How many times have you heard the phrase ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day?’ Well, it’s true! Breakfast gives us a boost of energy to start the day, and the benefits of breakfast have been proven more than once. But the breakfast you remember eating as kids may be completely different from what your own kids love, not to mention what your grandparents would consider a staple breakfast.
This important meal has taken many different shapes during the years. Below you’ll find the most popular breakfast food of every decade in the 20th century. You might even be inspired to mix up your breakfast habits and try one of those vintage delicacies!
Cream of wheat is a type of breakfast porridge that looks similar to grits but is smoother in texture, and sometimes referred to as ‘hot cereal’. After the panic of 1893, the US faced a serious economic depression between 1893 and 1897. The Diamond Milling Company in Grand Forks, North Dakota was struggling.
The head miller proposed that the company package a breakfast porridge that his wife would make from the portion of the wheat not used in making flour. The company sent samples of the hand-packaged product with its regular orders of flour, and soon received a telegram that said "Never mind shipping us any more of your flour, but send us a carload of Cream of Wheat."
World War I marked this decade, and because the food was rationed, people had to make do with whatever was available. Hash, which usually consists of leftovers, became a typical breakfast food, especially in Britain, France, and the United States. The name is derived from the French word ‘hacher’ which means to chop.
Bacon always had a place on the breakfast table when the majority of Americans lived in rural communities. But during the Progressive Era of the early 1900s, and with the rising popularity of the newly created packaged foods (remember Cream of Wheat?), bacon fell out of favor. That is until Edward Barneys came into the picture. Barneys, who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, had a unique approach to marketing based on a deep understanding of psychology and rooted in Freud’s theories.
Barneys was hired by the Beech-Nut Packing company (of baby food fame) to sell bacon in the 1920s. The campaign consisted of asking the opinions of about 5,000 physicians, on what type of breakfast is the healthiest. All of them concurred that a heavy breakfast was preferable to a light one and most mentioned bacon and eggs. The survey was publicized in newspapers and bacon sales skyrocketed as a result.
Related: 7 Uses for Bacon Fat
The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression, and many foods were created out of desperation. Tomato gravy fell into that category since its production doesn’t require any special ingredients and it costs almost nothing.
It started as a regional dish in Southern states, but during the 1930s, it spread far and wide. “As a staple of the poor, biscuits and gravy would never have appeared on fancy restaurant or hotel menus in the past,” said Heather Arndt Anderson, author of “Breakfast: A History”. But during the 1980s, the humble dish began popping up in menus and cookbooks. Today, it seems like you can find it everywhere.
The 1940s offered some interesting breakfast varieties, but the one dish to stand out is the one-eyed-jack. You may know it as "bullseye eggs", "eggs in a nest", "pirate's eye" or simply bread with a hole filled with eggs in the middle. As you know, another world war was going on, which meant another round of food rationing.
Between 1942 and 1946, the government urged families to plant “victory gardens” in order to cultivate their own produce, to can their own food, and to cut down on the good stuff like sugar, butter, and meat. However, staples like bacon and eggs came back with vigor after the war.
The 1950s introduced Bisquick and Betty Crocker boxed pancake mixes. Boosted with heavy marketing and promotion, there was no denying that the ready mixes truly made things simpler and more convenient, and the popularity of pancakes peaked in that era. Learn some handy tips on how to make the perfect pancakes in our previous article The 10 Pancake-Making Commandments.
Though its origins are murky, eggs benedict is arguably one of the most well-loved brunch dishes ever created. One version of the story says that one Lemuel Benedict, a retired stockbroker, wandered into the Waldorf Hotel in 1894 and, hoping to find a cure for his morning hangover, ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of hollandaise''. The head waiter was so impressed with the dish that he put it on the breakfast and luncheon menus but substituted ham for bacon, and a toasted English muffin for the toast.
While this story is disputed and there are other theories in circulation, one thing is certain - eggs benedict ruled breakfast tables during the 1960s. If you need a recipe for incredible eggs benedict, we have one here - How to Make a Delicious Eggs Benedict.
Saying crepes were popular during the 1970s would be an understatement. There was a whole ‘crepe craze’ during those times. Crepes offered a link to European culture. While America was seen as the leader in modern ways of living, Europe was imagined as a romantically quaint Old World where traditional ways were preserved and many things were still handmade.
American creperies didn’t miss out on the potential and more and more places started popping up. Bearing names like 'Old Brittany French Creperie' and 'Maison des Crepes' and decorated with country French decor, these cozy places stood in stark contrast to the brand new shopping malls in which they were often located.
Quiches were a hit in the 1980s, though these quiches were more like a casserole baked in a pie crust than the dainty dishes we know today. The original quiche, hailing from France, only had bacon in the eggy filling, and occasionally cheese.
But the cooks of the 1980s allowed themselves to be significantly more creative in the quiche department - “We started dumping everything into it,” said culinary expert Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, “like broccoli and raw mushrooms, which ooze liquid and guarantee a soggy crust. No wonder people think quiche tastes terrible.”
Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
This combination originated in Jazz Age Harlem, in after-hour clubs, where jazz revelers would go to satisfy their appetite when it was way past dinnertime and too early for breakfast. Curiously, this old-time dish exploded in popularity in the late 1990s. But why did it go mainstream? The exact reason is hard to pinpoint, but it could be the unique combination of textures and flavors that made it the perfect comforting breakfast.
Most believe the dish was first served in the 1970s in New Mexico, where it was long popular to eat your morning eggs and bacon alongside a flour tortilla. These wraps really caught on in the early 2000s, as they are quick to make, filling, and easy to eat on the go - all features fast-food chains are famous for.
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