Tara Cox considers herself an adventurous cook. But even she wasn’t sure about SpaghettiOs Jell-O.
“It smells like cat vomit,” the 45-year-old tells The New York Post, looking doubtfully at her plate of gelatin-encased pasta.
Every few months, Cox, a magazine editor who’s fascinated with retro American dishes, gets together with friends for a midcentury potluck party. She combs through old recipe books — a standout is “Dishes Men Like,” published in 1952 — and scours the internet, where her fellow recipe obsessives share vintage Betty Crocker recipe cards and post videos of tuna trapped in aspic. Then, she gets to work making mysterious meat molds, jiggly Jell-O salads and gloopy mayo-marshmallow casseroles.
Are they delicious? Almost never. But they look amazing.
“That’s the whole point,” says the East Village resident. “They look impressive, they’re fun, and even if they’re bad, they bond everybody and you can laugh about it.”
That’s why she brought an “olive loaf Christmas tree” — an edible sculpture bedecked with the controversial cold cut, as well as sausages, cheese and pickles — to her family’s Yuletide festivities last year.
Although the olive loaf was “very polarizing,” the tree “was beautiful,” she says — and most of her relatives came around.
Meanwhile, Bonnie McDowell, 39, believes that nothing says festive like gelatin.
“For a special occasion, having something like a Jell-O mold is such a statement piece,” says McDowell, who runs a vintage food blog called Quaint Cooking. The Jacksonville, Florida, resident, who works in retail, plans on pulling out all the retro stops this season. She’s bringing a cheese ball and “definitely some kind of Jell-O dish” to her sister’s Christmas dinner.
“It’s such a rush,” says McDowell of crafting these vintage dishes. “No matter what it’s going to taste like, just propping it up and realizing you didn’t mess it up somehow is so satisfying.”
“They look impressive, they’re fun, and even if they’re bad, they bond everybody and you can laugh about it,” said one retro-food enthusiast.
Chicago-based Mike Dikk, who runs an Instagram account called @retrofoodghoul, also has some ambitious holiday-food plans. The one he’s most excited about? A “cranberry sauce candle” — with a real wick he’ll set on fire.
“I’m really into it,” says the 40-year-old administrator, who initially began collecting vintage recipe cards for the photography and began cooking from them a year ago. The flaming gelatin recipe, he says, is from a Hellmann’s mayo ad in a 1960s food magazine.