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Mmm, I Love Meatjelly!

OPINION | LIFESTYLE | REVIEW

Written by Thomas Giblin (he/they) @thegreengiblin Entertainment Editor



When you think of the 70s, what do you think of? In Aotearoa we were subjected to French nuclear testing in the Pacific, the Vietnam War, oil shocks, and the Mount Erebus disaster. If you stumble into an op shop often, you'll find bizarre artefacts from the decade: Avocado-tinted appliances, polyester suits, abandoned pet rocks, and even lava lamps if you're lucky. The wonderfully wacky dinnerware the 70s churned out is a favourite for collectors - vintage corn-on-the-cob serving dishes and plates now go for a pretty penny online.


What fascinates so many people about the decade is the variety of demented culinary concoctions. Imagine the taste and texture of ham and banana hollandaise, lime cheese salad, igloo meatloaf, potato fudge, or ham in aspic. These dishes aren't a figment of my imagination. Instead, they're gastronomical nightmares that look far worse than they sound.


‘70s Dinner Party’, the lovechild of Anna Pallai, is an Instagram account dedicated to the absurdity of food from the decade with a follower count of 170k at time of writing. There's even a book that features the 'best' of these dishes titled 70s Dinner Party: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly of Retro Food. Luckily, I have a copy (thanks, Auckland Libraries!). Forget Gordon Ramsay, James Kenji López-Alt and Julia Child. today, I'm following in the footsteps of Heston Blumenthal and Heisenberg by cooking up a storm.


The Shopping List

Unflavoured gelatin

Beef stock

Sausages

Pickles

Vanilla extract

Fresh cream

Apricots in juice

Icing sugar


The Meat Jelly Monstrosity


It isn't easy to describe how I felt before I embarked on this culinary ordeal. Here are a few relevant words: queasy, afraid, repulsed. I'd encountered this dish on my Twitter (I'm not calling it X) timeline, piquing my curiosity: could it be as horrific as I imagined, or was I overreacting?

I combined Aotearoa's finest tap water with gelatin in a small bowl. Then, I brought two cups of water to a simmer and added my granulated beef stock. My gelatine mixture, which I'd set aside, was poured into my stock concoction.


I'd forgotten to cook my sausages and slice my pickles before preparing the liquid part of the recipe - panic ensued. If I were to fulfil my duty as a writer and critic who prescribes a code of ethics, I had to do this recipe justice - there could be no mucking about. As I let my gelatin and stock mix brew cool, I cooked my sausages with surgical precision. The golden brown exterior of this cylindrical-shaped vessel of goodness was a marvel to admire.


I carefully arranged my chopped sausages and pickles into a bundt cake pan before I poured the liquid, shimmering with oil and unease, into my stained bowl and put it in the fridge. The tension was palpable as my knee rocketed up and down. Why was I doing this? Why choose to go where no Debate writer has gone before?


Racked with anxiety, the four hours I had to wait for my heinous dish to refrigerate passed. This dish was my Everest, and I must conquer it. I needed to get the perfect scoop - the triple threat of meat jelly, pickles, and sausage must come together on my tongue. A heaped spoonful entered my mouth, and the regret was instant. The texture was revolting and the flavour was much, much worse. There was no escaping the crunchy hot pickle, firm sausage, and meat jelly that dissolved over my tongue. Would I ever be able to get this taste out of my mouth? Yes. I instantly gagged and spat out this crime against humanity.


I had tried to keep an open mind, but sometimes you have to admit defeat. Guzzling water made little difference, but I found comfort in knowing it'd make for a funny article. Don't worry; there was no waste: my neighbour's dog, Oreo, a small papillon with the stomach of a lion, made short work of my leftovers.


What Do You Call An Apricot in Jail?


Apricots were incredibly popular in the 70s - particularly via apricot chicken. The dish became wide-spread as the Lipton Company allegedly wanted another use for its packet soups. The fruit became pervasive in various savoury and sweet dishes.


Full disclosure: I chose this dish because I love whipped cream and wanted to eat something I might enjoy. A picture from the recipe I found online also made apricot creams seem delectable. Fruit and cream, what can go wrong?


My home needs a stand mixer. Only elbow grease and sweat were available to whip the cream. Within a minute, my arm was cramping up with shame. I had to call for help, and thankfully, Mother Giblin is an excellent cook and saved the day. All I had to do now was add icing sugar and some apricot juice to the whipped cream.

Mixing the whipped cream was easy, but piping them onto the apricots and having them look like my photo reference was an infinite challenge. No matter how careful I was, the florets of whipped cream failed to look photogenic. Thankfully in the end, they tasted a lot better than they looked - but I'm really not cut out to be a pâtissier. I'll stick to buying overpriced deserts instead of making my own.


In Review


We all have dishes from childhood that we hated but had to eat or weren't allowed to leave the table - but maybe just be thankful that you didn't grow up in the 70s. Despite the bountiful plates of aspic, sausage cake, and cheeseburger pie, we would've starved.


My mum, who was around in the 70s, doesn't remember having jellied meat and pickles as a kid. Is this dish just an American thing, or is my mum suffering from dissociative amnesia? If I'd been served one of these 70s fad food trends for dinner as a child, I would've thrown a tantrum. On the flip side, I would've loved eating apricot creams while watching M*A*S*H or Happy Days. Sometimes, you have to experience the bad to learn to appreciate the good things in life.



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