Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Lunch à la Weight Watchers circa 1974

A long time ago in a universe far far away (i.e. before blogging), a friend sent me a link to a website with “Dinner party idea? ;-)” in the subject line of the email.  Ok then.

Clicking on the link transported me back to my childhood (i.e. the 1970s) and I spent a good long while checking out the Weight Watchers Recipe Cards circa 1974.  Not only are the pictures hilarious and include all sorts of completely unnecessary props (ceramic mushrooms and animals, for example) but the commentary written by Wendy McLure is laugh-until-you-cry funny.  Every time.  As she says about the collection in general, “There’s a certain serve-it-at- your-next-key-party freakiness to a lot of these dishes.”  I saved the website in my favourites and revisited it a few times, wondering how I could incorporate these dishes into a dinner party.  Certainly serving the food as an actual meal might not work since so many of the dishes aren’t exactly substantial (that’s what happens when gelatin is the main ingredient!) so I needed to think of an appropriate “event” which could involve the dishes without relying on them for sustenance.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be fun to have some kind of blind tasting but then that would take away from the spectacularity (is that a word?  Spellcheck does not seem to think so) of the look of many of them.  What to do?  I decided to hold an event serving tasting portions where people would have to guess the major ingredients, give the dish a name and describe it in a few words.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, you know 😉

I proposed the event to Foodbuzz for this month’s 24, 24, 24 and they accepted it so it was all systems go with a week of cooking with gelatin (which I have never done before).  All the recipes were pretty easy, they just required some forethought due to the chilling time.  Many of the recipes (which you can find here) called for canned or frozen vegetables and I chose to use fresh, organic ones where possible.  I figured if we were going to eat these dishes (even just a small taste), I wanted them to taste the best they possibly could (well, as good as they could encased in gelatin, for the most part!).

The big day came.  I set the scene

That was my nod to 70s decoration.  A daytime event doesn’t lend itself so much to decorating the house too much and I figured the dishes themselves were outrageous enough….

Paper and pen were provided to the unwitting taste testers:

First up: Rosy Perfection Salad, as it was originally called.

It was, indeed, rosy.  One team even named it “Ruby Salad” and most guests correctly guessed most of the ingredients.  Other name suggestions included “Nuclear Autopsy”, “Fargo Delight” and “Return to Cabbage Mountain”.

Other comments included being thankful for the shredded cabbage which “provided much-needed relief from the daunting mound of suspicious ingredients suspended in an un-natural way.”  Come ON – it at least looks pretty, doesn’t it?

Next up, Chilled Celery Log.

Yep, this was celery (boiled for TEN MINUTES) stuffed with cauliflower and parsely. Uh huh.

Guest comments included that this would make perfect airplane food since it was so limp that it did not require a knife.  One team named this “Green Goddess Braised Celery” whilst inexplicably, one team went with “Balinese Rice Boat”.  OK then.  Clearly they had had a little bit too much of this:

1970s theme, 1970s wine, right?  In any case, I enjoyed the filling of the celery “boats” and will be using the leftovers in a pasta sauce or something similar this week.

My third offering was the Jellied Tomato Refresher.

Looks innocent enough, right?

Well Jellied Tomato Refresher, you were the judges’ least favourite dish (points to those of you who know what show that is from!).

Some of their comments: “It wibbles and it wobbles but it won’t fall down”, “Rosa Slimata – a salad you eat with a spoon” and completely inexplicably “Reminiscent of a summer Italian day” by the team who disliked it the most who had obviously been getting stuck into this:

Jellied tomato Refresher will end its life tomorrow in a soup.

Next up, the fabulous Crown Roast of Frankfurters. Shall I repeat that for you since it is such an unimaginable concept. Crown Roast of Frankfurters.

(full disclosure: I was so stressed out making this and trying to get it to come together as per the original photo, below, that I didn’t get a photo so this was what I cobbled together after the event. A mini-version if you like)

Horrific, isn’t it?  I chose to use organic beef sausages instead of canned frankfurters.  Let’s just take a closer look, shall we?

