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.
Post expires at 10:02am on Monday January 25th, 2021