American Advertising Cookbooks: how corporations taught us to love Spam, bananas, and Jell-O

Originally published at:


If anyone is curious how some of these recipes actually turn out…


My wife did this:

Which means I have tasted everything in this book. A supposedly fun thing I will never do again.

We’ve collected quite a pile of these kinds of books, and related booklets from outfits like the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago. Particularly the ones from the era before good food photography are terrifying. Also, as the linked pdf suggests, they represented a world that was very WASP in appearance, at least up to the mid-1960s. Ethnic references could be . . . questionable.


Don’t be hating on spam.




One of these things is not like the others.

Spam is nasty, and not in a good way.

Jell-O is tolerable if a friend serves you jello shots or you’re in the hospital, though relatively recent events have created a bitter association.

Bananas are objectively tasty, a good source of potassium and, well…just look at them.


Spam is great stuff when grilled or fried. Teriyaki Spam with rice or Spam musubi? Heck yeah.


It’s interesting how taste’s change over the years. Some of these dishes could have been part of a “Fear Factor” challenge decades later:


Been there, done that. Is it as bad as it looks? Yes.


Just because a recipe was in a cookbook doesn’t mean anyone was actually making it. The whole idea of an advertising cookbook was to make an ingredient seem more versatile and useful than it might actually be. (In specific I doubt that many of the ‘savory’ gelatin based dishes were being made with any frequency.)


I do spam and shrimp fried rice regularly.

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I ate a lot of Spam casserole growing up.

It remains comfort food for me to this day.


One of my favorite corporate advertising cookbooks is the 1912 Crisco cookbook, which I have a copy of.

Crisco sold really badly when it was introduced. So they hatched a strategy: market it as “kosher lard” and distribute cookbooks to Jewish bakeries, delis, and in-house cooks. Word spread quickly among cooks and Crisco became really popular.

Their next cookbook wasn’t marketed towards Jewish cooks. Instead, it positioned Crisco as a health food – unlike lard or butter, Crisco was “pure and clean” because it was a vegetable product manufactured and packed by machines – the cooking fat of the future! It was another huge success.


The actual recipes in these books vary from the innocuous and traditional to 'what the fuck were they thinking??!!" Like maybe one of the food scientists had an idea for a recipe during a fever dream recovering from a bender.

But as cultural artifacts they’re kind of interesting, because like all advertising, they present an idealized aspirational fantasy world. And like a lot of dated advertising, it’s a fantasy world that today looks like more like some kind of fresh hell.


Spam Hawaii

In D&D, when we encountered a gelatinous cube, I always thought of those Jello salads.


My mom had scads of these books, dating from the 60s, but I don’t remember ever eating weird Jell-O concoctions.


friends i’m here to talk to you about half a slab of velveeta and a can of rotel emptied into a bowl and microwaved only to be dipped upon repeatedly by a corn chip of any stature is an ideal candidate for comfort food for all.

I have a bunch of Garden Club and Women’s Auxiliary club self published cookbooks.

When you get to the punch section you’ll see why these clubs were so popular. They have ‘punch’ recipes that would bring a frat boy to his knees.

I lived on weird Jell-O concoctions for about a week after I had my wisdom teeth out.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I would like to remark that the advertisements cited in that book are incredibly sexist, even for the times. There may be a lesson in that.