Just a few upgrades turned these dishes from the '40s and '50s into ones you'll want to make (and eat!) today.
Then: The tropical flavors that give hummingbird cake it's trademark taste hail from Jamaica. In the late 1970s, the Jamaica Tourist Board brought the fruit and spice cake to America—and it's been a southern staple ever since.
Now: You can't visit a bakery in the south without indulging in a slice of this sweet and nutty cake. Hummingbird cupcakes have since made their debut—the same great flavor with less mess.
Then: This well-loved minty dessert is based off the créme de menthe cocktail, which became popular in the late 1800s. As the cocktail became a staple in American culture (especially around St. Patrick's Day because of it's green hue), people gave it a refresh by adding it to another household favorite: chocolate cake.
Today: While there's still a few folks who sip on Grasshoppers from time to time, Grasshopper pie—or in this case, bars—is a must-have for any gathering. The créme de menthe flavor still holds true but it's now sandwiched between layers of rich chocolate.
Then: The tradition of eating an oval or ring-shaped cake on the Christian holiday of the Epiphany dates back the Middle Ages. In 1870, the French brought this tradition to New Orleans but it wasn't until the 1970s that the famous fillings were added.
Today: Decades later, a tiny plastic baby is the prize. If you're the lucky one to get the baby in your cake slice (chew carefully!), then you are deemed "King" for the day. The cake is typically decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple (for justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power).
Then: The Germans are said to be the ones who gifted the world these sugary-sweet doughnuts. While the filling flavors might have have differed, Berliners (the German term for jelly-filled doughnuts) came onto the scene in the early 1800's.
Today: While you can still pick up a dozen of these sweet treats at your local doughnut chain, these lemon poppy seed doughnuts are even better homemade. Add the jam of your choice for a truly customized breakfast treat (or snack).
Then: Hermit cookies, a spicy cookie packed with fruit and nuts, have been around for more than a century—yes, really. There's even a hermit cookie recipe that dates back to 1896 from Fannie Farmer's "The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook." The traditional version that traveled around the country for decades featured raisins and nuts—and that's about it.
Today: These chewy treats are as classic as fruit cake but are even better when you drizzle on the citrusy glaze and swap out raisins for other dried fruits including dried cherries.
Then: Made with cinnamon and crackers, but—surprise—no apples, this copycat treat tastes exactly like the real thing. The earliest recipes date to the mid-1850s, when pioneers moved west, away from the eastern orchards.
Today: This dessert had a renaissance in the 1930s, when Nabisco began printing the recipe on boxes of Ritz Crackers. We kept the crackers and added a tangy raspberry-swirled whipped-yogurt topping to balance out the sweetness.
Then: This dessert dates to the 1800s, when a European physicist found that warm meringue insulated ice cream so it stayed cold. The sweet regained popularity in the U.S. in the 1950s, when Alaska became a state.
Today: We turned this into a no-bake treat by swapping out the time-consuming sponge cake base for a layer of ladyfingers soaked in melted lemon sorbet. For easier assembly, we used a loaf pan instead of a round mold.
Then: Boiling green onion, cabbage and celery together made the vegetables bland and mushy. The 1972 recipe included butter and MSG, a chemical additive that was used to boost flavor but is rarely found in today's recipes. Originally, the recipe called for raw pork, which was boiled until it became tough and tasteless.
Now: Assembling the soup in a jar and simply pouring boiling water over top of the ingredients keeps new additions like carrot, bok choy and snow peas colorful and crisp. Today, chili garlic sauce and fresh ginger season the dish, making it even tastier. Subbing in shredded rotisserie chicken cuts the cooking time while keeping the meat flavorful and juicy.
Then: The only vegetable used in the original filling was onion, which was boiled with beef to eke out as much flavor as possible. The mashed potatoes were made with evaporated milk—a wartime staple still popular in the 1950s. Served in four individual casseroles, the early recipe took too much time and too many dishes.
Now: We sautéed the onion and beef instead, and tossed in tomatoes, carrots and a dash of cinnamon for extra flavor. We updated the potatoes by using tangy sour cream and milk for a smooth texture. We sped things up by serving it family-style in the same skillet used to cook the beef.
Then: This classic chocolate cookie recipe originally included flour. These cookies were coated with a layer of melted semisweet chocolate, making them super-sweet. The dough needed to be chilled for 5 hours before baking.
