Recently I had a major craving for a peanut butter and jelly (jelly here=jam) sandwich, so I just HAD to buy peanut butter (always a dangerous move). And thinking about peanut butter combinations, I remembered the weirdest I’ve ever tasted: peanut butter and ketchup on crackers. It was a snack served to me by my grandmother, and I’ve never seen or heard of it anywhere else. I don’t know why- it was surprisingly edible. Maybe even yummy (it’s been a long time, I don’t remember). And it dawned on me: a lot of retro food is weird food.
My grandmother grew up and became a housewife in an era so different from mine. One that included jello* salad. I have to admit I’ve never encountered one, but I’ve heard stories… As a kid my father dreaded Christmas dinner because jello salad was always served. Really, is it a salad? Is it a dessert?
A lot of jello salads are made with fruit and nuts, especially nowadays. Cranberry jello salad can be made to accompany meat roasts. Those sound nice, but they are NOT the jello salads I’m talking about. I’m talking about the “congealed salads” that became all the rage in 1930s America (JELL-O History). At first when you think ‘savoury jellies’, you might think ‘aspics’. But the congealed salads Americans started making used flourescent LIME flavoured Jell-O as their base, before mixing in ingredients like grated onion and mayonnaise. It was only some 20 YEARS later that Jello-O introduced savory jelly flavours, like celery and tomato (Jello Recipes).
My poor father… Born in 1950s America, the height of suburbia, when home and lifestyle magazines were filled with jello recipes, because jello mountains were the height of sophistication. And sophisticated dishes always had to be garnished with lettuce- obviously.
And whatever the dish, if it came out of a mold, it was sure to impress. Like this appetizing meat cake with green frosting:
I bet you’re hungry now! It’s scary to think that the jello/mold craze lasted until the 70s…
P.S. If you enjoyed the photos in this post, you might want to browse this delightful flickr photo pool: Gee, That Food Looks Terrible! [Vintage]. It’s where all your nasty retro food porn dreams come true.
* “Jello”, an American term for jelly or gelatin, came from the popular gelatin brand Jell-O.