Spotlight On: retro recipes

You might think the age of TikTok and the many other social media platforms is the height of modernity and youth, but for a handful of young content creators, retro recipes—ones that your grandmother has probably even forgotten all about—are launching them into viral sensations.

The types of recipes made in a typical era often offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of people during that time. If you’ve ever flipped through vintage cookbooks, chances are you’ve been puzzled by the amount of foods suspended in gelatin, or combinations of ingredients that seem downright bizarre to the modern palette.

The Mid Century baking specialist

Culinary curiosity led US-based TikToker B. Dylan Hollis to millions of views and followers, all fascinated by his short videos recreating obscure recipes from decades-old cookbooks, with mixed results.

The self-proclaimed mid-century baking specialist prepares dishes dating back to the Great Depression and has taken on a number of lesser known and often maligned dishes from the ‘50s through to the ‘70s, like Amish Lard Cakes, Peach Spam Bake, Clam Biscuits, and the infamous Spaghetti-O Jell-O Ring. The latter of which, unsurprisingly, resulted in Hollis saying he “needed a hug”.

While Hollis creates recipes from different eras, there’s a reason the ones from the Great Depression are particularly captivating and often end up turning out quite well. As fans have speculated, since there were a lot of food shortages in that era and many cooks had to make do with whatever they had, any recipes that turned out to be worth making were often written down and shared so others could benefit, as well.

One recipe that particularly captivated Hollis’ followers and holds the distinction of being his most popular recipe, according to Eater is a very simple peanut butter bread recipe circa 1932. The video in which he made the bread racked up 5.3 million likes, over 295,000 shares, and more than 26,000 comments from TikTok viewers who couldn’t get enough of the unusual take on a staple ingredient.

As he whips up the recipe on camera, he explains the reasoning behind some substitutions—for example, since sugar was scarce during the Depression, but there were some shelf-stable ingredients like peanut butter available, the recipe is largely sweetened by the peanut butter rather than sugar. When popping the dough in the oven, he expressed some scepticism about how it would turn out, but after taking a bite, he was shocked and even a bit emotional at just how delicious the final product was. Many viewers who tried the recipe themselves confirmed this.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Bread 


2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup peanut butter
1 egg (room temperature)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup sweetened apple sauce (room temperature)
1/2 cup whole milk (room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease or line a 9″ loaf pan with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
Add in peanut butter.
Using your fingertips, incorporate the peanut butter until the mixture looks like slightly wet sand and a handful of the mixture retains its shape when squeezed in your hand.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar until light and frothy.
Add apple sauce and milk to the egg and sugar mixture, incorporating with a spatula and trying to lose as little air as possible.
Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to wet ingredients and give a few quick stirs.
Quickly add the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients, folding to incorporate the two as quickly as possible while losing as little air as possible.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
Put loaf pan in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10min.
Loaf is done when a toothpick inserted into the deepest part comes out clean.
Remove loaf from pan and place on cooling rack to cool thoroughly, 1-2 hours, before slicing.

Barry Enderwick – Sandwich Historian (this section as a breakout?)

If I’d known ‘sandwich historian’ could be a career path back when I was in school, I probably would be here writing about Barry Enderwick.

A legitimate sandwich historian, Enderwick has gained a cult following on TikTok where he dusts off old historical cookbooks to bring whatever people from the last century thought was acceptable to put between two slices of bread and showcases it for today’s younger, hipper audience.

A marketing director in California by day, Enderwick uses his marketing skills in true “Mad Men” fashion to hopefully get people interested in absurd but once popular recipes from the 1700s to the early 1900s.

While he’s not always successful at re-branding things like the mashed anchovy sandwich, his reviews have amassed 3.2 million likes.

“We should have named this sandwich ‘harsh reality,’” Enderwick quipped in a video reviewing the infamous anchovy sandwich.

Enderwick says he’s been called the “Bob Ross of sandwiches”. His voice is calm and usually creates a happy spin on even the most controversial sandwich recipes.

A prime example of Enderwick’s work is the French ‘pan bagnat’, which he has ranked as one of his favourites. The sandwich requires a whopping two days of work, starting off by creating a vinaigrette dressing to which he adds red onions, tomatoes olives, cucumber, thinly sliced radishes and arugula. He adds that mixture to a baguette with slices of hard-boiled egg, and an anchovy filet, wrapped tightly in plastic and chilled in the fridge weighed down overnight.

“Man! How come I’ve never made this before,” Enderwick exclaimed as he rated the dish a 10/10.

It’s content like that which highlights the craft that goes into the videos Enderwick makes. He isn’t just a guy on the internet eating sandwiches in front of a camera. He’s bringing his audience on a journey through the history of one of the world’s staple foods.

Mock-everything: Australian Wartime Recipes

During wartime, money and ingredients were scarce, but households learned to make do with what they had. ‘Mock’ foods were one way of doing this—cheaper or more readily available ingredients standing in as an imitation of the real thing.

In January 1944, the Australian Women’s Weekly published six recipes sent in by readers, four of which contained mock foods: mock pineapple, mock apple, mock ham and meatless sausage.

With meat rationed in 1944 to an average of around 1kg per adult per week and later reduced further, finding meat substitutes was important. Australians were used to and relied on a meat-heavy diet.

Recipes such as Mock Chicken Mould, sent in by reader Mrs L. Armstrong from Bankstown in New South Wales suggested using rabbit in place of exorbitantly priced chicken, which was suspended in jelly.

Other rationed items like eggs, butter and milk fuelled creativity from home bakers like M. E. Grew from Chatswood, New South Wales, who shared sharing a recipe for eggless, milkless and butterless cake in 1943. Replacing butter with dripping and using soaked fruit enabled Grew to create a “moist, fair-sized cake”.

Mrs L. Archer from Bundaberg in Queensland recommended custard squashes as a good substitute for apples. They could be prepared by slicing and simmering in water with lemon juice and sugar. Mrs Archer guaranteed that her mock apples made “good pies”.


8oz clarified beef dripping
4 eggs
2tbsp coffee essence
Packet mixed fruit
½ lb sultanas
1/4 lb currants
1 cup self-raising flour
1 ½ cups plain flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 dessert spoons golden syrup
1 dessert spoon lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 lemon

Cream dripping, sugar and golden syrup well, add beaten eggs gradually, then coffee essence.

Lastly add sifted flour and prepared fruits alternately, mixing evenly.

Bake in seven-inch round cake tin lined with three thickness of paper. Place in centre of hot oven. Lessen heat, and allow to cook slowly from 21/2 to 3 hours.


3 ¼ cups flour
4tbsp sugar
1 grated rind of fresh lemon
1tbsp chopped citron peel or orange and lemon mixed
Pinch cinnamon
9tbsp honey
4tbsp chopped almonds or any nuts
1 level tsp nutmeg
1 heaped tsp bicarb soda

Warm honey in a large basin until it will run freely, then add flour. Stir well, and add all other ingredients, keeping bowl in a warm place (I stand it in a basin of warm water). Work to a smooth paste.

Roll out on a floured board to ¼ inch thickness. Cut in round or fancy shapes and cook in moderate oven until browned. May be iced, if liked. These keep well in an airtight tin.


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