The key ingredients in most gross American holiday foods are gelatin and canned fruit. In her excellent 1986 work, “Perfection Salad,” Laura Shapiro uses the eponymous recipe as a means to view the 20th century set foods that put science and convenience at the fingertips of homemakers. Colorful and chemically wondrous, the new foods were aesthetically pleasing (if deliberately bland) and, unlike the foods of the past, they were easy to make — a few bowls, and busy wives were done.

And with each dish, as Shapiro noted, you could tweak things to make it a part of you. Recipe cards and contests immortalized home cooks with their favorite dishes, either in their communities or in magazines aimed at increasingly literate women.