10 Old-fashioned Desserts We Should Bring Back into Vogue

December 7, 2014

Few modern pantries contain items such as dried currants and suet (beef fat taken from around the kidneys of a cow), but those ingredients were once inexpensive and readily available on the family farm. Recipes handed down from one generation to another often got their start in a farm kitchen where a creative home cook would throw together whatever was available and in-season. After all, our great-grandmothers had no supermarkets and only limited ingredients with which to bake. Many of the desserts we think of as old-fashioned are as much a comfort to our memories as they are to our stomachs. Here are 10 old-fashioned desserts we should bring back into gastronomic vogue.

Mincemeat Pie

Yes, there is real meat in mincemeat pie. Although knock-off versions of this centuries-old recipe exist which omit less-available ingredients such as suet and currants, the original mincemeat pie is hearty, rich, and packed with nutrients and calories that helped our ancestors weather the coldest winter days.

1 1/2 cups diced cooked beef 

4 cups chopped apples

1 ½ cups currants (zante currants)

1 1/2 cups raisins

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup pineapple juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1 cup suet

Combine the cooked beef, apples, currants, raisins, apple cider vinegar, pineapple juice, salt, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, molasses, suet and 1 cup beef broth. Cook over medium heat until the apples break down and the texture is semi-smooth. Store in the refrigerator. When ready to use, bake in a 2-crust pie pastry at 425 for 40-50 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Mixture is enough for 2-9 inch pies. Serve warm or cold.


Sour Cream Raisin Pie

This classic pie originated in Germany and was popular with pioneers who settled in the West. Many varieties of grapes grow well in the arid western states, and farmers often had an abundant supply of home-dried raisins. Sour cream was also available on the farm where at least one milk cow supplied all the dairy products the family needed. This sweet-creamy pie makes an apt reward from a hard day of work on the farm.

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3 egg yolks, beaten

1 cup sour cream

1 cup raisins

3 egg whites

6 tablespoons sugar

1/2 pie pastry


Black Pudding

This is a perfect example of the creative combination of basic ingredients coming together in a yummy and wholesome dessert. Black Pudding gets its dark color from molasses, and can be modified by the addition of nuts, spices, or dried fruit. But the original recipe was a favorite among the American pioneers who traveled westward as well as ranchers who found themselves somewhat isolated from trading posts and general stores.

6 Eggs

1 c. Sweet Milk (dissolve 2 Tbsp. honey or sugar in milk)

2 c. Flour

1 tsp Soda

1 c. Sugar

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 c. Molasses

Mix well.  Pour into 1-pound (coffee) can and steam for 2 to 3 hours by placing in kettle of boiling water.  Keep covered.

Serve with a vinegar sauce:

1 c. Sugar

1 Tbsp. Butter

1 Tbsp. Flour

2 Tbsp. Vinegar

½ tsp Nutmeg

2 beaten eggs

Boiling water

Add enough boiling water for the amount of sauce wanted. Add two slightly beaten eggs and cook stirring constantly until slightly thickened and smooth. Spoon onto warm slices of Black Pudding.


Pound Cake

Today’s foodie culture is one of science and refinement. Our modern kitchens have every tool imaginable, including implements that will measure to the exact gram. Food preparation of the past required a lot of guess work and many of us remember our grandmothers using their bare hands for measuring cups and “eyeballing” the ingredients as they whipped up cake batter and cookie dough. Pound Cake is named for the estimated amount of each of its ingredients. Not exact, but close enough, the approximate weight of one pound for each ingredient in Pound Cake invariably results in a dense, rich, and delicious treat.

1 pound room-temperature butter (4 sticks)  

1 pound granulated sugar (about 2 cups)

1 pound eggs (about 8 medium or 7 large)

1 pound all-purpose flour (about 3 ¼ cups)

1 teaspoon vanilla or ¼ teaspoon almond extract, optional

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and flour alternately until incorporated. Add extract. Divide batter into 2 greased loaf pans. Place the pans on the middle rack of a cold oven, and turn it to 275 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the pans and turn the temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake an additional 15 – 25 minutes.


 Graham Bread

Similar to Graham Crackers, this softer version of a childhood favorite is easy to construct with simple ingredients. Graham flour, once common in the home pantry, is now considered a specialty item. You whole-grain advocates will be glad to know that graham flour is a whole wheat flour in which the bran and germ layers of the wheat kernels are finely ground and included in the end product. Graham bread, named after the man who invented this particular wheat grinding technique, is not only comforting, it’s also healthy!

3 c. Graham flour

1 c. whole wheat flour 

1 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ c. brown sugar

2 ½ c. milk

Sift together the dry ingredients and stir in milk until it becomes a soft dough.

