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. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
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. 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.
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. Gold Nugget Cake
It turns out that banana bread isn’t the only sweet treat that calls for days-old bananas.
You can use the fruit in Gold Nugget Cake, too. 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.
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.