Yes, it’s stuffed with cabbage. Cabbage cooked in vinegar and sprinkled with poppy seeds. Yes my friends, it’s scary stuff.

Team comments included “Carnivore’s Delight – tent of sausages with a vegetable surprise lurking beneath” and “The doghouse surprise”.  It was actually a very popular dish – the cabbage was pretty crunchy still and tangy with cider vinegar and the sausages were delicious.  The presentation, yes, it’s mind boggling, but I guess in the 70s it would have, indeed, been spectacular.  One tiny portion of leftovers here which Neil already has his name on.  I would make this again. I just wouldn’t plate it like this.

The last dish just about did everyone in.  Molded Asparagus Salad. As you can see from the photo below, the “molded” part of the recipe didn’t exactly turn out.  I don’t own a jelly mold and the bowl I set it in clearly didn’t work.  So I improvised and served this in Napa cabbage leaves.

This was just too much for a number of our guests. They were gelatined out.  This “Bulgarian Spring Taco” as one team named it was described as “Lumpy red sludge in a lettuce envelope.” This, from the team who had eaten everything up to now, even going back for seconds a few times!  Another team named this “The Accident – the cabbage that rolled” and described it as “A charming scoop of chutney-esque tomato gelatin surprise loaded with nutritious, overly blanched chopped vegetables served on a delicate leaf of crinkled yellow cabbage. Very air travel appropriate – no utensils required.  Just pick up the cabbage package and try your luck.  Don’t take this approach if you want to arrive with your outfit intact!”

Molded Asparagus Salad, you, too are destined for the slow cooker to make soup.

It made for a very amusing afternoon and it was interesting to think about how cooking has changed over the past nearly 30 years.  Everyone had a lot of fun…

(this was Team “let’s go back for seconds”!)

Though there were some dubious looks from everyone at some point:

And some moments of complete and utter incredulity:

But we ate, drank and were merry.

And thanked our lucky stars that we don’t live in the 1970s!  So many of our reactions to the look or texture of the dishes are simply because it’s not what we are used to and certainly plating has come a very long way since then.  But who knows, maybe someone somewhere in 2040 will be hosting a similar party with “retro” dishes from 2010….

As I was writing up this post, I was tweeting that it was turning into an epic post and Michelle of Taste as you Go tweeted back asking if there was a theme song?  Actually there was:

Thanks Foodbuzz for sponsoring this much-needed belly-laugh inducing event on a snowy grey February day.  And thanks to my good friend Cathy for sending me the link in the first place!

92 thoughts on “Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Lunch à la Weight Watchers circa 1974”

  1. Mardi’s talent is clearly cooking, not math – that would be 2050. 😉

    I missed this one as I was sitting my final exam for Old World Wines. Stressed as I was about THAT, for the first time I think I may not have felt I “missed out”…. 🙂

    P, I want to know if you and G ever served food like this at your parties in the 70s.

    • No, but yes but no….
      But, many a night after playing squash (this was before random breath tests) and driving home at 1(ish) in the morning, I have stopped by the Norwood (Adelaide) pie cart and had a pie floater… I think you know what they are: thick pea soup into which a meat pie has been placed and then had tomato sauce squirted over the top of the pie. Yes, yes, I know – sounds disgusting, but an instant hangover cure…(and, bl**dy tasty)

  2. If there is a way to nominate this for funniest blog post of the year I am going to do it! I can’t believe you came up with this, Mardi- you are truly one of a kind. Hilarious that you tried to class up the odd jellied dishes- from the dubious looks I’m guessing the old adage about putting lipstick on a pig applies here:) How on earth you came up with the idea I can’t fathom, but so fun for us to get to read about it!

  3. Linda – the only thing that would have been funnier would have been to make it a dressup evening event. However, once my 24 proposal was submitted, I realised that I had double booked, hence the lunchtime, more civilised event!!

  4. Omg, you don’t even know how hilarious this is to me! I have all these weird old cookbooks, I find it fascinating, and I’ve been wanting to try some of the crazy aspic and molded things, just to see. What a fantastically fun idea!!!