Now: We eliminated the flour to make this and gluten-free. We ditched the coating and added bittersweet chocolate chips and chopped walnuts to the batter for a richer flavor and texture. Our testing showed that there is no need for the chilling step, so now the recipe only takes 30 minutes start to finish!
Then: Processed cheese slices were dipped directly into the batter before cooking. The 1949 version included bran flake cereal for a crunchy texture. The original recipe called for these pancakes to be served without syrup.
Now: Instead of wrapped cheese, we opted for a rich, creamy ricotta to boost the flavor. We folded in whipped egg whites for a smooth and fluffy hotcake. Ours is topped with a vibrant blackberry-orange sauce, to make this a sweeter treat.
Then: The sauce didn't stick well to the elbow- shaped pasta. Originally, this dish needed to bake for 45 minutes after prep, making the total time almost 2 hours. The recipe called for pimiento cheese as the base of the sauce, making it taste processed.
Now: We used large shells to capture the cheesy goodness and add extra flavor to each bite. Putting the casserole under the broiler gives it a crusty, golden top and shaves over an hour of the total time. We sautéed fresh peppers, then added sour cream and cream cheese for a flavor upgrade.
Then: The old version was topped with meringue and needed to be served immediately. The original recipe called for a store-bought pie crust that required baking. In 1962, the mousse was set with gelatin, an ingredient that can be tricky to use.
Now: We finished ours with a chocolate whipped cream so the whole pie can be made up to one day ahead. We opted to make this a no-bake pie with a cookie crust, which shaves 30 minutes of the total time. For easier prep with fool- proof results, we melted marshmallows with chocolate.
Then: Upside-down cakes date back the the Middle Ages, but the pineapple version didn't become mainstream until 1925, when Dole Food Co. held a recipe contest to promote its exotic pineapple products. The cake gained popularity in the '50s when island fever swept through the U.S. and convenience items like canned fruit were trendy.
Today: We made individual Bundts, adding coconut milk to boxed cake mix for a tropical vibe. We also replaced the classic processed maraschino cherries with a fresh blueberry topping.
Then: These chocolate-covered creams became Cincinnati's signature sweet in the mid-19th century. The Bissinger family—once the official candymakers of the French Empire—brought them to Ohio after fleeing Paris before the Revolution of 1848. Other confectioners soon followed, sometimes adding nuts or coconut.
Now: Most early opera cream recipes required rolling out and coating each candy individually. Our version is easier and faster: We spread the cream on one large tray, topped it with chocolate, then cut it into bite-size squares. We also gave these treats a pop of color by folding in pistachios, and added a sprinkle of sea salt.
Then: Although not technically a pudding, this simple dessert gets its name from the Ozark region in the Midwest, where it originated. As it bakes, the nut-and-apple filled batter forms a crisp cookie crust over a gooey, pecan pie-like filling.
Now: When we made our 1975 version, it fell after baking—a sign of too much baking powder—so we halved the amount of today's recipe. We also folded in fresh blackberries and ginger to add a bit of tartness and spice, then saved some of the fruit and pecans for a pretty topping.
Then: While the original recipe for these cookies can be traced back to seventh-century Arabia, many countries have their own version. Since 1950, we've published a handful of these recipes with names like Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Teacakes and Viennese Crescents.
Now: Earlier recipes required grinding nuts and mi dough by hand. Today, we sped things up with a food processor and let the nutty flavor stand out by cutting some sugar. We also swapped out the bitter walnuts of our 1961 version for oiler pecans, which help keep the cookies moist.
Dairy was hard to come by during the Depression, so families got creative in order to keep dessert on the table, sometimes subbing in surprise ingredients. This 1970 recipe called for a can of condensed tomato soup, a clever trick made popular by Campbell's in 1940.
Then: In the original recipe, readers sautéed onion for 15 minutes before even making the rest of the mixture. Crab cakes were typically big panfried patties, so cooking them was a time-consuming and messy task. Previously, the mixture was mostly bread crumbs, resulting in a cake that was more carb than crab.
Now: We subbed in raw sliced scallions for the same kick without the extra step. Downsizing the cakes to mini and broiling each one with a small pat of butter keeps them crispy and delicious, and takes half the time. We made crab the star, mi the meat with just 1⁄3 cup crushed saltines for a sublime crunch.
Then: One large baking dish was lined and topped with a homemade pie crust that required chilling time. The chicken in the original recipe was boiled whole for a whopping 3 hours. In 1966, the recipe called for a time-consuming traditional gravy made with butter, flour and milk.
