Post-war Dinner Party recipes!?

Dear Food Nerds/Friends,
I'm helping a friend put together a post-war menu for a party she's hosting this weekend (!). Any suggestions (with links if possible!) for 1940's appetizer, entree, side, cocktails? Thanks in advance!

  • Posted by: erinrae
  • September 25, 2013


Pegeen September 26, 2013
One thing that struck me about the late 1940s menus from the NY Library collection is how nearly all meals were a la carte. At the bigger establishments, there were sometimes 10-20 vegetables to choose from. (And an awful lot of sauerkraut juice, which happily has gone out of fashion.) It's no surprise that was an unsustainable model - how could you store and prepare that many options? And shades of Mildred Pierce, there were a few mentions of chicken waffles.

Voted the Best Reply!

cookinginvictoria September 26, 2013
I have not had any luck finding it in my magazine collection, but I am virtually certain that Gourmet magazine, during the Ruth Reichl years, did a decade by decade anniversary issue with recipes from their archives. If you can find that issue, you may get some good ideas to consider. Online I found this article (also from about food shopping during the postwar years. The article's a bit precious, but it does talk about cocktail eggs being all the rage at dinner parties on the west coast during this time period. Do post what the menu ends up being. I, like other posters, am very intrigued by this question!
pierino September 26, 2013
I too miss the Ruth Reichl years at Gourmet (and I miss the Colman Andrews years at Saveur). I love the whole topic of food history because it's all about "how we got to here from there." An example; in the original New York Times Cook Book there were eight recipes for tripe. The most recent edition has only one. Pork belly, which is traded on the mercantile exchange is suddenly fashionable again (it's bacon). Is anyone trading in gluten futures?"
If you look at restaurant menus from the post-war era in the USA it was meat, meat, meat, oysters, lobster, more meat, meatballs and cocktails. Once in awhile a salad shows up.
pierino September 25, 2013
In my collection of historical food references I have "The Queen Mary Cookbook". Like most American oceanliners it was drafted into military service during the war and painted with different colors. But the entrees for paying guests included a lot of organ meats (which I happen to love). So you will find calf liver and riz au veau (sweetbreads, yum!) as well as osso buco, lamb in many ways. If something sounds good to you I will add more detail. Remember these were the days before all the chuckle heads decided to be gluten free. There were no veggie burgers on the Queen Mary.
pierino September 25, 2013
Okay, I'm back. One post war Italian dish is spaghetti carbonara. There are stories about its origins that might be apocryphal but one is that it came about when the allies (alleati) entered Rome and there were Mid-Western boys hungry for bacon and eggs. The Italians obliged with this, which uses pancetta. Of course there had to be a precursor in some form, but the dish is associated with that time.
Pegeen September 26, 2013
pierino - yes, it is a great subject. Just a quick thought about spaghetti carbonara, without any research behind it:
Doesn't it sound tone deaf with the economics of the time? Cream and ham near the end of the war?
There's a great scene in the movie "Moonstruck" (great Irish playwright John Shanley). Loretta's Italian mother is frying slices of bread in an old frying pan, with holes in the bread. She cracks eggs into the holes... and serves those up.
That might be more like end-of-WW II type cooking?
pierino September 26, 2013
You are right Pegeen, but eggs and pasta were still pretty much available during the war. The "bacon" component might actually have arrived with the allies during the liberation. This was before the era of MREs.
Assonta W. September 25, 2013
Ok, I have a cookbook from 1948. My best advice is to go to an antique store and browse the cookbook pamphlets and pick up some of those! I collect them for anywhere from $1-$5 a piece, but here are some recipes:
From the Metropolitan Life Insurance Cook Book 1948 edition
Martha Washington Cake~ Two steps: Cake and Filling
Bake Plain cake and cool. Fill between layers with cream filling. Dust the top with powdered sugar.
Plain Cake
2 C cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
2/3 C sugar or 1/3 C sugar and 1/3C light corn sirup
1 egg
3/4 C milk
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond
Sift and mix the dry ingredients. Cream the sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add the beaten egg and mix thoroughly. Add the corn sirup if it is used. Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beating thoroughly. Add the vanilla. Bake in two greased 8-inch layer-cake pans in a moderate over (350 degrees) for about 30 minutes.
Cream Filling: 1/4 C sugar
1 TBSP flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1 C milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
combine the dry ingredients. Add the egg, slightly beaten, and mix well. Add the milk. Cook in a double boiler for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Cool and add the vanilla.

Barbecued Lamb Shanks
4 Lamb Shanks
salt and pepper
2 cups water
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 C chili sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
3/4 C water
Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer until tender for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the meat form the bones. Place the rice in a greased baking dish, lay the meat on the rice. Cook together chili sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and water. Pour the mixture over the meat and rice. Bake in a moderate over (350) for about 1/2 hour.

