Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940’s

black and white photo of a girl in 1940's attire eating a Jell-O fruit refresher

Life in the 1940’s

Food has the power to transport us to different places in the world as well as different times in history. So, I’ve decided to embark on a little “time travel experiment” by cooking American vintage recipes from the 1940’s! During the forties, there was great turmoil due to World War II. At the beginning of the decade in 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked, causing the U.S. to join the war. Therefore, everything in America during that time was dictated by the war efforts. There were shortages and rations on staples like meat, dairy and sugar. And people cut back on wheat bread to be able to send more to the soldiers overseas.

British bakers reintroduce World War II bread in coronavirus fight
Poster from World War I – the message was reignited during World War II

Breakfast in the 1940’s – Corn Meal Pancakes

Due to the rations and shortages of different ingredients, a lot of alternative recipes started coming on the scene in the American family’s kitchen. Instead of having wheat toast or wheat pancakes for breakfast, corn meal pancakes became popular. I added sugared cranberries leftover from my candied cranberry crepes on top of these pancakes. 😊🀩
These were less sweet and more chewy than the fluffy buttermilk wheat pancakes I normally make… (ok, ok, I mean order from IHOP). πŸ₯ž They were really tasty and I will definitely be making these again.
The recipe for these delicious corn meal pancakes is from Taste of Home.

Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940's - cornmeal pancakes
syrup pouring onto cornmeal pancakes, which were popular in the 1940's
Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940's - cornmeal pancakes topped with candied cranberries

Lunch in the 1940’s – Deviled Egg Sandwich

Meat was rationed big-time in the 1940’s, so folks found protein alternatives. Eggs were easier to get at the time I guess, because this deviled egg sandwich calls for SIX eggs! That’s a LOT of eggs!! 🍳 I found the recipe in what looked like a page from a pamphlet or cookbook titled “recipes for lunch box meals”.
To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this sandwich, BUT I was pleasantly surprised. And my Dad said he and his siblings used to make similar sandwiches in the sixties, with scrambled eggs instead of hardboiled eggs. This probably keeps its flavor and creamy texture really well in a lunchbox too.
I found this recipe from an old article from the forties here.

hard boiled eggs, shelled with whites and yolks separated
Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940's - egg salad sandwich
hard boiled egg sandwich, which was a popular lunch in the 1940's

Dessert in the 1940’s – Jell-O

Remember how the folks back in the forties had to find ingredient alternatives? Well Jell-O and gelatin were HUGE back then because it was marketed as a sugar and protein alternative. They mixed everything into gelatin – from sweet fruit cocktails suspended in a beautiful mold, to barbeque sauce and canned tuna… Maybe some things ought to stay in the past? 😝

1940s Close Up Fruit Salad Gelatin Mold On Table Industrial Audio High-Res  Stock Video Footage - Getty Images
Close-up of a fruit cocktail Jell-O mold – they were often served on lettuce for “decoration”

My first attempt at a 1940’s Jell-O recipe was a total and complete utter failure. It combined lemon-flavored Jell-O with chopped apples, celery and walnuts. I should have quit after reading the ingredient list, but I was bolstered with confidence after my cornmeal pancakes and eggy sandwich. I made it in a Bundt pan mold, but when I turned it out, it all fell out in this pathetic sloppy mess. πŸ˜… So it was back to the drawing board! (aka the internet to scour for more vintage recipes.)

plate of splayed-out Jell-O mixed with nuts and apple pieces
failed Jell-O mold

My second attempt at a 1940’s Jell-O recipe was a much greater success. These Jell-O Fruit Refreshers are sweet and full of berries. They’d make the perfect cold treat on a hot summer day! I found an old patriotic ad that included the recipe for these treats. It featured a cartoon woman wearing an American flag dress. I think it was to promote the idea that making and eating Jell-O would help the war effort? You can see the ad here.

square mold filled with Jell-O and fruit
Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940's - Jell-O fruit refreshers
cups of Jell-O fruit refreshers alongside squares popped out of a mold
girl in 1940's attire eating a Jell-O fruit refresher - Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940's

Thanks for coming along with me on my tour of cooking vintage recipes from the 1940’s. Does your family have any recipes from back in the day? I am super excited to continue cooking my way through America’s history, and then on to countries! πŸ’–

20 Replies to “Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940’s”

  1. tentimestea

    What an interesting exploration and such cute photography that perfectly captures the vintage mood! I especially love the shots of the jello refreshers!!

  2. foodinbooks

    Your Jello fail cracked me up!! It’s funny because my mother did not come of age during World War II but she was a child of my grandparents who came of age during the depression. And I think she absorbed some of that frugal cooking because she used to make this hideous green jello with shredded carrots in it and I cannot think of anything more disgusting from my childhood that I had to eat. So I greatly enjoyed this post!

    • strawberryandcream

      Haha that’s hilarious!! My grandma grew up in the depression too and would make some not-so appealing things as well to save money. It’s interesting the shifts in mindset that can be created through our political and economic environment!

  3. Yum-number1

    Wow! This is so fascinating! It’s true that our parents snd grandparents had a TOTALLY different experience with food but it’s not talked about as often. I hope you continue this into a series!! πŸ™‚

what do you think? :)

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