When Gainesville resident Polly Williams was a little girl, a treat could include sweet bread, which was similar to corn bread but with some sugar thrown in, too.
"We'd bake cakes, (but) we didn't call it cake," said Williams, 76. "We'd call it sweet bread; you'd put eggs, sugar and bake it. It'd be brown."
Like the evolution of sweet breads into today's fancy cakes with buttercream icing, many recipes have evolved over the years. Some, like fried chicken or roasted turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, stay around with a few tweaks to the cooking method. Others, like liver ribbons — included as part of a Weight Watchers recipe card set from the 1970s — came and went.
Kristine Kidd, food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, said three sets of cookbooks published in the 1960s had a lot to do with changing the way Americans eat. With the publication of Julia Child's cookbook series, the New York Times Cookbook and the Time Life Foods of the World series, we were exposed to foods from other cultures. This helped broaden our understanding of food.
And that understanding, she said, helped us recognize what was good and what wasn't.
"I think before that we hadn't had that exposure," Kidd said. "I think from the '60s on is food that is in and of itself really delicious, whereas before the food was less informed by the delicious foods of the world and was just a simpler food that had grown out of our beginnings in this country."
Also, as transportation and growing methods became more efficient, it was easier for more people to get fresh produce throughout the year.
"Over the last maybe 20 years we've had much better ingredients available in America," she said. "So, you don't need to go back to Spam and only corn meal. We have amazing fresh produce — we have peaches and fresh herbs and wonderful tomatoes.
"So, our ingredients are so much better that it definitely influences what you're going to do with them."
Lara Long, owner of Plaid Pony Vintage in Philadelphia, which sells vintage cookbooks and housewares, said she finds herself drawn toward retro pictures of foods she can't imagine eating today - like mystery casseroles and items suspended in Jell-O.
"Some of the cakes sound delicious but some of the Jell-O things look disgusting; pretty much everything went into Jell-O at some point," said Long. "I've tried Spam before, but Spam pie — I think it's just a funny idea."
Food fads will come and go, but some recipes change over time simply because of the health factor, said Susan Dobbs, executive editor of Oxmoor House press. Oxmoor House published "The Southern Heritage Cakes Cookbook" in 1983, among other vintage and modern cookbooks.
"I think today there's more emphasis on health than there used to be, and I think we do try to cook day-to-day more healthy," she said. "But there's some vintage Southern recipes that real Southerners can't do without, like fried chicken and fried okra.
"So while we may not cook that way as often, I think we still slip it into our diet periodically, because we can't live without it."
That sentiment was echoed by Gainesville resident Marell Jackson, who lamented not being able to eat many of the dishes she used to cook for her family because of diabetes. She said she used to serve up black-eyed peas, corn bread, green beans, cabbage, potatoes, fried chicken and bread pudding. "That was good," she said.
Flipping through "The Southern Heritage Cakes Cookbook," with recipes that date back 100 years or more, there's more of an emphasis on butter and eggs to make the cakes and icings work.
Dobbs said today's recipes reflect that, thanks to ovens with consistent temperatures and food science that showed cakes rise faster in a hotter oven. Also, Kidd added, an emphasis on healthier cooking in recent years is one big change you'd see compared with cookbooks from the 1960s.
While Julia Child's recipes will stand the test of time, she said, it's the fat and the freshness that stand out today.
"If you look at Julia's books from the '60s and now, some of the big changes between then and now is we tend to cook with less butter and less cream. We use more olive oil, more fresh sauces and fresh herbs," she said. "It's just the richness and because we have such wonderful fresh ingredients now, you don't need to rely on the richness. As we become more health conscious, your taste evolves and you realize that (kind of) food isn't that good for you, so you use less butter and less cream."