American Baking Down the Decades, 1950-1959: road food

225-logoThe King Arthur Flour Company marks its 225th anniversary this year. And we’re celebrating by exploring some of America’s favorite recipes, decade by decade, starting in 1900. Join us on this fascinating stroll through American food history.

As the 1950s dawned, America was on the go.

The rationing, anxiety, and hardships that characterized World War II had given way to a brazen confidence: America was on the road to a bright future – in shiny new cars.

During the war, America’s assembly lines had necessarily turned to military production. But now Detroit’s automotive plants were back in business, with no shortage of customers. With this influx of new cars came construction of what would eventually be a a coast-to-coast network of interstate highways, begun in 1956.

So, you’ve got the cars. You’ve got the roads. You’ve got money for leisure travel, thanks to a strong booming economy. What’s next?

Road food, of course!

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour OK, go ahead and date yourself: if you recognize this famous logo, you’re almost certainly a Boomer.

C’mon, don’t leave me hanging here: you recognize this, right? Howard Johnson’s was THE roadside stop for every traveling family back in the 1950s and up through the early 1970s.

From their fried clams and “grilled in butter frankfort in a toasted roll” to chicken croquettes, macaroni and cheese, and their signature 28 flavors of ice cream, Howard Johnson’s fed a generation of hungry little Boomers-to-be.

It wasn’t just their ice cream – peanut brittle, Burgundy cherry, frozen pudding – that floated your boat back then, either. There were those HoJo cakes, as well: carrot, fudge, “Chip Chocolate Angel Cake.” If you weren’t in the mood for ice cream, cake was a clear option.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Photo courtesy of Jason Liebig, Flickr

Like this coconut cake.

Now, little kids aren’t usually attracted to coconut. But I’ve had a long-time love affair with coconut cake. It started back in the day with Howard Johnson’s, and continues now with Pepperidge Farm’s version – which is my regular birthday cake, given I eschew baking on my own birthday. (Though if I DID bake on my birthday, fellow baker Susan Reid’s awesome Coconut Cake would be my go-to recipe.)

I recently spotted a recipe for Howard Johnson’s coconut cake in the book pictured at the top of this post. And while I chose not to follow their exact recipe, I did mimic the basic premise: a coconut loaf cake with cream cheese icing.

It took me several tries, but I eventually came up with a cake close to what I remember: dense and close-grained, with mild but noticeable coconut flavor and a rich slather of cream cheese icing loaded with flaked coconut.

My in-laws, Boomers all, vet this cake. And if you’re a HoJo devoté with warm memories of “the orange roof,” I’m betting you’ll enjoy it, too.

Let’s start by heating the oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

CoconutCake-4 Gather the following ingredients:

3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coconut flavor, optional
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Beat the butter at medium speed, using an electric hand mixer or stand mixer, for about 10 seconds. Gradually add the sugar, beating all the while. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl midway through, until the mixture has lightened in color and is fluffy (photo, top left). See our creaming butter and sugar video for a great demonstration of this technique.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating each in completely before adding the next. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just until combined; the mixture will look curdled (top right). This curdling isn’t a problem; but if you simply don’t like the looks of it, do as Susan Reid does: “I’ve taken to putting a spoonful or two of dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture after egg 1; it keeps things from curdling when egg 2 is added.” Thanks, Susan!

Stir in the salt, baking powder, coconut flavor, and vanilla. Add the flour to the bowl in three portions, alternating with the cream, and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat at low speed, just to combine, after each addition.

Stir in the flaked coconut.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing its top surface.

Bake the cake for about 70 to 75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center/top of the loaf comes out clean. Tent it gently with aluminum foil for the final 15 minutes of baking, if it appears to be getting too brown.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

Now for the frosting. Here’s what you’ll need:

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (8-ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk powder, optional; for enhanced flavor
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon coconut flavor, optional; for enhanced flavor
3/4 to 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

Mix the butter and cream cheese at low speed, until thoroughly combined. Gently beat in the sugar, coconut milk powder, salt, and coconut flavor, until smooth.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Place the cake on a large piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Spread the frosting all over the cake.

Why does that frosting look so lumpy? Because I thought I’d stir the flaked coconut right into the frosting – then I thought better of it. Testing, testing…

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Pat the flaked coconut onto the frosting. This will be sticky work; use the paper or wrap to help. I’ve used a bit less coconut here; feel free to go overboard if you like!

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Serve the cake in 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices. Store any leftovers, well-wrapped, in the refrigerator for 24 hours; freeze for longer storage.

