My dad was born at the tail end of the ’40s. And even though he didn’t get to experience the entire decade, his stories about those times are always fascinating. Turns out, he and his older brothers lived in a completely different world. He only had access to one television with only a few channels, for example. But now, television sets outnumber humans in my house. His most intriguing stories deal with foods from the 1940s, though.
In his youth, my dad never had a dinner that his mom didn’t serve at a table with the whole family. Family meals were important, and even if you didn’t like the food on the menu, you ate it. Oftentimes, the food was less about flavor and more about providing sustenance.
Indeed, food was a bit scarce back then.
The second World War ended in 1945, so people needed to ration supplies and make substitutions for pricier ingredients. Even if you had the money, you might not be able to get the items you wanted from the market. Consequently, certain meals were improvised, and a little had to go a long way. People got creative, though. And foods from the 1940s turned out to be unique and innovative.
Here are a few of the most popular foods from the 1940s.
1. Gold Nugget Cake
The dessert is relatively easy to make, and it’s bound to impress any household.
People are more interested in things like ice cream cakes nowadays, though.
2. Jell-O Salad
Everyone ate Jell-O in the 1940s, even if it was in salad form. No, these salads didn’t include lettuce. They were made in big, fancy Jell-O molds, and many people took them to parties.
After the war, some Jell-O salads even had fruit or whipped cream.
The dish was actually pretty popular up until the ’80s.
3. Lord Woolton Pie
Woolton pie, also called Lord Woolton pie, is a pastry dish of vegetables, popular in Britain during the Second World War when rationing and shortages made other dishes hard to prepare.
It is also proof that food is a powerful force.
The Daily Beast has dubbed it, “The Pie That Won World War II.”
It’s was also known as a “weapon of mass nutrition that defeated the Nazis.”
While some recipes varied, it was basically a blend of turnips, carrots, cauliflower, and oatmeal.
4. Potato And Hot Dog Salad
This combination is a prime example of quirky foods from the 1940s. People jazzed up their potato salad with chopped hot dogs. And they got a good serving of protein, too.
Americans enjoyed hot dogs ever since the 1860s when German immigrants first introduced the sausages.
In fact, in 1939, the White House actually added hot dogs to the presidential menu. Food manufacturers didn’t package hot dogs in convenient plastic wrap until the 1940s, though.
5. Deviled Lobster
While you would be right to associate this time period with rationing, lobster hasn’t always been the expensive dish you order on special occasions. For this savory meal, you remove the flesh from the shell, clean the shell,
“as it is to be used as a receptacle in which to put the lobster mixture for baking.”
Once the lobster is removed from the oven, many chefs elevate the dish by garnishing it with the tail and claws.
6. Plum Charlotte
Here’s a dish that few people would likely eat again; the dessert is solely based on old food. Plum Charlotte is made with old fruit, typically plums or apples, and stale bread.
Because the government advised against wasting food, this sweet was actually quite common.
In fact, wartime posters asked citizens to waste as little produce as possible so any additional food resources good support the troops.
7. Oslo Meals
Occasionally referred to as “platters,” Oslo meals included a variety of different things. Apparently, many parents feared the rations prevented their kids from eating enough fruits and veggies.
These simple Oslo meals were created to give those children quick and balanced meals.
The platters contained bread, cheese, lettuce, and other salad ingredients.
Meatloaf was a big deal back in the 1940s. And there were so many different recipes for it. In fact, Bon Appetit actually called meatloaf “an emblem of wartime ingenuity” in the 1940s.
During that decade, homemakers found that ground beef was cheaper than other proteins like steaks and roasts.
Accordingly, any meal that called for ground beef helped stretch their food budget.
9. Mashed Potatoes
To be fair, mashed potatoes were always popular. But in the 1940s especially, the creamy spuds could feed an entire family fairly cheaply.
Instant mashed potatoes actually came out in 1946, and they helped housewives and cooks save a lot of food prep time.
Some instant mixes only needed water.
It’s the perfect side dish and fairly easy to make. Who wouldn’t want to dive into some coleslaw? One popular coleslaw from the 1940s actually had a sour cream dressing.
Certain people even added Worcestershire sauce to their mixes.
Who knew there were so many ways to jazz up coleslaw?
11. Jellied Chicken
It doesn’t look appetizing, but surprisingly, jellied chicken was popular for a few decades. People certainly seem to be over the gelatin obsession of previous decades.
In the 1940s, though, even savory dishes were jellied.
Jellied chicken was especially popular, and it supposedly tasted quite good. You can try the recipe for yourself if you’re feeling adventurous.
Cheerios may be a huge part of your breakfast routine now, but they were quite new in the ’40s. Lester Borchardt collaborated with General Mills and invented the cereal in 1941.
There were no additional Cheerio flavors then, but the cereal did go by a different name — Cheeri Oats.
Another company already owned the rights to that name, though. So General Mills agreed to rebrand as Cheerios.
13. York Peppermint Patties
York Peppermint Patties were introduced to the world in 1940. Named after York, PA, the patties were refreshing with a hint of chocolate.
Henry Kessler started selling the treat in 1940 after he learned how to make the mint portion crisp.
The patties were instant hits. And in 1988, Kessler’s brand merged with the Hershey company – the ultimate chocolatier.
14. Betty Crocker’s Cake Mix
The war made it necessary for more women to get jobs in the 1940s. Consequently, women had less time to cook, and so instant products, like cake mixes, became more popular.
While cake mix originated in the 1930s, it didn’t take off until the ’40s.
