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Midcentury Magic: 16 Nostalgic Holiday Recipes from the '50s, '60s and '70s

The changing of the season and the onset of the holidays always trigger a flood of childhood memories. Each Christmas ornament and worn recipe card has a story to tell. Of course, tradition is an evolving thing, and while I love many of the foods my mom served for Christmas dinner, my own family table is a little more up-to-date. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss some of the nostalgic holiday recipes shared and enjoyed by those of us who grew up in the 20th century.

Blending old-fashioned foods and those made in a factory, the 20th century was an interesting time for food. We’ve come a long way since then, and though recent culinary trends are in many ways at odds with the processed food culture of the mid 1900s, it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy a few childhood favorites. So this year, I’m planning to throw in a few dishes that I enjoyed most while growing up.

If you’re feeling a little nostalgic too, here are 16 classic 20th century holiday recipes for your enjoyment.

  • Midcentury Magic: 16 Nostalgic Holiday Recipes 1 of 17
    midcentury-cover

    Add some nostalgia to your Christmas meal with these 16 classic 20th century holiday recipes.

  • Fondue 2 of 17
    beerfondue

    Fondue is traditionally a Swiss dish, but fondue as we know it is an American creation. Sure, the melted cheese variety has a long history in the Alps, but the notion of calling anything melted in a hot pot a "fondue" comes from mid-century America. It's now tied as much to the 1970s as CB radios and waterbeds, but it's still a fun communal experience that's perfect for a small get together with friends.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Laura Levy 

  • Toothpick Appetizers 3 of 17
    16 Nostalgic Holiday Recipes from the 50s, 60s and 70s

    There was a time not so long ago when food on toothpicks was downright haute. Be it bacon or olives, fruit or vegetable, if it was on a toothpick, it was an appetizer. These days, we still love a sweet and salty bite, but things have been updated a bit. Switch out plain old toothpicks for fragrant rosemary spears with these gorgeous grilled plums wrapped in prosciutto.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Laura Levy 

  • Bourbon Balls 4 of 17
    Bourbon-Balls

    Boozy cookies are a baking trend I can totally get behind. I may not have been allowed to eat these bourbon-infused treats as a kid, but I remember my mom making them. Happily, exchanging cookies with neighbors, co-workers, and friends is a long-standing holiday tradition, and these bourbon balls are every bit as classic and delicious as they were back in the day.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Aggie Goodman 

  • Fruitcake 5 of 17
    fruitcake-cupcakes-300x200

    Few foods have a reputation as bad as fruitcake. And with all the dense, dry cakes packed with bizarrely neon candied fruits, it's no surprise. But if you take the time to make your own (or have a friend who does), you'll see that it became a Christmas classic for a reason. Here's a simple (non-boozy) version that will go over well with kids.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Jaime Richardson 

  • Jell-O Salad 6 of 17
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    Jell-O salad isn't really a salad in the traditional sense, or any sense really, but it had a good run of several decades as being an important part of any holiday table. By the 1980s it had fallen out of style and many of us have probably had more Jell-O shots than Jell-O salads in our lifetime. But as an occasional trip down memory lane, Jell-O salad can actually be a lot of fun.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal 

  • Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole 7 of 17
    homemade-green-bean-casserole2-300x200

    The inclusion of canned soup typified 1950s cooking and this was the recipe that got it all started. Actually invented by Campbell's in 1955, green bean casserole has been a Thanksgiving and Christmas staple ever since. While the recipe has changed a bit over the years, the basic ingredients of green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and fried onions remain the same.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Shaina Olmanson 

  • Angel Food Cake 8 of 17
    angel-food-cake-300x227

    Angel food cake was a popular African American dish hat began to reach a broader audience in the late 19th and early 20th century. Angel food's airiness requires a deft touch — it fell out of favor in the latter half of the century, perhaps because people grew less accustomed to making cakes from scratch. But a well-made angel food is so incredibly airy and delicate, it's well worth the extra effort.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Jenny Rosenstrach 