While it’s counter-intuitive to refrigerate cake, it’s clear from the photo of the cake box that HoJo’s sold their cake frozen. And chilling this cake prior to serving isn’t a bad thing, so long as you’ve wrapped it securely – it helps reduce the stickiness factor.

I love thinking back on family trips, with our regular meal stops at Howard Johnson’s. Do you have happy road trip and/or Howard Johnson’s memories? Share in “comments,” below.

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Coconut Loaf Cake.

Print just the recipe.

For more on Howard Johnson’s and their iconic soft-sided grilled hotdog buns, read our post Buttery Hotdog Buns: a HoJo’s Throwback.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. gaahonore

    Oh my PJ have you taken me back!! That logo, the fried clams, the cake and the ice cream. Our family favorite was the coconut ice cream. I haven’t thought about HoJo’s in many many moons. There were several in our area where we lived. So sometimes when Mom didn’t want to cook, we would go to HoJo’s for dinner with the coconut cake always fro dessert. And sometimes, we would run down to HoJo’s on a Sunday afternoon in the summertime to pick up a hand-packed quart of the coconut ice cream. As Bob Hope would have said (remember those specials?) “Thanks for the memories!”

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Of course, Bob Hope – I can hear him singing that song. True confession: HoJo’s chicken croquettes. I don’t know why, as a little kid, I was so stuck on them! And the mint chocolate chip ice cream, the only mint chocolate chip I’ve ever liked. Thanks for your memories. 🙂 PJH

  2. Susan Horowitz

    Do you think I could substitute coconut milk for the regular milk in the recipe to give it even more coconut flavor?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I’d give it a try- the coconut milk will give a nice background contribution to the final product! Laurie@KAF

  3. Susan

    Most of my family’s road trips involved delicious meals at various stops, but one of my Dad’s favorite memories is of the three of us kids (two older brothers and me) eating for the first time pie not made by Mom. We all made faces as we realized that the crust was cardboardy, the filling too sweet and gooey with too little fruit, etc … My bothers had apple pie and lemon meringue, and I had cherry pie. Yeeeeuch! We stuck to Mom’s pies after that and ate ice cream or cake for dessert at restaurants

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A true instance of “Mom makes it best!” Thanks for sharing this story, and we hope memories of your mom’s amazing pies inspires you to bake some of your own as well! Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Jamie

    I am surprised to see a cake baked in a loaf pan – I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I absolutely LOVE this idea! Minus the flaked coconut, you have a basic white cake mix that can easily be transformed into whatever you want. However, my best friends loves coconut cake but only she and one of her younger sisters like it. So this would make a great “in between” cake for the two of them.


    1. judi

      Jamie: I bake cakes all the times in loaf pans. I sometimes make different color cakes like chocolate, yellow strawberry, lime, etc, each cake mix makes two cakes. I slice them and freeze them with different colors in each container and when ready to serve I sprinkle confection sugar over all of them. They look so pretty with all the colors.

  5. Suec2838

    Yummy….but now a challenge! How about a recipe that mirrors Chock ful o’nuts powered whole wheat donuts? They were very dark and delicious. Come on, King Arthur help us out!!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for fueling a potential adventure in the Test Kitchen! In the meantime, we do have two donut recipes that call for whole wheat flour: our Vermont Donut Holes can be prepared as donuts rather than holes and can be made with white whole wheat or whole wheat flour. Or if you are a fan of apple-flavored baked goods, try our 100% Whole Wheat Apple Cider Baked Donuts recipe. These aren’t the same as Chock Full O’ Nuts’ donuts, but they sure are mighty tasty (and whole grain)! Happy donut baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Lilllian

    Looks delicious! The best thing about coconut desserts is that no one else in my household likes coconut, so I get it all. With loaf cakes, I usually trim the top off flat, then turn in upside down before frosting it. The straight sides are easier to work with.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Good idea, Lillian. Since one of my versions of this cake developed a “lip” around the edge, I sliced off the sides, to make it straight. I then toasted the cut-off sides in my toaster oven and had coconut toast. Yummy! PJH

  7. Amy Malik

    Thanks for that throwback. I remember the Pepperidge Farm version and I think as you state in this one, that there’s something about the frozen- to-plate that gives it it’s allure. There’s an unmistakable comfort in this cake, simply as it may be. Road food, I’ve remembered many a place by the food I relished there.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Amy, I agree – my husband can’t believe how much I remember about food I’ve eaten in various places… but it’s fun to think back on both the place, and the enjoyable “eats” you had there. They’re all intertwined, aren’t they? Cheers – PJH

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      We are pleased this post helped to bring back the fond memories, Amy! Elisabeth@KAF

