If you were majorly vibing Elizabeth Olsen’s super-straight flat-ironed hair, retro boho dress, and contemporary ranch-style home in WandaVision, then you’re going to love the new culinary trend on the horizon: foods from the 1970s.
Wait, don’t run away! Look, we get it. Some of the foods from the 1970s have fallen out of fashion for good reason (we’re looking at you, apple-flavored Aspen soda and fluorescent Jell-O salads with an air of the radioactive and a bizarre reliance on pimento-stuffed olives). But we’re actually excited about the return of at least some of the culinary trends from the decade that we will admit brought us gelatinous monstrosities like SpaghettiO Jell-O (via Today).
It’s not all bad, though. From convenience foods like boxed cake mix and microwave meals to enticing spectacles like fondue, more than a handful of culinary items from the ’70s are back. And if you ask us, they’re better than ever. Here are some of our favorite retro ’70s food classics that are finally making a return to the limelight.
Cheese fondue is literally melted cheese for dinner – how did this ever die out?
If you attended a dinner party in the 1970s, chances are you would have been served cheese fondue, a dish hailing from the Alps somewhere near the Franco-Swiss border (via BBC). When fondue was on the menu, a pot filled with bubbling combo typically made of grated cheese and white wine was placed in the center of the table. Guests, wielding long forks, could dip chunks of bread or other tasty vittles into the cheesy pool.
For many, fondue remains a throwback: a fun, interactive dinner option that is nevertheless stuck resolutely in the past. But according to The Independent, fondue remains "the highest form of cheese worship," and frankly we tend to agree. Fondue never really fell out of fashion in France or in Switzerland, and it’s high time this cheesy delight has returned to our kitchen tables in a non-ironic way.
But has it? All signs point to yes, as outlets from Pop Sugar to Today have published their favorite recipes for making this dish at home. The Spruce Eats even came up with a list of the seven best fondue pots to invest in this year. Just make sure that everyone sticks to their own fondue fork and doesn’t double-dip.
Casseroles are hip again, thanks to TikTok
While the Chicago Tribune notes that casseroles originally rose to prominence in the United States following the Great Depression, they only increased in popularity through the middle of the 20th century, with busy housewives relying on them as a way to get a quick, easy dinner on the table. By the ’70s, when many moms were also working full-time, casseroles were an essential part of the dinner rotation across America.
In some parts of the country, particularly the Midwest, casseroles never really fell out of fashion. But, as AllRecipes reports, even in regions where casseroles fell a bit by the wayside over time, they’re now returning to prominence. That’s at least partially thanks to the rise in better-for-you convenience foods.
The very attraction of casseroles has always been linked to their ease. At its heart, a casserole is just a few cupboard staples stirred together in a dish and baked until bubbly and browned. But when condensed soups and packaged seasonings contain so much salt and so many preservatives, it can make health-conscious cooks balk. Following the rise of the somewhat backward all-from-scratch casserole recipes, as history professor Ken Albala tells AllRecipes, a middle-ground casserole relying on all-natural shelf staples like healthy condensed soup is proving to be the future. Just look at the TikTok feta pasta, which is ultimately a simple combo of natural ingredients, baked together to create something rich and satisfying. It’s a casserole par excellence.
Microwaves are making lives easier again
Microwaves were an essential element of many ’70s kitchens. For many, they were the perfect way to heat up a TV dinner or even make a meal from start to finish, as retro microwave cookbooks show (via Paste). But while years of misinformation led many Americans to turn away from their microwave due to a belief that their radiation could cause cancer (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), microwaves have experienced a major renaissance in recent years, with a renewed interest in microwaved recipes, including the ever-popular mug cakes, as well as chef and restaurateur David Chang’s surprisingly good microwaved egg technique.
Chang is, indeed, a major driver in the un-canceling of the microwave. The chef and founder of Momofuku has defended the microwave ad nauseum, touting it as a tool not just for reheating leftovers or cooking popcorn, but also for perfectly cooking vegetables and delicate fish. Per Forbes, he even helped to launch a stylish new line of microwave cookware that’s healthier than its predecessors that could, indeed, prove toxic. (But not because of radiation. Again, that’s a myth.)
