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Coagulated Cookery: The Midcentury Gelatinized Dinner Table

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Early on in the 20th century, homemakers turned to gelatin to save money by stretching expensive items like fruit and meat.  Unfortunately, what began as humble frugality turned into gelatin madness by midcentury.  Dinner tables quickly turned into horrific displays of congealed gastro-anomalies.  They lapped it up back then – but the 21st century palette has changed, and these molded monstrosities look absolutely stomach churning today.



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This is supposedly a “California Waldorf Salad”; although, a more apt title may be “California Coagulated Vomit”… and it appears to be infected.




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From The Blender Way to Better Cooking, (1965). You’ll notice a lot of these dishes are heavy on the garnishes.  That’s because a loaf of fleshy-colored blended meat is revolting on its own.  You’ve got to accessorize your briquette of gelatinized meat-paste to make it seem remotely palatable.




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Yes, you actually can buy desserts like this.  They’re at your local hardware store.  Look for the aisle with rubber stoppers and drain plugs.




Knox Gelatin On-Camera Recipes (1962)

Knox Gelatin On-Camera Recipes (1962)


These glistening polyps are definitely not ready for prime time.




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The “Fruited Ruby Flakes” is just Jell-O (“any red flavor”) minced with a fork and served with sliced fruit.  No problem there.  My main concern is the “Vegetable Rice Medley”.  Lime Jell-O and “pimiento chips” should never be within the same recipe.




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This “Silhouette Salad” from 1957 looks like carrion.  To make things worse, the garnish makes it look like you just scooped this cadaverous tubule from your yard.




Macaroni Loaf from 1934

Macaroni Loaf from 1934


Some of these recipes might actually taste good blindfolded.  If you can get past the rubbery texture, I’m sure macaroni salad leftovers pressed into a semi-solid gelatinous matrix isn’t all bad.




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I feel sorry for the poor unfortunate soul who bites into that Salmon Pie thinking it’s strawberry cream.  What a stomach-turning surprise that will be.

As for the hideous Shrimp Mold: anyone foolish enough to take a bite of that gets what they deserve.



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More gastro-abominations to be found here.

  • SkeptiGal

    You floor me! I’m a bit of an aficionado of the mid century meal abominations, mainly cuz of the “ew” factor, just like when you watch a horror movie and have to peek through your fingers. It’s a certain tingly feeling, partly secretly satisfying, partly scary, sort of like looking over the edge of a roof. I am assuming you’ve read James Lilek’s massive exposes on mid century abuses of food. You guys should share notes. He has quite a collection!

  • Liz Cooper

    I always wondered why gelatin dishes were so very popular in the first half of the 20th century. It makes sense that they stretched a thin food budget. I guess a generation or two started to actually like the stuff. Boy, these “meals” look repulsive.