Recipes from the 1950s: A Lawless Hellscape

For anyone who can remember the middle years of the last century, this series has been a fond stroll down memory lane. We didn’t have any fitness apps back in those days, to record what we ate and send the ambulance. We totally get that some of you didn’t grow up as part of the generation that liked to throw green food that had been boiled for 60 minutes out the window, crying, “Go home little veggies, you’re free now.” It’s hard to appreciate what it was like sitting down to dinner after dinner of these luscious little gems that proved one can endure anything.

Based on the caterwauling we’ve been hearing from the gastronomically impaired, we are issuing a trigger warning for this final installment. Some of you have also been asking for a dessert piece, but that would require interviewing survivors and filming a gag-u-mentary, so instead, just think of all the things a human being could do to a box of cake mix with mayonnaise and Jell-O and perhaps a cucumber, and you’ll get the idea.

Probably the most twisted dessert to come out of that era was Mock Apple Pie, the mock apples being Ritz crackers. That is some culinary alchemy right there, slapping a filler made of crackers between two flour crusts, but according to the internet it’s Nabisco’s most requested recipe, because cooks apparently like to mess with their friends’ minds. We must have a lot of sick cooks in America. Many of us can recall seeing that recipe on the Ritz Cracker box and asking our mothers what a mock apple was, and why would people laugh at such a delicious fruit and make fake pie when apples were everywhere?

So, we are not going to address desserts, because it could violate the Geneva Convention. Let’s instead enjoy a final launch into the lawless hellscape of 1950s cuisine.

Tube Steak and Eggs: This crowning glory of shimmering crystalline beauty will make you think you’re eating the Hope Diamond! It has everyone’s favorite – hot dogs! – combined with boiled eggs alluringly set aquiver in Jell-O. Who wouldn’t get pangs of hunger? This little tempter is bound to shake things up at your table.


Hot dogs (for this sophisticated recipe we are using the more elegant phrase “Tube Steaks.”)

Boiled eggs.

Tiny squares of something green (from the fridge please, not the sink drain.)



Cut the Tube Steaks in half. Same for the boiled eggs. Arrange eggs face down on the bottom of a pan so that when you dump it out, the “eyes” will stare back at your family. Arrange hot dogs, sprinkle the limp green things over it, pour on the Jell-O and chill. Dump it on a plate, avert your own eyes, and dig in!

A Roman Galley of Jellied Hamburger Rowed by Vienna Sausages: For those times when you just can’t get enough hot dogs in your diet and there’s only enough ground beef to make one hamburger, well Hallelujah, HappyMouth! You can still produce a winner! As you can see from the Alphabet Soup letters, this stout little barge is part of the P&O Shipping Line.



Alphabet Soup


Small green bits of crabgrass for color

Vienna sausages



Mix cooked hamburger, the alphabet soup, crabgrass and gelatin together and pour into a pan. Chill. Dump it on a plate, arrange the Vienna sausage “rowers,” garnish with a sprig of Swamp Thing Lousewort, and serve while watching Charlton Heston flex his sweaty pecs in the rowing scene from “Ben Hur.”

Bologna and Cream Cheese Birthday Cake: Okay, we lied, ha ha! Here is your tower-o-fabulous dessert piece! Imagine the heartwarming family scene when your six-year-old cuts into this little number. Definitely a tears of joy moment.


Cream cheese

Bologna slices

Squirt cheese



Layer the bologna and frost with cream cheese.

Use the squirt can to make decorative cheese “frosting flowers” around the edges.

Surround with Ritz Cracker “frisbees” and garnish with little green seaweed hands clapping for joy.

4. Circle of Life Jell-O Chicken Ring: Sometimes you just want something bland and stomach-soothing. Maybe you’re hung over, or recovering from skunk pox, and nothing looks good. Maybe what you really need is to slam back a Jell-O shot with an Everclear chaser. This is the meal you want with that. Everything tastes like chicken, even the filler, which is made of pickled herring.




Pickled herring in mayonnaise



Chop up a bunch of chicken. Like, a lot. Probably 3 whole chickens worth.

Mix the chopped chicken with Jell-O, pour into a ring, and chill.

Mix any extra chicken with the pickled herring, to calm down the fishiness.

