Make some of our most nostalgic recipes using simple ingredients to cook your way through this pandemic.
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In our days of isolation, age-old recipes such as Depression cake and no-yeast peanut butter bread are making comebacks due to their use of pantry staples and easy-to-find ingredients. Since I'm constantly referencing the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book in my daily work at BHG.com, I wondered what recipes a 1940s edition of the book could offer in these unfamiliar times. Thanks to the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen library, I browsed one of the early editions of the cookbook. Our best-selling cookbook's (it's sold over 40 million copies!) first edition came out in 1930, and I had the fourth printing of the 1941 edition with a 1943 copyright. From the first page, the book outlines meal-planning guides and how to serve your family well-balanced meals in times when food could be scarce with limited choices. Sure, we may not be living in '40s era wartimes, per se, but we're definitely seeing changes to our food scene and supplies throughout this pandemic.

While it still has the iconic red plaid cover, the book from 77 years ago is a lot different from the current 17th edition on my desk. For starters, the advertisement included on the cover states you could subscribe to receive your own copy for a whopping $1.50 per year or three years $3! As for ingredients in the book, I doubt the average household keeps "variety meats" like chicken hearts and kidneys around (yes, these are actually called for in the 1943 book). There's also a lot less gelatin used in our dishes these days (in savory and sweet form). And you probably just keep a bottle of cooking oil on hand rather than clarifying fat from your meat to use as shortening. The book's delicacies are fascinating, though. Here are some of the most interesting old school recipes and tips from the Test Kitchen you might want to try in your cooking and baking therapy days at home.

What to Put on Bread

According to the 1943 cookbook, "sandwich fillings are seldom made from written recipes but rather from a blend of the cook's ingenuity and whatever her emergency shelf holds." While this still holds true, it's always fun to get new inspiration for ways to create an unforgettable sandwich. Here are some ideas to throw into your cooking routine.

Sunday Supper Sandwiches

Known today as a tuna melt, the retro recipe combines one 6-ounce can tuna fish, 2 Tbsp. each of chopped onion, chopped pickle (relish), and mayonnaise. Split 6 round flat buns; butter and spread with tuna mixture. Top with a slice of cheese. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

Toasted Cheese Buns

Split 6 long finger buns (now called hot dog buns) almost through; spread with butter, if desired. Cut ¼ pound cheese in strips; place in buns; wrap a slice of bacon around each bun, fasten securely with a toothpick. Broil at moderate temperature 3 minutes on each side. These may also be toasted over a campfire.

Credit: Marty Baldwin

Easy Mains

No matter the year, no one wants to waste food. Using up everything is good for the environment and our wallets. Using leftover chicken, the ground beef you've stored in the freezer, fresh produce that's been sitting on the counter for a few days already, and canned pantry ingredients like tomatoes are some of the most common ingredients repeated in the cookbook to score a weeknight win.

Chicken Hash

Chop 3 potatoes, 1 medium onion, and 1 green pepper. Sauté in 2 Tbsp. oil until browned. Add ½ cup drained canned tomatoes and ½ cup chicken stock; simmer covered 20 minutes. Add 1½ cups diced, cooked chicken, and continue cooking slowly 20 minutes. Turkey may be used in place of chicken.

Hamburger Pie

Our Test Kitchen's hamburger pie is a tried-and-true favorite to this day, so it's no surprise the recipe is in this early edition of the cookbook.

Get the Recipe for the Classic Hamburger Pie

Spanish Rice

Fry 6 slices of chopped bacon until crisp; remove and add ¼ cup each of chopped onion and chopped green pepper. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the cooked bacon, 3 cups cooked rice, and 2 cups canned tomatoes. Bake in a greased casserole at 350°F 30 minutes. If desired ¼ cup grated cheese may be sprinkled on top before baking.

Sweet Treats

Whether you're running short on essential baking ingredients or just need some new inspiration for a simple dessert, these are some easy recipes to follow straight from 1943.

Ice Cream Cookies

There are no frozen treats involved in these baked goods, but this cookie will taste similar to vanilla ice cream. Cream 6 Tbsp. butter with 6 Tbsp. powdered sugar; add 1 beaten egg yolk and 1 tsp. vanilla extract; beat well. Add 1 cup flour. Drop teaspoon-sized amounts on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Orange Taffy

Combine 2 cups sugar, ½ cup orange juice, and ¼ cup water in a saucepan. Cook, stirring until sugar dissolves, to hard-ball stage (265°F). Pour into a greased shallow pan. When cool enough to handle, pull until light. Cut with scissors, or cool and break into pieces.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you don't have a candy thermometer, drop some of the candy into cold water with a spoon. When removed, it should be able to be deformed by pressure but doesn't flatten until pressed.

Scotch Teas

I'm not sure where the name for this one comes from because there's no tea in this recipe. I'm thinking the flavors probably meld to taste like butterscotch. Melt ½ cup (1 stick) of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 cup light brown sugar; stir until dissolved. Stir in 2 cups rolled oats, ½ tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. baking powder; mix well. Bake in a parchment-lined 8-inch square pan at 300°F for about 20 minutes. Cool and cut into small squares.

Whether these throw-back recipes sparked memories from childhood or inspired you to try something new, here's to hoping you'll find some comfort in cooking like I have these days.

Comments (2)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
June 26, 2021
I have a twentieth printing 1949 De Luxe Edition.. Was my Moms, but I use it for bread recipes etc.... pasta sauce, meatloaf.. etc...
Better Homes & Gardens Member
May 21, 2020
Looking for a Depression era recipe called soup meat , it’s a soup recipe that creates two meals, using the meat in the soup for sandwiches