Boxed cake mix is sometimes better than homemade
Boxed cake mix was first invented back in the 1930s, according to Bon Appétit, and, as the decades rolled on, it only got more and more popular. In the 1970s, rare indeed was the birthday party that didn’t feature a sheet cake made from a mix and topped with a colorful icing — most rife with food dyes, of course. A shift towards from-scratch cakes ensued, but today, boxed cake mixes are back for two reasons: they’re easy, and they’re easy to jazz up.
Boxed cake mixes have been rising in popularity for some time now, but the Bon Appétit test kitchen definitely pushed them over the edge during stay-at-home orders. In this time of social distancing, the team did an at-home challenge to dress up a boxed brownie mix. More than one of the chefs noted the real appeal of these mixes: that no matter what you do to them, it’s hard to mess them up.
Then came the rise of other chefs offering tweaks to the classic, from TikTok baker Karly Stoddard to a host of pros speaking to Business Insider Australia. With a range of boxed cake mixes on the market, including old reliables and newer, more health-conscious offerings, it’s no surprise that boxed cake mixes are flying high on their newfound popularity.
Poke cake is poking its head back out
With the popularity of boxed cake mixes, it’s no surprise that the ’70s classic of "poke cake" was also overdue for a makeover. According to Atlas Obscura, Jell-O originally invented the poke cake recipe back in the ’70s, and it soon became a hit. To make a poke cake, busy housewives only had to make a boxed cake, poke it full of holes, and pour Jell-O over the top. The finished cake was bright and, yeah, a bit garish, but so much fun.
Though it basically disappeared for a while there, poke cake started reemerging in 2016, when Insider noticed a trend of poking cakes and topping them, not with Jell-O, but with jam, caramel, and more. Kitchn highlighted versions made with homemade cake and dolled up with flavors ranging from mojito to banana split. And in late 2020, Delish even published a recipe that’s an homage to black forest cake, while The Columbian shared lemon and coffee versions. We’re excited to see what comes next for the humble but visually appealing poke cake!
Pop rocks are poppin’ back on the scene
First invented in 1959 by a food chemist looking to engineer an instant soft drink, according to Science World, the candy favorite known as Pop Rocks didn’t actually explode onto the market until the 1970s, at which point they became an instant hit. That’s even despite unfounded rumors that a combo of the candy and fizzy soda killed TV’s Mikey. Actor John Gilchrist, who played Mikey, is still very much alive.
With their sugary base and rampant use of food coloring, Pop Rocks haven’t exactly been the most popular choice for health-conscious parents as of late. Yet they’re still experiencing a resurgence at the hands, first and foremost, of Starbucks, which introduced a new, blue Frappuccino for spring 2021. The bubblegum flavored drink is topped with pink Pop Rocks-style fizzing candy for even more color and texture, according to PopCulture.
And that’s not the only place Pop Rocks are experiencing a resurgence, either. Per Restaurant Hospitality, even high-class modern restaurants like Houston’s Guard and Grace are adding Pop Rocks to savory dishes like hamachi crudo for a new take on an old favorite.
Don’t pooh-pooh pudding
Pudding was a 1970s staple, particularly popular in amalgam desserts like Watergate salad, which was made with canned pineapple, whipped cream, marshmallows, and pistachio pudding (via NPR). And despite its long-time association with the since-canceled Bill Cosby, pudding is back en vogue — at least, it is according to Venice Beach’s Pudu Pudu restaurant.
According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, this new hipster hang is seeking to bring back pudding by dressing it up with superfood flavors and toppings like spirulina and turmeric. They’re even catering to vegans with plant-based versions, which we all know is pretty much an instant win with a large segment of potential diners.
But even outside Los Angeles, the pudding trend is going strong thanks to its association with nostalgic comfort foods. This summer, the BBC reported that during European COVID-19 lockdowns, homemade rice pudding gained traction among Instagramming chefs, particularly in France. And, according to Delish, Raymundo’s food brand has even launched a Nilla-wafer-and-banana-pudding combo pack, with cookie pieces you can stir right into the custard.
Messy is in and sloppy joes are back
The Manwich sauce brand was a 1970s must-have in any respectable housewife’s pantry, but it’s been a while since we saw those retro ads — or, quite frankly, anything resembling a sloppy joe, apart from an occasional appearance at a cookout here and there.
