Secret Ingredients That Made Grandma's Food Amazing

beef stew


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beef stew

The Secret Ingredient Isn't Just Love

Some of our families' favorite, time-honored recipes include ingredients that make the dishes incredibly delicious — and make today's health-conscious cooks cringe. So long as you don't overindulge, we think it's perfectly fine to take a journey through time and revisit recipes for everything from Old Fashioned Lard Biscuits (yes, we said lard) to Grandma's Secret Ingredient Chicken Salad (hint: Cool Whip). Bon appétit!

Related: Betty Crocker-Era Recipes That We Secretly Love

biscuits in cast iron pan

Old-Fashioned Lard Biscuits

"If you have never had a biscuit made with lard, you need to. Read: NEED." So says Kristin Hoffman, who shares this retro recipe for biscuits that forgo the expected butter for lard. We can't wait to try them.

Recipe: Baker Bettie


Beef Fudge

Yes, beef fudge. Apparently back in the 1960s, wives of cattle farmers had an abundance of beef on hand and came up with some pretty creative recipes. The shocker is that a blogger today not only uncovered this recipe in a vintage cookbook but made it and proclaimed it a success. Game?

Recipe: Mid-Century Menu

bread loaf
Cooked Meat Dishes

Grape Jelly Meatballs

A cocktail party or a casual luncheon at home provided the perfect setting for this dish 1960s hostesses made ad nauseam. Now, it's prepared for their grandkids who've never had anything like it.

Recipe: Spend With Pennies

pound cake

Whipping Cream Pound Cake

I'd heard of sour cream pound cake, but this is a new one. Thanks to a blogger who cut the retro recipe out of a newspaper (and eventually also found it in a cookbook that claimed it was a favorite of Elvis Presley's), this recipe has been passed down in many families. It's said to make a cake with a nice crust that yields to a velvety inside.

Recipe: Call Me PMC

Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwich on a White Porcelain Plate, Selective Focus, on a White Tablecloth

Grandma's Secret Ingredient Chicken Salad

Have any of the many chicken salads you've had over the years been truly memorable? That might change if you try this recipe in which the "secret sauce" is a mix of sour cream, mayonnaise, and … Cool Whip!

Recipe: Shaken Together

pecan pie
fried or baked potatoes

Crispy Duck Fat Potatoes

If your grandmother was French, she might have had Pommes de Terre Sarladaise in her repertoire. What makes this traditional starchy side a delight — crispy on the outside and light and buttery on the inside — is the unexpected method of frying in duck fat

Recipe: Salt Pepper Skillet

Cornish Pasty

Cornish Pasties

For those who look at a hand pie and expect the payoff to be a mouthful of fruit, Cornish Pasties will be a surprise. Long a British regional favorite, you can find many a gran creating a crust that gets its delicate flakiness from shortening and its savory filling from beef top round steak.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Related: Savory Pies From Around The World

Impossible Pumpkin Pie
Cookie salad from a supermarket in the land of ice and snow (Minnesota).
Cookie salad from a supermarket in the land of ice and snow (Minnesota). by NorskPower (CC BY)

Sweet Cookie Salad with Homemade Cookies and Mandarins

Molly Yeh, star of "Girl Meets Farm" on the Food Network, often shares new-to-her recipes that are actually Midwestern staples. This one's a classic — and the word "salad" is the unexpected element. Yes, Yeh shares, it's eaten with the main course, not as dessert. If you insist …

Recipe: Food Network

Sausage and Spinach Tortellini Soup

Sausage and Spinach Tortellini Soup

A recipe contributor from Ohio shares this twist on a minestrone-style soup that was a favorite of her husband's grandmother. But don't expect beef — the rich flavor comes from sausage. Modern cooks will also find it a quick way to add greens to the meal, here with fresh spinach.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Cornflake Cookies

Cornflake Cookies

A good cook is always seeking new recipes. This blogger's grandmother, long known for her chocolate chip cookies, tried a recipe from a friend that became a new family favorite. Who would think to use corn flakes in dessert? Someone smart, apparently.

Recipe: Spoon University

beef stew
Refrigerated Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Tyler Florence shared his secret for out-of-the-ordinary mashed potatoes on the Food Network's "Clash of the Grandmas," which put the spotlight on retro dishes with flavors that are "bold, fresh, and timeless." The secret here? You add a bay leaf to the pot when boiling the potatoes for an unexpected flavor infusion.

Recipe: Food Network

Potato Salad

Best Ever Vintage Potato Salad

Show me a grandma and I'll show you yet another potato salad recipe. One blogger gives a nod to her Mimi's recipe as "best ever." We can't decide if the one she shares is worthy of the applause because of the evaporated milk or the sugar — both unexpected ingredients caught our attention.

Recipe: Town & Country Living

lemon rice soup

Lemony Turkey Rice Soup

This untraditional turkey soup comes to us via a Texas grandmother who infused her comfort-food staple with zest in the form of lemon and cilantro.

Recipe: Taste of Home

mace cake

Mace Cake

Say the word "mace" today and many think of someone using a pepper spray to thwart an attacker. Mace, unrelated, is also a spice, one long used in cooking and similar to nutmeg. Grandmas around the world have relied on it for years, including adding it to this moist and pleasing cake.


