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Retro food becomes cool again

Food writer Holly Ebel says these dishes are less complicated and use familiar ingredients. Think more church potluck.

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Here we are, on the cusp of a New Year with many of us are reminiscing about the year passing.

That got me to thinking about foods from the past and even products we hardly ever see anymore, like the display of Beemans and Black Jack gum at HyVee last week — a blast from the past.

They belong to a category of foods historians call "retro."

While we also use the term in reference to fashions of 20 to 30 years ago, the same can be held for things culinary.

As we know food trends and products come and go. When was the last time you had fondue?


Generally speaking retro foods were — are — less complicated and more familiar with ingredients not difficult to find, not unlike what you might find at a church potluck. Kale wouldn't show up.

Think molded salads, casseroles made with cream-of-something soup, meatballs with grape jelly. A quick browse through any church cookbook will take you down Retro Lane.

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The interesting thing is that many of these foods are being cooked again, or still, but with modifications — fat-free, low fat, no sodium, fresh rather than canned.

If nothing else, the past 20-30 years will be looked at as the healthier-eating generation with a variety of diets, like vegetarian, vegan and Keto and the Farm to Table movement.

Once you start thinking about what was popular 30 years ago here are a few things you probably had:

  • Lipton onion soup dip.
  • Anything on a stick (not counting the State Fair).
  • A sweet salad.
  • PopTarts.
  • Twinkies.
  • Spaghetti casserole.
  • Spaghetti-o's.
  • Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

That was a surprise to me until I learned it was introduced in 1926 and won a cake contest decades later, in the 1960s. That win brought it into the cake mainstream until the 1990s. Interestingly, it is now appearing on restaurant dessert menus. Like so many foods, its popularity goes up and down.

One of the wackiest things I've seen recently dealing with this topic was on TikTok, guided there by a granddaughter. The personality is B. Dylan Hollis and his specialty is cooking retro recipes found in everything from church cookbooks to recipe pamphlets from the 1950s.

Among things he's cooked up are a Peach Spam bake, corn cookies, Amish Lard Cake, deep-fried cookie dough, potato chip cookies and a 7-Up Jell-O Salad.


Browsing through a gift shop a few weeks ago, I came across a book Retro Recipes from the '50s and '60s. Included were three salads that seemed to be more of a dessert — Strawberry Pretzel, Ambrosia and Watergate Salad. They were loaded with whipped topping or whipped cream, canned fruits and mini-marshmallows.

About desserts, this author remembered a favorite — Baked Alaska made up with a slice of pound cake, scoop of ice cream and covered with meringue which is then browned with a culinary kitchen blow torch. (Rather than making it, go to Prescotts and order it. Much easier.)

Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee also made the vintage list. I'm hoping list-makers leave Creme Brulee alone. I'd hate to see that disappear.

Want to try some retro recipes? Here are three.

1950's GOULASH

1/3 plus 1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup beef broth (or water)
2 15-oz. cans tomato sauce
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cups uncooked macaroni

In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and sauté until browned, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, onion and rest of olive oil and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, bay leaves and seasonings and mix well. Lower heat and cover pot. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add uncooked macaroni and stir until everything is well combined. Cover again and simmer 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves before serving.

1 24-oz bottle barbecue sauce
1 1/2 cups grape jelly
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 lbs. frozen meatballs


Lightly coat inside of slow cooker with cooking spray. Add the barbecue sauce, grape jelly and Worcestershire sauce and mix well. Add meatballs and stir to coat completely. Cover and cook 3-4 hours on High, or 8 hours on Low. Spoon onto a serving platter and stick a toothpick in each meatball. Great for a New Year's Eve gathering.

Salad or dessert? You decide.
1 12-oz can crushed pineapple with juice, undrained
1 3.4 oz. pkg. pistachio instant pudding mix
1 cup mini-marshmallows
1 cup chopped pecans
1 8-oz. container whipped topping, thawed, plus more for garnish
Chopped pecans for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the crushed pineapple, pudding mix, marshmallows and pecans. Fold in the whipped topping. Pour into an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Cover and chill for 4 hours or longer. Top with additional whipped topping and chopped nuts, if desired. Slice or scoop portions onto plates. If you're using this as a salad, put each portion on a few lettuce leaves.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to .

Food for Thought - Holly Ebel column sig

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to
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