Decades ago, dinner looked a whole lot different than your family’s dinner looks today. Today’s dinners at home are rarely actually home-cooked at all, thanks to food delivery and other convenient options. But when modern-day families do get around to cooking for themselves, it’s more common to keep things simple. One-pot dishes, Instant Pot recipes, and other no-hassle dinner ideas are far more likely to make it on the table than the made-to-impress dishes of decades past.
But it’s fun to jazz up your dinner table now and then! Why not bring some of these dishes back for a revival? While millennials are out “killing” foods left and right, home cooks of the 20th century whipped up innovative (and sometimes wacky) recipes. Trying a few throwback dishes will give you a dose of nostalgia and entertainment. You won’t believe some of the oddball recipes that seemed normal when your parents were growing up.
Sure, you’re probably glad gelatin molds stayed in the ‘60s where they belong. But other vintage recipes, like clams casino and chicken à la king, were actually pretty great. The days of home entertaining had housewives in a tizzy preparing passed apps, chips with all kinds of dip, impressive main courses, and a (sometimes literally flaming) dessert to top it all off.
You don’t have to time-travel to enjoy these retro recipes. Bring back the classics — it’s time these forgotten recipes made a comeback.
Clams casino was the bee’s knees during the early 20th century. Shellfish-based dishes such as shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller, and other baked appetizers were on nearly every up-and-coming restaurant’s menu. Now, these menu items have practically disappeared. Clams casino, made of baked clams on the half shell topped with breadcrumbs, butter, and bacon, was especially popular in the northeastern United States, but quickly became a hit nationwide.
Eggs aren’t the only things that can be deviled! The 1960s came with all kinds of recipe fads, one of which was serving chips and dip. But it wasn’t all the guacamole and French onion dip you might see served today. The types of dip served back in the ‘60s included things like soup dip, shrimp dip, and the surprisingly popular deviled ham dip: a mixture of diced ham, mustard, spices, and generous portions of mayonnaise. The new appetizers’ popularity sparked the invention of the “chip and dip,” a kitchen item which allowed for simple serving of chips and any kind of homemade dip.
You’ve probably seen smoked salmon as a topping for bagels with capers and cream cheese, but smoked salmon was once commonly seen as part of a mayonnaise-based dip. As part of the dip craze of the ‘50s and ‘60s, smoked salmon dip was served alongside crackers or crudité.
Bread bowls have stuck around in the 21st century (Panera even serves a double bread bowl), but they were especially popular in the 1980s as a serving bowl for creamy spinach dip. You can make the bread bowl yourself fairly easily — and the spinach dip to stuff it with isn’t hard to throw together, either.
Back in the ’50s, folks thought of all kinds of ways to fill the ridge in a stick of celery. From “ants on a log” (peanut butter and raisins) to cream cheese, Roquefort, garlic, and olives, you knew you had come to the right party when there was stuffed celery.
Ikea helped this dish make a comeback in the modern day, but Swedish meatballs were a popular passed appetizer for dinner parties in the 1960s and ‘70s. (Fun fact, they aren’t actually Swedish originally.) Served either as a main dish with noodles or as an appetizer on toothpicks, Swedish meatballs are coated in a savory lemon-pepper sauce.
Julia Child made this dish famous in America in the 1960s when she called it “certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man” in Volume 1 of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Beef bourguignon originates as part of French cuisine; it’s a beef stew cooked with red wine, carrots, onions, and garlic, often garnished with pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon. It’s no easy task to master, but it’s worth the effort. A bowl of this hearty stew will keep you warm all winter long!
Better known in Britain, beef Wellington is a classic main dinner dish that’s sure to impress. It’s a large fillet steak coated with pâté and duxelles (an herb mix involving a fancy type of mushroom, shallots, herbs, and seasonings), then wrapped in puff pastry. The whole loaf is baked and then served in slices. This hearty dish was often served around the holidays; though it looks like you spent all day in the kitchen, beef Wellington is deceivingly simple to make.
This dish is made of diced chicken doused in a cream sauce, then poured over generous portions of pasta or another carb-heavy base. It’s also topped with vegetables and other add-ins, depending on how it’s made. There are a number of theories floating around as to where this dish originated. But the famous restaurant Delmonico’s in New York stakes their claim to the first-ever version (then called Chicken à la Keene after Olympic gold medalist Foxhall Parker Keene) in the 1880s. The New York Times published the recipe in in 1893, and other publications soon followed suit. A little less than a decade later, the dish was all the rage.
This classic chicken dinner debuted in 1982 as part of “The Silver Palate” cookbook and was a fashionable favorite of 1980s home entertaining. The dish is salty, sweet, and very garlicky (the original recipe used 1 1/2 full heads of garlic). The chicken is marinated with prunes, vinegar, olives, capers, and garlic overnight for a rich flavor that’s hard to beat.
What is a hamburger pie, you ask? It’s precisely what it sounds like — a savory pie filled with seasoned ground beef. Many recipes for hamburger pie also contain mushroom soup or another filling to accompany the beef. For those who dare turn it into a cheeseburger pie, you may also add slices of cheddar; though you may not want to use slices of American. Depending on the brand you buy, your American cheese slices might not really be considered cheese at all.
The most popular layered salad is the famous seven-layer salad, made with the following seven layers of ingredients atop iceberg lettuce: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, sweet peas, hard boiled eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, and bacon pieces. The salad is then smothered in a mayonnaise-based dressing and occasionally dolloped with sour cream. 1950s America was far less concerned with saturated fat than people are today; this cream-heavy salad was often served as lighter fare during barbecues, potlucks, and picnics alongside main dishes such as steak, burgers, and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.
