Classic American foods like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and mac ‘n’ cheese have withstood the test of time, but many have also disappeared. Some are sorely missed and others, well, not so much. Let’s dish about the past and foods that have fallen out of favor.
Thanksgiving leftovers are as traditional as the holiday meal itself. My father’s favorite leftover dish was turkey tetrazzini—made with that leftover turkey and sautéed mushrooms, cheese, cream, peas, and egg noodles or spaghetti. It typically lasted all weekend long in our house and it used to appear on restaurant menus, too. The dish is rumored to have been dreamed up by a Luisa Tetrazzini, a celebrated San Francisco opera singer in the early 1900s.
Chicken a la King
Another leftover favorite that has been left off menus and not prepared in home kitchens is Chicken a la King. The dish is built with chicken, mushrooms, veggies, and a sherry cream sauce served over biscuits. Origins of the dish are debatable, but it’s said to come from Delmonico’s in New York City where the dish got a start in the 1880s as Chicken a la Keene (named after Foxhall Parker Keene). Other accounts link it to the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia and even London at Claridge’s Hotel.
Mock Apple Pie
Popular in the Great Depression was the Mock Apple Pie made with Ritz crackers. There are no apples in the mock pie, with the buttery crackers intending to mock the apples. The recipe was also printed on the back of Nabisco’s Ritz Crackers box. Today, of course, apples are used in apple pies.
The classic 1920s Waldorf salad with apples and walnuts and heavy mayo-based dressing is in the rearview mirror, for the most part. It was a celebratory dish when the war ended and more extravagant ingredients like fruit and nuts could be used again. While you won’t typically find it on menus, you can make a lighter version with Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise.
Some yesterday foods are uber regional like the dried, re-cooked, preserved whitefish known as lutefisk (it translates to “lye fish”), which has an acquired taste and texture. Lutefisk is a Norwegian dish, popular in the Midwest, especially Wisconsin and Minnesota, as that geographic area was home to many descendants of Scandinavians, says Janet Gianetti, co-founder of Mr. Meal Delivery. “Over the years, though, as many of the first generation and second generation descendants of immigrants passed away or moved out of the area, the dish has fallen into obscurity,” she says. Lutefisk dinners are sometimes still celebrated at “lutefisk feeds” at churches and community centers, says Gianetti. “Whenever I hear about one, I make sure to visit to eat what may soon be an extinct dish in America.”
Succotash is a Native American dish that went on to become a traditional Thanksgiving dish in New England. The dish of sweet corn, lima beans, and other beans is hard to find today in New England on Turkey Day, although it still makes an appearance as a side dish in the South.
Those in the media know that a junket is a press event, but in the food world, junket was a very popular dessert made with rennet (a digestive enzyme that curdles the milk) and sweetened milk. In the eastern U.S., during the 20th century, junket was served to children who were ill because it was believed to ease digestion.
Lobster Newberg (or Newburg) was created in N.Y.C. at Delmonico’s in 1876—or at least that’s the rumor. The rich dish (lobster, butter, cream, sherry, cognac, eggs) was called Lobster a la Wenberg, named for sea captain Ben Wenberg who first introduced the dish to the restaurant. It was believed to be the restaurant’s signature dish during the 1800s, but was renamed following a fallout between Wenberg and Delmonico’s.
Related video: The Magical Holiday Taste of Lutefisk