Visualize a “Classic Thanksgiving”. You might conjure up an image of Norman Rockwell domesticity, with Father carving a big old turkey as suit and dress wearing children smack their lips over that juicy bird.
You probably aren’t thinking of meat and vegetables suspended in Jell-o molds, eggs drowning in canned soup, and big dollops of mayonnaise dotting everything in sight.
But for a while in post-World War 2 America, that’s exactly what advertising companies were trying to steer their customers towards envisioning a perfect Thanksgiving meal as. Here’s examples of some vintage Thanksgiving foods that, try as companies did, never wound up being part of family tradition.
Gelatin. You couldn’t escape it through the 50’s, 60’s and the start of the 70’s. (With the sexual revolution came the rejection of the Jell-O mold, one of many positive societal advances.) EVERYTHING that you could put into gelatin, people did. Here’s a great case in point: A Jell-O ad from what looks like the early 70’s, judging from the very Brady vibes being giving off by the children. Left over turkey? Stick it in cranberry Jell-O! Don’t forget to dump a clod of turkey salad with mayo and celery in the center! Copy writers should take note from the mistakes of the past: Using the term “taste” and “all over again” in the same sentence sounds like you’re throwing up.
OKAY! Here we go! More gelatin and mayonnaise! Along with cranberry sauce, apples and walnuts, this slurry of side dish became functional when you stuck a string in the center of the can to create a lit candle! Not only does this look like dog food on fire, there’s SO MUCH of it. The picture shows three of them, like every guest gets their own dog-food-can-sized helping? These monsters even suggest putting a bowl of mayonnaise on the side…for dipping? Dressing? Who knows, let’s keep moving.
Oh good lord. Sure, the candle may be a little Christmas-y, but make no mistake: That’s Thanksgiving dinner swirling in that aspic. Aspic, the savory boiled bone based variety of gelatin (Drooling yet?) was the traditional holder of meat-based molded food. This block of dinner contains bits of turkey, carrots, corn and peas. And it’s all topped with what looks like an AIDS ribbon? At least it has a positive message!
Flanked by Fall gourds, this “Holiday Vegetable Loaf” has a lot going on. There’s no gelatin IN the loaf, but don’t worry, it’s still on the side. The vegetable loaf (vegetables undisclosed) is nestled in a bed of what I automatically assumed was mayonnaise, but it’s actually “fluffy” potatoes, don’t worry. Surrounding the brown and beige are steamed broccoli florets, and little radish roses that you will definitely have plenty of time to carve on Thanksgiving morning. But the real stars of the show are those cranberry sauce turkeys on apple slices! In the 1950’s, if you aren’t serving meat, you at least need to allude to meat.
Finally, here are some posts from the Instagram account of “RetroFoodGhoul”, who re-creates very-possibly revolting recipes of the past in his kitchen. Here are some of the Thanksgiving-themed posts, with the condensed-soup based “Tomato Deviled Eggs” and “Chicken Cranberry Salad” of 1952, and the 1970’s “Tropical Turkey with Rice”. The taste results range from “Awful” to “Not awful”. (“Not awful” counts as a rave review on this sliding scale). Watch at your own discretion, and have a wonderful turkey day that, god willing, will not be suspended in Jell-o.
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RESURRECTED RECIPE: Tomato Deviled Eggs 1952. I’m trying to do a few Vaguely thanksgiving expired dishes. I don’t think everyone has deviled eggs as an appetizer on Thanksgiving but SOME of you do. DONT LIE! I love deviled eggs & I love most tomato products but condensed tomato soup is not one of them. Also the idea of baking a deviled egg didn’t seem very appealing but I was still very curious to try this and hoped it would be amazing so I could for real serve this at thanksgiving. VERDICT: it’s probably not as bad as you’d expect but it basically tastes like dipping a deviled egg into a bowl of spaghettios. I’d say the hot mayo part is less appealing overall than the tomato soup on hot deviled egg part. It’s not terrible but also not really worth making UNLESS you want to impress hardly seen relatives on thanksgiving day with a cool 65 year old way to make deviled eggs. #retrorecipes #retrocooking #vintagecookbook #retrofood #vintagerecipes #thanksgivingdinner #thanksgivingrecipes #retrothanksgiving
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RESURRECTED RECIPE: Chicken Cranberry Salad 1952. I have never ever liked cranberry sauce. One of the few foods I’ve disliked since childhood so I figured if I’m going to try thanksgiving stuff, I might as well try and find something that would make me like cranberry sauce. Of course this recipe pairs it with something I also hate: canned cream of chicken soup, but I was hoping the gelatin mold would really bring it to that next level of horror for me. VERDICT: This is absolutely without a doubt disgusting. I can’t imagine a time on this planet when this was pleasurable to someone’s palette. I’m guessing you actually love cranberry sauce you’ll hate this maybe .000001% less than I did. The tartness of the cranberry and just the gross saltiness of canned condensed chicken soup all wrapped up in gelatin is just too excruciating. Please tell your friends about this video so my torture doesn’t go unappreciated. BONUS: last video shows a couple special guests actually enjoying this recipe. #retrorecipes #retrocooking #vintagecookbook #retrofood #vintagerecipes #aspic #thanksgivingdinner #thanksgivingrecipes #retrothanksgiving
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RESURRECTED RECIPE: Tropical Turkey with Rice circa 1970s. For my final thanksgiving themed dish I decided to conquer thanksgiving’s biggest problem. Leftover turkey. Aren’t you sick of turkey sandwiches and turkey soup or turkey salad?? You hear those steel drums? It’s time to make those leftovers into tropical turkey!! VERDICT: This is shockingly decent. It’s kind of like a hobo curry (not sure exactly when this book is from but guessing by the typography and illustrations it’s sometime in the 70s so it’s possible curry wasn’t a popularized dish in America yet so they went with the much more pleasing “tropical turkey with rice”). I’d even go as far as saying if you didn’t just buy all the cheapest store brand ingredients like I did and you tweaked the ingredients a bit (more curry, less olives, add hot sauce) this would be border on great! This was legitimately in the leftover turkey section of this cookbook so I’d say Martha Holmes really knows what she’s talking about. This is a decent way to use leftovers if you have these very specific ingredients on hand. #retrorecipes #retrocooking #vintagecookbook #retrofood #vintagerecipes #thanksgivingdinner #thanksgivingrecipes #retrothanksgiving
Oh, if you want a Thanksgiving side dish recipe that actually looks good and tastes good, check out our Green Bean Casserole That Doesn’t Look Like A Pile of Puke.