American 20th century food fads, decade-by-decade

Lynne Olver's Food Timeline tracks food trends through the ages. The Twentieth Century timeline is a decade-by-decade treasurehouse of food fads and fashions, working from primary sources like cookbooks, contemporary magazines, local newspapers, and restaurant menus. The timeline also provides guidance for each decade's "signature" foods for the benefit of people planning historical parties.

Home cooking & family entertaining
What did average Americans eat in the 1920s? Food historians tell us we had a sweet tooth, a taste for the exotic, and a well-developed sense of ordered creativity. Translation? Fruit cocktails, Pineapple upside-down cake and Jell-O molds. Tea sandwiches, fancy salads, and chafing-dish recipes were also "in." City kitchens were wired with electricity meaning foods could be safely refrigerated at home. General Electric (and other companies) published cooking brochures touting frozen foods and safe meat storage.

Conversely? Modern vegetarianism also began the 1920s. Peanuts were promoted as healthy protein alternatives to animal meat. Raw foods were likewise promoted. Ladies Aid Societies and Domestic Scientists worked hard to introduce balanced, nutritional meals to poor, laboring people and help newly arrived immigrants adjust to American markets.

Need recipes & menus?
* [1920] Breakfasts, Luncheons and Dinners: How to Plan Them/Mary Chambers
* [1922] Good Housekeeping's Book of Menus
* [1924] Mrs. Allen on Cooking, Menus, Service/Ida C. Baily Allen (p. 20 offers daily home menus. Selected party menus below)

Food Timeline FAQs: popular 20th century American foods (via Making Light)

(Image: tuna mousse, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from citymama's photostream)


  1. I couldn’t imagine eating in the 20’s!  The way I enjoy food now, I couldn’t imagine eating it any other way!

  2. It would be cool doing a visual timeline (as a slideshow or a scroll) of all those fads of the past using photos like the one above this post.

  3. I did click over and, well, the information was presented in what I like to call “Classic College Academic” format:

    Lots of references and links to original sources, very little synthesis for the casual reader into a text containing anything even remotely interesting or easy to read.

    If you’re really into food history, the article is awesome. If you’re just surfing, it’s a big fat TL;DR.

    I stayed about 45  seconds.

    1.  The site owner is Lynne Olver, who is listed in a link on that page as from the Reference Services of Morris County Library in NJ.

  4. There is no way that this could be accurate.  As we all know, food companies released many of their own “cookbooks” that pushed new and very unusual ways to utilize their products, hoping in vain that they would take off.  Almost all of them were ill advised to say the least, as proven by that aspic and tomato travesty posted here.  Very few people followed these recipes, and if they did, it was only once.

    1.  You might want to contact that site’s owner to discuss your opinion; apparently it was compiled by a librarian from the Reference Services of Morris County Library in NJ.

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