Mid-century cookbooks aren't just full of comfort food classics like Grandma's Apple Pie and Auntie Nora's Beef Stew. They're also full of disgusting dishes and weird vintage foods made with gelatin and mayonnaise. Seriously: find any American cookbook from 1940 to 1985. Check the index for "aspic," "Jell-O," "gelatin," or "mayonnaise." Things were out of control!
Vintage cookbooks and retro recipe cards are full of this objectively unappetizing stuff. Why? One explanation is that since gelatin required refrigeration, creating these dishes was a show of status: We have a refrigerator and you don't. It's an interesting theory, but it doesn't change the fact that these flavor combinations are just plain gross: vanilla and salmon, mayonnaise and bananas, carrots and liver... and that's before you add the Jell-O! Grab a barf bucket and read on to learn about some of the grossest recipes from vintage cookbooks.
Californian Jello RingPhoto: flickr / CC0
Seriously? This nightmare from Marguerite Patten's Recipe Cards (1967) requires some explanation: the white blob is vanilla ice cream. So far, so good. On top of the white blob are boiled prunes "for decoration." Ugh. Could it get worse? Yep: the bottom is prune-filled Jell-O surrounded by orange slices. Good God.
Believe it or not, Patten included an alternate recipe that is actually worse: she suggests using tea instead of water when you make the Jell-O. Seriously.
Molded Beef RingPhoto: Metaweb / CC-BY
From Farm Journal's Country Cookbook (1959), this eldritch horror is beef set in gelatin with fun ketchup stripes and a crown of pimento olives. The cookbook says it will bring "peace of mind when company's coming," but don't listen to that nonsense. This thing is a culinary hellmouth.
(No recipe available. Wing it!)
Shrimp-Salmon MoldPhoto: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
So many questions about this recipe. This is from the Weight Watchers International Recipe Cards series from 1974. So why is it asking you to use buttermilk? If you're using real buttermilk, why bother with "imitation butter flavoring"? Why do you need 3 drops of yellow food coloring? Why would you add vanilla extract to shrimp and/or salmon?
Is the phrase "unmold on a bed of salad greens" the least sexy thing you could ever say?
Cottage Cheese RingPhoto: flickr / CC0
So, this looks like a bowl of dog food, right? Dog food in a bowl made of cottage cheese. But instead of kibble, your guests get "Vegetable Salad Medley" and "Marinated Mushrooms," all on a bed of lettuce that no one is eating. It probably wasn't even washed.
For the brave, the 1958 recipe from the "Tested Recipe Institute" (what a relief!) can be found here.