  5. Mardi you have inspired me. I have been digging through a relatives culinary archives from the early 1900’s. So far nothing quite as funny as the blanched celery boats, but lots of aspic.

  6. This is an incredibly thoughtful idea you conceived. I am loving the crown roast of frankfurters. I have no doubts that foodbuzz got the most amusement by your dinner. Thanks for giving me a good laugh with a blast from the past.

  7. fun with gelatin!! and inappropriate props!! oh, mardi, i love this post almost as much as i love the original recipe cards! they never fail to make me laugh til i cry, and imagine my surprise to find them on your blog today. such a fun, creative luncheon you had. i do have to say though that for most of your dinner parties, i sorely wish i could be there too; for this one, eh, not quite so much. 😉

  8. My husband just asked me why I am laughing and saying oh my god at the computer. This was hysterical..I think the tower of hot dogs scared me the most…(the original picture not yours). I certainly was NOT meant for that time period. haha GREAT post!!

  9. Fab! All the names are hilarious and this is such a great idea. Well, I am kind of glad that I am not eating in the 70’s as well!

  10. I don’t even know what to say except that… the sight of jello is enough to send me packing. Of course, I want to thank WW for creating these totally alien looking and tasting dishes (unbelievable that they didn’t go out of business in the 70s – but then that was another era with mysterious substances abound). Without them, I would not have been able to participate in this totally hilarious food experience chez Mardi 🙂

  11. This is hilarious!! They look so gross! 🙂 I kept reading it out loud to my husband and he found it quite funny as well. I think he’s thankful I didn’t do this for my 24 24 24 haha. sounds like your guests were great sports. this was a really good idea and i loved reading about it 🙂

  12. Yes Mardi, I have a vague recollection of some similar recipes from the 70’s but it’s all a blurred memory. Just imagine the morning after clean up after some of those dishes. Not a pretty sight.
    Great trip down memory lane.
    Really enjoyed the recipe cards, nearly fell off my chair with laughter.

    • I remember some of your dinner parties (with the lovely soundtrack including the Eagles, Supertramp and the Allan Parsons Project) but nothing as hideous as this. I do remember copious glasses of “claret” being consumed.

  13. Haha, I am currently watching Top Chef on youtube, so I got the quote pretty quickly 🙂

    This is horrendously horrifyingly BRILLIANT. Love love love it although it makes me want to never eat cabbage again. That Roast Crown of Frankfurters is truly the thing of nightmares. How the hell did anyone actually come up with that idea??? And more to the point, WHY? Dear god, I’m having an apoplexy over this. Perhaps I need some gelatin.

  14. Well, that reminds of the days where I browsed through cookbooks and watch TV shows on discovery channel with that similar ambiance. I thin it was the 80’s but they’re showing it on the 90’s already. But at least the foods tastes good with matching music to go with. 🙂

  15. This was a hoot!! It’s great that you approached this with such a fantastic sense of humor; it helps to have such a group of willing, good-natured friends, too. I swear that Rosy Perfection Salad would look like a beating live heart if you set it to jiggling [gulp!] But the crown roast of frankfurters is so hideous, it’s fascinating – I don’t know if I will ever scrub the image from my brain, though.

    Brilliant, funny, wince-inducing post!!

  16. This was such a fun party – thanks Mardi! From falling off my seat laughing at the original recipe blog post with those very funny descriptions that inspired you so… to waiting with breathless anticipation (and a bit of dread!) for the actual event, it was fabulous. Though I do stand by my assessment that this smorgusboard of delights MUST be a contributor to the North American obesity epidemic. Please Weight Watchers, I think you sent the majority of well intentioned American housewives screaming for the chips and dip aisle, with a trayfull of Sara Lee frozen chocolate cake for good measure!

  17. Oh, Mardi, this was the greatest post ever! Definitely brightened up my day! But really such a terrific party and a fun looking back in the history of food!

  18. It looks as if you really had a blast…..however I must say Mardi that this is one of the dinner/lunch parties I’m glad we missed!!! I can actually remember eating some of that stuff in the 70’s. My Grandmother thought Tomato Aspic (jellied tomato juice) was the height of chic. I can see Neil really dipped into the cellar to come up with the wonderful selection of wines(unfortunately I can remember drinking them too)!!

