Roaring Twenties Desserts That Deserve a Comeback

Mimi's Tomato Soup Cake on a green glass stand
Photo: Jody

The Roaring Twenties might be associated with beaded flapper dresses and pinstriped suits, economic prosperity, and the rise of the "Lost Generation." But the 1920s were a unique time for cooking, especially when it came to desserts. A multitude of factors — including Prohibition, refrigerators becoming common in most households, and the beginning of the Great Depression — were at play and affected everything from ingredient sourcing to cooking techniques.

But just because these dish ideas are a century old doesn't mean you can't enjoy them today during the 2020s. From tomato soup cake to layered gelatin, find out what desserts were a hit a hundred years ago.

01 of 06

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Grandma's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Brad Pettijohn

In the early 1900s, the Dole company began packaging canned pineapple in Honolulu, Hawaii. Over the years the business grew, and by the 1920s most households now had access to this exotic ingredient. Because of this, the pineapple upside down cake was quickly born by combining the popular style of skillet cakes with the tangy tropical fruit. Another popular new product of the time, syrup-packed maraschino cherries, were also commonly included in the cakes. Traditional maraschino cherries had been around since the turn of the century and were preserved in liqueur, but during the Prohibition the sugary variety quickly became the new norm.

Try it: Grandma's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

02 of 06

Neapolitan Ice Cream

close up of Neapolitan Ice Cream
davidf / Getty Images

While ice cream existed for centuries before this era, it became a more attainable everyday dessert in the early 1900s thanks to the invention of refrigerators for households. Looking over menus from the time, ice cream was a regularly served dessert. We even spotted "avocado ice cream" on a Christmas Day menu for a Los Angeles restaurant in 1925. But by and large, the most common flavor in the 1920s was Neapolitan. The ice cream is thought to have been brought to the United States by immigrants from Naples, hence the name. Combining a trifecta of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors molded together, the dessert was meant to represent the Italian flag.

Try it: Make it with Strawberry, Vanilla, and Chocolate ice creams

03 of 06


Seven Layer Gelatin Salad

Although patented in the late 1800s, Jell-O didn't become a hit with American households until the 1920s. This is partially due to intense marketing in the early years after the turn of the century — free Jell-O cookbooks were handed out door-to-door). Also, more homes had refrigerators, a necessary tool for setting up gelatin. The brand had a variety of flavors available even then, including strawberry, lemon, cherry, and peach. Jell-O was commonly served as a molded dessert, a salad containing pieces of fruit or even vegetables, and as a layered treat using multiple flavors.

Try it: Seven Layer Gelatin Salad

04 of 06

Fruit Cocktail

Fruit cocktail in a glass bowl
BWFolsom / Getty Images

Although its origins are mildly hazy, the common story about the name "fruit cocktail" comes from the Prohibition years. With restaurants having cocktail glasses that were unusable at the time due to the alcohol ban, chefs apparently got creative and started serving a sweet fruit mixture out of them. No matter its beginnings, the fruit cocktail trend caught on, and by the mid-1930s Del Monte was selling a canned version to households, cafeterias, and even military bases across the nation.

Try it: Fruit Cocktail Drop Cookies

05 of 06

Tomato Soup Cake

Mimi's Tomato Soup Cake on a green glass stand

Also sometimes referred to as "mystery cake" due to the secret ingredient, tomato soup cake is a creative take on baked goods that came about in the Depression era. There is no claim-to-fame for who invented it, but variations of the cake began popping up in community cookbooks around the late 1920s and early 1930s. Tomato soup made the perfect ingredient for cakes to add moisture since it was both frugal and shelf-stable. It was used as a substitute for the majority of the dairy (such as milk and butter) in recipes, which was hard to buy in large quantities during the time. Don't be concerned about a tomato-y tang in your cake, the combination of spices, dried fruit, and nuts will make for an aromatic dessert that masks any flavor.

Try it: Mimi's Tomato Soup Cake

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