Check It Out: ‘Regrettable Food’: From aspic to potted meat



There is a lot of pressure this time of year to cook really good food. Friends and family will be hanging around, uh, I mean visiting your lovely home this month, and microwave dinners and popcorn just won’t cut it. If you’re not savvy in the kitchen, this can be a really stressful time. That’s why you need to lift your spirits by reading this book.

As you can tell by the title, “The Gallery of Regrettable Food” is not a tribute to delectable dishes. This is a showcase of appallingly bad food. Author James Lileks has tirelessly combed through hundreds of cookbooks from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s in order to share the wonders of aspic, cocktail wieners and cured meats. Perhaps the culinary culprits presented in this rogues gallery of American fare thrilled diners of the early atomic age, but I’m pretty sure that 21st century holiday guests would blanch at the sight of an aspic liver canapé or prune whip.

You may be wondering why a book that collects pictures from old Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks and others can boost your cooking confidence. First, most of the food looks awful, and even if you serve your visitors a dish of celery, rice cakes, and gummy bears, your plating will shine compared to a serving of gelatin mold containing pickles, peas, carrots and something else I can’t identify. Second, Lileks’ hilarious comments about the popularity of frankfurter hors d’oeuvres, the overuse of marshmallow crème, the regrettable trend called potted meat and the swinging recipes in Good Housekeeping’s “Ten P.M. Cookbook” will guarantee plenty of laughter for stressed-out hosts.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at She blogs at