This is what dinner party food looked like in the 1970s

Story highlights

  • New book "70s Dinner Party" showcases vintage food photography
  • Writer Anna Pallai inspired by mother's collection of recipe cards

(CNN)Ham and bananas hollandaise. Eggs in a cage. Beef tingler.

In the days before Instagram, before clean eating and kombucha, aspirational cooking -- in 1970s Britain at least -- meant a showstopper dinner party.
    Set-piece dishes were designed to astound, and often confound.
    Inspiration came from recipe cards and cook books, where the new art of food photography was entering its difficult, experimental teenage years.
    Londoner Anna Pallai has brought this more innocent food era back to life via her 70s Dinner Party accounts on Twitter and Tumblr and now a book, "70s Dinner Party: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly of Retro Food."

    The bland and the bewildering

    The book is partly "a reaction against the self-satisfied nature of some food now, and the virtuousness that's meant to go with clean eating and healthy eating," Pallai tells CNN.
    "It's not like I advocate eating unhealthily, but I do think the food of the '70s and that period was cooked to be enjoyed by other people, not only visually, but also to be eaten.
    "Whereas now it's very much about 'look at this healthy thing I made for myself.'
    "I far prefer something that includes others."
    The dishes' names leap out as dazzling combinations of the exotic and the prosaic -- Emerald Cantaloupe, Fish Whirls, Wurstel Sausage in Aspic.

    Suspended meat

    While these were dishes designed to impress, they were also sturdy structures built to withstand hours of standing about waiting for guests to arrive.
    If that meant suspending meat in savory jello or layering green mashed potato with boiled eggs and sliced olives, then so be it.
    Cauliflower Surprise: Those brown bits are beefburgers.
    Some dishes could pass as cutting-edge contemporary art -- Mushrooms under Glass, Brains in Butter.
    Others sound like the kind of X-rated games found at the swingers parties of feverish imagination -- Ladies' Seafood Thermidor, Italian Bananas, Prune Whip.
    But, says Pallai: "What I didn't want to do was just unnecessarily mock the food of the time.
    "It's very affectionate and there's lots of things I far prefer about it."
    Just as we chuckle about the fashions we wore in earlier decades, the mason jars and avocado toast of our own era are likely to get old as quickly as a cheese-and-pineapple hedgehog on a doily.
    "It's the colors and the styling," says Pallai. "There were quite a lot of things that looked pretty awful but when you boil it down, it's actually just how it's been shot.
    "Things date and our food will date in the same way."