Four round pastries displayed on a wooden board.

A Delicious Blast from the Past: Retro Holiday Recipes

By Executive Chef Will Brown, on

This holiday season, A Longwood Christmas is celebrating all things retro, throwbacks, nostalgia, and more—which got me looking to the past for delicious culinary inspiration. There’s nothing like a forgotten gem of a cocktail, a show-stopping classic favorite, and a time-honored cookie to bring people together and add a little pinch of retro to your holiday table this season. Just like our A Longwood Christmas display it’s the small details (and the deliciously big impact!) that make these retro recipes shine. What’s more, they’re perfect for your holiday table. 

A Retro Cocktail: The Jack Rose 

For this festive cocktail, we’re really pulling out a gem from long ago—and its story goes all the way back to the first founding father. The cocktail itself was popular in the 1920s and 30s, notably appearing in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 classic, The Sun Also Rises, and known as a favorite drink of choice for author John Steinbeck. A Jack Rose is traditionally made with an apple brandy called applejack, which is often said to be “America’s first spirit”. William Laird was the first to introduce it, and once the Laird & Company distillery was established in 1780 by William’s grandson, George Washington requested the secret Laird family recipe so he can distill applejack himself. To stick to the cocktail’s roots, I used Laird’s apple jack, but a good alternative is apple brandy. This sweet, floral, and tangy cocktail is sure to keep the night going—in the most retro way possible!


  • 1 ½ ounces Applejack or Apple Brandy

  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • ½ ounce homemade “floral” grenadine

  • Optional garnish: apple slice or lemon twist with a small rose

Yield: 1 cocktail

To Make the Grenadine

  • 1 cup pomegranate juice

  • ¾ cup white sugar

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

  • 2 teaspoons rosewater

Heat pomegranate juice on medium heat for 3 minutes, then add sugar and stir to dissolve. Continue to cook until the two integrate into a syrup, about 3 more minutes. Then, add pomegranate molasses and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve. Remove from heat. 

Let mixture cool to room temperature, then pour into glass container. Wait until the pomegranate mixture is completely cooled down before you add rosewater. The rosewater will maintain its best floral flavor if it is not heated at all. Once the rosewater is added, seal, and shake.

Refrigerate and use as soon as it is cool, or store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

A person in a chef's jacket pouring syrup into a metal pan on a stove.

Good grenadine is essential when making the cocktail, as it’s the only source of sweetness to balance the liquor and citrus. Skip the bright-red bottled versions that are laden with artificial ingredients, and instead try making your own! Photo by Carol Gross.

To Make the Cocktail:

Fill a cocktail shaker or mason jar about two-thirds full of ice. Pour in the applejack, lemon juice, and grenadine. Securely fasten the lid and shake until well chilled.

Fine-strain into a coupe glass and garnish. Enjoy! 

A peach colored cocktail resting on a table with white linen and small pink flowers.

In my presentation, to give the drink an extra fun touch, I showcased the flavors and ingredients by adding a small slice of apple and a small rose as garnish. Photo by Carol Gross.

Kennett Square Mushroom Vol au Vents

To look at the inspiration behind this recipe, we have to go way back. Vol au vents originated in France in the 1800s but enjoyed a resurgence during the 1970s and 80s in the United States, as they were beloved for their small shape and buttery flakiness—a perfect small-bite to match a classic 70s cocktail hour. This recipe showcases the savory and comforting flavors of mushroom and is sure to be a favorite for your fun holiday get together. 


  • 2 sheets store-bought puff pastry 

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 1 tablespoon water 

  • To taste: kosher salt and black pepper

To Make the Mushroom Filling: 

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 16 ounces mushrooms, mixed, cut small

  • 2 tablespoons Madeira or Marsala wine (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced 

  • To taste: kosher salt and black pepper 

To Make the Mornay Sauce: 

  • 2 cups whole milk 

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 

  • 4 tablespoons butter 

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

  • To taste: kosher salt and black pepper 

  • ¼ cup gruyere cheese, grated 

  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated 

  • Pinch ground nutmeg

Yield: 24 Bite-Sized

To make the vol-au-vent shells, unfold puff pastry sheets on a lightly floured work surface and gently roll them out, smoothing them as you go. Set one sheet aside. In a small bowl, mix the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Evenly brush one sheet of pastry with the egg mixture. Carefully place the other sheet evenly on top, creating one double-thick pastry sheet. 

A person using a brush to apply an egg wash on pastry dough.

The egg wash between the two puff pastry layers acts like a glue to keep the layers pastry together as they rise in the oven. Photo by Carol Gross.

Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut rounds and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Using a 1 ¼-inch round pastry cutter (or the large end of a large pastry tip), press down into the center of each round without going all the way through the pastry. Chill in fridge. 

With the rack in center position, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove vol-au-vent shells from the fridge. Brush the tops with reserved egg yolk, then season each generously with salt and pepper. Bake until completely risen and golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. These shells can be made the day ahead and flashed in the oven to crisp up before serving. 

