Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Horrors of Soup

So I found the Campbell's Book of How to Commit Atrocities in the Kitchen with Soup and scanned the most egregious of offenders.

Here is a teaser for what lies ahead:


Monday, May 24, 2010


One of my favorite sources for Disturbing Vintage Advertising, TJS Labs Gallery of Graphic Design, offers corroborative evidence for the apparently crucial importance of meat in The Past. Meat wasn't just a source of protein for these people, it was practically a religion, complete with its own weird dialect (Meat of Good Eating! Meat--You're Right in Liking It! We waste not the Meat!*) and solemn injunctions to consume it not only for the sake of one's health and strength but for one's character as well. Meat: it helps fight Communism.

It had its own Cook Book.

But meat wasn't just limited to vast glistening centerpiece roasts. Meat could appear in many creative guises, such as Dilly Beef Cartwheel, Stuffed Pork Chops, Orange-Glazed Escarpments, Steak with Maggot Garnish (always serve with white zinfandel in an Erlenmeyer flask), Masked Identity Meat in Popovers, and Meatballs Attempting to Escape.

Meat dishes from this period can be roughly grouped into several categories: Meat that has been Ground and Shaped Into Masses, Meat that Maintains its Original Muscle Integrity, and Meat that Somebody Else has Already Processed. The variety of meatloaves and meatballs (meat loaves and meat balls, which sounds thirty times less appetizing) available in your standard Avocado Green and Harvest Gold kitchen would be categorized as Ground and Shaped Into Masses, as would leftover meat that has been chopped up and added to a jellied salad or vinyl sauce. Roasts and most hams, chops, and steaks would fall under the Original Muscle Integrity category, at least until the housewife cut holes in them and started stuffing cubes of Velveeta and canned pineapple inside. Meat that Somebody Else has Already Processed covers sausage of all descriptions, Spam and its forlorn competitors (Mor, Treet, Prem, Temt, Bif, etc), and canned ham.

Luckily for everyone, I've got examples of all three!

We'll begin with Mock Pot Roast, which is frankly sad. "Everyone squint, and I'll turn down the lights, and maybe if you wish real hard it'll taste like pot roast instead of a giant lump of ground beef, oats, and bottled gravy coloring!" The caption states that this is a "stunning" meat loaf in a dish. I suppose you could place the whole thing inside a sack and swing it at people's heads to stun them. I suppose.

Then we have Duchess Meat Loaf Pie, which is creative because it's a meat loaf in a skillet with instant mash on top and because it comes pre-infested with maggots.

The cook who is using ground meat may find herself faced with the difficult decision of whether to shape the flesh into a loaf or a ring. (Or a cube, or a cone, or a cowpat?) If she chooses the ring, she must fill the hole in the middle with enough green-flecked rice to support a selection of gleaming black shuttlecocks. If the loaf is selected, it must be topped with a miniature limp green octopus. Note the recipe for the "Piquant Ring" contains half a cup firmly packed brown sugar and a quarter-cup each of orange juice and molasses. Dentists must have loved the 70s.

Here we have semiconscious cow heads adorning round hamburgers and vinyl sauce (vinyl cheese, in this case) covering Wendy's-style square burgers. Note the use of what appear to be surgical pins to anchor the olives and tomatoes to the vinyl cheese.

Sometimes the housewife wanted to hide her shame and wrap up the ground meat inside a cabbage leaf. This never ended well.

Maggots are a recurring theme in the Great Book of Hamburger, as evidenced by Spanish Mince and Maggot Roll. Can you spot the worm head in this picture?

But nothing compares to this presentation: none of these ground-up gustatory delights can hold a candle to the following image:

Rapier-Pierced Bowel Movements in Ill-Fitting Buns.

That's quite enough of that. Let's move on to Meat that Retains its Original Muscle Integrity, with Sugared Pork Snout Roast. Doesn't that look amazing? Spiced pears, even!

Braising in bleach was one of the ways cooks in the 70s made sure their meals were free of illness-causing bacteria.

Here we have the fabled Death Valley Dead Thing Rôti. This must be cooked over a pale flame on rippled sand just as the sun peeps above a distant mountain range. Otherwise the skinwalkers will find you.

You think I'm kidding about the vinyl sauce thing? They came right out and said it: this unappealing pot roast is draped in a rich brown gravy. You don't drape gravy. You drape vinyl.

We've seen this before, but here's the pink petal posy ham à la sandworm head. Glazing of pig products with various viscous sugary syrups seems to have been not so much a fashion as an enforceable law: some creative individuals took advantage of the opportunity to glue things onto the side of their glazed pig chunks in the process of covering them in sugar. Somewhere out there on the internet there is a picture of a leg of something with a paddleboat design stuck onto it, made out of wheels of lemon. More about sugar and pig in future posts.

What of the third group, the Pre-Processed Meats? Well, the Meat Cook Book is diligent in explaining the various sorts of sausage known to man.