Now: We turned the classic dish into hand pies by wrapping the creamy chicken filling in a simple biscuit dough. Using flavorful rotisserie chicken speeds things up, and adding lemon juice makes for a zingier filling. We nixed the traditional gravy and created an equally velvety sauce using cream cheese.
Then: The original version called for dried beans, which meant hours of simmering. Ham hocks were the main source of flavor. This dish was low on vegetables— just onions.
Now: Canned black-eyed peas turn it into a 25-minute dinner. Andouille sausage keeps the smoky taste and layers in a bit of heat. To make it a complete meal, we added bell pepper and spinach.
Then: In the 1960s version, all of the flavorful juices released during baking were lost. Blending cabbage, onion and garlic in a food processor turned these veggies to mush and made them taste bland. This recipe called for a hefty dose of mayonnaise and butter to add creaminess to the dish.
Now: Because the liquid is too good to waste, we added a layer of potatoes to sop it up. Chopping veggies by hand before sautéing allows the flavors to fully come out. We subbed in heavy cream and Dijon mustard to achieve a velvety smooth texture.
Then: The original recipe used canned chiles and peppers. In 1961, the salsa had to sit for 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to mellow. A good dose of olive oil was added to the 1961 version, raising the calorie count and dulling the flavor.
Now: We hit the produce aisle and added fresh red peppers and jalapeños. Because our veggies are charred, we were able to omit this step so you can dive right in. Bring on the chips! We replaced the oil with fresh lime juice to brighten the taste and lighten up the salsa.
Then: The original recipe called for shredded green cabbage. Previously, this coleslaw was topped with toasted slivered almonds. The dressing in the 1960s version used a hefty combination of mayonnaise and heavy cream.
Now: We added purple cabbage for color and chopped the ingredients for better crunch. We traded the almonds for walnuts and added a chopped apple for a twist on the classic Waldorf salad. To lighten things up, we cut back on the mayo, swapped the heavy cream for sour cream and added zip with horseradish.
Then: The flavors and appearance of the 1960s version were a bit drab. Previously, the zucchini was boiled whole, making it overly mushy. In the original recipe, a good amount of butter was used to cook the filling. It took over an hour to make this recipe because the filling needed to be sautéed before stuffing the zucchini.
Now: To liven things up, we added red chile for a touch of heat and color. The zucchini is roasted, adding another layer of flavor and texture. We cut back the saturated fat and cholesterol by using olive oil instead. We slashed the cooking time in half by using raw scallions in place of onions and dropping the sauté step.
Then: The 1962 recipe had only two layers. In the original recipe, a scant amount of chocolate was used (just 2 tablespoons!). These brownies called for cottage cheese (a popular baking ingredient in the 1960s) and nuts, making the texture dry and crumbly.
Now: For extra flavor, this version boasts four layers and is topped off by swirling blackberries into cream cheese. To make it a true brownie, we used two different types of chocolate and added brown sugar for a richer and moister treat. We used cream cheese and sour cream, and replaced the nuts with blackberries for a fresh twist.
Then: Previously, the truffles were made mostly of nuts covered in chocolate ganache. The recipe was also a sugar bomb—a combination of confectioners' sugar, sweetened condensed milk and semisweet chocolate. Lastly, the original truffles were made as one large bar, then cut into smaller squares.
Now: We flipped the ingredients, giving chocolate center stage and rolling them in chopped nuts and other toppings. For a deeper flavor, we nixed the sugar and condensed milk and added some bittersweet chocolate. They're more commonly shaped into balls, which also makes them an elegant gift.
Then: The original recipe called for corn syrup and Mock Pistachios, a combination of almonds and green food coloring that was popular when pistachios were hard to find.
Now: We replaced the corn syrup with heavy cream for a rich, smooth flavor and coated them in the real (and delicious) nuts.
Then: This recipe was described as a "company dessert." With 1 cup sugar as well as semisweet chocolate, it was far too sweet for today's tastes.
Now: This version swaps in bittersweet chocolate, uses less than 1⁄3 cup sugar and adds a dash of coffee. And it's still great for company!
Then: The original recipe included shortening and soy flour, two popular wartime staples.
Now: We replaced these now-rare items and reduced the hands- on time by using a food processor. But we kept the technique of incorporating the same crumb mixture in the batter and on top.