Has it really been eight decades since the 1940s? It does not seem that long ago when watching “All Creatures Great and Small,” the PBS series that just happens to be the favorite show of two of Honest Abe’s owners, April and Nick Patterson.

The meals served by Mrs. Hall on the show to the trio of Yorkshire veterinarians, around whom the show’s touching and numerous stories revolve, look just scrumptious. We thought it would be fun to look at what kinds of foods were enjoyed by our grandparents in the 1940s, especially when the the entire family was present.

Sunday dinners were typically a time for families to come together and enjoy a hearty, filling meal, which in many cases, would be the main event of the day and would be planned and prepared carefully in advance. Not only were Sunday dinners a time for families to sit down together and spend quality time with one another, the meal was often followed by activities such as board games, card games or just good conversation. In many cases, the “Sunday dinner” was served after the family had attended religious services.

One typical Sunday meal in the 1940s might include a roast beef or roast pork as the main course, with potatoes, gravy and a variety of vegetables such as carrots, peas and green beans. For dessert, a pie or cake might be served.

 Here is a recipe for a classic dessert from the 1940s. The photo above in a 1947 magazine ad for Del Monte Fruit Cocktail, which was most likely what our grandmothers used to make this simple but delicious treat.


Fruit Cocktail Cake


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 can fruit cocktail, drained


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg and then add the milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Mix well.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  5. Stir in the drained fruit cocktail.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased 9×9-inch square baking dish.
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing and serving.

This fruit cocktail cake is moist and flavorful, with a tender crumb and a fruity twist. It’s the perfect dessert for a Sunday dinner in the 1940s, or any time!

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