As many of you already know, the frankfurter was given a more classy and haute-cuisine sort of role in the sixties and seventies. Phrases like "frankfurter spectacular" and "Franks take on a new glamor in this gleaming aspic" now strike dread into the heart of the reader, but at the time we must imagine they were really considered to be more than just mechanically separated meat slurry spiked with nitrates. Take for example Frank Corn Crown, described as "fancy," or Glazed Apples 'n Franks. Gleaming, is what those are. Gleaming with sugar and preservatives.

Sausage could be possessive. You didn't want to get between a loop of kielbasa and its mustard pot.

Sometimes sausages were relegated to the role of garnish, but even so they were carefully prepared for their close-ups, some being given a golden spray tan and some remaining pallid and delicate grey-pink.

Sausage could also be brown.

And finally, pathetically, we come to Tangy Potato Salad, which consists of chunks of hot dog and potato mixed up with cream of celery soup. This, like several of the other dishes in today's post, is from the Better Homes and Gardens "Good Food on a Budget" cookbook, which offers the struggling housewife a variety of tips for "stretching" the food budget, including the use of variety meats and sating the heartier appetites with bread. "Good Food on a Budget" is less lurid and hallucinogenic than some of the earlier BHaG tomes, but it's a lot more depressing.

So have a Bacon Big Boy to cheer you up, and remember: MEAT MAKES THE MEAL.

I'm not making this up.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You'll Love to Serve Viscera the Modern Way

I know I told you Ways With Ham was coming up next, but first I really do have to share with you the proper way to serve internal organs from various animals. I feel it's an important and oft-overlooked culinary achievement.

For instance, if you've ever wondered how to stuff a heart, you need wonder no longer. Stuffing hearts isn't, of course, the only way to serve exciting variety meats:

...for a down-home twang, or

for that Middle Eastern flair. But remember,

Those are of course beef kidneys in the above picture, which are supposed to look like giant glistening bowel movements. As of course you're well aware.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get on to HAM.

Everybody's favorite Spam precursor comes in many shapes. Here it is in sculptural waveforms; in petrified slab form; in glistening glucose-glazed slab form; in wet and green-tufted form, or in pink-petal-posied sandworm head form.


You may possibly be wondering what the green substance is that's protruding from one of the above examples of HAM. It is in fact combined spinach, green onions, and parsley "tucked into deep cuts in meat." If that doesn't get your motor running, I can reassure you that like every other ham recipe in the universe of these books, it also contains enough sugar to give a whole cheerleading squad diabetes. I don't know why ham must be sweet: it should not be sweet, just as all other forms of meat should not be sweet. Would you put chocolate pudding on your steak? Then don't put honey on your ham, you wretched philistines.

To return to HAM, it is found in the wild in many shapes, before Better Homes & Gardens have got their psychedelic hands on it and drenched it in corn syrup: there is cylindrical, oviform, and pig-leg-shaped ham to be found, as well as rectangular, laminar, or long-barrow-shaped ham.

These hams have been sat on. Notice that the one in the middle apparently features a navel.

I trust this provides a thorough and well-balanced view of the world of ham, and close this episode of Non-Euclidean Food with the following image. I'm not telling you what this is: you will probably be able to locate it elsewhere on the web, but for now let it remain mercifully unidentified. This is from a cookbook published by a well-known and respectable family-oriented magazine.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Art Directors and LSD Do Not Mix

A lot of these horrible retro cookbooks (or cook books, as they're often listed) appear to have been designed and laid out with considerable help from the Inexplicable Props Department. This isn't just the Seventies' fault, either: with the widespread introduction of microwave ovens in the 1980s, a new strain of awful food photography came to light in the genre of How To Use Your New Microwave guidebooks, with emphasis on the bizarre.

I present to you Microwave Miracles from Sears, circa 1981. There aren't any pictures of the actual miraculous microwave, but it's a pretty safe bet to imagine something the size of an industrial transformer in tasteful shades of black and brown wood-grain. (I have to admit, here, that I own a 1986 JC Penney microwave/convection oven which is still going strong, despite being old enough to buy its own booze. Microwave magnetrons don't really wear out.)

Apparently one of the things 1981 Sears microwave ovens did was to make everything very brightly colored, and to accent this brilliance the book's designer called in the full force of the Inexplicable Props. For example, Eye of Sauron Pea Soup is accompanied by giant salt-and-pepper shakers designed to resemble faceless banisters carved of jade, and posed against a backdrop of floating lime-green mushrooms. Monolith of Meat is posed with a disturbingly tiny stemmed dish of what is presumably either horseradish or whipped lard, and watched over by a distant, silent, silver cow-god idol.

Kebabs on Bleached Rice, accompanied by Banana Slugs in Spinach, are watched over by a pair of onion-shaped albino alien beings. Also note the cutlery handles, which appear to be ceramic puffins that have been stretched longitudinally. Stir-fried Worms are also guarded by two white aliens, cleverly disguised as little pottery pagodas, and served in an orange-red limbo in front of openwork screens designed to throw the shadow of the Cross on all they survey.

