An argument could be made about how the Grape Salad Controversy of 2014 changed Minnesota food culture forever. In the great rush to separate What They Think of Us from What We Are, a lot got left out in the middle.
That’s where we at City Pages went digging.
To “celebrate” our most tradition-centric food holiday, we found old family recipes that warm the heart and terrify the soul, hailing from Methodist church cookbooks and magazine clippings circa 1974 that spring eternal online. By the end of our little show-and-tell, no one was happy and we willingly ate lutefisk! Shit, it’s almost like we held a real Thanksgiving.
What follows is a breakdown of the most astounding dishes you definitely could serve this year... but probably shouldn’t.
1. Stargazy Pie
When people say British food is bad, Stargazy Pie is exactly what the fuck they’re talking about. In addition to the obvious—whole sardines, boned and gutted but with the heads left on, for some unholy reason—the recipe has cooks fill a pie crust with onion, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
It is, like, test-kitchen-engineered to smell bad. Its taste can only be described as “violently fishy.” Its creator wrote, “I regret making it; I regret serving it; I regret eating it; and I’m worried it has irreparably ruined at least three friendships.” That said, Stargazy Pie has defenders. They are not to be trusted.
2. Midwestern Pea Salad
Combine canned peas (no freshies allowed), hard-boiled eggs, chopped celery and onion, “salad dressing” aka Miracle Whip, and Velveeta cheese in a bowl. Add salt, pepper, and garlic salt to taste. The trick here is letting the Velveeta melt into the mess until it’s everywhere and nowhere at once, like a vengeful ghost.
Pea salad is a more reliable binary than traditional conceptions of gender in so many Midwestern families. The men hate it. The women (and its creator) see it as a festive part of the holidays! To children, it gives off the air of a delicate, tea party sort of food for those who enjoy finger sandwiches and relish trays. Elders know it’s made of garbage and celery, which doesn’t change the emotional and physical space it’s given at the table.
3. Perfection Salad
The first aspic entrant was a so-called Perfection Salad, in which shredded iceberg lettuce, celery, roasted green peppers, a few olives, and pimentos levitate in a gelatin mixture of sugar, lemon juice, and an alarming amount of vinegar.
Any time the mold was tapped to check that it was congealing, one’s hand acquired a persistent vinegary/onion smell, which leached into the air and lingered for hours. The amount of added liquids also meant it never really set. In the end, Perfection Salad tasted like watery vinegar jelly, or, as one brave taste-tester described it: “that vomit you get at the end of a barfing session when you just have stomach acid, water, and herb remnants left to puke.”
4. Glace Fish Mold, served with real mayo
We’re sad (but unsurprised) to report that the Glace Fish Mold fared worse than its Perfection kin. Tuna, roasted green peppers, a ton of pimento, chopped onion, celery, and cucumber are suspended in a gelatin mixture, which here were combined in a brain mold for artistic effect—as was the eyeball garnish.
Before adding the gelatin, this was basically a fresh tuna salad (mayo on the side), and it tasted pretty damn good. Ironically, the thing that held it all together ultimately destroyed it. The Glace Fish Mold’s final texture was reminiscent of lutefisk, and packed a flavor-smell reminiscent of that formaldehyde/preservative permeating science classes of yore on animal dissection days.
5. The Flying Jakob
Not to throw down the gauntlet, but only real Swedes (might) know about the Flygande Jakob, aka Flying Jakob. The casserole made from a whole (pulled) chicken, four bananas, nearly a quart of heavy whipping cream, Italian seasoning, a spicy ketchup mix, bacon, and peanuts rendered sunset orange and molten seemed to create more confusion than disgust. We’ll count that a victory? Clashing as all its ingredients may be, it was hands-down one of the most edible dishes presented, and some even “liked” it! Still, the Mad Doctor Jakob should be punished for confusing so many mouths.
6. Sardine-stuffed Lemons
Sardine Stuffed Lemons consists of a mixture of canned sardines, horseradish, lots of lemon juice, heavy cream, and gelatin crammed into a hollowed-out lemon. Each baseball-sized lemon was meant as a single serving.
While most people were horrified by what amounted to perfectly plated gourmet cat food accompanied by little baby brioches to make it look deceptively appealing, a few lost souls actually said it was the best dish of the night and went back for more. Its creator’s opinion of the fishy lemons falls somewhere in the middle, but he also admits to eating two of the Stargazy Pie’s fish heads, “so my taste buds/judgement/life choices clearly can’t be trusted.”
7. SpaghettiO and Hot Dog Jell-O Bozo Send-up
Instead of separating this timeless culinary delight’s ingredients of SpaghettiO’s, Vienna sausages, and gelatin into their intended formation of a pasta-stuffed ring mold with meat tubes erupting from its center, modern science and technology were used to create an all-in-one abomination and outright middle finger to god.
Initial research suggested that the best way to ensure a proper release from the Bozo the Clown mold was to coat the clown’s face in mayonnaise, which also resulted in a delightful marbling throughout the first layer, made of Mario and Luigi SpaghettiOs with meatballs. The second layer’s hot-dog water gelatin featured julienned dogs for clown hair, with sliced polka-dot dog rounds at the collar. Rounding out the striated tectonic horror were little frank confetti bits throughout.
Our dish’s creator wrote, “As Thomas Ligotti believes that nonexistence has never hurt anyone, I believe that the existence of this dish hurts everyone.” All who tasted Bozo agree.
Just when tongues were most tired and we thought all bases had been covered beyond our wildest nightmares, in strolled a colleague at the eleventh hour toting... lutefisk. It arrived plain and simple, tepid and jiggly, festooned with mini-Swedish flags like tiny badges of honor. And that, Reader, is how we discovered lye-soaked-fish really isn’t that bad.