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.

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). 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.

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.

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?

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. So it was back to the drawing board! (aka the internet to scour for more vintage recipes.)

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.

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!

Published by strawberryandcream

Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)

17 thoughts on “Cooking Vintage Recipes from the 1940’s

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

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you!! It was super fun dressing up and trying these old recipes

  2. 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!

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      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. So cool! I love history. It’s even more interesting when it comes to food! I look forward to more of these posts (I hope ). The corn pancakes look so good!

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you! I love history too! And I agree, when history includes or is put in terms of food, it makes it more relatable
      The corn flour pancakes are something I’ll definitely be making again Bc they were delicious!

        1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
          strawberryandcream says:

          lol you totally should! I feel like they have a more interesting flavor than regular pancakes

  4. Markus + Micah – We are Markus + Micah. We live in a tiny house by the sea, grow our plants, cook plant-based food, travel, and design wellness retreats and mindful programs so we can all live meaningful lives.
    Markus + Micah says:

    What a fun and creative post. But I suspect the people before think otherwise. Your jelly looks pretty. I would like to eat it!

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you!! The first jello fail taught me that jello best pairs with fruit at least for my modern palate

  5. 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!! 🙂

    1. strawberryandcream – Hello! I am on an epic adventure to learn how to cook and bake. So far I have only given myself food poisoning twice and made myself sick about a half a dozen other times. I am notorious for making poor substitutions, being clumsy in the kitchen & getting sent to the ER, and creating food that just looks downright nasty. But alas! I will prevail and learn how to master the art of feeding myself! :)
      strawberryandcream says:

      Thank you!! Yes, the fifties will be coming soon!!

what do you think? :)