Vintage 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 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 Pineapple
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 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 Pizza
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 Mold
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 onionsinside this thing. Raw onions and Jell-O! So it’s really like the saddest, weirdest tuna salad you’ve ever had.
Cranberry “Candle” Salad
Let’s not mince words: this is a mold of cranberry sauce, mayonnaise, and Jell-O with a birthday candlesticking 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!).
Californian Jello Ring
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 Ring
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!)
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 sexything you could ever say?
Cottage Cheese Ring
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.
Christmas Candle Salad
Let’s get it out of the way: yep, these things looks like little penises. The “wicks” are almonds, too, so guys in 1958 got to imagine what that feels like. Plus, there’s mayonnaise on the tip “to look like melted wax”! Beyond their obviously phallic nature, you know they turned mushy and brown about halfway through the Christmas party.
Ham Loaf Superb
This meat-packed monstrosity is from the Betty Crocker Holiday Cookbook (1983). It’s ground ham, beef, and lean pork baked into a superb loaf using tomato juice (!), eggs (okay), and quick-cooking oats (sure!). The white stuff on top is sliced cheese, like normal people would put on a sandwich. It’s served on a bed of a million peas.
Billed, revoltingly, as “tomato aspic with personality,” this spicy-yet-cold Jell-O blob pairs nicely, apparently, with wilted lettuce and hard-boiled eggs. The recipe – found in a 1953 copy of Life – suggests spicing it up even more with Worcestershire or onion juice (barf), so it’s basically an alcohol-free Jell-O Bloody Mary?
Ham and Bananas Hollandaise
No list of disgusting vintage food is complete without “Ham and Bananas Hollandaise” from McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection of 1973. It’s like the Citizen Kane of gross vintage recipes. The only thing that would make this worse would be covering it in Jell-O. Just look at it. Why on earth would anyone substitute bananas for eggs? Apparently it pairs nicely with grapes and a tossed salad, if the picture is to be believed. Yum!
Chopped Chicken Liver Paté
This looks like a sad birthday cake made out of cat food, but it’s actually just a weirdly tarted-up paté recipe from The Complete Family Recipe Card Library of 1973. Just in case you’re not 100% revolted, know this: the flowers are made out of raw carrots, green onion slices, and celery leaves… suspended in gelatin. What goes well with cat food birthday cake? Checking the card, it looks like raw cauliflower covered in … oh my God is that shrimp?
Cottage Cheese and Salmon Mold
There’s something particularly nasty about savory dishes that look like desserts. Take this deceptive dish from Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards of 1967, for example: at a glance – especially from the side – it just looks like a cake. Nope! Those are hard-boiled eggs and raw cucumbers suspended in cottage cheese, mayo, and salmon-filled Jell-O.
Liver Pâté En Masque
This has to be the least appetizing color and texture a foodstuff could possibly be, right? It’s like a semen volcano made out of liver and stuffed with raw radishes and chicory. Chicory! Chicory is bitter. Couldn’t you at least use some peppery arugula or something? The semen, by the way, is a mustard-flavored gelatin glaze. What a nightmare.
(Recipe from 1974 Weight Watchers International Recipe Cards here.)
Creamed Eggs in Corned Beef Crust
This is from 1965’s Happy Living! A Guidebook for Brides. If this recipe is any indication, the book is a work of satire. Gaze upon its murky beauty: you’re looking at a pie crust made with white bread and flaked corned beef filled with mushroom soup, cream, and hard-boiled eggs. As Micki Myers from Yuckylicious observes, not a single vegetable was harmed in the making of this monstrosity.
Cup Steak Puddings
What does “perfection” look like? Cole slaw trapped inside a choad made of Jell-O, if McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection of 1973 is to be believed.
Two great tastes that taste great together: milk and chicken! (That’s where the phrase “As American as milk and chicken” comes from.) Seriously, though: take away the bananas and the milk “glaze” and you have a perfectly normal meal here. Side note: the little zen garden of mashed potatoes in the background is adorable. Maybe the assistant food stylist was embarrassed about the work his or her boss did on the milk chicken? Let’s go with that.
(Recipe from Marguerite Patten’s Recipe Cards of 1967 here.)
Two things about this 1972 marvel:
That’s a lot of hyphens. Macaroni and Cheese + Tuna = Yum!, but not if you add celery and olives and make it into a loaf. And who are we kidding with those sliced tomatoes?(Recipe here.)