The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (2024)

History has shown us again and again that financial hardship drives people to get a little more inventive in the kitchen. The creativity that blossomed during the Great Depression carried on into the 1940s, as wartime rations necessitated substitutes and ingredient-stretching techniques — eggs and vegetables made popular replacements for meat, while meat-stretching recipes such as meatloaf and tomato-based soups became commonplace in the kitchen. After the war ended, food manufacturers explored methods that gave products a longer shelf life. During the latter half of the decade, more convenience products arrived on shelves as scientists delved into researching food preservation. Scroll through the gallery to see the recipes that ruled the 1940s and give them a try on your own.

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Brown Sugar Meatloaf

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (1)

Like many staple 1940s recipes, meatloaf experienced a resurgence in popularity during the Great Depression. Not only was it a simple recipe with delicious results, but the use of bread or cracker crumbs helped stretch the ground beef, which was hard to come by at the time. Many WWII-era meatloaf recipes took the "meat stretching" a bit farther by incorporating more available sources of protein, such as soybeans, liver, or pork.

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Spam and Eggs

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Introduced in 1937, Spam was a staple for soldiers thanks to its extensive shelf life. Once the war was over, however, Spam didn't fade into the background. Rather, it became popular all over the globe, especially in Pacific nations and states such as the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and Okinawa. This recipe incorporates eggs, which were an affordable source of protein at the time, for a doubly filling breakfast.

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Garden Fresh Tomato Soup

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (3)

Victory gardens were a huge part of life during the 1940s. The mass volunteer effort provided substantial aid to farms, the military, and the people. Newspapers and pamphlets circulated vegetable-rich recipes that volunteers could make from their own yards. Soups, such as tomato soup, were a satisfying and cost-effective meal that could also stretch more precious ingredients such as meat and dairy.

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Grama's Corn Flake Peanut Butter Cookies

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (4)

Corn Flakes were created as a "health" food, but by the 1940s, they were utilized for all kinds of recipes, including desserts. No-bake cookies were a particularly popular use, especially because they didn't require much butter or any flour.

15 No-Bake Cookies to Make With Your Kids

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Creamed Chipped Beef On Toast

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (5)

Chipped beef on toast was a classic wartime food, but it was also a staple Depression food since it was inexpensive and filling. Soldiers called it "SOS," which stood for "same old stuff" as well as a more expletive nickname, but it has since become a comfort food.

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Basic Mashed Potatoes

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (6)

In 1887, inventors Jacob Fitzgerald and William H. Silver patented what is now known as the potato ricer. With the help of the tool, people were able to make creamier and better-tasting mashed potatoes more easily. Scientists began experimenting with dehydrating potatoes, first for soldiers and then the general public. Instant mashed potato flakes appeared on supermarket shelves in 1957.

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Grandma's Harvard Beets

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (7)

Harvard beets first appeared around the beginning of the 20th century. The recipe resurfaced in 1940, at the beginning of the victory garden movement; beets are a fairly simple vegetable to grow, and they're a good source of iron, potassium, and vitamins. In other words, they made an ideal victory garden crop in a time marked by rations.

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Zebra Cake III

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (8)

Nabisco, short for "National Biscuit Company," may be best known for Oreos, but their chocolate wafer cookies played a huge role in the popularity of icebox desserts. The brand helped popularize the convenience treat — and their own chocolate wafers — by printing the recipe for the "famous chocolate wafer cake" on the product's packaging. Today, the three-ingredient recipe is still circulated and beloved.

Corned Beef Hash

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (9)

Fresh meat was rationed during World War II, which was good news for canned and cured goods such as corned beef. The convenience product was most commonly utilized in quick, simple dishes that required minimal cooking, such as hash or fritters.

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Victory Chocolate Cake

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (10)

Wartime rations meant that sugar was in especially short supply during the 1940s, which meant that home cooks had to get creative when it came to sweeter dishes. This victory cake recipe utilizes a small amount of sugar, but uses corn syrup to supplement the missing sweetness. Additionally, it employs a cup of cold coffee to help accentuate the flavor in the cocoa powder.

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Corn Fritters

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (11)

Corn fritters go beyond being a classic recipe — they were first developed by Native Americans and have been a simple, yet filling dish for thousands of years. With their low list of simple ingredients, it's easy to see corn fritters' appeal in an era marked by shortages and rations, and their versatility makes them easy to dress up or navigate with substitute ingredients.

10 Creative Corn Fritter Recipes

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Corn Dogs

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (12)

The origin of the corn dog is debated, but one thing is certain: the battered, fried sausages on a stick became a hit when various state fairs started offering them throughout the 1940s. You may be able to find corn dogs in the frozen foods aisle these days, but nothing compares to a homemade, freshly fried one.

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Stuffed Peppers

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (13)

Variations on stuffed peppers exist around the world, which means the dish is likely hundreds of years old. We do know, however, that stuffed peppers were a popular dish during the 1940s (and beyond, of course) because of their ability to stretch out more expensive ingredients.

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Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (14)

The early 20th century signaled the beginning of America's love affair with peanut butter: the affordable, protein-rich spread was promoted as a meat substitute right as World War I broke out. Peanut butter's merits were utilized once again during the Great Depression and World War II, which led to the creation and popularity of various dishes, including peanut butter cookies, peanut butter popcorn balls, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

19 Best Ways to Get Your Peanut Butter Cookie Fix

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Real Welsh Rarebit

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (15)

Welsh rarebit originated across the pond in England in the 18th century, but people turned to the easy comfort dish for a long time, especially when money or ingredients were tight. The rich cheese sauce made a good source of protein when meat wasn't available, and it was satisfying for such a simple meal.

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WWII Oatmeal Molasses Cookies

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (16)

Since sugar was rationed during the war, home cooks improvised and looked to alternate ingredients to add sweetness to their desserts. Molasses became the go-to substitute for brown sugar, which was even more difficult to obtain at the time.

What's the Difference Between Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses?

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The Most Popular Recipes of the 1940s (17)

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