But we saw sloppy joes in the news again this winter when an Eater columnist waxed poetic about how enticing and exciting it would be to once again eat something so unabashedly messy. Frankly, we can’t help but agree. Part of the pleasure of a sloppy joe is the finger-licking mess eating such a sandwich entrails.
Since we’ve all been so careful about cleanliness for the past few months, we can’t help but look forward to enjoying eating with our hands without worry once more. And since we surely all carry hand sanitizer now and are scrupulous about washing our hands, a sloppy joe is an even safer bet than it once was!
Peanut butter has returned (for the allergy-free)
With the rampant uptick in peanut butter allergies in the U.S., many schools and workplaces have understandably put no-nut policies into place. This ultimately means that the ’70s classic brown bag lunch — that is, one featuring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — was off the menu. But since many schools were out of session last year, families without an allergy at home could embrace the humble PB&J once more. And they did.
Data from the National Peanut Board found "a sizeable uptick" in peanut butter sales in 2020, up 75 percent compared to the same time period in 2019. Others followed suit, publishing peanut butter content. Delish ranked nearly 30 brands in a blind taste test, while Real Simple reported that EZPB’s new peanut butter stirrer went viral on TikTok, proof positive that folks are loving the natural, stabilizer-free versions of the spread.
Condensed soup is back and better than ever
A can of condensed soup was a staple of the ’70s, whether it was enjoyed on its own, with a side of grilled cheese (American, of course!), or stirred into casseroles to make a rich, creamy, often salt-ridden base. But in recent years, this convenience food had fallen from grace due to its over-reliance on highly processed ingredients and more salt than most health-conscious consumers are really comfortable with these days.
But consumers’ reliance on nostalgic foods as the pandemic continues to loom big has led to gains for condensed soup companies like Campbell’s. Bravo’s "Top Chef" even challenged its contestants to revisit their childhood with condensed soups in a challenge that bore the Campbell’s brand name, of course.
And with viral recipes like this slow-cooker carbonara popping up, this growth in canned soup interest is likely to continue into this year. Add to this a new market presence of healthier condensed soups, as Today notes, and the popularity of condensed soups is likely to continue to grow.
Oatmeal – it’s what’s for breakfast, again
Oatmeal has long been perceived as a filling, heart-healthy breakfast, and has been since well before the 1970s, in fact. It did, however, gain quite a bit of popularity due to the arrival on the market of instant oatmeal from 1966 onwards, according to CBS News.
Today, it’s had another resurgence thanks to overnight oats, a pre-pandemic trend that’s still going strong. Add to this new TikTok trends like baked oatmeal, oatmeal muffins, and even savory oatmeal recipes (miso oatmeal? Pesto oatmeal? Yes, please!) and oatmeal has undergone a well-deserved makeover. This is all making oatmeal, that humble 1970s stable, one of the most popular choices at the breakfast table once more.
It doesn’t hurt that health experts continue to tout the health benefits of this oh-so-’70s breakfast (that’s doubly true if you cut out some of that also oh-so-’70s added sugar). Oatmeal’s rich reserves of fiber and minerals make it a great choice to keep you full all day long, regardless of the decade.
Boxed mac and cheese never really went away
If there’s one nostalgic fave we can all agree on, it’s got to be mac and cheese. Who could resist that blue box opening to reveal the noodles inside, accompanied by an eye-searingly fluorescent dehydrated cheese powder? It was the perfect lunch or after-school snack. While Kraft Macaroni and Cheese has technically been around since 1937, according to Smithsonian Magazine, it was in the late ’70s that Kraft really pulled out all the stops when it came to advertising its namesake product, as per Dinner is Served 1972. So it’s no surprise that many people who grew up in the 70s and beyond associate the boxed mac with warm, nostalgic memories of their childhood.
Today, the classic easy meal of mac and cheese is experiencing a resurgence in a number of ways. First off, much like what’s happening next door at the boxed cake mix renaissance, food professionals who are also fellow mac and cheese lovers are offering hacks for elevating the boxed stuff to the next level, as Chowhound reports. These include recipes calling for added aromatics, veggies, and more. Lifehacker even suggests adding browned butter to make it super fancy.
Some brands are also launching better-for-you versions of boxed mac. As the Burlington Free Press notes, Cabot is notably getting into the mac and cheese business with a product that will boast far less of a technicolor glow but promises to be just as delicious.