Dump the ring on a plate, fill the center with the chickened pickled herring, garnish with young common kvetch leaves, and serve with a side of Alka-Seltzer.

National Museum of American History, Object Project team’s potluck lunch 3.8.16

Waldorf Salad Carnivorous Plant Platter: A little rescue idea for those times when you’re making a surprise dinner for your Significant Bother, but then the fire trucks ruin it. Just be sure to get out of the way when this thing opens up.


Everything you’d put into a Waldorf salad plus Jell-O.



Make the Waldorf salad in a bowl and upend it on a plate.

Garnish with leaves from a carnivorous snapping bladderwort and stand back.

Serve to the music of “Carcass” by Siouxie and the Banshees.

Crowning Glory Faux Pineapple Oh Jesus Take the Wheel Canape Platter: Where to begin with this charming dish from the anti-universe? A beguiling taste-tickler, it will seduce your appetite and cause you to exclaim in astonishment, “What fresh hellscape is this?” For those times when real pineapple just doesn’t cut it, we give you an exciting “faux” alternative.



Green olives stuffed with pimientos



Ritz Crackers, potato chips, pretzel stix

Spam cubes

Dough balls stuffed with something trying to escape (adds excitement)



Shape the liverwurst on a pottery wheel. Mix mustard and Jell-O, and frost in diamond shapes. Stud with sliced olives and top with a small cactus. Make the faux “candles” with the Spam cubes, olives and pretzel stix. Fry up the stuffed dough balls, arrange on platter with potato chips, garnish with rare 4,000 year-old lichens from Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania, and serve with fainting couches for your guests.

Banana candles: Save the fainting couches from the previous recipe, you’re going to need them for this one. It’s hard to imagine how one could elevate an intimate dinner just for the two of you to the next level, but this little dessert-gasm does the “trick.” Your astonished date will need an enormous vocabulary to describe it.





Strawberry “flame.”



Peel banana and stand it on a round hunk of cheese. Melt the rest of the cheese, mix with Jell-O, and pour it over the banana. Make large cheesy drips. Place the strawberry “flame” atop it, and garnish with fig leaves. Put on a Barry White album and serve.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Perhaps at Thanksgiving there’ll be a special holiday turkey one featuring the Butterball Hotline, with helpful hints like, “Truss, but verify.”


    • HAHA! Wouldn’t you like to know! Actually, the photos are all over the internet, and like a gill netter I just reached out and caught a few in my net.

    • Glory isn’t a word I would’ve associated with recipes that rely on mayonnaise and Jell-O, but you know? I’ll take it! Thanks!

  1. Karen, I suspect the recipes were quite varied in different locals as folk were faced with the same problems and solved them with their own solutions. Ours were Lapland Finnish and Polish. I may need to do a web search. Bed time now.

  2. Ahh Karen! Such an amazing series & so much laughter!! How could I possibly have made it through childhood without any of these amazing recipes? Thank you.

    • Thanks, Mike. I always wondered why we were called Boomers, and think it may have something to do with all those hot dogs we ate.

  3. Painful. However, it did bring to mind a Scandinavian/Polish/Finnish/ combination there of? treat made after fall pig/cow/ butchering time on the farm. What to do with the blood, head and intestines? First the blood, since there is a fair amount in a big animal. Blood that must be drained before cutting up and distributing to the neighbors. Very little ice and no refrigeration in those days, (I was about 7-8 in the late 1940s) so cold fall days were butchering days. The blood was drained into a large pan and I got to stir it with a large wood spoon to cool off and not coagulate. Later to be used in sausage.
    On to the head which was boiled to be de-fleshed, tongue, brains, & meat.
    Intestines, & large veins were washed and dried for sausage casings to be filled with a mixture of all of the above.
    Another recipe we made was “Head Cheese” which was small trimmings of meat and spices with natural gluten, no jello, cast into a loaf and sliced for sandwiches. Very good.
    Now-a-day all that goes into cat, dog, or people food renamed as hot dogs, sausage, or???

    • Wow, I’m glad I read this AFTER breakfast! Leif, you’ve answered an unasked question – one reader wanted me to feature head cheese in one of these pieces, but I didn’t know how to describe it. So thanks!

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