Stuffed Eggplant
1 eggplant
2 tbsp fat
2 tbsp minced onion
1 C chopped fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 c soft bread crumbs
Wash the eggplant and cut in half. Scoop out the pulp to 1/2 inch of the skin. Dice the pulp. Brown an onion in fat, add the eggplant pulp, onion, tomatoes, bread crumbs and salt. Mix well and fill the eggplants shells with the mixture. Bake in a moderately hot oven (375) until browned or about 30 minutes. Variation: 3/4 c cooked ground cooked meat may be added to the other ingredients for stuffing.

Creamed Mushrooms
Wash and stem the mushrooms. Cut the tender parts of the stems into pieces and cook with caps. Remove the peeling if it seems tough. Melt in a sauce pan about 2 tablespoons of butter or fortified margarine for every 1/2 pound of mushrooms. Add the mushrooms, cover tightly and cook over a low fire for about 10 minutes. Dredge lightly with flour, season with salt and pepper, and cover with thin cream. Cook 5 minutes longer and serve on toast. (I added this one because this is typical of many of the recipes..pretty roundabout. Maybe dredge the mushrooms BEFORE you cook in butter, and peel the stems BEFORE you cook them. Add flour as necessary when putting the cream to thicken the sauce.)
Hopefully this helps somewhat!

I do have some appetizer recipes from a 1950's Betty Crocker entertaining cook book. Let me know if you would like some
Bevi September 26, 2013
Betty Crocker had some great recipes from that era. I found this link that gives a year by year list of recipes and ideas for entertaining, with some menus for parties:
Sam1148 September 25, 2013
Shrimp cocktail. Crab Rangoon: In fact don't overlook the influence of post war Pacific Theater and "Tiki Culture" that took over in the 40's. With Appetizers such as Asian style Chicken Wings and Small glazed Pork Ribs. The Korean Fried Wings would fit in there...but then you're really making it a Luau part; which was a thing in the late 40's and 50's. Middle America would do this too; but mostly would fall back on their 'homecooking' recipes for normal parties with burgers and fries etc. Pizza was mostly unheard of in middle America until after the War and then it took off like wild fire. Italian food was also "Exotic" inspired by singers like Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Rack of lamb 'frenched' into cutlets on the bone grilled with a balasmic glaze and polenta.
Or Lobster Themador or newburge if you're really all out.
Sam1148 September 25, 2013
Here's a great example of how servicemen stationed overseas brought things back and made them there own: This is West Indies Salad: Created by a service man after returning from the pacific 1947 (I think Occupied Japan and other Islands). It's basically a Sunomono Japaneese vinegared seafood salad.
Created on the Southern USA gulf coast and very popular; and very good. Served with saltines.

Google for the original recipe which calls for Wesson oil instead of that variation with Canola. And use a Sweet Onion.

/Also Lump Crab meat is insanely expensive now.
pierino September 25, 2013
I ABSOLUTELY love this theme. I have serious interest in food history. But I would like to give this some further thought before I add more.
erinrae September 25, 2013
Thanks! Looking forward to your thoughts :).
Pegeen September 25, 2013
I remember hearing from the older generations of relatives who lived in Ireland and England that rationing continued to be in place for a few years, post war. A lot of canned spam and an active black market. If you raised cows, goats or chickens and sold those products, you got some credits toward extra ration coupons. Anyone who had a patch of dirt grew some vegetables. Tough times.
London_Eats September 25, 2013
Are you doing US or Britain in the 1940s? Britain still had rationing until quite some time after the war (into the 1950s I think) but as a result, there was quite a lot of innovative cooking about how to make things strech further and use wild foods like blackberries, rose-hips, dandelions and nettles. Some of it is best forgotten, but that might be an interesting angle to explore. If you search on Google you'll find lots of recipes. Might be a fun idea for an amuse bouche or a starter.
London_Eats September 25, 2013
Are you doing US or Britain in the 1940s? Britain still had rationing until quite some time after the war (into the 1950s I think) but as a result, there was quite a lot of innovative cooking about how to make things strech further and use wild foods like blackberries, rose-hips, dandelions and nettles. Some of it is best forgotten, but that might be an interesting angle to explore. If you search on Google you'll find lots of recipes. Might be a fun idea for an amuse bouche or a starter.
Maedl September 25, 2013
The NY Public Library is a great resource. You could also google ‘dinner party menu 1940s’ and you’ll come up with a ton of ideas. Here’s one site that looks interesting:
Pegeen September 25, 2013
This is a great resource:
The New York Public Library has a project to digitize historic menus that you can search. Just click on "1940s" near the top of the page. To see menus from 1944 and 1945, you just have to scroll down - but you have to wait a minute while it loads all of them. Fun reading. A lot of hotels had very limited menus compared to later years - a sign of limited availability of foods (and probably funds), post-war.
erinrae September 25, 2013
What!? That's fantastic, thanks!
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