  • Booze-Soaked Pound Cake 9 of 17
    liqueur-soaked-orange-almond-pound-cake-23

    In the early part of the 20th century, pound cake was named for its proportions, as each loaf used a pound of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. Presently, the recipe has evolved to have a lighter texture and more nuanced flavor. This orange liqueur-soaked pound cake is a perfectly delicious example of contemporary pound cake at its (boozy) best.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Lindsey Johnson 

  • Dinner Rolls 10 of 17
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    Nowadays the necessity of an additional carb at the Christmas table is readily questioned, but there was a time when you wouldn't think of putting out a fancy dinner without dinner rolls to accompany it. If you think your guests will look askance at a little extra bread, maybe you can change their minds by making them from scratch. It's a lot easier than it sounds!
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Brooke McLay 

  • Yule Log 11 of 17
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    The yule log or bûche de Noël is one of my all-time favorites. What really makes it perfect is when a baker makes the effort to really make it look like a log with chopped pistachio moss or confectioner's sugar snow. The yule log is perfect for the post-Cake Boss era of home cooking.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal 

  • Mincemeat Pie 12 of 17
    Mince-tarts

    Mincemeat occupies a space between main course, appetizer, and dessert, and features a combination of meats, sweets, and booze that make it a little strange to contemporary palates. And perhaps a little more than strange — it can even be downright off-putting. But at a moment in time when bacon has made its way into everything from cupcakes to caramel corn, maybe we're ready for sweet meat dishes again. Is mincemeat ready for a comeback? Make these mincemeat tarts and find out.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal 

  • Swedish Meatballs 13 of 17
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    Swedish meatballs were a longtime staple of the buffet line and for a good reason. With their simple brown cream sauce, they're easy to keep warm without drying out and will be just as good at the end of the evening as at the beginning. And now that Ikea has brought them back into the spotlight, they kind of feel current again.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal

  • Stuffed Mushrooms 14 of 17
    stuffed-mushrooms-300x201

    The stuffed mushroom was the perfect dish for an era when grocery stores had two kinds of mushrooms — white or canned. And while the mild flavor of a white mushroom can make this appetizer feel a little boring, it's not hard to add a few exciting ingredients to give it a little zip.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Brooklyn Supper 

  • Marshmallow-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole 15 of 17
    sweet-pot-cass

    This dish has graced holiday tables across the country for decades, and with good reason — it's essentially a dessert masquerading as a side dish. Nowadays, we tend to save the sugar and marshmallows for dessert proper, but it can still be fun to bake up this nostalgic classic on special occasions.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Angie McGowan 

  • Glazed Ham 16 of 17
    glazed-ham1

    We can all picture it — the archetypal '50s housewife smiling down at a platter of glazed ham complete with pineapple slices and maraschino cherries. Back then, this dish was the height of culinary chic. But guess what? Though we may have forsaken the canned pineapple and preserved fruits, glazed ham is still an awesome sweet and savory main dish. Try this updated version with apricot and pineapple.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Brooklyn Supper 

  • Soup in a Bread Bowl 17 of 17
    Sausage-Potato-Chowder-in-a-bread-bowl-714x1024

    The first time I saw soup in a bread bowl, my mind was blown. By the fifth time, I never wanted to see one again. There was a time in the '90s when I worked for a caterer and every client we had wanted soup in a bread bowl. And, much like I did, the rest of the country quickly grew tired of them. But since it's never been easier to get really good artisinal bread, it might just be time to try them again.
    Babble Food has the recipe
    Image: Julie Van Rosendaal 

And what about you? We’d love to hear about your favorite childhood foods or classic family recipes in the comments!

More from Brooklyn Supper on Babble:
Spice Things Up! 18 Ways to Cook with Mulling Spices
26 Holiday-Perfect Molasses Recipes (Cookies, Cakes, and More!)

Read more from Elizabeth and Brian on Brooklyn Supper.
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