35 Vintage Church Desserts Worth Praising
If we had to pick a favorite cookbook from the kitchen shelf, it wouldn’t be the shiny new one that looks as good on the counter as its new-age recipes taste. It wouldn’t even be the special one that holds the holiday essentials, things like glazed ham and fruitcake. No, those wouldn’t be saved in this fictional house fire. It’d be the tattered, faded, stain-covered spiral notebook hidden away at the end of the stack. It’d be the church cookbook.
Through the generations, Southerners have published their most trusted recipes in these collections, whether it dubbed a church cookbook or community cookbook. From classic cold salads to warm, creamy casseroles, these recipes simply don’t go out of style. Take the vintage desserts—we’ll never pass up a bowlful of banana pudding, a square of Texas sheet cake, or a slice of buttermilk pie. There’s really nothing like the old-fashioned desserts you can find in your mama’s old church cookbook. We rounded up the most classic desserts that have been coming out of Southern kitchens for generations. We’re warning you, these’ll have you singing some praises.
Luscious Lemon Bars
Recipe: Luscious Lemon Bars
A plate of lemon squares disappears mighty quick at any Southern gathering. You'll see this classic recipe in many a church or community cookbook.
Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
This chocolate cake is next-level moist because of its secret ingredient: Duke's mayo. And we don't even care. We're too far gone.
Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie
Recipe: Classic Southern Buttermilk Pie
This pie was created to be budget-friendly by Southern women who were “making-do” with what they had on hand, going way back to the depression era and World War II.
Classic Southern Pound Cake
Recipe: Classic Southern Pound Cake
She's the ultimate classic, and there's no world in which this recipe doesn't belong on the list.
Easy Peach Cobbler
Recipe: Easy Peach Cobbler
Though any Southern cook knows this recipe by heart, we still include it in just about any cookbook, just in case.
Texas Sheet Cake with Fudge Icing
Texas claims this chocolate sheet cake as its own, dating back to the mid-20th century. And judging by its ooey, gooey, nutty, fudgy self, we understand why. "Everything is bigger in Texas!"
Classic Banana Pudding
Recipe: Banana Pudding
We'd recognize this classic banana pudding any day, any cookbook. It takes a page straight from grandmother's recipe box. (But sometimes you might use that vanilla pudding packet in the pantry, and that's okay.)
Vintage Fresh Apple Cake
Recipe: Fresh Apple Cake
How else would we use our fall harvest? This apple sheet cake, filled with fresh Granny Smith apples and topped with to-die-for cream cheese frosting, was destined to feed a crowd.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Recipe: Strawberry-Pretzel Salad
Nostalgic churchgoers know this dish from a mile away. It's a salad...in a casserole dish...with strawberry gelatin.
Mississippi Mud Cake
Recipe: Mississippi Mud Cake
We can get on board with Mississippi's decision to create the richest, darkest, most decadent chocolate dessert you’ve ever nibbled on. Yes, those are marshmallows.
Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie
Recipe: Peanut Butter-Banana Icebox Pie
In the South, icebox pie is a staple during the hot summer—when all we want to do is just cool down. This pie recipe is an ode to Mr. Elvis Presley, making it a Tennessee church cookbook favorite.
Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie
Recipe: Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie
They had us at "meringue." You really can't beat these fluffy white peaks of sugary goodness.
Marbled Pecan Pound Cake
Recipe: Marbled Pecan Pound Cake
You won't find a more crowd-pleasing pound cake. This marbled pound cake recipe can be served as-is or sweetened a bit with homemade whipped cream.
Over the Moon Chocolate Pie
Recipe: Over the Moon Chocolate Pie
Inspired by a sweet confection born in 1917 in Chattanooga, the MoonPie, this pie recipe is church potluck-approved. The dessert is made with a graham cracker crust, has a rich chocolate filling with a touch of Tennessee whiskey (another nod to its birthplace), and is finished off with light clouds of marshmallowy meringue.
Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake
Recipe: Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake
The chiffon cake was introduced in the mid-20th century and dubbed the first “new” type of cake in over 100 years. The creator held onto its secret ingredient—using oil instead of butter—until he sold the recipe in the late 1940s, but we're thinking the church ladies had already figured it out.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie
Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie
Strawberry-pretzel salad is one of the most nostalgic Southern dishes, and rhubarbs are a real delicacy down here. So we combined them into a salty-and-sweet pie.
Mamie Eisenhower’s Chocolate Fudge
This creamy fudge recipe was supposedly the go-to of President and Mrs. Eisenhower. The ingredient list is incredibly simple, which is enough to convince us of its merit.
Recipe: Hummingbird Cake
It's the most popular recipe in Southern Living history. Simple spiced cakes with canned pineapple and bananas popped up in community cookbooks throughout the early 20th century, and this three-layer dream is the ultimate example.
Recipe: Strawberry Kuchen
Kuchen, the German word for cake, is often more bread-like and made with a yeasted dough. Our variation has a tender, fluffy crumb topping and is then topped with fresh strawberries and sliced almonds.
Hello Dolly Bars
Recipe: Hello Dolly Bars
This beloved bar recipe packs the perfect mixture of salty and sweet, making it a crowd-pleaser for any hostess.
Classic Chess Pie
Recipe: Classic Chess Pie
For a couple hundred years, the chess pie has been a staple on Southern dessert tables. It's hard to pass up a legend.
Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie
Utterly deadly, indeed. Although there are plenty of pecan pie recipes out there, we can vouch for this one as your best one yet.
Chocolate Peanut Butter-Fudge Bars
Recipe: Cherry-Nectarine Pandowdy
Popular in the 1800s and early 1900s, a pandowdy is essentially cooked fruit under a pastry crust. But unlike a cobbler, the cook uses a fork to break, or “dowdy” the crust. What's it all for: The broken crust absorbs the sweet juices from the cooked fruit!
Coconut Cream Pie
Recipe: Coconut Cream Pie
Don't even get the church ladies started on cream pie. Coconut cream pie? Forget about it.
Little Layer Chocolate Cake
Recipe: Little Layer Chocolate Cake
Known best below the Gnat Line, this towering chocolate cake's height can be based on which birthday you're celebrating—or how much you're trying to show off at the church homecoming. The 10 to 18 layers are a feat.
Ultimate Apple Pie
Fall means apples, which obviously means apple pie. Every Southern cook needs a classic, but insanely tasty apple pie recipe.
Death by Caramel Bars
Recipe: Death by Caramel Bars
That doesn't sound like the worst way to go, if we're being honest. Pockets of gooey caramel are the stars of these bar cookies.
Creamy Grape Salad
Recipe: Creamy Grape Salad
Deliciously creamy, slightly crunchy, and perfectly sweet, this classic "salad" is a church cookbook regular.
Cherry Pie Bars
Recipe: Cherry Pie Bars
We're tapping into good 'ole Americana—in bar form. This grabbable, cherry-speckled bar is super portable and makes a huge batch.
Cassandra’s “Light” Fruitcake
Recipe: Cassandra's "Light" Fruitcake
Cassandra, we'd like to formally thank you. This recipe has turned even the most fruitcake-hating people in the region.
Ambrosia Pudding Pie
Recipe: Ambrosia Pudding Pie
Following British tradition, the earliest custard pies were recorded as puddings in antebellum cookbooks. And—as any Southerner knows—ambrosia is a church cookbook staple. This is the best of both worlds.
Molded Cranberry Salad
Recipe: Molded Cranberry Salad
Was it really church without congealed salads on the menu? In the South, these are a decades-past phenomenon.
Hummingbird Bundt Cake
Recipe: Hummingbird Bundt Cake
This spin on classic hummingbird cake is a no-brainer for any gathering because of its relative ease and fuss-free hands-on time compared to the layered version. You still get all of amazing flavor of the crushed pineapple, bananas, cinnamon, and pecans.