Dubious Dinners and Riotous Retro Recipes

See these cheerful vintage cookbooks? Who would suspect that among their well-thumbed pages lurk frightening flavors and perplexing presentations?

Join me today as we take a culinary journey filled with wonder—and whipped milk—in Pet Milk’s “Thrifty Tempting Meals for 2 or 4 or 6” circa 1937, and Good Housekeeping’s “Egg and Cheese, Spaghetti and Rice”, 1958.

Once you see these eyebrow-raising edibles, I believe you’ll agree—it’s a huge credit to our mothers and grandmothers that good old-fashioned home-cooking still has the beloved reputation it does today.

We start with Pet Milk’s first dinner suggestion … “Sausage Cobbler.”

Yes, indeed, good hostesses know, no evening meal is complete without sausages ready to entertain the dinner guests in a synchronized swimming routine.

See the fried, sliced apples in the center? They’re playing the role of Esther Williams. At the end of their extravaganza, they rise from the depths of the pool on a rotating platform, perfectly dry and spurting sparklers.

Guests love a big finish.

And what exactly are they swimming IN? Why, it’s a combination of corn meal and Pet (brand) irradiated milk.

When Spiderman was exposed to radiation, he developed superpowers. But when milk is irradiated by ultra-violet rays, it is “enriched with the sunshine vitamin D.”

Causing it to be “twice as rich as ordinary milk”…

And also to have its own radio show.

Pet Milk recommends this dish be served with Creamed Brussels Sprouts. Thus ensuring those pesky dinner guests never drop by unannounced a second time.

Next we have what’s listed as a “thrifty dinner.” I was excited about this because, as you know, I’m all about the thrift. Er…

Is it my imagination, or do those pies appear to have a bad case of acne?

No, they’re Hamburger Pies and—surprise!— the crust you see there isn’t burnt, it’s the ground beef, molded conveniently into pie shape! That allows the meaty interior to be easily filled with Pet Milk and pimples-- er, sorry-- peas. Why, it’s meat, dairy and vegetables all in one! And it’s guaranteed to be easy on the digestive system because it doesn’t have any of those pesky seasonings to get in the way. Or to, you know, add flavor.

So what does Pet Milk offer for the vegetarian dinner guest?

This face-hugger, from the movie "Aliens."

Actually, it says it’s Breaded Parsnips and Savory Limas. The disembodied head of Pet Milk star Mary Lee Taylor tells us, “All the recipes in the Pet Milk cookbooks, and all I demonstrate on air, have been created and tested in the Pet Milk Experimental Kitchen.”

Well, see, that explains it. This is just something that escaped from the normally-locked part of the Pet Milk Experimental labs. Pet Milk had to cover up the incident by calling it breaded parsnips and limas.

I like in particular how you bread and fry the parsnips. Then fry the limas. Then fry bacon to put IN the limas. What could be more perfect for the health-conscious vegetarian lifestyle?

Next we move on to the “Egg and Cheese, Spaghetti and Rice” cookbook. And are you ever in for a treat! How do you feel about starting your day with…

Eggs Divan?

This looks less like a breakfast dish to me and more like something Captain Picard would discover in a lizard-people society. It causes us to ask that age-old question: are they hatching, or is that sauce?

Even the glass chicken on the table looks a little wary. Like it’s waiting for the right moment to make a break for it when those babies fully erupt.

Well, how about something for the seafood lovers out there? Here we have a shot of the Jersey shore after illegal corporate dumping and--

Oops!-- Sorry, wrong caption. This is Clams Inverness. We know this is a seafood dish by the cleverly chosen shell-shaped pasta, reflecting the intense natural beauty and culture of Northern Scotland. I don’t know about you, but canned clams and shaped macaroni always make me long for rolling fields of heather and bagpipes.

Well, if seafood isn’t your thing, then let’s go South of the Border! Here, we have a historic reenactment of a Mayan sacrifice and…

Again, my apologies. This is Speedy Spanish Rice. Not Mexican at all. And it takes full advantage of all the flavors Spanish cuisine has to offer… with canned tomato sauce… yellow mustard... and that perennial Espagne flavor favorite… MSG! More fun than the Running of the Bulls!

But what dinner would be complete without dessert?

This is Ellen’s Frozen Cream Cheese.

It involves cream cheese… sweetened condensed milk… heavy cream... sour cream... hair cream... feta... (okay, kidding about those last three)... vanilla and salt. Mm-mm! But please, don’t be threatened by the fruit. That’s just garnish. We don’t want it to, in any way, unbalance the fat content of this fine dinner-topper and…

Who’s Ellen you ask? Ellen’s the one who taste-tested this and died instantly of a shocking coronary arterial clog. The makers of the cookbook felt it only right to honor her memory through this delightful recipe.

