We’re about halfway through Lent now, and for many, it’s that time of the season where remembering to do the Lenten fasts–and do so with joy and energy rather than being all dour-faced– gets really rough.

The other day, after a discussion in the DC office over breakfast, a couple of things were just running through my mind. First, what to make for dinner. Second, what to make that my husband and I could still eat as leftovers on Friday? Last, I was still mulling over our conversation about finding the balance between honoring our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, but also critiquing some of the more inventive decisions of the third quarter-century.

I wondered: is there a way of combining  a love of cooking, Friday abstinence, and good-natured commentary on some of the more horrific decisions of decades gone by?


And it hit me.

Yes. Yes, there is.

Friends, readers, Catholics: for the sake of culinary experimentation,  fun, and upholding the Friday Fast, we are announcing the CNA Vintage Friday Penance Challenge.  Wish us luck.


The rules 

For this challenge I will do the following-

  1. Choose recipes that must be:
  • Meatless: Have no meat or meat product (replacing meat gelatin with a vegetable or fish-based substitute where necessary), and meet the requirements for the Friday Lenten fast.
  • Printed 1983/before: This is the year the current code of Canon Law was published. Why the Code of Cannon Law publishing date? Because we needed some arbitrary cutoff date for what “vintage” is, it’s more than 30 years ago, and canonically at least, it was a different era.
  • Novel: this can’t be something you could really imagine being served at your neighborhood diner, or that you would find suggested on a food blog or make for a family dinner. It has to be weird.
  • Penitential: It has to be at least a little gross. In addition to being strange and unfamiliar, the dish has to induce some amount of suffering.
  • Unwasteful: diners have to  actually be able to eat  the dish. It’s Lent, and this project shouldn’t end up taking more foodcan be consumed.



2. Photograph and comment on all stages of the cooking -and eating process.

3. Eat the dishes all next Friday, March 20.


Let’s meet the contenders. (Get ready for lots of gelatin.)


Photo Credit: Foodista 



What would a Catholic Friday be without fish? Thankfully, there is an abundance of vintage fish recipes to choose from. Unfortunately, some of them are terrifying- a bizarre combination of The Blob meets citrus meets your neighborhood fish market.



1. Shrimp-Salmon Mold.



Photo Credit


Oh dear goodness. It has a face.


I don’t even know where to begin with this. The fact that it has “mold” in its name? The absurd amounts of gelatin required? The vanilla extract? The buttermilk? Its pink and smiling little face? Yet despite everything, the recipe still sounds edible…



2. Salmon in Aspic



This looks innocuous enough– really it looks just like a salmon steak that happens to be in Jell-O.  In fact, that’s all that it is. I’m not sure what would possibly compel someone to take a perfectly good salmon steak and coat it in gelatin, but I also can’t see how that would really change it all that much. Not enough of a challenge, I’m afraid.



3. Aspic Aquarium




So I’m strangely impressed by this,  and, while definitely bizarre, it sounds like it would taste at least edible-  though the mayonnaise might be a step too far.  I might actually make this, if I can find some way of reducing its portion size- I can’t eat an entire aquarium-full of seafood and pasta.


4. Summer Salad Pie



Photo Credit This is summer, salad and a pie. “Summer Salad Pie” is not this.


Oooh! A summer Salad! That sounds nice and fresh!  What could be so bad about that?

From the looks of it: everything.

Well, that’s not quite fair- maybe a cheesy pie crust and tuna salad could go well together, if you like that sort of thing. And maybe tomato gelatin can be ok. And olives are good. But certainly not all of those things together, and not with the added magic of Worchestershire sauce and vinegar. Hard pass.


5. Cottage Cheese Salmon Salad


I think already I’ve been looking too long at pictures of fish, gelatin and dairy products. I think this looks good, despite the voice of self-preservation in the back of my head crying “No! Don’t do it!”

Really, though, salmon, veggies and the cheese topping doesn’t sound horrible– I’m just confused by the addition of jell-o.
6. Tuna Macaroni Cheese Loa

FINALLY. Something without gelatin or mayonnaise. Things are starting to look up. This is basically a tuna-meatloaf cooked with macaroni-and-cheese. Strange, yes. Comfort food, maybe, Completely disgusting, probably not. I am concerned though about its large serving size- as edible as it seems to be for one sitting, I’m not sure if I can stomach 8 rounds of cheesy tuna and macaroni.



Vegetables/ sides



Photo credit  Tomato, gelatin and cream: I’m beginning to sense a theme here…



7. “Pie Plate Salad”

Right off the bat, the scare quotes around this “recipe” terrify me. What are you hiding, Veg-All? Is it a new, delicious and “nutritional” “Pie Plate Salad” as you say, or is it something more nefarious merely masquerading as food?  WE NEED ANSWERS.

Also,  do they have to add gelatin to EVERYTHING!?

Lastly, is that swirly tartar sauce “icing” really necessary?


8. Jellied Gazpacho


Photo Credit

Sigh. Tomato gelatin. Need I say more?


9. Curried Egg Pie


Photo Credit


This could be a toss-up. The apple could work well with the pie and the eggs and the savory herbs. Or it could completely backfire. Again, I’m confused, yet intrigued. Then again, maybe that’s what this project is doing to me.




10. Citrus Sweet Potatoes


This looks amazing, and absolutely delicious. And it involves fire. This is nowhere near penitential enough for this challenge- too tasty and too much fun, but this is something I might actually try on my own. I’m not sure if these things are getting less gross, or if I’m finally acclimated to them.
11. Cottage Cheese Ring. 

Oh dear. Oh dear. The gelatin is back and it’s back with a vengeance– and with whipped cream. What could possibly inspire anyone to inflict such suffering on dinner guest, I don’t know. There’s no way I could make this and actually consume any.






Photo Credit

I’m sorry Eastern Rite Catholics and all of you giving up on all animal products on Fridays or for Lent itself:  there aren’t really any choices out there that aren’t normal and/or unpalatable.


Then again- you’re actually the lucky ones, aren’t you? No one has created such a horrible recipe that it deserves to end up here.



Fortunately for most normal people, but unfortunately for me I couldn’t find many… ah… inventive dessert recipes that aren’t still in vogue in one form or another on modern food blogs or cookbooks. The American sweet tooth apparently hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years because, for the most part, things like cake, ice cream, combinations of fruit and cream are still as popular today as they were in the 1970’s.

See! This isn’t too bad:


Credit: Jamie on Flickr



Still, there are at least a few bizarre culinary creations I was able to dig up:


12. Prune Whip 


Prune Whip.  It’s like the purple, wrinkly, less-savvy cousin of our favorite non-dairy topping. This makes me worried.


13. Coffee Jelly



Photo Credit


Gelatine (again) aside, this looks like it’s minimally offensive.  This is one where it might not be penitential enough to count for the challenge, and that is a sadness for all jello-kind: you could have redeemed your reputation.


14. Pear Limeade Mold Aaaaand we’re back with the mold. And the gelatin. And the mayonnaise- this time for dessert!  Can anyone explain the fascination in these recipes with the gelatin and the mayonaisse and the combination of them? Without the mayo, this might be alright- like the fruity jell-o you get as a kid for dessert. But this? Sigh.



15. Fig- Avocado Tango


Photo- Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear “tango?” Argentina? Military code? Antonio Banderas? That’s normal.  Figs and avocado swirling together? Not so much.

The amount of sugar, though, is heartening. Maybe it won’t be too bad.


So,  what will CNA actually make and eat?  Join us next week here on the blog for Challenge Accepted.