  19. A romp of a read! But this is one dinner that I am not desolate over missing. You’ve (we’ve) come a long way, baby. I don’t recognize any of the food courses but I’m embarrassed to say, I do remember Blue Nun!!

  20. Ok, I am laughing so hard that there are tears in my eyes! Seriously? Who ever thought that some of those ideas would be good ones? That sausage dish presentation? I mean, seriously? This was such a good idea!!

  21. Is that the site with the WW cards where she says everything tastes like ass? Hilarious. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I remember the overzealous use of gelatin. And also that Blue Nun was also once considered the height of sophistication.

    • Hi Abigail, yes the link is in the post above. I never drank any Blue Nun in the 70s (being as I was a tad too young!) but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps because I had a taste as opposed to a number of bottles glasses…

  22. You had me at the celery… I laughed so hard. Then I totally lost it when I saw the Blue Nun!!

    The frankfurters and jellied tomatoes are enough to turn you off food. I recently tossed out some old and withered cookbooks that belong in the Museum of Bad Taste. Should have kept a few for a laugh!

    PS I’ve got the same disco balls for my Christmas tree.

  23. You had such a fun idea! I enjoyed reading your post 😀
    I’m still laughing on that old picture of what looks like a sausage cake. I think we would have called it Charlotte à la saucisse… looks like it, right? 😉

  24. Wow… I hate to say it, but that cabbage salad is a little frightening looking. I am curious to try the tomatoes though.

    I just found your site through a comment you left on another blog and was struck by how similar the design is to EatBoutique! Even the fonts are the same. I noticed that you said you moved to wordpress, did you recently do a redesign? I just finished one myself – but as these things always go, as soon as you finish one redesign, you start making a wish list for the next one!

    • Thanks for commenting Gabi! Yes, frightening is one word you could use re: the cabbage salad!

      Re: similarities between blogs – if you are using the same theme/ template, there is going to be an obvious similarity. Moving between WordPress and Blogger means you have to change themes/ templates and I guess I just picked a popular one – Thesis. It’s a very easy template to work with because it’s easy to customise without knowing code.

  25. Oh! I didn’t realize that this was what Thesis looked like! I have heard a lot about it. I just remember when Maggie changed EatBoutique to a new theme and how much I liked it and your reminded me of that. I was also wondering if you two happened to know each other, since I know she just moved to Paris to help a friend with a new venture.

  26. I LOVE your spirit ! And I love the frankfurter recipe. Reminds me of an old circa 1960’s card from some magazine (passed down to me from my mother) that shows you different ways to put cuts into hot dogs so when the cook they ravel and do other ‘fun’ things. I thought I had a winner, but your ‘crown roast’ recipe beats it hands down !

  27. Random thoughts you inspired with this terrific, hilarious post, which so typified why you’re such a great blogger and I just sometimes write funny things. I would have thought to write a post fondly mocking the recipes. Maybe I’d have gone as far as posting some pictures of avocado-hued appliances and a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, but you hosted the whole wonderful bash and had your (very witty) friends weigh in.

    The crown roast of weenies was epically, triumphantly horrifying. Also looks like Devil’s Tower. And aspic scares me. Please don’t go there.

    • Ah – now THAT’S what we were missing – the Harvey’s Britsol Cream!!! Actually this was a very hard post to write – I didn’t just want to diss the recipes because somewhere in the future, someone is going to diss all our efforts at making macarons and label them “so 2010” – so thank you – I am glad so many people enjoyed it!!

  28. Amazing! It took me back to middle school pot lucks where my specialty was lime green jello mold with maraschino cherries, crushed pineapple and coconut. Ah the memories! I may need to make that hot dog tower for April Fool’s Day…Thank you for making my afternoon that much brighter!

  29. I just laughed until I cried at the cards and the accompanying comments. Great stuff. Caucasian meat. Yeah. As a retro fanatic, I have some cookbooks from the era and just reading most of the recipes makes me nauseous – it’s a struggle to find anything to actually try making!


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