Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A '70s celebration

Last week we considered what it meant to make Christmas dinner in the 1890s, but what was it like significantly more recently? Today we're transported to Christmas 1973 in The New McCall's Cook Book by Mary Eckley. What holiday menu did Ms. Eckley recommend to dads in their argyle sweaters and moms in their sweater dresses?

With only about a dozen items (including more of the ultra-easy celery sticks! Those are the real heart of any Christmas dinner...), this is significantly less complicated than the 1890s version, even before we take into account that '70s cooks had modern conveniences like refrigerators. (Even well-off families were a lot less likely to have servants, though, which probably accounts for the biggest share of the difference.)

The writer seems significantly less invested in potatoes, too. They are optional on this menu! The 1890s menu was nearly a quarter potatoes.

One item from the menu that really strikes me as retro is this appetizer:

Apparently caviar on toast points would fail to showcase the wonders of gelatin. (I'm pretty sure there were laws from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s or so that required gelatin to be prominently featured at every holiday meal. Many families believe those laws are still in force.) In any case, this menu uses caviar as a garnish for beefy gelatin! Is this the best possible use for those expensive little fish eggs? I leave the answer to your discretion.

Most of the menu is pretty straightforward. I hoped there would be some kind of crazy twist. What might be the surprise in "Cauliflower Surprise," for example? Is the vegetable simmered in eggnog or coated with toffee? Is it garnished with cranberries and pistachios?

Nope. It's just topped with a frothy cream sauce. (The recipe does call for MSG, though, which is a rarity today.)

So to lend drama to this holiday lineup, I'm recommending a dish that will also increase the potato quotient:

Set the sweet potatoes on fire! And prepare to cherish the memories of the Great Sweater Fire of '73.


  1. Another fantastic post!
    So the surprise in the cauliflower is MSG?

  2. I guess so! Maybe we could combine the veggie recipes and make MSG Cauliflower Flambe.

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