A person applying an egg wash to circles of pastry dough.

Although you can use a full egg wash, using an egg wash that consists of just egg yolks will give your shells a more browned, caramelized look when presented. Be careful not to add too much egg wash to the pastry, as this may prevent them from rising. Photo by Carol Gross.

Baked flaky pastries on a metal baking sheet.

These delicious small bites could be made into an appetizer size by simply cutting out larger rounds in your puff pastry dough. Photo by Carol Gross.

For the mushroom filling, I used a blend of shiitake, maitake, beech, and royal trumpet mushrooms. White mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, or a combination of both would create a result just as delicious.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are cooked through, have released most of their water, and get a little color. Stir in the wine (optional), then add thyme. Cook until the wine has absorbed and reduced, about 2 minutes. If not using wine, skip this step. Season and set aside.

Chopped up mushroom being cooked on a stove.

When cutting the mushrooms for presentation, go with a natural look—one kind of mushroom may look better in a full form, while others look good pulled apart or roughly chopped. Photo by Carol Gross.

To make the mornay sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook slowly, stirring continuously until the butter and flour bubble and froth together for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Stir in milk, whisking until smooth. Return to a medium heat and stir until the sauce comes to a gentle boil. Boil stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. 

Stir in the cheeses until they’re melted and well-blended. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter a bit at a time until melted and blended. 

You are now ready to assemble the vol au vents! Using a paring knife, carefully cut and pop out the scored center of each vol-au-vent shell. It will be quite hollow inside to add filling, but you could flatten down the sides a bit more to make a cup. Pour in a layer of mornay sauce first, then generously spoon in mushroom mixture into each shell. Arrange on a serving platter, then top with a bit more mornay sauce. Garnish with fresh thyme and serve immediately. 

Pastries topped with chopped mushrooms and a white sauce.

These little bites are packed with flavors—fresh thyme and a rich umami flavor from the parmesan that pairs perfectly with mushrooms. Photo by Carol Gross.

Aunt Mary’s Soft Gingerbread (Mary Belin du Pont) 

I certainly believe you can make friends anywhere with warm cookies. For some classic dessert inspiration, I turned to our own archives here at Longwood and uncovered this 100-year-old du Pont family recipe. This recipe yields the perfect soft gingerbread cookie—not too sweet, not too spiced, and so fluffy and comforting that it will certainly be the talk of any holiday party. Bring a little bit of Longwood history to your table, as memorable and nostalgic as our A Longwood Christmas display!

An old recipe handwritten in black cursive.

I was inspired by this gem from the archives here at Longwood to create these soft gingerbread cookies.


  • 8 ounces butter, room temperature

  • 8 ounces brown sugar

  • 1 cup molasses 

  • 3 eggs, beaten 

  • 16 ounces all-purpose flour 

  • 1 ½ tablespoons ground ginger 

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ cup whole milk

  • 3/4 cup raisins, currants, cranberries, or other dried fruits 

Yield: 24 cookies

In a mixing bowl for a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed until combined and smooth. Add molasses and eggs while the mixer is on low speed and mix until combined. 

Combine the dry ingredients—flour, ginger, cinnamon, and baking soda—and stir until just combined. Add milk and dried fruit. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the ingredients until just combined. 

Small bowls and cups filled with ingredients in a kitchen.

The original recipe calls for currants. I used a combination of golden raisins, currants, and cranberries to give these cookies even more of a holiday feel. Photo by Carol Gross.

A baker pouring molasses into a mixing bowl.

Something special about this recipe is that it just uses brown sugar. In gingerbread cookie recipes, adding white sugar gives the cookie more of that ginger “snap” crispiness, but the brown sugar alone makes the cookie so smooth and soft that it melts in your mouth. Photo by Carol Gross.

With two spoons, or a cookie scoop, place cookie dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Bake at 350 degrees F for 6 minutes, rotate cookie sheets, and bake for another 6 minutes until evenly browned. Allow the cookies to cool a few minutes and serve warm. Transfer remaining cookies to airtight container. 

A person scooping cookie dough onto a baking pan.

Be sure not to over-mix the dough as that may make your cookies too firm. Nobody likes a tough cookie—and these cookies are at their best when they’re soft and fluffy. Photo by Carol Gross.

A person showing off a plate of ginger molasses cookies on a white plate.

I love these cookies as they’re not too sweet. You can really taste the molasses and the amount of ginger added is perfect. Note: The china seen here is from our Longwood collection from the 80s … which gives a nice retro touch to our presentation! Photo by Carol Gross.

Make all three of these oldies—but goodies!—to fill your Thanksgiving night or holiday party with hints of retro flare—with tons of history behind each one! Conversation-starters, friend-makers, crowd-pleasers, cocktail-hour stars—these recipes are everything and more. 

Happy holidays to you and yours. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: Download a print-ready PDF of these recipes here… and start mixing and making! 

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