More unpleasantly, Jellied Emesis--also on bleached rice--is served with your choice of shredded coconut, yellow lima beans, or something brown and sticky which could be a chutney of some kind, and posed with a couple of artifacts stolen from the Vaguely Moroccan Or Something wing of the local museum. But none of these are quite as inexplicable as Turkey with Vinyl Sauce served as an offering to a miniature cast-iron coal-fired range. It's an adorable if somewhat disturbing miniature cast-iron coal-fired range and I want it (it comes with pans! And a coal-scuttle!), but what it has to do with bland slices of turkey breast served with broccoli I cannot fathom. I think at this point the art director was giggling madly and grabbing for any object he or she could find to pose with dishes. Dollhouse appliances? Great! Laboratory glassware? Bring it on! Dollar-store kitch? Beautiful!

Moving on, we come to Dismembered Fish stuffed with stuff and topped with bacon, accompanied with whipped lard and rabbit droppings, and posed with dead grass and a wood-and-metal fish sculpture gazing in frozen horror at something offcamera to the left. Note that the fish sculpture, unlike the fish entrée, still has its head attached.

Next up is Glistening Almond-Strewn Tripe, apparently served on the Mary Celeste. Technically this dish is "Filet of Sole Almondine," but I've also been advised that it could be a casserole full of Vinyl Sauce Puddles as seen on the turkey served with dollhouse kitchen appliances. Just arrange your foodstuffs on a plate and drape one of these over it and bang, you have a real classy presentation. See, for example, Mount St. Cholesterol, balanced atop eggs in a carton and regarded with disdain by a blue cock. The substance drizzled over this dish could easily be taken from the casserole-of-vinyl-glop.

In the 1980s, any decent housewife would take pride in her culinary skill and in the style with which she served guests and family. Crocheted Spaghetti is one of those dishes by which you can measure a chef's capability; the strands of albino pasta had to be woven just so on the serving fork, echoed in place settings by the melted Chianti bottles stuffed with broomstraw. If you got the pattern of pasta on your fork wrong, the whole neighborhood would know you weren't a good wife and mother.

Desserts were important too. Brownie with Melted Crayon, Yellow-Flavored Yellow Cake with Yellow Filling, and Baked Insulation topped with Whipped Cream had to be watched over by a belligerent pewter swan; really classy cooks would garnish the swan with plastic roses in a hue exactly matching the desserts.

Sometimes you had to serve meals outdoors against a weathered shingle wall, and when this was the case your standard beige vinyl sauce wasn't up to the task of presentation: you had to slather stage blood atop the vinyl sauce if you wanted your Pan-Fried Insoles to look their best. Serve with iced tea in a volumetric flask and breaded rebar pieces in a decorative bucket.

Finally, we come to Glistening Stew. The secret ingredient in this recipe is multiple coatings of polyurethane varnish. A properly prepared Glistening Stew will not move even if the pot is turned upside down and shaken. This example is served with salt and pepper shakers in an elegant blue-pattern porcelain, but the really interesting aspect of the presentation is the porcelain plate behind the stew pot, which appears to be staring in abject horror at the dish. Get me out of here, it's begging. For the love of God.

This concludes today's edition of Inexplicable Props and Yellow Glop. Stay tuned for Ways with Ham.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What went horrifically wrong

...with cookery in the decades leading up to, say, 1990? How did anybody survive on meat jello and radish roses? It's been discussed by a lot of other people round the web, starting with James Lileks' Gallery of Regrettable Food and the godawful Weight Watchers recipe cards including Fluffy Mackerel Pudding. But there's no such thing as too many blog posts featuring culinary atrocities of yesteryear, so I'll jump right in with a few of my own.

My local Goodwill, quite apart from supplying me with designer clothes at ludicrously low prices, is a ready source of Awful Retro Cookbooks. Some of these are pretty staid and uninteresting (put glop in pan, add cream-of soup, bake) and some of them are the product of a diseased mind.

Let's play "Identify the Foodstuff."

Gulf oil spill, lava, liposuction products? Assuming this is meant to be edible, is the substrate a bread, or cake, or vegetable, or meat?

It's fruity.

How about this:

Really bad frog sculpture or microscopic shot of Staph aureus? I'd go for the latter.

It's ever-fancy.

Or this:

A friend of mine had hoped that this was bread. It's not. It's flavorful.

Some of these are from the Better Homes & Gardens Creative Cooking Library Best Buffets book. I don't know how much of this can be chalked up to the fact that people in the 70s apparently had limited perception of colors--perhaps some of these dishes might look less terrifying if they weren't so luridly oversaturated--but I think this is evidence that Batman villains were running the BH&G show. This gem also offers us Meat Balls with French Cream, an obvious attempt to encourage consumption of horse dung, Split Wieners and Impaled Cartoon Eyeballs under the stern glare of a pair of sentinel salt-and-pepper shakers, and whatever the hell this is. I'm particularly taken with the continued horse-dung theme in the pan of conjoined bread rolls at the top, which also suggests frog eggs. You see what I mean about color.

Also, it's nice that the Best Buffets authors took men's unique needs into consideration with a Bachelors' Feast featuring Deviled Bones and Neiman-Marcus Apple Pie, but I have to wonder about this guy, who is clearly dismembering a corpse. He's just jacked Mr. Rogers' cardigan, too. Not the type of Bachelor a woman really wants.

I leave you with the image of strife-torn Bolivia, this week on Storage Jars.