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10 Nostalgic dishes rarely seen anymore

Look at an old menu or family dinner photo and you’ll probably notice some ghosts of dinners past: food that used to be everywhere but that’s not at all common today. Some choices are obvious retro relics (you don’t see too many gelatin molds anymore), while others have slipped into obscurity relatively quietly. Of course, none of these foods have dropped off the face of the planet, and they’re all still enjoyed by some people — just fewer of them.

From highly controversial holiday sweets to the meat and potatoes of yesteryear, these 10 dishes aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be.

Sweetbreads

Sweetbreads sound like dessert, but they’re actually a kind of offal, or organ meat — specifically the thymus and pancreas glands, usually from a lamb or calf. The meat is soaked in milk, buttermilk, or water before cooking. Sweetbreads reduce waste from a butchered animal, and many still enjoy the dish, but it’s not as common as it used to be. (Consumption of organ meats in general declined in the U.S. after World War II, although they’re making a bit of a comeback.)

Ambrosia, or 5-cup salad

Named for the preferred food of the Greek gods, the most divisive dish of the holiday season used to be ambrosia, sometimes called five-cup salad or, simply, fruit salad with marshmallows. It’s a mixture of mini marshmallows, canned (sometimes fresh) fruit, mayonnaise or Cool Whip or sour cream, and coconut. It tastes about how you’d expect it to, for better or for worse.

Fruitcake

Another highly controversial holiday dish is the much-maligned fruitcake, a cake with candied fruits and nuts that’s usually soaked in a spirit like brandy. Fruitcake has ancient roots, but fell into deep disfavor in the U.S. around the 1980s and eventually became a sort of joke, emblematic of the worst holiday gift. Without any fans to give or receive it, the fruitcake has faded into relative obscurity stateside, though it’s still common in some other countries.

Fondue

Fondue, a shared, heated cheese dip served in a special warming pot, was all the rage at parties in the 1970s. While you can sometimes find fondue in restaurants, it’s a pretty niche item now — and since single-function items like fondue pots take up valuable cabinet space in one’s home, it’s an extremely rare sight at parties.

Savory Jell-O salads

Nothing screams retro dinner party quite like a centerpiece savory gelatin salad, molded into an elaborate shape and often with showy colors. It wasn’t just sturdy vegetables that appeared in these concoctions — everything from lettuce to ham to ranch dressing could be made into jiggly edible art. Jell-O salads hit their peak in the 1950s and 1960s, although they stayed on the table in many households, especially in the South, for decades after.

Salisbury Steak

Salisbury steak — named for its inventor, 19th-century doctor James Henry Salisbury, who advocated a meat-heavy diet — is not so much a steak as a cross between a burger patty and a meatloaf. It eventually became a mainstay of cafeterias and TV dinners, which didn’t do it any favors, flavor-wise. You can still find it at a classic diner here and there, but it’s not nearly as ubiquitous as it once was.

Liver and onions

Liver and onions are a classic, hearty combination, pairing beef or veal liver with soft-cooked or caramelized onions, often with a side of mashed potatoes. It’s now considered a little old-school, and many people in younger generations associate it more with a Simpsonsjoke than their dinner tables.

Crescent rings

Canned crescent rolls are super easy to throw in the oven for a quick dinner or side — but what if you made them more complicated? For a crescent ring, you lay out the raw triangles of dough in a sunburst shape, add savory or sweet fillings, and tuck in the edges so the fillings peek through on top. The tidy wreath shape made it ideal for parties and potlucks.

Chicken à la king

The history of this recipe and its name are a little murky, but this milky chicken dish with green bell peppers, pimento, and mushrooms was pretty popular in American kitchens for much of the 20th century. Its popularity started to wane in the 1980s, although some still consider it a comfort food (or just a good way to use up leftover chicken).

Chicken cordon bleu

The history of this recipe and its name are a little murky, but this milky chicken dish with green bell peppers, pimento, and mushrooms was pretty popular in American kitchens for much of the 20th century. Its popularity started to wane in the 1980s, although some still consider it a comfort food (or just a good way to use up leftover chicken).


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