Like anything else, of course, foods change with the times, often dictated by trends or availability, sometimes by evolving notions of what constitutes healthy nutrition. Some dishes—red velvet cake or chicken potpie, for instance—are like old friends. We welcome them with open arms. They may have changed with age, grown healthier even, but our relationship is essentially the same; it’s as if no time has passed. Others—like popovers—we miss and long for their return. Some foods, though, were so unwholesome, unappetizing or gut-rottingly awful that, well, they’re just better off dead. Here are ten throwback foods that if I never see them again it will be too soon.
10 Throwback Foods that Should Never Return
10. Castor oil
According to Wikipedia, castor oil and its derivatives are used in the manufacturing of soaps, lubricants, hydraulic and brake fluids, paints, dyes, coatings, inks, cold resistant plastics, waxes and polishes, nylon, pharmaceuticals and perfumes.
The castor seed also contains ricin—Walter White’s poison of choice.
When I was a kid, mothers spoon-fed this vile-tasting oil to their children routinely, as a laxative. Big holiday meal? Here’s a little castor oil to make you feel better. Yuk. Apparently, castor oil does have health benefits. Maybe Mom really does know best.
9. Raw Eggs
The raw protein egg shake was, for some still is, the breakfast of champions. Bodybuilders raved about raw eggs as a nutritional supplement—apparently, the protein is more readily available in raw than cooked eggs—and the herd happily followed. Raw eggs were also used in dishes like eggnog, mousse, and dressing for Caesar salad—until the FDA warned that raw eggs can cause salmonella. Salmonella bacteria can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Oh, and the danger to the very young, very old or those with a compromised immune system? Death.
When I was a kid, liver was a weekly staple at our dinner table. Not the delicate liver a restaurant might serve—no, thick, fleshy slabs that looked like something out of Hannibal Lector’s kitchen. During WWII, the U.S. government was shipping much of our meat supply to troops fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Seeing as the better cuts of meat were in short supply, the government decided to convince Americans to switch to organ meat. How did they get an entire generation to buy in? By teaching moms how to prepare offal and convincing her that liver, heart, stomach, brain and animal guts were good for their family’s health.
7. Tom Collins
This once popular cocktail made from gin, lemon and sugar water tasted like a big old cupful of sugary lemon syrup, the bonus—or downside, depending upon the imbiber—being that the syrupy taste camouflaged the gin so you didn’t notice the alcohol as it went down. Evidently, Tom is on the comeback trail, some even proclaiming its coolness.
This dish was made from dried chipped beef (which is—what, again?), creamed and served on toasted Wonder Bread. To change it up, substitute ground (not dried) beef. The creamed beef was edible enough. The soggy toast, not so much. My father’s Air Force buddies called this yummy delight S.O.S.—or S#%t On a Shingle. Yumbo.
5. Tuna Casserole
Back in the day, if you started with a meat-source protein, added a starch, and stirred it all up with Campbell’s Cream of Something soup—voila! Dinner. The standout among these delicacies was, to my mind, tuna casserole—a delightful combination of canned tuna, noodles, and cream of mushroom soup. To be daring, to give the dish a little color, I added peas. Yuck-a-doodles, as my kids used to say.
4. Jell-O Mold
If you were born in the 80s or earlier, you probably remember Auntie X’s annual holiday Jell-O mold, a yummy concoction consisting of fruit cocktail molded inside a wiggly gelatin tower containing red dye #4. Some chefs spiffed up their Jell-O mold with add-ins like Cool Whip, another delightful non-food. Gelatin comes from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hides and connective tissues. Today, the same source says, gelatin most likely comes from pigskin. Better than horse hooves, I suppose.
Believe it or not, children once thought it super cool to eat like an astronaut. If their morning drink tasted like orange-flavored chalk water? Well, it was “real.” Tang was, in fact, astronaut food—used by some early NASA manned space flights. In 1962, when Mercury astronaut John Glenn conducted eating experiments in orbit, Tang was selected for the menu, and was also used during some Gemini flights. In 2013, Buzz Aldrin said, “Tang sucks.” Take that, General Foods.
With fresh meat hard to come by, soldiers in WWII ate Spam for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Post-war, Hormel assembled a troupe of servicewomen, called the Hormel Girls, to convince us that Spam was a patriotic food. The pervasiveness and inescapability of this gelatinous “mystery meat” led to “spam” being coined for junk email. Watch the Monty Python video “Spam.” Or the parody by Weird Al Yankovic.
I never actually ate the head of a goat—or brains or tripe or any of the myriad revolting foods my economically disadvantaged ancestors consumed—but my father says his mother served it for dinner. I’m not a hundred percent sure, but the goat may have been a family pet. I imagine a fully formed head, ears, eyes, hair and all, stewing in a pot of bubbling water. Yes, I know—in some cultures goat head is a delicacy, and in the too-cool-for-words kitchens in the metropolis it’s trendy. I’m a fairly open-minded diner; I’ve eaten frog, whole, in Beijing (it was actually green). Nevertheless, the epicurean fancies of celebrity chefs notwithstanding, the thought of eating goat makes me gag. Madonna Mia, as my Italian grandmother used to say.
At one time, when our knowledge of healthy foods was, let’s say, sketchy, lard was routinely folded into cakes and used as cooking oil for pretty much any fried dish. Lard can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. Meaning, essentially, that lard is fat-boy (or girl), artery clogging pig fat or, as Pete Wells puts it in his article in Food & Wine, hog grease. Today, hog grease is making a comeback. Read Pete Wells’s interesting story: Lard: the New Health Food.
What are your Throwback Thursday “fuhgeddaboudit” foods ?