Time for my most important article of the year: Ancient Holiday Appetizers!
Every December, I dig through old cookbooks looking for edible holiday thrills, no matter how out of style. This has been my favorite Christmas tradition of the past decade, full stop. I couldn’t imagine letting a holiday season slip by without messing with clams and Cheez Wiz.
For this year’s edition of Ancient Holiday Appetizers, most of the recipes were plucked from 1980s lifestyle magazines. My mother kept a stack of similar mags in our least-used kitchen cabinet. Even as a kid, I was fascinated by all of the weird foods that already seemed antique by the late ‘80s.
Writing these articles is a way for me to feel better about those many hours spent studying hors d’oeuvres while the fitter kids were out playing tag. Enjoy!
Stove Top with Minced Clams!
(McCall’s, December 1980)
Gag all you want, this stuff is GOOD. I found the recipe in an old print ad, but you hardly need it to play along. Just make Stove Top as you normally would, but toss in a can of minced clams and the juice that comes with it.
If you can imagine a crab cake with less crab and more cake, that’s this stuffing. The clams are barely visible and don’t do much to the texture, but they add an oceanic kick that doesn’t sound like it’d work on Stove Top, but totally does.
The end results are surprisingly mild. I wouldn’t confuse this with “normal” Stove Top, but on a blind taste test, I’d never guess that there was an entire can of clams in there.
SCORE: 8 out of 10. I can’t say that I prefer it to unadulterated Stove Top, but on certain occasions, I’d definitely make this again. (Actually, if my family’s Christmas Eve party wasn’t canceled this year, clammy stuffing would’ve fit in perfectly with all of the traditional seafood.)
Cranberry Sauce in Orange Shells!
(McCall’s, December 1980)
If you make nothing else from this article, at least try this! (The zigzagged orange serving cups are optional, though I shudder to think that there’s even one person who wouldn’t create zigzagged orange serving cups when given that option.)
The recipe calls this a “sauce,” but it only barely qualifies as one. You just simmer four cups of cranberries in a simple syrup made from water and sugar, and though most of the berries will pop and ooze during that process, the goal is to leave them intact. In the end, it’ll look and taste like you tried to rehydrate Craisins with corn syrup.
There’s something wickedly “vintage” about this dish. Modern cranberry sauce recipes very often limit the sugar and strive for nutritional balance, but this one gives no shits. It tastes like straight-up candy, with a 80/20 sweet-to-tart ratio.
SCORE: 10 out of 10. Would make again, will make again!
Stouffer’s Pizza Party!
(Family Circle, December 1982)
Yeah, this one is kind of a cheat, since I’m not really “making” anything. Sue me. I found an old Stouffer’s ad that showed French bread pizzas cut into tiny pizza babies, and I had to get in on that.
I mean, I’m only human. Stouffer’s French bread pizzas still exist, have barely changed in decades, and even come in “retro” boxes that look just like the one in this 1982 print ad. Only an idiot would ignore such an embarrassment of riches.
Grab as many varieties of Stouffer’s French bread pizza as you can find (that was three for me), bake ‘em in the oven, and cut them into 1.5” strips. Arrange haphazardly on a party platter, and you’re DONE.
I adore this. Everybody loves Stouffer’s pizza, but you’d never think to offer whole-ass pieces to party guests. Thanks to this “recipe,” I can now feed an army for less than 10 dollars.
SCORE: 9 out of 10. Just make sure you bake them right, meaning the long way. Gotta get that crust nice and crunchy if you’re gonna cut it forty times!
Holiday Cheesy Fruit Dip!
(Kraft TV spot, December 1986)
All of the dishes from last year’s edition of Ancient Holiday Appetizers came from a series of 1986 Kraft recipe commercials. I caught some flack for chickening out on the weirdest of them — a dip made from Cheez Whiz and applesauce — and it’s been stuck in my craw for an entire year. So fine, HERE YOU GO.
Mix 1/3rd a cup of applesauce with 1/4th a cup of chopped pecans, add some cinnamon and nutmeg, and then pour eight ounces of HOT CHEEZ WHIZ all over it. It even sounds gross to me, but there’s nothing offensive about the taste. Despite being the star component, the Cheez Whiz is completely muted by the other ingredients. The dip mostly tastes like liquefied pumpkin pie.
I was instructed to serve it with apples and pears, but I think I might’ve liked it more with salty crackers, which would contrast better with the dip’s sweet taste. If you’re gonna take the plunge, I’d advise investing in Triscuits.
SCORE: 6.5 out of 10. It’s the only thing in this article that I’ll never make again, but that has nothing to do with it being “weird.” If you’re into cheesecake or pumpkin pie, this dip is like throwing a slice of each into Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer. Not bad, but not really for me.
Leslie Ann Warren’s Bourbon Balls!
(Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1982)
One of my old magazines featured dessert recipes from celebrities, including these bourbon balls from Leslie Ann Warren. How could I not, guys? That’s Miss Scarlett from Clue! If you’re unfamiliar with Lesley Ann Warren, just know that if someone adapted Batman Returns as an afternoon soap back in the ‘90s, she would’ve been a great Catwoman.
These are delicious, and boozy as hell. You form little balls out of crushed Nilla wafers, pecans, cocoa, corn syrup and bourbon, roll them in powdered sugar, and leave ‘em to blend in the fridge for a few days. (Or a few minutes, if you’re writing about them on a tight deadline.)
Oh God, they are fantastic! The comparatively small amount of cocoa shines, but it’s really the blast of bourbon that’ll keep you coming back. I don’t think I had a particularly heavy hand, but I’m convinced that you could actually get tipsy off of these.
SCORE: 10 out of 10. Assuming we’re back to normal by Christmas 2021, I am absolutely making them for the big family party.
Thanks for reading! Without you, I could never justify spending $100 on recipes from 38-year-old issues of Women’s Day.