This once-popular diner menu item was invented in 1897 by an American doctor by the name of J.H. Salisbury, who was an early advocate of a low-carb diet for weight loss. Salisbury steak isn’t actually steak at all — it’s a patty of ground beef topped with gravy and mushrooms, usually served on the side of mashed potatoes and green beans. The TV dinner version of Salisbury steak can remain a thing of the past; but done right, this dish is delicious.
This meat-heavy dish hit its peak popularity in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Popular New York steakhouses would serve the juicy entrée alongside a side of vegetables. However, home cooks soon adopted the recipe, as well. Steak Diane consists of a pan-fried beefsteak coated in sauce made from the seasoned pan juices. Restaurants would typically prepare the dish tableside and flambé the steak before serving.
If you grew up in the ‘50s, casseroles were one of the foods that were often on your family’s dinner table. Casseroles of all kinds were popular, primarily because they could be mostly made with inexpensive canned foods. Of course, some casseroles are more appetizing than others. To make the most (in)famous of all casseroles, tuna noodle casserole, all you had to do was mix up some canned tuna, canned peas or corn, shredded cheddar, and cream of mushroom soup. Then, top everything with some crushed potato chips or canned fried onions and bake.
A Waldorf salad consists of a mix of fresh apples, celery, grapes, and walnuts, which are then doused in a generous portion of mayo. The salad is often served on a bed of lettuce. It got its name because it was first served at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. This dish was a fashionable appetizer in the 1970s, but is much less popular today. Still it’s one of the better types of classic salads, so why not revive it?
With all the E. coli scares linked to romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce has been making an unforeseen comeback. If you’re not sure how to turn your head of crisp lettuce into something delicious, look to this forgotten trend for inspiration. Wedge salads were a hit in the 1960s; Roger Sterling from “Mad Men” orders himself a wedge salad with blue cheese and bacon in Season 3 of the period drama. But you can really top a wedge salad with anything; it’s typically made with a creamy dressing such as ranch or blue cheese.
You might have heard of baked Alaska, but you’ve probably never tried it. It’s nowhere near as popular as it was back in the ‘60s, and that’s a real shame. Besides being extremely difficult to make, baked Alaska is the dessert of your dreams. It consists of a sponge cake topped with ice cream and smothered in meringue, baked in the oven and often served at the dinner table in flames. A baked Alaska is impressive to serve and even more impressive to bake — just like these other difficult-to-make desserts, it’ll leave your guests in awe.
Baked apples were a better-for-you dessert popular in American homes in the 1960s. This cinnamon-dusted, cozy, warm dessert recipe is ready for a revival. This version even wraps the apple in puff-pastry to mimic apple pie if you want to get fancy. But the classic version is just as delightful without!
The 1940s graced America with both meringue-covered desserts and butterscotch. Butterscotch is more than just the candy melting at the bottom of Grandma’s purse — butterscotch pie, butterscotch blondies, and other baked goods were a hit back when she was a young’n. Butterscotch pie is essentially a rich butterscotch pudding in a pie crust covered in a whipped topping. It’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser!
Cherries jubilee certainly sounds like a party — and likely tastes like one, too! This dessert made its debut at the cusp of the 20th century when it was served at Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee celebration. Cherries and liqueur are flambéed and served atop vanilla ice cream. This dessert hit its peak in the 1950s. The 1960s were the end of its reign, when it became too cliché and fell out of fashion.
Looking for a lighter take on classic fruit pie? Chiffon pie is for you; invented in the 1920s, this dessert is a pie filled with an airy, meringue-like filling similar to mousse or cream pie. It’s light and fluffy, typically served cold. Apricot chiffon pie was featured in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1948, after which it was made popular by housewives looking for recipes to impress their guests in an era of home entertaining. But chiffon pies could be flavored with anything from pumpkin to key lime!
Crêpes Suzette is a French recipe popularized in the ‘70s by Julia Child. This dessert was served flambéed, which was sure to add a wow-factor for every guest in attendance. Of course, you can make yours simpler — so long as you add orange zest and don’t skimp on the butter, this dessert is sure to be a hit!
Indian pudding is a vintage Thanksgiving classic in New England, rumored to have been conjured up by the Pilgrims, who brought a similar recipe over from England. Wheat flour was not as readily available in America as it had been in England, and so the Pilgrims improvised by creating Indian pudding using cornmeal.
Fifty years ago, you would have seen this hot dish on the table at many a dinner party. Pineapple upside down cakes were uber popular in the 1950s and ‘60s, but it’s time they made a comeback. They require zero actual kitchen tools to make, despite their impressive appearance. Make one to add some tropical and nostalgic flair to your dessert table!
Colorful and layered, trifles were especially popular dessert menu items in the 1960s and ‘70s. A mixture of fruity flavors and textures, trifles are sure to entertain. Make one large dish to serve a crowd or make single-serving trifles for a smaller dinner at home. This rhubarb and berry mascarpone trifle is layered with softened sponge fingers, rich mascarpone cream, zingy rhubarb, crunchy biscuits, and freshly made custard.
This dessert dish is a super-sweet concoction of pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, whipped topping, crushed pecans, and marshmallows, invented by Kraft to promote their new product: Cool Whip. The recipe called for both Cool Whip and Jell-O instant pistachio pudding. Kraft Heinz (then called General Foods) published the recipe as “Pistachio Pineapple Delight” in 1975; the name “Watergate salad” didn’t arise until later, when (according to Kraft) a Chicago food editor used the title to earn the recipe more traction. Another iteration of the story goes that Watergate salad was invented at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., as part of their brunch menu. Though the infamous Watergate scandal had nothing to do with its invention, the salad does owe President Nixon its popularity. Watergate is one of those events no one who grew up from the ‘70s could forget — and if you grew up in the ‘70s, you couldn’t forget these classic foods from the decade, either.
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