I think the reason I’m attracted to the kitsch factor is that I grew up in the 70s. This was when cooking was starting to go convenience, when the color scheme of the decade was orange and yellow, and the most exotic thing my family made was creamed corn and sausages. (Which incidentally, is still a favorite of mine today.)
I grew up lower middle class, but that didn’t mean my aunties and grandma weren’t trying to be elegant. In fact, kitsch is not discriminating. You can have all the money in the world and yet still put out a kitschy dish, or fill your home with kitschy chotch. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the word chotchkie, it’s defined by Urban Dictionary as “A small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”)
Combining kitsch with chotch makes you a superstar in the kitchen. I should know.
Back to why kitsch is king… My aunties and grandma would put out these fabulous but at the same time weird dishes, which were delicious or disgusting. There really was no in-between. Sometimes a lovely tray of hors d’ourves would be presented on a teal, plastic plate that was alleged to be the same one used by the astronauts, and other times you’d eat ketchup out of a crystal bowl.
Nothing went together. And yet, it did. That was the point of kitsch.
There’s no doubt that for me kitschy cuisine is all about nostalgia. It calls up a time where I was surrounded by family and tradition. On Christmas Eve we went to one grandma’s house and on Christmas Day we went to the other grandma’s house. On New Year’s we went to a boring party at my great aunt’s house, and we did so not because it was fun but because it was what was expected.
By Memorial Day, we’d all pack up the food for a cookout up north at the cottage, where it would end up being rainy and 42 degrees. So the 25 of us who planned to have plenty of room playing Frisbee, jarts (the most dangerous yet fun lawn ornaments of all time), and grilling out, would instead jam ourselves into our tiny cottage meant for weekend stays and not a house full of people. We’d sit inside with nothing to do, bored, staring at each other… and yes, I miss each and every minute of these events.
For the past 20 years I’ve collected a lot of kitsch. I love the cookbooks from that time period, I collect kitschy dishware and tablecloths, do a few kitschy crafts (anything that can be made with yarn and a crochet hook is right up my alley), and even enjoy some of the decorating and fashion that goes with kitschy cuisine.
All of these obsessions will probably find a way to this blog.
What I hope you’ll find with Kitschy Cuisine is that it is silly and fun, yet still has some good info and recipes. I hope you’ll remember these dishes and events from our past fondly, and find a way to keep the tradition and spirit of them alive.