cake. A cake that traded buttercream for gelatin.
If you’ve ever bought bone broth or a pre-made frozen soup, you’ll recognize the look of this terrine immediately — you might even try to boil it before stabbing a forkful. Needless to say, the chef didn’t quite get the memo when someone asked them to make a "carrot cake."
Monterey Soufflé Salad
The Monterey Soufflé Salad — the name sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s no Caesar. It’s not even a Cobb. Instead, this one’s another one of those oh-so-popular "jello salads." The only lettuce you’ll find here is in the garnish.
If you’re wondering how the lemon-flavored Jell-O achieved its alabaster complexion, you’re not alone. That would be the mayo. Cut into the gelatin and you’d find celery, pimiento, onion and tuna — tons of tuna. The original recipe suggests serving it with even more tuna, "if desired."
After viewing this image, finding your appetite will be more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack — or should we say ham in an almond-stack? I really wish we didn’t have to say that, but here we are, looking at the Almonds-in-a-Haystack appetizer.
Wondering how all those almonds stay stacked? You’ll be sorry you asked. Like virtually every other item on this list, the haystack-shaped dish is caked with Miracle Whip. Inside, you’ll find the usual ham and celery. Kraft suggests serving this at the holidays, but we might opt for the Oscar Mayer "Hostess Tree" over this one.
Absolutely haunting. Okay, the idea of serving up shrimp with some apple notes isn’t a terrible idea. What is terrible is the presentation factor here. As anyone who’s watched Chopped or MasterChef Junior knows, plating can make or break a dish.
To make this dish, the recipe card suggests hollowing out the "eating apples" — that’s right, it has to specify that this concoction is safe for consumption. You should then mix the apple innards with mayo, olives and cucumbers; stuff it back in the apples; and garnish with a shrimp speared by a toothpick. Maybe keeping the eyes, legs and antennae adds flavor…
Jellied Tomato Refresher
Under the heading "Snacks, Beverages and Light Meals" in the vintage Weight Watchers recipe cards, you’ll find this next gem. If you’ve ever thought, "Hmm, how can a Bloody Mary be 100% less appealing?" then wonder no further.
The Jellied Tomato Refresher looks anything but rejuvenating to us. Much like a Bloody Mary, this one is made from ingredients like tomato juice and Worcestershire. Unlike the popular breakfast drink, it involves beef broth and turning the one-time beverage into a cup’s worth of red gelatin.
Avocado Filled with Ketchup
Look, if Miracle Whip and Hellmann’s mayo were going to corner the market on gelatin, tuna and ham-based products, Heinz ketchup had to find some sort of fresh avenue to claim. Most importantly, this dish — or artful condiment holder? — proves that Boomers love a good avocado too.
While Millennials enjoy their avocado toast, Boomers can take comfort in knowing that this is one product Gen Y didn’t "kill." One might argue that this was the avocado’s weakest iteration. Still, we’ll give Heinz kudos for finding the least disgusting "hollowed out food item" on our list.
Piquant Herring Salad
This next one comes from a publication called the Farmer’s Wife. After assessing the old recipe card, we’re thinking she wasn’t the family’s go-to chef. Or maybe she just took inspiration from pickled herring dishes found in Norway, Poland and Germany.
In addition to wedges of pickled herring, this recipe leans heavily into onions, apples, potatoes and sour cream. Once you’ve brined your herring and blended all of these ingredients together, the recipe suggests you "toss in mayonnaise" — you know, for good measure.
Alternative Ways to Serve Thanksgiving Turkey
There’s nothing like turkey on Thanksgiving — and there’s nothing like the turkey in these recipes. Sure, many of us may scoop our cranberry sauce out of a can, but it seems essential that the turkey come off the bone.
One ad assures readers that "Jell-O makes leftover turkey taste like Thanksgiving all over again." This seems doubtful. It’s hard to tell if those are deviled eggs and asparagus inside that very yellow turkey aspic, but we definitely aren’t interested in finding out.
Chilled Celery Log
Of all the vintage recipes to grace our list, this one is probably the least offensive. Celery pairs well with cream cheese and with artichoke dip, so it’s no wonder someone thought to condense the dip and the dip-delivery-method into one item.
Admittedly, the branding could use some work — a celery log just sounds weird. And there’s no reason to rest it in a California king-sized bed of lettuce. Still, this one proves celery is good for more than stirring a Bloody Mary.
