9 Vintage Thanksgiving Side Dishes We Shouldn’t Bring Back
We all have that relative—the one who’s been bringing Miracle-Whip-bound pimiento-pea salad to Thanksgiving dinner since time immemorial. Although you may swear the recipe came straight from the devil, it turns out that lime Jell-O salads and their ilk were all the rage back in the day. Here are some more examples of vintage Thanksgiving recipes that should stay firmly in the past.
1. Cranberry-Mayo-Jell-O Candle Salad
Nothing complements the tart, refreshing flavor of cranberry sauce like gelatin mixed with salty, sulfurous mayo. This recipe also tells you to mold the mixture into cylinders, "garnish with real mayonnaise," and shove a real candle in there. Then, light it. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to eat around the melted wax, but we can’t be sure—maybe it’s considered a condiment.
2. Pork Cake
For bakers who are fresh out of eggs and butter on Thanksgiving morning, pork cake is just the ticket. Appearing in the November 1922 issue of Citrus Leaves, a magazine published by Mutual Orange Distributors of Redlands, California, the recipe calls for one cup each of brown sugar, molasses, ground lean salt pork, buttermilk, and raisins, plus flour, baking soda, and a bouquet of spices. Unfortunately, there are no directions for making the cake, but we can guess that it turns out pretty close to SPAM.
3. Creamed Onions
Once a popular Thanksgiving mainstay, creamed onions have been shoved aside on Thanksgiving plates by sweet potatoes and other veggies. In some households, the idea was to pour creamed onions over the turkey, like gravy, to add a little moisture. This vintage recipe—calling for cream, cheddar cheese, and butter in addition to tiny onions—is definitely not what the cardiologist ordered.
4. Turkey Salad in a Festive Ring of Jell-O
This mid-century Jell-O ad suggests serving leftover Thanksgiving turkey not as a sandwich, but surrounded by a moat of wiggling cranberry gelatin. Surprisingly, this trend did not catch on.
5. Suet Pudding
England, a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, has nonetheless given Americans a tradition of savory puddings to be served at the celebratory meal. Suet pudding—yes, the titular ingredient is solid beef fat—was evidently popular at early 20th-century tables. This 1910 recipe published in The Delineator magazine calls for flour, spices, milk, and finely chopped suet, which should be blended and packed into a buttered mold for at least three hours before serving.
6. Giblet Gravy
Giblets is the charming euphemism for the edible offal of poultry: heart, gizzard, liver, and so on. But just because you can eat it doesn't mean you should [PDF]. If you choose not to stir up a gravy made with giblets, lard, and turkey neck, at least remember to take them out of the Thanksgiving bird before roasting it.
7. Hot Dr Pepper
You gotta give the good folks at Dr Pepper a few points for trying. In the 1960s, Dr Pepper executives came up with a solution for slumping sales during colder months: hot soda. Served with a thin slice of lemon, the beverage resembled a non-alcoholic hot toddy-slash-cough syrup. According to this vintage ad, it's "deliciously different."
8. Jellied Turkey-Vegetable Salad
A mid-century salad that manages to contain no fresh produce, this frozen Frankenfood blends cooked turkey and frozen mixed vegetables with gelatin, condensed soup, and "salad dressing"—which, in mid-20th century recipes, meant Miracle Whip. There’s only one way to improve on this dish: serve it ice-cold.
9. Deviled Ham Stuffing
A 1912 Underwood Deviled Ham ad featured a recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing with its signature product. Along with the bread crumbs, celery, apples, and walnuts, cooks were told to add the "bewitching, insinuating" canned meat to make enough stuffing to fill a large turkey.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.