Pour into a well-greased bread pan, cover with parchment paper or foil and bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes. Serve warm or cool.



Shortbread dates back to medieval times and was popular with the Celts. The “short” in shortbread refers to the fat or shortening in the recipe. Heavy on fat, shortbread is also versatile and can be used as a cookie, a tart crust, or as a cake layer in a parfait or trifle. Like Pound Cake, shortbread is made of simple ingredients. The trick is to create a dough that is substantial but not tough. Making shortbread with the perfect density and texture might take practice, but it’s worth it. There are few simple desserts that can be applied as creatively as ages-old shortbread.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter, softened 

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 360. In medium size bowl mix all ingredients until the dough is smooth and holds together. Divide dough in half. Press each half into an ungreased 8-9 inch square pan. Cut shortbread into eight slices. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown. Remove shortbread from oven and immediately recut with a sharp knife.  Cool in pan for 30 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.


Poor Man’s Pudding

Even a near-empty cupboard didn’t stop my mom from making a batch of Poor Man’s Pudding. This personal favorite from my childhood is ultra-simple, warm and comforting. Poor Man’s Pudding was handed-down from my grandmother to my mom who grew up during the Great Depression when fancy ingredients were scarce or unaffordable. Like many other simple desserts, this moist cake can be changed-up with nuts, butterscotch chips, or other items. Poor Man’s Pudding, with its topping of tangy sauce, will bring a smile to the wealthiest man on earth!


1 1/2 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup butter

1 cup sugar  

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla


1 Tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice

1 cup Brown Sugar

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup butter

In a bowl sift flour and baking powder together. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar and add vanilla. Slowly add the milk and flour in alternating 1/4 cup increments until all together and smooth. Spread in a buttered baking dish. Bake in a 325 preheated oven for 45 minutes.

For the sauce, in a sauce pan, mix all the sauce ingredients together and bring to a boil. Stir gently until slightly thickened. Spoon over warm cake.


Rice Pudding

Food cops pooh-pooh beige foods, but carb-rich desserts made of basic ingredients hold a special place as historic staple recipes. Like most other relatively-monochromatic desserts in this list, rich, creamy Rice Pudding is delicious embellished or just plain.

2 c. cooked rice

1 1/4 c. milk

½ c. heavy cream 

1/2 c. sugar

1 tbsp. butter

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. nutmeg


½ cup raisins (optional)

Combine cooked rice, milk, heavy cream, (raisins) sugar, butter, salt, vanilla and nutmeg in a buttered 1 quart baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring after 15 minutes and again when pudding is done. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve warm or chilled. Pudding thickens as it stands.


Molasses Candy

Molasses candy is pulled like taffy but sets up hard like toffee. It’s strong, slightly bitter flavor may take a while to get used to, but soon becomes addictive. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar-refining process, and had a pungent sweetness unlike anything else. Not only is molasses a versatile sweetener in the kitchen, it’s also known for its laxative properties. As a regular treat, or just to stay regular, molasses is in a candy class of its own.

1 1/2 cups molasses

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 tablespoon butter 

1/8 teaspoon soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine molasses, sugar, and vinegar and cook to a hard-ball stage. Add butter, soda, and salt; remove from heat and stir until soda is blended, then pour onto greased platter. When cool, pull between greased fingertips until white and stiff. Cut into pieces.



The world’s most misunderstood dessert deserves a second chance. Fruitcake probably got its bad reputation from the bitter citron and currants used in old recipes. Those ingredients are still available but not necessary since a wide variety of dried and candied fruits, nuts, and even flavored baking chips make excellent substitutes for their bitter predecessors. Set in a cake matrix, the fruit in fruitcake need not be limited to what your grandmother once used. It’s time clever dessert makers give fruitcake a gentle make-over so it gets the appreciation it deserves. Here is a new-fashioned version the most re-gifted Holiday gift in history.

1 cup golden raisins

1 lb. pitted chopped dates

1 lb. pecan pieces

1 lb. candied red and green cherries

1 lb. candied pineapple 

2 cups butter softened

3 cups light brown sugar

8 eggs whisked

6 cups flour

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp. baking powder

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine the raisins, dates, candied fruits and nuts. Mix in approximately 1 cup of the flour.

Cream the butter and brown sugar and continue mixing until it is light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs. Alternately add the remaining flour and milk. Add baking powder, vanilla and salt. Beat another minute until the batter is creamy and smooth. Fold it into the fruit and nut mixture.

Prepare your pan by greasing, covering with brown paper and then greasing again. Pour in the batter and bake at 275° for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. (If you use dark metal pans, reduce the oven temperature to 250°.)

by Marjorie Haun  12/7/14







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