In Conversation With: Anna Pallai
To celebrate our discovery of the hideously unappetising and brilliantly witty 70s Dinner Party, we caught up with author Anna Pallai to chat charity shop book hunting and turning veggie. Admittedly, some of the recipe cards will make your stomach churn; turn your attention to Sauerkraut Surprise or the rather glamorously named Brawn with Strips of Pig's Ear (yum), but Anna's hilarious annotations make for cheery bedtime reading.
To win a copy of 70s Dinner Party, head over to our Instagram page to find out how you can be entered into the draw.
How did the idea for the book come about?
The book started as a Twitter account which in turn came about thanks to my Mum's collection recipe books from the 70s and early 80s. As a child, I used to pore over the books (mainly collections of Carriers Kitchen and SuperCook), giving a thumbs up to the recipes I liked the sound of, and a thumbs down to all the others. A couple of years ago, I was at her house, flicking through them, and was struck by how dated a lot of the contents now seemed. Eggs Cooked Like Tripe was a stand-out one for me, especially as the tick next to it meant that my Mum had seen fit to cook it. I started to take pictures of some of the more outrageous ones and would post them on Facebook. When I felt I was testing the patience of my friends, I switched to Twitter and soon developed a number of followers.
Where did you source the books you pulled the recipes from? Where they all off your mum's cooking shelves or did you have to do a little digging?
Once the book was commissioned, I started looking farther afield. Ebay was my first port of call and I managed to get my hands on a huge selection of (mainly American) recipe card sets which used to be very popular. I also spent a lot of time rummaging through charity shops and second hand bookshops.
We have to admit, the recipes in the book are a bit RIP appetite. Which do you remember specifically being made to endure during your childhood?
I grew up in a half Hungarian household so stuffed peppers and meatloaf were regular staples. We also had stuffed eggs at pretty much every party we went to (which is still the case now). I can't say that I remember tasting any of the more over-the-top ones though - certainly no gelatine moulds or sandwich loafs. But I do remember having the eggs-cooked-like-tripe one time, and to be fair, the name was the worst thing about it.
We hear you turned vegetarian aged 12 (we can't blame you), do you remember the turning point or was it a culmination of moulded meat and canned fish that did it?
There were two turning points for this. The first was being made to watch a film about fox-hunting at school when I was about 10. This was quickly followed by a week of vegetarianism. The second was a month of being looked after by a Hungarian friend-of-the-family who cooked steak every single night.
What kind of food do you enjoy eating now? Are you a 'clean eater' or do you secretly delve into the old '70s cookbooks once in a while to whip up a 'sauerkraut surprise'?
I eat most (non-meat) things but tend to avoid any extremes of clean-eating or '70s indulgence.
Do you ever hear from anyone who has enjoyed trying out some of the recipes in the book or are they usually met with trepidation?
The reaction on Twitter seems to be either 'oh-my-God what is it' or 'I'd eat that' or 'my Grandma still makes that'. The American followers seem less fazed by the gelatine salads and convenience-food based recipes. And I think corned beef in the States isn't the same as the UK version of corned beef so they don't seem to be as repelled by it as I am.
We get the sense you have a kind of love/hate relationship with some of the recipes from your childhood. Do you find them endearing at all or was the book born of pure contempt?
The book was meant to be an affectionate look at 70s cooking. I actually think there's something very refreshing about a lot of the recipes in there - the fact that a lot of them are meant to be fun, there's no obsession with clean-eating or wellness going on and that they're being made for people to enjoy. I far prefer looking at the food pictures from that era to ones I see now on Instagram.
What did you do with all the recipes you didn't include in the book? A sequel perhaps?
I keep adding new ones to Twitter but I'm not sure people could stomach a second book.
We've been dying to know. WHO is the woman on your Twitter profile? She looks great!
Unfortunately, I don't know who she is but she's certainly an aspirational role model