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Historic Cheese Recipes: 20th Century Vintage

Many are aware that cheese has been around for thousands of years, predating most trappings of civilization. Less widely known are the culinary uses of cheese throughout history. We haven’t always flocked to kitchens with visions of panini and macaroni. We’ve actually come a long way in figuring out what to do with this rather odd food item. This short blog series will highlight a couple of our favorite uses of cheese throughout history.

The world of vintage recipes is replete with the extravagant, the disgusting, and the extravagantly disgusting. Eating in the mid–20th century was, for many Americans, centered around the relatively new world of processed foods and recipe cards. With a lack of irony that might strike modern readers as creepy, recipes asked not just for Spam and mayonnaise, but more Spam and more mayonnaise! What a world. This era shone a rather demented spotlight on cheese, asking it to perform tasks for dishes that make me cringe just thinking about them. This so-called “shrimp ring” aptly illustrates this point:

Melting Kraft cheese over shrimp… shudder. But it was the post-war era—Americans were filled with a hubris that went straight to their cooking. Fortunately for us, we get all of the pleasure of gloating with none of the horror of having to eat any of these dishes. Of all the recipes I’ve read, I must say this era is the most revolting. For the sake of cheese and for the sake of history, I present these abominations to you, dear reader.

Watching Weight With Cheese

Weight Watchers was started in the early ’60s by a Brooklyn housewife who was fed up with dieting culture. Combining calorie cutting with social encouragement, Jean Nidetch’s diet club grew into one of the most popular dieting brands in the world. I’ve heard the phrase “weight watchers” reverently uttered at family gatherings since before I could walk, and I am more than acquainted with the mechanics of it. More than a diet, it is an institution. Most importantly, it is a reason to eat some really terrible food, and it is the cause of my post-traumatic olfactory response to overcooked broccoli. I’m sorry various female relatives, but I don’t just hate weight watchers, I fear it. And now I have some additional proof to back up these claims.

For whatever reason, cheese was something of an exulted ingredient in the weight watchers of the ’70s. When reviewing these recipes, I feel like I’m the butt of some cruel joke. Exhibit A is the even-worse-than-you’d-expect category of “cheese salad.” Here we have a lovely frozen version made with broccoli.

The recipe really goes for gold by mixing blue cheese, cottage cheese, and barbecue sauce in an unholy concoction. Blue cheese is a difficult flavor to begin with, and reading the utterly cavalier way in which Weight Watchers appropriates it leaves me brimming with a despairing rage. Is there no God?

Moving on. Next up is the Madrilène-Cheese Salad. A madrilène is a type of cold soup, but this recipe is basically just what would happen if you turned your tomato soup and panini into jello.

Let us dwell on the specifics of this recipe. I can’t decide whether the tomato-soup-jello in the upper half or the cottage-cheese-jello in the lower triggered my gag reflex more potently. Perhaps it was just perusing the ingredient list, full of words like “bullion” and “celery salt” and “chill until mixture is syrupy.” And let’s not forget that this is classified as a salad by some bizarre definition. Maybe the weight watcher strategy at the time was to make the very thought of food so odious as to nullify hunger.

I’ll take just one more jab at Weight Watchers, but indulge me for a second with a short list of things I would like to warn the world about:

  • Molded Asparagus Salad
  • Fluffy Mackerel Pudding
  • Liver Pate en Masque (a.k.a. “who vomited in Grandpa’s urn?”)
  • Beet and Pineapple Salad Mold
  • Freezer-to-Oven Veal Dinner

I’m sorry about any discomfort that list caused. All right, here is the last one:

I’ll keep it brief. Please, nobody ever pour orange soda on cheese of any sort. And thats just all I have to say about that.

Unhealthy AND Terrible? The Golden Rule

Most recipes weren’t as lean as Weight Watchers, but that only made them worse somehow. Illustrating this, we have the shrimp mac and cheese you definitely do not want.

This raises more questions than it answers. Why is it meatless if it is filled with shrimp? Even simpler: Why at all? This illustrates my golden rule of vintage recipes. The more decadent, the more horrifying. Example 2: why adding different kinds of seafood won’t help an already bad recipe.

Tuna, Shrimp, Salmon, AND Lobster?! I requested/wanted not even one of these in my casserole, but all four? Who do you think you are, Minute Rice? The golden rule holds for all food. From Frosted Ribbon Loaf to Liver Sausage Pineapple, chefs of this era were as creative as they were vindictive.


Photo Credit: Frosted Ribbon Loaf by Amy Buthod | CC

Better Home and Garden, via turkeysandwich.wordress.com

Better Home and Garden, via turkeysandwich.wordress.com

That just about does it for my examination of the cheese recipes of the past. Make sure you check out my previous posts on Imperial Rome and Industrial Britain if you haven’t already, and if you are facing a crisis of confidence in cooking, check out some of culture‘s reassuringly palatable recipes, like this Homemade Mango Mochi Ice Cream.

Feature Photo Credit: Vintage Ad #604: Martha Logan Says Make Meat Go Further by Cooking S-l-o-w-l-y by Jamie | CC

Robbie Herbst

Robbie Herbst is a summer editorial intern and an undergrad at Dartmouth College, where he enjoys access to the unimaginably quaint cheese-makers of the upper valley. When he isn’t writing or playing violin, he likes to take bricks of Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar on long hikes through the White Mountains.

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