Well, it’s that time again. Time to make the weird old appetizers.
I grew up surrounded by recipe books that were published many years before I was born. They fascinated me as a kid, and they still do now. Not every dish is appetizing, but there was such a colorfully crude artistry to it all.
These days, one of my big Christmas traditions is to prepare a bunch of dishes from those books. If you’ve been reading Dino Drac from the start, you’ve seen me broil grapefruit, thread carrots through olives and even smear black fish eggs on burnt toast. To me, that is Christmas.
Tonight, the saga continues! Below are five more holiday appetizers, as pitched by very old cookbooks. (This time, most of the recipes are from the late ‘70s.)
I followed the directions as closely as possible, substituting nothing even when I knew that I should’ve. What’s the point of doing this if you’re not gonna go all-in?
Mix a small tub of sour cream with a teaspoon of lemon juice and a container of cheap red caviar. (Even if you’ve never noticed them, trust me, your supermarket does have containers of cheap red caviar. They’re usually stocked near the sardines.)
Stuff small blobs of that mixture into two-inch pieces of celery, and you are DONE. I’m sure some of you are revolted by what you’re seeing, but I love the way it looks. I would seriously frame and hang a 36” version of that first photo.
If you’ve never had this sort of cheap caviar, it’s so heavily salted that stores don’t even keep it refrigerated. It doesn’t taste so much like “salty fish” as it does “fishy salt,” and I consider no Christmas season complete until I use a jar of it in something.
Hot tip: Your mixture isn’t guaranteed to come out quite this pink, so if you’re into that, you may wanna add a drop of red food dye.
SCORE: 7 out of 10. If I had to do it again, I’d add minced onions and maybe some chives. Sour cream is pretty goopy even when chilled, and I think these would work better with a thickened filling.
This 1978 recipe is way cumbersome by today’s standards, but I’m glad I didn’t modernize it. The end results weren’t “pretty,” exactly, but the taste and texture were weirdly “retro-feeling.”
Get some very thin bread and cut the crusts off. Brush one side of each slice with melted butter. Draw a line down the middle with a mixture of crumbled bacon, shaved parmesan, minced parsley and paprika. Roll as tightly as you can without breaking the bread, and secure each roll with a toothpick. Broil until they’re golden. Eat them.
It’s not quite a BLT, but the flavor is in that area. The best compliment I can give Bacon & Cheese Rolls is that they taste completely unhealthy. I ate one and hated myself and could only cope with that hate by eating another. This would’ve went on for hours, but I ran out of bread.
SCORE: 9 out of 10. The “retro” taste comes from the shaved parmesan, which rarely appears in today’s comparable dishes. (Parmesan must’ve been in serious fashion during the ‘60s and ‘70s, given how often it pops up in these books.)
Here you’re creating little flowery things out of cherry tomatoes, but it’s impossible to do perfectly. They’re okay as part of an appetizer spread, but they don’t hold up so well under individual inspection.
On the bright side, I could eat 40 of these fuckers in five minutes.
Stand a cherry tomato with the stem-side down. Cut into fourths without cutting through to the bottom, and then fan the slices out like a flower. Wedge a tiny cube of cheese in there, and add a sprinkle of parsley for color.
I used pepper jack cheese, but the recipe also allows for cheddar. Cheddar would’ve been tastier, but I loved saying “pepper jack” too much to pick anything else.
If I were you, I’d just make a couple and add them to an antipasto platter as a visual boost. They taste good, but they’re too inelegant to work as a one-man show. Or maybe my big ape hands just can’t handle tiny tomatoes?
SCORE: 7 out of 10. It’s really a 6.5, but I’m exactly the type of person who feels pity for tomatoes.
These are so freakin’ DECADENT. The recipe almost reads like a dare.
Mix 125 grams of blue cheese and 125 grams of cream cheese with two tablespoons of butter. Add dashes of Worcestershire sauce, paprika and cayenne pepper. Form into little balls, and then roll said balls over a bed of finely-crushed walnuts. Chill until solidish.
So yeah, these are literally balls of BLUE CHEESE AND CREAM CHEESE AND BUTTER, rolled in fatty nuts. The recipe didn’t specify how small the balls should be, but mine are smaller than bonbons and each one still feels like a day’s worth of food.
In effect, they’re miniaturized versions of the bigger nut-crusted cheese balls that so many stores sell at this time of year. Which is actually super cool. Instead of using Wheat Thins to shovel the best parts out of a communal cheese ball, your guests can put entire mini-versions on their plates!
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10. Just make sure you serve ‘em with crackers, because they’re really too rich to eat on their own. The flavor is aces: Deep and oaky because of the Worcestershire sauce, but cheesy and buttery because of the… uh, cheese and butter.
I know that some of you are turned off by anchovies, but with the way most recipes utilize them, you hardly know they’re there. More often than not, the anchovies are mashed into so much other stuff that they’re only present as a vague flavor agent.
With this recipe, though, the anchovies are front and center. If anchovies push your worst buttons, I guess you’ll want to skip these.
Make dough out of a cup of shredded cheddar, a cup of flour, half a cup of butter and a few dashes of salt. Add a teensy bit of milk to get the right doughy consistency.
Roll the dough out very thinly, and then cut into strips large enough to “envelope” individual anchovy fillets. Bake at 350 degrees until they look done.
The anchovies act as fishy middles in these mutant Fig Newtons, but the dough is so crazy good that even someone who despises anchovies might put up with them.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10. The dough is so great that this recipe is worth following even if you omit the anchovies. Hell, it might be even better that way.
(It may sound like a bother when you already have an aisle’s worth of Pillsbury nonsense to pick from, but this stuff is so much tastier. More along the lines of those Red Lobster biscuits — the ones that have inspired no less than six religions.)
Thank you for indulging me, because it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I bust out the old recipe books and make weird food. Some people decorate trees; I fill celery with pink goo.
If you’d like to see more ancient appetizer recipes, good news! This isn’t my first rodeo: