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.
Liver Sausage PineapplePhoto: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License
From 1953's Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, this is liver sausage covered in Jell-O and mayo, molded into a pineapple shape and "studded" with olives.
As Craig Payst notes over at Owls On the Table, if you want to complete the look and dress up your new BFF with a little pineapple wig, you have to buy an entire pineapple and chop that part off. That's ridiculous and wasteful. You should obviously make a fake pineapple top out of modeling clay so you always have one on hand.
After all, you're going to be serving this a lot. That's the responsible thing to do.
Tuna and Pear PizzaPhoto: flickr / CC0
Wow. The black globs on this so-called "pizza" are pickled walnuts.The spokes on the little wagon wheel design are anchovies, which, okay, sure, anchovies are a legit pizza topping. But the insanity continues with the sauce, which has pears and tuna mixed into it. The recipe card (from Marguerite Patten's Recipe Cards of 1972) credits the "Fruit Producers Council" for the photograph, which is baffling. This didn't help sell any pears, guys.
Also: how do you slice this thing? Do you cut the anchovies in half? There's no other way to do it fairly.
Glace Fish MoldPhoto: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License
From 1943's 300 Timely Fish Recipes, this abomination is somehow even grosser than it looks. Yes, it's flaked fish served inside of plain Jell-O, molded into the shape of a fish. That's pretty nasty. But it's the veggies that really send this one over the edge. There are raw cucumbers, green peppers, and onions inside this thing.
Raw onions and Jell-O! So it's really like the saddest, weirdest tuna salad you've ever had.
Cranberry "Candle" SaladPhoto: Metaweb / CC-BY
Let's not mince words: this is a mold of cranberry sauce, mayonnaise, and Jell-O with a birthday candle sticking out of it. It also looks disturbingly like roasted flesh, considering the ingredients. Just when you think things can't get any grosser, the recipe recommends garnishing it with even more mayo, which makes sense, because this is from a 1960 Hellmann's advertisement.
(This also explains the "family style" bowl of mayonnaise on the table!)