She has been sorely missed.

Oh, and in case YOU’D missed my past post on vintage recipes, “100 Ways to Be Original in All Your Cooking” (every one of them involving Worcestershire Sauce!--- subtly courtesy of Lea & Perrins) click here.

Otherwise, I will see you all later, my friends! And thanks for stopping by!

Hmm… think I could use a spot of lunch about now. Clams Inverness, anyone?


Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
All I can say is YUMMY!!
It's so funny how things used to be.
Thanks for the funny blog post today. I am so busy working on more paper items. All of a sudden I have lots of orders.
Have a great week!!

globalgirl said...

So, when is your dinner party? You have quite a selection of, um, unique dishes. Let me know so I can be sure to fill my calendar with another event. :) Seriously, this was very funny. Thanks for making me laugh.

misselaineous said...

OMG!!! It's 5:25 AM...& I'm sitting all alone @ my computer LMAO!!!!! I have a huge collection of these old cookbooks, and have narveled @ some of the concotions they put together, but never have I seen them as funnier than Saturday Night Live ( 70's & 80's shows...not todays :o)))...Hollywood writers may be on strike...are they Still on strike??...but Jenn, you don't need a writer...thanks for the great giggles on a cold Monday morning!! *elaine*

Claire said...

Uh Oh! I think we actually have some of those books, seriously.

Sausage cobbler, bleck!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Ha, ladies, when I host that dinner party I'll make sure you gals are first on the guest list! :) Sausage Cobbler, Fried Limas and Frozen Cream Cheese for Everyone!

(Urgh, I think I just got a bit nauseous... Pardon me... [running quickly away from the machine]) :)

Jay2TheRescue said...

Mmmmmm MSG... You know that all the good recipies have MSG.


ThriftShopRomantic said...

Absolutely, Jay! And nothing says Spanish Flavor like MSG! Or, as I believe you once accurately pointed out, "Knox Gelatin"... If you can't isolate your foods in a jiggly hyperbaric chamber of gelatin, it just isn't 50s cooking.

Sujatha said...

How could you diss Limas- they're my favorite! Let me send you my Lima beans curry recipe...

Don't run away-just kidding!!!

That was a seriously funny send-up of those good ol' retro cookbooks. (
I'm seriously considering stealing the photo of Ellen's creation to photoshop it into backdrop for my son's next horror movie "Robosapien against the giant Frozen Cream Cheese from Saturn".)

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Sujatha, you're hysterical!-- I was absolutely wanting to work in a "Plan 9 from Outer Space" reference when I saw that dessert but couldn't manage to fit it in. Anyway, I like your joke better! Suraj may just have great future in b-movies ahead of him. :)

And no, I don't fear a lima bean curry-- I bet it looks NOTHING like that questionable plate o' veg up above!

Anonymous said...

Omigosh...I was so wondering what to make for dinner tonight but I think it's gonna be the parsnips and limas. I love those kind of cookbooks---and you can find some equally lovely creations in vintage church lady cookbooks....It's amazing what you can do with a tin of Spam and four potatoes..

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Leendaluu-- I'm SO glad to have helped with one of those tough dinner decisions. :)

I haven't encountered recipes with Spam yet, but I suppose it's really only a matter of time.

Thanks for visiting!

Sher said...

Hi, Jenn! You have me thinking...hmmm...forensics does testing for deliberate arsenic poisoning but never for VEGS - Vascular Exposure to Gravy and Starch. We in the South have many wealthy widows who suspiciously trashed their supplies of lard and bacon grease well before cashing insurance checks.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Sher- so in that case, sending the cookbook to the thrift stores would really be considered getting rid of the evidence, right? :)

I'll keep that in mind should the Feds show up and want to dust my cookbooks for prints.

Lidian said...

Those old Good Housekeeping cookbooks are great, aren't they? I am sitting here laughing at both the recipes and your commentary...just wonderful.

I love thrift stores more than anything. It is just no fun to shop in what we call "new stores" here at my house.

I will bookmark you and be back for sure.

Andrea said...

I am familiar with these cookbooks. I had the first one in the list....I used to have lots and lots of old cookbooks, but one day, I absolutely HAD to eliminate something in my kitchen....either excess cookbooks, appliances or dishes....I chose the cookbooks and hundreds of cooking magazines that I had stuffed into kitchen cabinets. I donated them to a small thrift store that used the money for missions. Sadly, the store has closed since then, but I know that they sold most of the books and magazines, so I know that it went to good cause.
One of my favorite older cookbooks is the JELLO cookbook. I loved the colorful pictures as a child and I still love them today.