Life in the 50’s: Desserts and Sweets!

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.

Hey there! It’s Retro Dee with another installment of “Life in the 50’s!”

I hope you have a sweet tooth, because for this edition, we’ll be taking a look at a perennial favorite: Desserts and Sweets!

Desserts in the 50’s included all the classic favorites such as variants of cakes, pies, ice cream and so on… but, like all the finer things in life, desserts have trends. So let’s take a look at some of the popular dessert trends from The Best Era Ever:

All Things Jell-O

The first thing I noticed about desserts in the Fabulous Fifties were all the ads featuring Jello recipes! Jello was a big deal in the Fifties and housewives were learning all the neat things you can do with it: Parfaits, Jello molds, even pies! Infusing fruit into a Jello mold was the perfect sweet dish to serve to guests or bring to a pot-luck. To a 1950’s housewife looking to make a people-pleasing treat, Jello was Heaven-sent! And, by the 1950s, Jello came in six delicious flavors. Practically anything could be and was made with Jello (but sorry, no Jello shots!)


Jello was one of the big dessert trends in the 1950’s. (Photo is from the cover of a vintage 1953 book from my collection.)


Chiffon Cakes and Pies

The 50’s were the dawn of the easy-to-prepare foods. For the first time, housewives didn’t have to make things like pie completely from scratch! Jello had a new easy-to-make filling for favorites such as Chiffon and Lemon Meringue Pie. Chiffon cakes and pies were particularly popular on the mid-century dessert menu. All bakers know that Chiffon desserts are made by beating egg whites into the mix in order to produce the “fluffy” consistency. But with the new Jello Chiffon Pie Filling, only sugar and water was needed. The light and airy effect in Chiffon desserts was similar to that of Chiffon fabric, another popular trend in the Fabulous Fifties!

The vintage ad below suggests: “Try topping your mister’s Jell-O Chiffon Pie with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. He’ll love it!”

Wow, I didn’t know men were so easy to please!

Common ad for Jell-O brand Chiffon Pie filling, circa late 50’s (Lemon and Strawberry flavors came out first; Chocolate was available by 1958)


Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Besides using Jell-O products to make easy desserts, folks in the 50’s also liked to use pineapple. Many Dole and Del-Monte pineapple ads would show ideas on how to incorporate pineapple into desserts. This included (and often featured) the classic “Pineapple Upside Down Cake.” The 1950’s version of this dessert does not vary much from today’s- but it was a popular trend at the time. Canned pineapple was another convenience food that was a new and easy way to make desserts.

Baked Alaska aka “Bombe Alaska”

Baked Alaska was also a BIG deal in 50’s desserts. The meringue-covered ice cream treat was a new and exciting trend that housewives everywhere wanted to try! Many housekeeping magazines featured recipes for Baked Alaska such as this August 1957 issue of “Household”, which has by now been seen pretty much everywhere, but here it is anyway.

Household Magazine August 1957


Coffee Cake

When they weren’t using those ring-shaped molds for Jello, folks in the Fifties also enjoyed baking a good coffee cake. Coffee cake is always a classic and in the 50’s they began experimenting with variants of coffee cake, such as All-Coffee Chiffon cake and Coffee Angel Torte as seen in the recipes of a book entitled “Fun With Coffee” that I purchased at a Flea Market last summer:

Page from “Fun With Coffee”, a vintage book I purchased at a Flea Market last summer. The drawings in this book are super cute!


Ice Cream

Revered as “The World’s Second Greatest Gift” (at least, it was in The Muppets 2011 movie), ice cream is one of the most classic treats of all time. In the 50’s, there were more and more places to go for ice cream. Diners and Soda Fountains were famous for serving ice cream mostly in the form of malts, but of course Sundaes and banana splits existed then too. And in neighborhoods, the ice cream truck would come by tingling its tune as children rushed up to buy ice cream bars and popsicles. There were also ice-cream based food stops, much like the ones that still exist today such as Foster’s Freeze and Dairy Queen, which celebrated it’s 16th Anniversary in the Summer of 1956 as seen in the vintage ad below!


This 1956 DQ ad features a 16 cent special to celebrate their “Sweet Sixteen” Anniversary. From the National Dairy Queen Development Co. in Davenport, IA.


Penny Candy

Older folk such as aunts, uncles and even friends have made it clear to me that one of the greatest things about being a kid in the 1950’s was the Penny Candy! How many stories have I heard about kids running down to the corner store to buy TWO big pieces of candy for only one penny? The variety was amazing: Mary Janes, Rootbeer barrels, Turkish Taffy, Bit O’ Honey, Sky Bar, Charlston Chew, licorice and coffee-flavored drops and many more.

Sweet Inventions

So what were some of the New Treats on the rose-bush-lined Block of the 1950’s? Well, there were certainly some sweet discoveries that debuted in the best decade of all time. Here are some famous candies that were invented in the Nifty Fifties:

  • Hot Tamales: These chewy, cinnamon-flavored bullets have been a long-time favorite of those who can stand a rather large dose of cinnamon at one time.
  • Candy Necklaces: You know, those chalky candies on a stretchy string that you can wear. They never tasted that great, but you could eat each bead while you were wearing them. They were invented in 1958.
  • Peeps! I had no idea Peeps reared their cute little sugar-coated heads anytime before the 1980’s, but the truth is, Peeps were actually invented even before the 1950’s! Although, it was 1953 when machine-made Peeps came to be, thus making Peeps more widely available to those who love cute, animal-shaped marshmallows.
  • Dum Dums: Chocolate and Rootbeer flavor. In case you don’t know, Dum Dums are those little lollipops that kids would get at Halloween– kinda roundish shaped like Tootsie Pops, only way smaller and nothing in the center. While the chocolate flavor of Dum Dums came out in 1955, it was replaced by the banana flavor just five years later in 1960. (This is why I focus on the 50’s decade only. Really. That’s the reason.)
  • PEZ! Yay, we love Pez… Until we find out that our Pez collection is really worth nothing on eBay. But to kids, Pez dispensers will always be cool. They actually came from Austria in 1952.
  • Pixy Stix. No, not pixie dust, that wasn’t until the 60’s. Pixy Stix are those paper straws filled with that flavored powdery sugar stuff. Really, they’re quite gross. They were invented sometime back in ’59.
  • Peanut M&M’s: Now will you believe me when I call it “The Best Era Ever”? The peanut variety of M&M’s first became available to M&M lovers in 1954, and, thank God, have been available ever since.
  • Butter Rum Lifesavers: When I have the occasional drink, rum is always what I pick for my poison. But oddly enough, I never liked this flavor in Life Savers. I was surprised to see it goes back as far as the 50’s. I thought the “Five Flavors” were as wild as it got for Life Savers back then. According to the ad below, I was wrong:


Butter Rum flavored Life Savers ad from March 1, 1958.


Note the price of only 5 cents! If you can even find a regular roll of Life Savers anymore (and not one of those stupid bags) it would cost you around $1.39 on today’s market. Plus, look in the cute little plaid coin purse: a buffalo nickel! I’d be a lot more excited about that than a damn roll of Life Savers. 🙂


So that’s about all for this delicious edition of “Life in the 50’s”. Please stay tuned for more Fab Fifties facts about The Best Era Ever! Until then, as Taffyta Muttonfudge would say, “Stay sweet!” 🍭

Listen to “The Grooveyard” following “Rick’s Redneck Ranch” each Saturday night at 7 PM on 88.1 FM on Long Island, by clicking the 88.1 FM link on or via the TuneIn app.  or the 88.1 FM button on the WCWP app for Android or iPhones.  You can also follow us on Twitter.

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