The savoury French dish of pastry crust filled with meat or vegetables suspended in eggs and milk, which when baked, becomes a solid custard, has been around for ages, but gained popularity in America in the 1970s. Some people credit the 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking, where a recipe for quiche appeared, for its widespread recognition, while others say it could have been the influence of Julia Child. Either way, the dish appeared on dining tables at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as at parties throughout the decade, and continues to be popular now.
We have Kraft to thank for Watergate Salad, a sweet “salad” consisting of canned pineapple, whipped cream, marshmallows and the company’s pistachio pudding that was often served for dessert. While the origin of its name has never been confirmed, some believe that a chef at the Watergate Hotel invented the concoction. Others say its name is due to its popularity during the Watergate scandal. Either way, the sugary dish was a hit at potlucks throughout the 1970s.
While Jell-O was an American staple throughout the 20th century, “salads” suspended in gelatin gained surprising momentum in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Some might argue these creations got wilder and even more unappetizing as time went on, with ingredients such as aspic, salmon and cheese included in the molds. Home cooks also got creative with shapes, from doughnuts and loaves, to whole fish. Luckily, as nutrition became more of a priority later on, these sweetened gelatinous salads disappeared.
The brand Hamburger Helper was introduced on grocery store shelves in 1971 and quickly rose in popularity, thanks to its promise to easily get a “complete meal” onto the dinner table. Each box contained dried pasta with packets of powdered sauce and seasonings, and home cooks were instructed to combine those contents with browned ground beef and water to complete the dish. Variations including Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper eventually followed, but Hamburger Helper has remained the most popular.
Hosting a fondue dinner party was popular in the 1970s, and fondue pots were the ultimate wedding gift during that decade. The Swiss dish consisting of melted cheese served in a communal pot was enjoyed by dipping chunks of bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks. While fondue has been eaten in Switzerland since as early as the 1700s, it became big in America after it was promoted by the Swiss Pavilion’s Alpine restaurant at the 1964 World Fair in New York. Following, the pot of cheeses, wine and seasonings heated over a candle was seen almost everywhere, especially during colder months.
In essence, pasta primavera is simply pasta with fresh vegetables. It became popular in the 1970s after it appeared on the menu at Le Cirque, a famous New York restaurant where Sirio Maccioni was head chef. The pasta, typically long and flat tagliatelle noodles, tossed in butter, cream and cheese, and then combined with seasonal fresh vegetables, was a hit and became the talk of Manhattan. It was soon recreated in home kitchens everywhere with the belief that pasta primavera signified light, sophisticated cuisine.
The dish’s name is derived from a term for little strips of meat, and is associated with Tex-Mex cuisine, which was picking up steam during the 1970’s. Typically, strips of beef or chicken are grilled, then cooked with vegetables including bell peppers and onions. It’s served with soft flour or corn tortillas, and an array of condiments, such as sour cream, salsa, guacamole and shredded cheese. The dish continued to grow in popularity through the 80’s before hitting peak fajita in the 1990s.
Black Forest Torte
While Black Forest cake had been around in Germany for a while, it suddenly became popular as a homemade dessert in America during the 1970s. Consisting of chocolate cake layered with whipped cream and topped with Maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings, the boozy cake was then doused in Kirsch, a clear liqueur made from sour cherries. While it isn’t as popular today as a homemade dessert, the cake can be found at most grocery store bakeries.
Cheese Balls and Logs
In tune with the obsession of forming foods into shapes during the 1970s (see Jell-O salad), forming cheeses into balls or longs and rolling them in toppings was hugely popular during that time. Most recipes allowed for a variety of soft cheeses, which were blended together and rolled into a desired shape. Then, the ball or log would be rolled in black pepper, herbs or even nuts, and served with crackers for spreading. Why didn’t people just eat cheese in the shape it was purchased? Because this was apparently more fun.
The 1970s were generally a more health-conscious era, and carrot cake was perceived as being a “healthy” dessert because of the addition of vegetables. Of course, it wasn’t really. Heaps of sugar is baked into the cake, and it’s topped with a cream cheese icing. We know better now, but we still enjoy it all the same.
As vacation travel to the Hawaiian Islands became more popular in the 1960s and 1970s, the state’s food and culture was embraced on the mainland. The ‘70s saw an excess of pineapple added to just about everything, including chicken. Around the same time, Hawaiian pizza also became popular. Suppose you could say that dinner tables really felt that aloha spirit.
Michelle da Silva is a Toronto-based writer who loves telling stories related to food.