A Guilty Pleasure: The Mid-Century Menu


Back in my time-wasting grad school days I made somewhat of a hobby out of thrift shopping. Along with the mandatory copy of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream, every thrift store would have a collection of post-war, space-age cookbooks. Recipes, in this period, are a kind of recombinatory matrix of industrial ingredients. You take some cocktail wieners, a dollop of mayonnaise, some ketchup and a surprise ingredient, say dried prunes and roll them all up into a ball that roughly resembles a low earth orbit satellite and you’ve got dinner.

This is the culinary territory explored by “Retro Ruth,” the genius behind the Mid-Century Menu blog. She cooks up one mid-century recipe a week and feeds it to her husband Tom who does a kind of visually documented taste testing. It’s great fun and their blog is one of my favorite internet time holes, even though I’ll never make this stuff. In the past year they’ve been covering the outer-stellar potlucks featured in the background of the Astronaut Wives Club. Then there’s the cocktails. The disasters, such as the Salmon Vermouth Casserole, are particularly entertaining.

Did you grow up with this stuff? As always, we love your comments.

Leave a comment


  1. I remember Jello salads, usually lime with frozen mixed vegetables and molded in a bunt pan. A couple of ladies in my Mother’s book club brought them.

    Fortunately my parents were brown rice eating back to the land hippies so I missed out on all these recipes.

  2. That picture looks like something my mom would have tried. We had a lot of weird food until she gave up, and then we ate lots of TV Dinners which tasted a LOT better! We even advanced to eating ice cream for dinner in the summer. Guess that is why I can put together such strange combos for myself. Thank goodness I no longer have to cook for anyone.

  3. We didn’t have weird combos but we did eat gross meat. Overcooked, dried out liver was my suppertime nightmare. I think after a few years in Asia as a small child my idea of “normal” food was different than most.

  4. My friends and I never experienced these dishes in our childhoods having been born too late (and also my parents are Japanese), but we’ve always been fascinated by these campy concoctions and the lurid looking pictures like the one you’ve posted. We have started a crafts-n-jello night where we bring some nutty MCM dishes and do an era appropriate craft (see the horrifying pantyhose crafts of yesteryear: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31T%2BbmC2piL._BO1,204,203,200_.jpg). It helps get us through the Portland winters!

  5. My Mom had a set of cookbooks from the era and I loved going thru them as a teenager to find things to make. The fancy mac n cheeses were probably my favorite. My Grandmother would make hotdogs sliced down the middle with mashed potatoes and cheese on top. And I definitely remember the first time I had Aspic. It felt like a dare, but it really wasn’t that bad. These days I’d be making it with grassfed bovine gelatin though. haha.

Comments are closed.