I have SO MANY COOKBOOKS, you guys. SO MANY. Even though I only cook like five things and they almost all involve cream of mushroom soup. Seriously, I must have hundreds of cookbooks, enough to open a store that sold nothing but cookbooks and I'd still be able to be open for years, because honestly: it's like they've found all the nice warm spots in my house to hide away and breed, like escaped hamsters.
The reason I discovered this is that I was looking for something new and exciting to make for our annual department Turkey Day Potluck, which is coming up in a few weeks. For the last couple of years I have made my famous (infamous?) pumpkin dip, which is perfectly delicious and totally fine and whatever, but I've been trying to branch out a little bit, and I thought it might be fun to try something else for a change.
I'm not entirely sure what I thought I was thinking of -- maybe a homemade cranberry sauce? Or some kind of bread pudding? Perhaps a vegetable side dish in the crock pot, green bean or broccoli casserole maybe? Something to reactivate my lately-dormant Martha Stewart complex. The kind of stuff that I should definitely have been able to find in one of those cookbooks I have lying around.
My initial line of investigation went something like this: Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about memory and tradition, right? And tradition means old-fashioned, vintage-y recipes that have been passed down through generations of home cooks, doesn't it? So if I'm looking for something like that, something that somebody else's grandmother might have made, where do I look? I look in one of these ancient and elderly cookbooks that I "inherited" from my aunts or my mother-in-law, don't I?
That's where I started, hoping to find something classic and comforting and totally holiday-appropriate and possibly even impressive, because vintage home cooking is the new haute cuisine. Right? So the other night, at dinner, I paged through an cookbook that used to be my mother-in-law's, perhaps even her mother's. I couldn't find a copyright date in this particular edition, but judging from the design of the kitchens and the clothes the people are wearing in the pictures, I would guess that this one is from somewhere between 1965 and 1975.
Should have been ripe for finding charming little old dishes like grandma used to make, right? Instead what I found were some of the most horribly, face-meltingly, stupefyingly bad "recipes" that I ever did see in my whole entire life. I am not talking about stuff that uses weird ingredients like rutabaga and sauerbraten and something called "No. 2 cans" of tomato soup, although there was plenty of that.
There was also a lot of ... whatever the hell that thing is, up there. In the cookbook, that monstrosity, that absolute affront to all that is good and holy in this world, that hot mess is called "Perfection Salad," and it is made with unflavored gelatin, sugar, salt, water, vinegar, lemon juice, shredded cabbage, celery, green pepper, and pimiento.
Or, in other words: SHREDDED VEGETABLES IN JELLO GARNISHED WITH OLIVES AND THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE OILED BABY FINGERS WHAT THE CRAP IS THAT I JUST CAN'T EVEN.
Now, look, I know that this was a different time in our history. I've watched a few episodes of "Mad Men." But come on now. Did anybody actually cook like this? Did anybody actually eat this stuff? Really? If this is what my grandparents' generation fed to my parents' generation in the 1960s, then it's no wonder that everybody did drugs in the 1970s. Who would look at that picture and say, "You know what? This gelatinous ring of disgustitude really IS just right for a buffet! Let have a dinner party and invite all my friends just so I can serve this!"
Probably the same person who would serve THIS mess. "Tasty Tenderloin-Noodle Casserole." Those meat-like chunks in the picture are supposed to be slices of pork tenderloin that have been browned in "hot fat." To me, they look like some kind of meatball, or potted meat product, or possibly wads of tree trunk -- or worse. The chunks are combined with "noodles" (I guess any old kind?), chopped green peppers and pimiento, and a "blue-cheese sauce" that is seriously the grossest thing that I have ever heard of. And I LOVE blue cheeses.
Here are some common things in this cookbook that I just don't understand: Pimiento. Monosodium glutamate. Unflavored gelatin. "Shredded process cheese" of unspecified flavor profile. "Luncheon meat," which I think means Spam or something? Recipes for "Mexican" and "Italian" food where the only spices called for are salt, pepper, and parsley.
These are two sample real recipes for "Appetizer Juices": (1) 2 parts chilled tomato juice and 1 part sauerkraut juice, stirred, served over crushed ice in cocktail glasses, and (2) heated vegetable-juice cocktail with 1 teaspoon butter stirred in. BUTTERED V8. Save me.
This is called "Rainbow Snowball Cake" and it's made from whipped vanilla ice cream, three kinds of sherbet rolled into balls and frozen on a "cooky" sheet, and apparently eleventeen different kinds of artificial colorings. I am getting hives just looking at it. That dessert is, like, 25% red dye #40.
Scary-sounding foods: Dried-beef Log. Prune Spice Cake. Baked Prune Whip. Glorified Rice, which is a dessert. Cottage Pudding. Baked-bean Sandwiches. Toasted Cheese Loaf. Liver Loaf. Chicken-fried Heart. Also, this cookbook contains a section on setting the table, including how to create "lovely and delightful centerpieces," one of which is basically -- no, it is exactly -- made by putting daisies in a saucepan.
Three things about this here thing, and then I need to go throw up and then take a nap: (1) My grandmother's nails totally looked like that, same shape and color and everything, until about 1997, and (2) that white thing is a so-called "pudding" made from unflavored gelatin, coconut flakes, and whipped cream, which is pretty much everything that is wrong with America, right there, and (3) WHY ARE THEY POURING BLOOD OVER THIS POOR THING? MAKE IT STOP.
Still want to see more, for whatever reason? You can check out The Gallery of Regrettable Food, and then maybe you should go seek professional help.