7 unusual vintage Thanksgiving dishes that no one makes anymore

Talia Lakritz
·4 min read
hellman's cranberry surprise
"Cranberry surprise." Hellman's
  • While Thanksgiving side dishes like mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mac and cheese are classics for a reason, others have gone out of style.

  • Jell-O salads, desserts, and even leftover turkey creations have waned in popularity.

  • However, some people still like to make ambrosia salad or candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows for nostalgia's sake.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

No festive Thanksgiving gathering would be complete without a table heaped with steaming dishes. 

Thanksgiving celebrations revolve around food, but the recipes people follow have changed over the years. While Jell-O creations and canned products used to reign supreme, Americans have gravitated towards fresher, healthier options. 

Here are seven unusual Thanksgiving side dishes that people don't usually make anymore, unless it's for nostalgia's sake.

Turkey leftovers were turned into aspic.

turkey aspic
Turkey Jell-O. Ann_Zhuravleva/Shutterstock

Gelatin became a popular foundation for many meals during the '30s, after the Great Depression, thanks to the fact that it was a good, but inexpensive, source of protein. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, close to one third of all cookbook recipes from this time period were gelatin based.

YouTuber and vintage recipe enthusiast MissSemiSweet tried a vintage Thanksgiving leftover Jell-O recipe from a 1975 cookbook called "Carefree Cooking with Aluminum Foil." The recipe called for turkey, frozen vegetables, cream of celery soup, and ranch dressing mixed with gelatin.

"I'm not going to say that it's horrible ... I probably would not eat this again, but it's not the worst thing I've ever had," she said.

Hot Dr. Pepper consisted of warm soda over lemon slices.

hot dr pepper
Hot Dr. Pepper. eBay

In a 1968 advertisement, Dr. Pepper recommended serving "steaming hot" soda over lemon slices. It definitely is "something different" to offer Thanksgiving guests.

Per Serious Eats, the drink was concocted by Dr. Pepper in the '60s "to keep profits strong during the holiday season, when sales of cold pop plummet." Apparently, it caught on in the South where it is occasionally still drunk.

Hellmann's mayonnaise shared a recipe for a Thanksgiving-themed "Cranberry Surprise."

hellman's cranberry surprise
Cranberry Surprise. Hellmann's

Hellmann's mayonnaise released a compilation of vintage advertisements and recipes to celebrate its 100th year. One of these delicacies was the "Cranberry Surprise," a holiday side dish that "blends the tartness of cranberries with the delicate creaminess of Hellman's Real Mayonnaise" with an extra dollop of mayonnaise on top to provide "the final distinctive flavor garnish."

Ambrosia salad is still popular in the South, but most have left it behind.

ambrosia salad
Ambrosia salad. Bart Ah You/Modesto Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Ambrosia recipes began appearing in publications towards the end of the 19th century. It remains a Southern holiday classic, but is rarely seen elsewhere.

It's usually some kind of canned fruit with mini marshmallows, with variations that include Cool Whip, cottage cheese, and Jell-O.

Savory Jell-O salads made for festive centerpieces.

jello salad
A "Sunset Salad" made of Jell-O. Keith Beaty/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Jell-O salads were popular in the 1950s and '60s. A Jell-O dish with radishes, scallions, and a few tablespoons of vinegar wouldn't have been out of the ordinary at a festive meal. Some people continue to serve them up on Thanksgiving just because.

"Modern American palates have changed to dislike savory gelatin, but that was not always the case," food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson previously told Insider. "Probably until the 1960s, savory gelatinous dishes were a thing."

Canned foods were all the rage, like creamed corn.

creamed corn
Creamed corn. freeskyline/Getty Images

A 1948 ad in the Ladies Home Journal advertised creamed corn in a can as "something to try — smooth, creamy, with plenty of tender-skinned kernels to round out the good eating." But as canned products went out of style in favor of fresh food, cream corn from a can went out of style, too.

A "spring basket dessert" consisted of fruity Jell-O with chunks of fruit inside.

jello loaf
A fruity Jell-O loaf. alisafarov/Shutterstock

Advertised in The Ladies Home Journal in 1948 as a "spring basket dessert," the gelatinous dish is no longer the dessert of choice at holiday gatherings.

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