The first time I ever heard the word “smörgåsbord” was on an episode of The Brady Bunch. I have no memory of which episode it was or what the context of its use was, but I clearly remember family patriarch Mike Brady saying “smörgåsbord,” probably to the Brady’s kitchen maiden, Alice.
Food played a tremendous role in my youth—in case you couldn’t tell from reading these semi-regular articles. So it’s no surprise that a word like smörgåsbord would’ve piqued my interest. I guarantee I didn’t even know what the word meant, but I somehow knew it had something to do with food and I loved it. But then again, I also didn’t know at the time of watching Brady Bunch reruns in the 1980s that this was, in fact, a show that took place in the 1960s and ’70s. As far as I was concerned, this was a brand new show featuring at least two elements that made me weird on the inside: the word “smörgåsbord” and Mrs. Brady.
Pork Chops And Apple Sauce
I was there with Peter Brady when he uttered the phrase “pork chops and apple sauce” in a faux-Humphrey Bogart accent in a vain attempt to mask his puberty-altered voice. I was there when Marcia Brady’s braces ruined the spaghetti. And I was damn sure there when Bobby Brady entered the ice cream eating contest in a vain attempt to prove he could actually win something. The Brady Bunch might have only had a handful of quasi-food-related moments during its original run from 1969-74, but when it did bring food into the mix, it did so in a way that weaved in its paper-thin plot for at least a vague lesson about the never-ending tragedy of youth.
Like the time that Mike attempted to teach the girls a thing or two in the kitchen, like how to use an electric cake mixer and he ended up making a mess of the kitchen and incurring Alice’s wrath in the process. That episode featured gems from Mike like “this thing [electric mixer] was invented for the sole reason of making life easier for women” and when tasked with cleaning his mess, “with the proper sense of male organization it shouldn’t take me more than…15 minutes.”
The Brady Bunch had a hand in shaping the way I thought about food. Meanwhile, the actual food of the 1970s had a hand in shaping America, period.
The Decade Of Fondue And Molds
Speaking of shapes, cookbooks and home cooks of the 1970s loved molds—anything that could be molded into a shape, they were all over it. Let’s start with the ghastly party foods of the 1970s. These dishes, meant for swanky dinner parties with men in leisure shirts shuffling around on shag carpet while drinking from a can of Schlitz or Ballantine beer, featured Jello- and mousse-molded abominations that would make Andrew Zimmern shiver. There was of course the Seafood Mousse, which was not only filled with gelatin-encased fish, but also shaped into a smiling, dead-eyed creature of the deep. Or if your party was interested in the phytonutrient power of vegetables, but also wanted to be grossed out by jiggly texture, you would definitely prepare and serve a lovely Terrine of Garden Vegetables. Mmmmmmmm, slime and vegetables? Is it my lucky day?
But few party dishes could top the car accident of a dish, the Spaghetti-O Jello Mold topped with Vienna Sausages. Just imagine for a second the texture your mouth would enjoy while savoring this dish: the wiggly, tomato Jello squishes, but is interrupted by cold Spaghetti-O “noodles” that provide just enough give to remind you of how much you want to die. The Vienna Sausages sit atop, making you yearn for that wrinkled hot dog you dropped onto charcoal way back in July.
Another food that gained prominence in 1970s America was fondue. While it’s not exactly a food, but more of a way to irrevocably scald your mouth with molten cheese, fondue became synonymous with chic, adult soirées where hosts encouraged guests to impale bread and meat with a tiny skewer before dunking it into a blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning. Fondue is just cheese on cheese on cheese, with an element of danger thanks to the personal pitchforks that were doled out to drunken 1970s partygoers. Personally, there was always something unsavory about the thought of a bunch of adults in the 1970s getting together for a group activity. Did they also drop their car keys into a fishbowl? You know what, forget I asked.
And finally, what would a party be without a main course fit for a king. Chicken à la King, tame dish in comparison to those previously mentioned in this article, gained popularity in the 1970s and even sneaked into the 1980s. Think of it as a deconstructed chicken pot pie, with chunks of chicken in a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms and green peppers, and sometimes peas. It’s served alongside toast points, puff pastry or rice, with egg noodles acting as an acceptable substitution.
Is it a rather tame ending to your 1970s party? Maybe. But what you’re not tasting is the sheer volume of cursing being committed by Alice in Mike Brady’s direction.