By the end of the decade, more than 200 companies manufactured cake mix products. Betty Crocker was an especially popular brand.
It might seem a little gross now, but spam was kind of a big deal back in the 1940s. The gelatinous dish was released in 1937, and it was a good protein option for families who couldn’t always afford meat.
Spam also appeared on many menus for the troops.
It could be fried, added to sandwiches, or eaten directly from the jar.
16. Concentrated Orange Juice
Those cans of frozen juice in the grocery store might seem pretty odd now. It was a very popular drink option in the 1940s, however. Apparently, in 1942, the Army wanted the troops to get as much Vitamin C as possible, but they didn’t want the vitamin to taste gross.
In 1945, they found a solution, and concentrated orange juices became more popular.
The product was originally called Minute Maid — ever heard of it?
17. Liver Loaf
Much like Spam, liver loaf amassed quite a lot of fans. This loaf helped mothers serve cheap and nutritious dinners. And it was often accompanied by some vegetable dish.
Traditionally, the loaf of meat combined pork, bacon, corned beef, and onions.
It might be sliced and laid on a bun or eaten plain.
18. Homemade Applesauce
People who lived close to orchards or had access to apple trees likely did a lot of canning. They would harvest the fruit and make smooth apple purees.
Pesticides weren’t even common back then.
These days, most people just think about how idyllic it would be to make apple sauce from scratch.
19. Coconut Cream Pie
If you’d like a complete history of this delicious pie, it actually has Caribbean roots. When people say this is an old-fashioned dessert, they are right.
Coconut cream pie is hands-down one of the best things people ate during the ’40s.
Think creamy, homemade custard, topped with strawberries, or the toasted coconut, alone.
20. Bread Pudding
You’ve probably heard of this one before. Bread pudding is a pretty simple dessert, which is essentially just bread soaked in milk.
It has a rich, creamy texture, designed to melt in your mouth.
This dish goes back to the 11th and 12th centuries, according to The Daily Gazette. Food historians found that the recipe came together as a “poor man’s pudding,” as it was popular with the lower classes and a fantastic way to resurrect leftover bread.
21. Egg Salad
While we may never know who first mixed mayonnaise with hard-cooked eggs to create the first egg salad, it most likely originated in France before making its way to the United States.
Like they remain today, Egg salad became part of an array of sandwich salads and luncheon dishes.
It’s obvious why people enjoyed them in the 40’s, they’re enjoyable, efficient to make, and affordable.
22. Vegetable Soup
Soups were really popular since women could make them easily. Working moms and wives could throw almost any food scraps into a pot and make them taste good.
Typically called “Waste Not Soup,” this vegetable stew was usually hearty enough to make multiple servings.
It didn’t need any meat to make it filling, and it helped increase people’s veggie intake.
23. Irish Soda Bread
This is a dish created by American Indians using it to leaven their bread before European colonization. Ultimately, it became popular with Americans, who enjoyed the flat cakes.
The ingredients of traditional soda bread are flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.
In the ’40s this was paired with soups and stews, and versions included more ingredients like butter, sugars, raisins, or seeds to enhance flavor.
24. Cheese, Potato, and Onion Pie
Say cheese! Not only does this pie hold up as a perfect vegetarian option, but it was a real comfort food for a difficult decade in American history.
What was great about cheese, potato, and onion pie, a traditional British meal, was how filling the dish could be for families.
25. Meat and Potato Patties
Gladys Klein, of Burlington Wisconsin, has said, “When meat was rationed and had to be purchased with tokens, this recipe went a long way in feeding a family.”
She remembers really liking the taste as a child, and still craves them.
If you go to Taste Of Home, there is a fantastic recipe, which many readers have praised, and shared their own spins (like using boiled, peeled, chopped potatoes, green beans, and fresh sweet corn.)
26. Cape Cod Bay Brown Bread
Just picturing eating a piece of this fresh brown bread out of the oven feels like you’re stepping into your grandmother’s kitchen.
Many bakers use molasses and agave nectar for an extra special touch, in addition to raisins or cranberries.
27. Cornmeal Pancakes
Blogger Sharon Brown says she remembers how food changed during WWII. While she had previously had large access to cornmeal, choices became more slim.
She recalls going to a restaurant and asking, “Where is the cornbread? And the waitress said, “Well, honey, we only got rolls, and light bread, we don’t serve cornbread.”
Luckily for Sharon, her grandmother was resourceful and taught her how to make her own cornbread, so she could bring it around with her.
28. Molasses Cookies
Cooking oils and other fats, too, were rationed, according to Times Colonist, since they were used to make glycerin, found in bombs.
So people had to get creative, and cookbooks often advised replacing sugar with liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey.
One way people got creative in the kitchen was using molasses in cookies.
29. Delicious Combination
The name is more than deceiving.
In the time period when ketchup became the most used prime flavouring ingredient, this dish became a thing.
Times Colonist shared cookbook authors advised people “slop together apples, canned peas, carrots, celery, pineapple and diced bananas along with some mayonnaise and whipping cream, served it on a platter slathered with more mayonnaise and garnished it with a ring of maraschino cherries.”
Pineapple. Mayonnaise. Celery. In the same dish. Excuse us, while we gag.
30. Panned Curried Cabbage
They were trying curry powder on everything in the 40s, and cabbage became a common and particularly good pairing for it.
To make this all you had to have was a large skillet, shredded green cabbage, curry powder, and if you were lucky some diced tomatoes.