Cottage Cheese-Salmon Salad
This one comes from a cookbook entitled My Great Recipes. A name like that is a surefire way to convince your readers that the dishes inside are good — great, even. Despite looking more like a loaf, this concoction is a salad.
In this dish, big players in the vintage recipe handbook, including salmon, sour cream, celery and lemon juice, come together under a layer of cottage cheese and gelatin. It truly doesn’t get more mid-century modern gross than this one.
To our 21st-century ears, the phrase "lettuce salad" sounds a bit redundant. But, in the not-so-recent-past, this moniker was essential. Almost anything could be dubbed a salad, with or without gelatin. Certainly, lettuce wasn’t a defining factor either.
Also called "deviled lettuce," this salad was a means of marketing Kraft’s miracle whip salad dressing, the cheaper mayo alternative. Kraft’s ad promised that there was "bright flavor to savor in Miracle Whip." And we agree. We’d just prefer it not come with a side of hollowed-out head of lettuce.
Brussels Sprouts in a Noodle Mold
When you buy a house, you aren’t always going to get all the features you want. Sometimes, your dream home is great on the inside but lacking in the curb appeal department. That’s exactly what’s wrong with this dish: It’s not much to look at.
Brussels sprouts have long received a bad rap, probably because everyone used to boil them and then scoop them onto plates — or on top of noodles molded into a Bundt cake. These days, sprouts are the appetizer of choice at any trendy restaurant worth its kale. Needless to say, it’s time for someone to rework the look of this not-quite-mac-and-cheese dish.
Ham ‘N’ Lima Bean Sadness Casserole
Comfort foods can do wonders when it comes to lifting one’s spirits. But, here, we have the antithesis of comfort food — a cold, Jell-O encased mound of lima beans, ham and … cheese? It’s hard to see.
But you know what isn’t hard to see? Why the creators dubbed this a "sadness casserole." Both delicious and hearty, ham and lima bean casseroles and soups remain popular throughout the U.S. Fortunately, that need to create a gelatin overlay faded — and we can only assume that’s where the sadness stemmed from. Well, that or the ridiculous garnish.
Unlike apple pie, Celery Victor is never thought of as America’s food, but it was invented here in 1910 when head chef Victor Hirtzler at San Francisco’s St. Francis hotel … marinated some celery? We’re guessing there’s a good reason most folks haven’t tasted this alleged American classic.
If you’re interested in whipping this dish up, you’ll need to simmer some celery hearts in chicken or beef stock, chill it (add some citrus, maybe) and then toss it with peppers. Served over — or next to — lettuce, Celery Victor actually shares a birthplace with (the much tastier and much more popular) Crab Louie salad.
The ad for Cranberry Candles warns readers that "You’ll start a whole new holiday tradition" if you choose to make these items. That’s a huge commitment for a more vertically-inclined salad. The concept was dreamt up by the fine folks over at Hellmann’s.
They weren’t going to let Miracle Whip take all the good ideas. While cranberry and mayonnaise aren’t a bad taste combo, molding mayo into candleholders really makes you think about how this stuff sits in your stomach. Should you choose to make these candles, be forewarned: According to Hellmann’s "you’ll be asked to serve it again and again" and again…
The name "Hostess Tree" was unfortunately snatched up by Oscar Mayer, purveyor of fine frankfurters and bologna, but we really, really wish Hostess — the brand behind Twinkies and Ho Hos — had thought of it first.
Oscar Mayer suggests stapling parsley sprigs to a Styrofoam cone and then trimming the faux tree with meats for a tree that’s "sure to be the center of attraction at any holiday buffet." While this concept would make a delicious dessert item — c’mon, Hostess! — we’re much more skeptical of this hackneyed attempt at making charcuterie fun.
Spam & Bisquick Pancakes
We’ve all had those bare cupboard moments. You’re rifling through canned goods and a strange array of condiments, hoping you can cobble together a satisfactory (or at least edible) meal. This one takes two of the cupboard’s heaviest hitters — Spam and Bisquick — and pairs them.
Unlike The Avengers, this is decidedly not the greatest crossover event in history. "You’ll love the way the family looks at you when you come in with these," the ad reads. We guarantee those smiles on your kids’ faces are there because the hunks of Spam are completely hidden in the pancake batter. If you want to be an actual hero, stick to adding chocolate chips.