Casserole with tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach

Grandma's Anything Goes Strata

Today's breakfast orders of egg-white omelet with spinach are a far cry from Grandma's Anything Goes Strata, a rich casserole that turns random leftovers into a hearty meal. Tailor to what's on hand, with suggestions including "salty deli meat," leftover bread and lots of cheese. It's also a convenient make-ahead option that can be served any time of the day.

Recipe: Food Network

Related: Foods That are Always Better as Leftovers

Chocolate Mousse
mexican beef rice and cheese

Grandma's Rice Dish

Back in the day, a good cook was not only creative, but thrifty. Leftover rice and ground beef form the basis of this vintage casserole recipe that gets its spark from onion, green pepper, corn, bacon, and an array of spices.

Recipe: Taste of Home

orange cookies

Grandma's Wartime Orange Drop Cookies

This favorite of one family is another nod to ingenuity in the face of adversity. When sugar was rationed during World War II, one clever grandmother came up with this recipe relying on the jolt of orange rind, orange flavoring, and the juice of a fresh orange. The result was the creation of a flavor profile that erases the belief a cookie has to be made with sugar.


Cran-Raspberry Jell-O Salad

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

I can still remember my utter amazement and delight in tasting this "salad" — featuring a pretzel-based crust –for the first time back in the 1980s. It was presented as a treasured family favorite during a gathering I attended when visiting a college friend's family in rural Missouri.

Recipe: Betty Crocker


The Best Homemade Pancake Recipe from Scratch

Cake flour has been many a grandma's secret ingredient — and among contemporary cooks, too. A blogger sharing this recipe notes: "Cake flour in pancakes is the boss," making for one fluffy breakfast dish.

Recipe: The Kitchen Magpie

Gingersnap Cookies

Grandma's Gingersnap Cookies

Molasses was a staple in many a grandmother's kitchen; today, many of us just buy it for holiday cookies. This recipe has been called a "melt-in-your-mouth" family favorite, and it dates back to the 19th century and features dark molasses.

Recipe: AllRecipes

mushroom gravy

Mushroom Sour Cream Gravy

Creamy mushroom-based gravy is a staple. This version, a Thanksgiving tradition from a Florida woman's grandmother, takes flavor to the next level with the addition of sour cream.

Recipe: Taste of Home

macaroni salad

Grandma Wells' Tuna Macaroni Salad

Forget having a scoop of macaroni salad on the side of a tuna sandwich. With this recipe, the tuna's in the salad. Don't look for carrots, a traditional macaroni-salad ingredient; this recipe draws further flavor bursts from relish, cheddar cheese, and frozen peas.

Recipe: Just a Pinch

Canadian Butter Tarts
Jennifer Gauld/istockphoto

Grandma's Canadian Butter Tarts

The healthy-eating police get a day off for this holiday indulgence with a surprise inside: You get to choose if you use pecans, raisins, or that favorite ingredient of many grandmothers, currants.

Recipe: Dish ‘n' the Kitchen

beer batter onion rings

Grandmother's Beer Batter

Everyone knows the addition of beer can turn a routine batter into something special. This one is billed as being suitable "for all things fried," so you decide if it's going to be fish, shrimp, onion rings, or …

Recipe: Just a Pinch

Related: Chef Secrets for Crisp, Juicy Fried Chicken

onion pie

Onion Pie

Apple pie. Cherry pie. Peach pie. Nope, one Massachusetts woman shares her grandmother's recipe for this dish that's far from dessert. Onion Pie resembles a frittata, offering up a punch of flavor ideal to complement most meats (or as a vegetarian entrée) and fancy enough for the holiday table.

Recipe: Taste of Home

chocolate cake
Dejan Kolar/istockphoto

Grandma's Chocolate Crazy Cake

During the Depression, desserts were created out of what was on hand. The invention of "wacky" or "crazy" cakes offered a way to satisfy the family's sweet tooth with limited ingredients. This recipe, which today's palates will note is vegan, is known not only for what it includes — cocoa, sugar, and white vinegar — as for what it doesn't: milk or eggs.

Recipe: VegFamily

Related: Simple Depression-Era Desserts That Actually Are Indulgent

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Doughnuts

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Doughnuts

This family recipe allows you to feel a bit smug — hey, it's got vegetables in it — as you savor a doughnut that has its moistness enhanced by adding potatoes to the batter. Don't worry; the glaze keeps it all sweet, rather than turning into a savory treat.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Related: Expert Tips for Making Doughnuts at Home

baked beans
chocolate pecan candy

Saltine Cracker Candy with Toasted Pecans

A Canadian grandmother shares her ingenious recipe for satisfying the candy craving with a cracker-based recipe.

Recipe: Taste of Home

chocolate marshmallow

Marshmallow Puffs

Grandma's the one who never refuses you a treat, right? This recipe shared by a contemporary Grandma doesn't use marshmallow simply as an ingredient — it's basically the focal point of a kid-pleasing (and super easy) recipe that covers marshmallows with a chocolate-peanut butter sauce. Chill, cut, and watch them disappear.

Recipe: Taste of Home


Coca-Cola Meatloaf

No need to pour a soda when eating this dinner — it's in the main dish. A blogger's grandmother got it from her younger sister, and the family's been enjoying this not-your-everyday meatloaf ever since. 

Recipe: Just a Pinch

Related: Cheap and Easy One-Pot Meals