A more modern dish now, and one which emerged out of necessity during the Second World War. It was actually invented in 1937, a few years before the outbreak of war, but its low-cost meaty goodness really soared throughout the war years and the shortages directly afterwards. It was particularly popular in the late 1940s, when the Hormel Girls traveled from coast to coast, promoting the meat through song and dance.
The problem with spam lies in its mystery. Unlike other meaty dishes, which are all too identifiable as “bits of animal”, spam could really be anything. It’s a blend of pork shoulder and ham, blended into a delicious, gelatinous blob. Little wonder that it’s been a recurring target for comedians, pondering on what exactly goes into it. The British tradition of deep-frying it to make spam fritters hardly makes it more palatable either. On the upside, it has had a lasting legacy in that it gave its name to all kinds of junk e-mail. Long after mystery meat stops being consumed, the word “spam” will live in, as a catch-all term for virtual salesmen and teens with webcams. Thank you spam!
4. Jello Salad
And there’s more wobbly mystery in our next dish, from the same era as spam. Feel like your salad is just too unruly and falling all over the place? Here’s a solution – encase it in Jell-o! No longer will salad leaves fall out uncontrollably. As with the most food trends, it’s a bit of a mystery where this idea came from, but it was a hit with the housewives of the 1950s and 60s, with Jell-o even introducing a special savory range of flavors to complement the crunchy salad-ness of it all. Again, it has clung on to existence in some parts, with a recent article claiming it’s still a Thanksgiving favorite. Just chuck in any spare bits you have in the fridge, fill up the Jell-o mold and ta-da, a wibbly savory treat! If there was ever a dish that deserved oblivion, surely it was the congealed salad? Here’s a handy hint – if it has “congealed” in the name of the dish, it’s probably not going to appeal to everyone. Just a hint there…
3. Mock Turtle Soup
There’s a fair amount of ickiness going on in this dish. First, the inspiration for it is green turtle soup – a Chinese delicacy made with the innards of an aquatic animal you wouldn’t normally consider taking a bite out of. But it’s the imitation version, popular in 18th Century England, that’s really disgusting. Finding themselves somewhat short of green turtles, cooks reproduced the taste using cow brains. One recipe starts like this: “Take a large calf’s head. Scald off the hair. Boil it until the horn is tender, then cut it into slices about the size of your finger, with as little lean as possible”.
Call me unadventurous, but any recipe that starts with scalding hair off something just doesn’t make my taste buds perk up. Still, it did lend its name to a character in “Alice in Wonderland”, with the Mock Turtle re-imagined as a real animal, half cow and half turtle. The 18th Century cooks can be proud of themselves for that.
2. Suckling Pig
There’s more head-eating in this next recipe, the delightful French medieval dish of Pourcelet farci, or Stuffed Suckling Pig. Basically, you take the whole pig, scoop some bits out and refill it with cheese and chestnuts before sewing it back up to cook. Somehow, the sewing involved is the most revolting part of this whole experience. But the bit where the whole piglet is served up for consumption, complete with snout, ears and tail makes you feel slightly queasy too. Again, it’s not so much disappeared as evolved, into the hog roast…but nowadays, at least the head is discarded rather than eaten!
1. Rat Stew
And for the final dish on our list, here’s one that combines practical thinking with sheer revoltingness. Sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries were often at sea for weeks on end, and supplies were precious. So, an invasion of rats on board ship could be disastrous, as they ate supplies and left droppings all over the place. The rats needed to go, and meat was scarce so why not solve two problems at once and cook up the rats in a stew? Never mind that they tended to be full of disease – when you’re miles away from the nearest meat source you can’t be too fussy. A deserving winner of our most disgusting historical dish.