The Gallery of Regrettable Food

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

by James Lileks
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The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks


This is not a cookbook. You'll find no tongue-tempting treats within -- unless, of course, you consider Boiled Cow Elbow with Plaid Sauce to be your idea of a tasty meal. No, The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a public service. Learn to identify these dishes. Learn to regard shivering liver molds with suspicion. Learn why curries are a Communist plot to undermine decent, honest American spices. Learn to heed the advice of stern, fictional nutritionists. If you see any of these dishes, please alert the authorities.

Now, the good news: laboratory tests prove that The Gallery of Regrettable Food AMUSES as well as informs. Four out of five doctors recommend this book for its GENEROUS PORTIONS OF HILARITY and ghastly pictures from RETRO COOKBOOKS. You too will look at these products of post-war cuisine and ask: "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?" It's an affectionate look at the days when starch ruled, pepper was a dangerous spice, and Stuffed Meat with Meat Sauce was considered health food.

Bon appetit!

The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a simple introduction to poorly photographed foodstuffs and horrid recipes from the Golden Age of Salt and Starch. It's a wonder anyone in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s gained any weight. It isn't that the food was inedible; it was merely dull. Everything was geared toward a timid palate fearful of spice. It wasn't nonnutritious -- no, between the limp boiled vegetables, fat-choked meat cylinders, and pink whipped Jell-O desserts, you were bound to find a few calories that would drag you into the next day. It's just that the pictures are so hideously unappealing.

Author James Lileks has made it his life's work to unearth the worst recipes and food photography from that bygone era and assemble them with hilarious, acerbic commentary: "This is not meat. This is something they scraped out of the air filter from the engines of the Exxon Valdez." It all started when he went home to Fargo and found an ancient recipe book in his mom's cupboard: Specialties of the House, from the North Dakota State Wheat Commission. He never looked back. Now, they're not really recipe books. They're ads for food companies, with every recipe using the company's products, often in unexpected and horrifying ways. There's not a single appetizing dish in the entire collection.

The pictures in the book are ghastly -- the Italian dishes look like a surgeon had a sneezing fit during an operation, and the queasy casseroles look like something on which the janitor dumps sawdust. But you have to enjoy the spirit behind the books -- cheerful postwar perfect housewifery, and folks with the guts to undertake such culinary experiments as stuffing cabbage with hamburger, creating the perfect tongue mousse when you have the fellas over for a pregame nosh, or, best of all, baking peppers with a creamy marshmallow sauce. Alas, too many of these dishes bring back scary childhood memories.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780609607824
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/11/2001
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 7.82(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. His popular website, "The Institute of Official Cheer," on which The Gallery of Regrettable Food is based, can be seen at

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The Gallery of Regrettable Food 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
ECmom More than 1 year ago
Reading the book's description, I thought it was an actual compilation of bad recipes from the 40s-60s. Instead, this is a narrative(rather mundane at times) with pictures from old cookbooks. I was very disappointed to find there were perhaps only 4 recipes in the entire book. Hardly "bursting with recipes" as Emily Lloyd from the Fairfax Library wrote in her review(Someone obviously did not do their reading assignment) :-P. I was looking forward to seeing what ingredients were in "Baked peppers in Marshmallow Sauce". Someone had to have made the recipe back then, tested it...what made it palatable? Inquiring minds want to know! Unfortunately, this book fails woefully in that regard. Chefs, cooking fanatics, and the epi-curious - save your time and money. Hit the garage sales and look for some old 50s-60s cookbooks/magazines for 50 cents. They may provide more insight than this "Gallery of Regrettable Food" did. Perhaps a different title and an accurate editorial review might have made this dish more palatable. However, if you are looking for some nostalgia for the "good old days", you will most likely find this book amusing.
CharlotteBaltimore More than 1 year ago
James Lileks is incredibly funny. If you enjoy looking at old ads from the 50's, 60's and 70's, and how strange they seem today--and making fun of them--he's your man. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I just can't figure out why he's not more widely known!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I was growing up I think my mom had ALL of these cook books. Unfortunately she made the recipes!! This book is nostalgic and funny. Give it a look!!
MF1 More than 1 year ago
This book was one of the funniest I've ever read. James Lileks has a comic sensibility like no one else. Every time I read it I practically end up with an asthma attack from laughing!
MCBOregon More than 1 year ago
Bought as a present for my mother and returned it because it looked a little boring
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I laughed heartily while reading this book. I remember the cookbooks of the 50's and 60's (I received a Junior cookbook from either Better Homes and Gardens or Good Housekeeping) when I was about 8, and I still have it somewhere. The Gallery of Regrettable Food brought back the memories of those awful pictures of cutesy presentations, and the attendant vile recipes. I laughed almost to the point of tears!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A paean to a time when creative uses for cabbage was considered a viable Research and Development project at any food company, this book is written with both affection and revulsion and in the inimitable Lileks style. More than an anti-cookbook (indeed, many of the 'recipes' would be considered toxic by today's dietary standards), James Lileks has presented a look through cookbooks to what was in the minds of the people in this past era. By that I mean it asks, 'What were they THINKING?' quite a bit. An extremely entertaining read by a funny, funny man with an amicable cynic's eye, a historian's perspective and a cast-iron stomach.