One of my all-time favorites pastimes is going through old photo albums with my grandparents. Grandma and grandpa have photos of my siblings, cousins and me—but more importantly, they have photos of my parents when they were kids. The vulnerable moments of my mom and dad’s childhood—their first birthday cakes and popsicle-stained lips—are locked into a time portal.
Outfit with radically different fashions back when they were children, another hilarious component that truly dates my parents’ era of ‘growing up’—is the food. Times were oh-so very different: A handful of these age-old staples continue to be American favorites while others are seen as totally bizarre.
It wasn’t a chef, but a maître d'hôtel, who invented the Waldorf Salad. While employed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, creator Oscar Tschirky included the original recipe in his cookbook, The Cookbook, with three inclusions: apples, celery mayonnaise. New age iterations may include walnuts, yogurt, parsley and lemon.
When C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the TV dinner in 1954, it was Thanksgiving, and the appetites of Americans hit a lower mark than Swanson had expected: 260 tons of frozen meat sat in ten refrigerated railroad cars. Company salesman Gerry Thomas thought why not put the food, pre-prepared, on trays as the airlines do? That first year, the company sold ten million turkey dinners.
The pivotal concept was undoubtedly met by mothers and housewives with celebration: it meant there was one meal less to prepare each day, a novel invention given its provision of convenience and time.
Seemingly tongue-in-cheek, the name of this creamy, pistachio-based salad is rumored to be referencing the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. Several explanations exist, but to date, the truth still lives unconfirmed. Also known as Green Goop, Green Fluff and Pistachio delight, Kraft Company released a pistachio flavored instant pudding mix in 1975 for Watergate Salad (and Watergate Cake) recipe. It might be hard to find pistachio instant pudding these days, so why not try to make your own chilled serving?
Deviled Ham Spread
The oldest creator of deviled ham spread may be the William Underwood Company, founded in 1822. Back then, Underwood was well known for its glass-packaged condiments including mustards and pickled vegetables. Throughout the years the list grew to include canned ham spread, as well as white meat chicken, roast beef, and liverwurst spreads. So what in the devil is deviled ham spread? Ground ham with added spices such as hot sauce, cayenne pepper, hot peppers, or mustard. Don’t miss this stellar deviled ham recipe, courtesy of the Food Network.
Prune whip has been around for at least a century, and is eaten as a dessert, a palate cleanser and for its fibrous properties. A recipe was included in the 1918 Fannie Farmer cookbook, and then gained huge momentum in the 1950s when President Eisenhower listed it as one of his favorite foods. Whip up a modern version of this old-fashioned classic!
Ambrosia Fruit Salad
Literally translated, ambrosia means immortality in Greek. It is said that only gods and goddesses were fit to feast on ambrosia. Today, ambrosia is a southern staple made from fruits, sugar and grated coconut. While recipes for the sweet dish began to appear in American cookbooks toward the last quarter of the 19th century, there were several recipes before those published findings that produced similar dishes, such as “iced oranges.” One quirky influence of the fruit salad was another item that was extremely popular in the 1830s: dried coconut meats. If you like, add maraschino cherries to your own recipe.
From cranberry to lime, strawberry—or even pretzels—more than 180 versions of Jell-O salad are published on All Recipes. During the Great Depression, Jell-O gained popularity as an economical and speedy way to create a good-tasting treat, as is visible by the 1931 “The Greater Jell-O Recipe Book,” a pamphlet published by The General Foods Corporation. One take: add crushed pineapples, mandarin oranges, and cranberries for a Cranberry Jell-O Salad.
Knowing these seven quirky recipes’ origins is a perfect launch pad for your next dinner party conversation. (Although it’s very possible you won’t get asked to ever bring a side dish again!)
1. “The Story Behind The Most Popular Salad in New York,” by Samantha Weiss Hills, Food52, June 2015, https://food52.com/blog/13272-the-story-behind-the-most-popular-salad-in-new-york
3. “Tray Bon!,’ by Owen Edwards, Smithsonian.com, December 2004, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/tray-bon-96872641/?no-ist
4. Food Timeline, http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsalads.html#watergatesalad
5. All Recipes, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/13811/watergate-salad/
6. Underwood Meat Spread, http://www.underwoodspreads.com/about-us/
7. Food Network, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/winning-deviled-ham-recipe.html
8. “No-Cook Prune Whip Is Plum Tasty (Ike Liked It, Too),” by Elaine Linter, The Dallas Observer, September 2010, http://www.dallasobserver.com/restaurants/no-cook-prune-whip-is-plum-tasty-ike-liked-it-too-7035533
9. All Recipes, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14265/prune-whip/
10. Food Timeline, http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq.html#ambrosia
11. All Recipes, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/16123/ambrosia-fruit-salad/
13. “Fancy Jell-O During the Great Depression,” by Brette Warshaw, Food52, August 2013, https://food52.com/blog/7616-fancy-jell-o-during-the-great-depression