Vintage Thanksgiving recipes: Scary to cook, horrifying to eat

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For the most part, the dishes we consider central to Thanksgiving dinner have stayed constant for generations, even centuries: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all the pumpkin pie you need to carbo-load for Black Friday. But believe me, there are chapters of our culinary history with this holiday that have been forgotten, and for good reason.

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I dug up four bizarre, old-fashioned Turkey Day recipes and put them to the test. Baste at your own risk.

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Appetizer

Cranberry Candles (1960)

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I have no idea what possessed the decent, God-fearing people of Hellmann's to commission this recipe, the design of which (and, to be fair, the execution of which) surely constitutes legal proof of insanity.

It started innocently enough, with heating and straining a can of cranberry sauce.

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In went a few ounces of orange Jell-O powder.

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After chilling the gelatin-juice blend until it had thickened slightly, I was surprised by how wonderful it smelled. What proved to be less wonderful, however, was blending in half a cup of mayonnaise.

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By the time I folded in chopped walnuts and a diced apple, the mixture resembled strawberry yogurt.

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The recipe called for eight 6-oz. juice cans to be used as improvised molds, but I personally don't have eight 6-oz. juice cans lying around (do you?), so I made do with four glasses instead.

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My counter looked like a crime scene where Pepto Bismol had improbably been used as a murder weapon. I hid the evidence in the freezer.

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Four hours later, my hard work paid off: in the form of a hideous mound of jiggling dog food.

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As the recipe suggested, I cut a birthday candle in half and inserted it into one of the blobs. This worked!

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…for about a minute. Without much exposed wick to burn through, the flame extinguished quickly, and left a decidedly unappetizing wax residue on top of the cranberry candle.

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In retrospect, using glasses as molds was a mistake—not only because I'm worried that they've been permanently tainted by the cranberry candles, but because it took a solid five minutes of digging around the circumference with a plastic knife to persuade the gunk to slide out.

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The recipe suggested garnishing with more mayonnaise, but I found I didn't have the strength.

Entrée

Frozen Jellied Turkey-Vegetable Salad (1975)

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I substituted rotisserie chicken for turkey in this Reynolds Wrap-branded recipe, presumably meant to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.

Pro tip: If you don't feel super-confident about butchering a chicken and don't mind the idea of your fingers smelling vaguely greasy for the rest of your life, just shred the bird with your bare hands.

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I came up with four cups' worth of chopped chicken out of that carnage.

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On the stove, I added four quarter-ounce envelopes of softened gelatin to two cans of condensed cream of celery soup. Isn't that just the most appetizing sentence you've ever read?

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Once the gelatin dissolved, the soup looked a little like vanilla pudding, albeit a vanilla pudding with the occasional chunk of celery afloat in it.

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Next came the chicken and two bags of (formerly) frozen mixed vegetables.

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And finally, an immoral amount of Caesar dressing.

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When the dressing was evenly distributed through the slurry, I plopped it all into a football-shaped pan—it's Thanksgiving, after all.

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The newly filled mold was sent to the freezer to think about what it had done for the next four hours.

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Here's how it came out.

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This thing—I mean, this Frozen Jellied Turkey-Vegetable Salad—was huge. I promise that's a normal-sized lemon, not a tiny novelty baby lemon, in the photo below.

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Unfortunately, a cross-sectional view of the salad wasn't any more appealing.

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Yum?

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Dessert

Campfire Apple Mallows (1926)

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I have a confession to make: this vintage recipe was my ace in the hole. The Campfire Apple Mallows—found in the top right of the Good Housekeeping spread above—actually sounded delicious.

I started by (somewhat gruesomely) coring six apples.

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Then I stuffed them each with a chopped marshmallow.

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I divided a tablespoon (real talk: more like two tablespoons) of butter among the apples and arranged them in a pot. It's about now I realized, with a sinking feeling, that this recipe didn't call for any sugar, so I took the liberty of sprinkling some on before surrounding the fruit with water and baking it at 400 degrees.

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It took about half an hour for the apples to become soft, as the recipe specified. By that point, they looked significantly less pretty. I put additional marshmallows on top and put them back in the oven to brown, but the confections seemingly melted away.

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When all was said and done, this is what remained.

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Undeterred, I inserted yet another set of marshmallows into the apples. If you're keeping track, a total of 18 marshmallows—not counting the ones I snacked on throughout the process—were harmed in the making of this recipe.

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To be fair, that looks pretty tasty.

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Beverage

Hot Dr. Pepper (1967)

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Last but not least, the simplest recipe of all—hot Dr. Pepper, something I'd heard of but never tried. Step 1: Heat up some Dr. Pepper. Step 2: Pour that Dr. Pepper over a lemon slice. Step 3: Drink.

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The taste test

Behold, my monstrous Thanksgiving dinner, in its final form.

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By now, my boyfriend had come home from work to find every square inch of our kitchen covered in a thin film of gelatinous mayonnaise. To his (vocal) dismay, I put him to work as taste-tester.

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I have to give the cranberry candles credit: their flavor is as upsetting as their appearance. What begins as a bright, pleasant fruitiness quickly betrays you with a strong note of unmistakably salty, eggy mayonnaise. I suspect the candles might taste better—though probably look just as bad—if something like sour cream were substituted for the mayo, but as they are, they're truly disgusting.

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The turkey salad wasn't the worst thing we've ever tasted, but it's far from good. As Ruth of the blog Mid-Century Menu wrote of this recipe, it's a little like someone froze the filling from a pot pie. But why would a person do that? I have no idea!

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Oh, my mallows, how you have failed me. It was disappointing enough when they emerged from the oven looking less than camera ready, but in the words of my boyfriend, they tasted exactly like…wait for it… wet apples. At least we got to enjoy what remained of the marshmallows.

Needless to say, please do not make any of these recipes, under any circumstances—except for the hot Dr. Pepper, which was actually very enjoyable. Have a happy, gelatin-free Thanksgiving!

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Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.