  8. Carolyn

    Did I miss something along the way? You wrote about the 30’s (and decades previous) and now the 50’s. What happened to the 40’s? I know there was a war (!!!) and we moved twice but that was the decade of my childhood – age 5 to 15. We never went out for meals but for the very occasional picnic so I may have had HoJo’s ice cream a few times. Now when Friendly’s arrived and we got a new refrigerator with a freezer my Dad made sure there was always ice cream available!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Carolyn, the 1940s post covered the birth of pizza – funny to think back to how UNavailable it was, until well after WWII. I remember it being sold mostly in bars (“taverns”) when we were kids. As for Friendly’s – I still mourn the demise of their chocolate marshmallow and butter almond ice creams, two of the great classics of the 1960s. Thanks for the Friendly memories – at least they’re still around, even though they no longer carry my favorite flavors… 🙂 PJH

  9. carlowville707

    How funny that so many of us mention the ice cream and the fried clams! My favourite dessert…and one I celebrated my HS graduation with, was the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge topping! Miss HOJO’s!!! Can’t wait to make up this cake.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      One of my favorites was the fried clams and tarter sauce also. Remembering Howard Johnson’s sure does pull up many memories! JoAnn@KAF

  10. Susan

    I’ve got a couple more memories of “Road Food” – the first one is mine and the second is my dad’s. Anyone remember Thrifty’s ice cream? My favorite was mint chocolate chip – but I always got a kick out of the fact that they used a cylindrical scoop! The second memory is my dad’s – in the ’40’s, when he was a youngster, his mother (widowed) moved him and his two brothers from the East Coast to California. At one of those nameless little diners along the way, the waitress wrapped her hand around his younger brother’s arm and said “Yor lookin’ porely, son.” I’m assuming she made sure he got a good meal!

    1. SweetiePie

      You can still buy Thrifty’s Ice Cream in San Diego. It’s at Rite-Aid. Tastes exactly as you remember–Mint Chip and all! It’s not as cheap by a long shot, but it brings back memories!

    2. Carla

      Do I remember Thrifty’s ice cream? Absolutely! And you are right that theirs was the only place that used the cylindrical scoop. My dad wasn’t one for buying special treats often, but at 5 cents a scoop this was his favorite. I recall one of my post-childhood binges on Thrifty’s ice cream — eating an entire carton of coconut-pineapple in less than a week when I was pregnant with my now thirty-two year old son. Thanks for some great memories.

  11. Anne

    What memories! The fried clam roll, no tartar sauce for me, on a buttered, toasted, top split hot dog bun…was there anything better on a summer’s day? Followed by butter brickle ice cream or peach or butternut or grapenut…just a feast. Thanks so much, PJ.

  12. Jane

    I remember the “fast food” eateries in Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s. The Horm and Hardart Auto mats where you inserted nickels to select a portion behind a small glass door. Always a treat for a child.
    As a young adult in the 1950s I stopped at Chock Full of Nuts to sit at a counter for their coffee and a date and nut bread with cream cheese as a pick me up. Any chance you can find the recipe for their bread or learn where it was made?
    I enjoy your recipes and suggestions.

  13. Susy

    There was a HoJo’s at our city bus station. As a tween I remember it was our first stop when my friends and I took the bus into town to go shopping. My favorite was the square hamburgers. The buns were outstanding. My go to ice cream was the chocolate chip. The tiny flakes of chocolate instead of heavy big chips was a treat. Sure do miss it.

  14. Pamela Jewett

    Growing up on the West Coast limited our visits to Howard Johnson’s. Your youthful favorites sound delicious! We loved Foster’s Freeze and Dairy Queen for ice cream plus the mom and pop grocery stores for their inexpensive candies. My favorite was “Walnettos”, a caramel confection with walnuts. I dreamed for years about the taste and would always ask different stores if they were still available. Imagine my delight when I found them at a candy store in a nearby historic town, (Virginia City, Nevada) Yippee!

  15. Nel

    Not sure I qualify as a ‘Boomer’, though certainly my older siblings (ranging up to 19 years older than I) would qualify. But we were the children of Depression-era parents, so no Howard Johnson’s for us, though we begged… Way too expensive, said my father.

    No, our road-food memories are more along the lines of heating cans of beans and corned-beef hash on the carburetor as we drove along, and – for my oldest brothers – the now-legendary cross-country trip in which every cry of ‘I’m hungry!’ had the same reply: ‘Slice yourself off some of that homemade headcheese.’ My parents packed food to take along, no matter how long the trip might be. Howard Johnson’s coconut cake was the stuff of dreams. Ditto ‘all-you-can-drink for 5 cents’ juice bars, motels of any sort, and ‘see the Giant Fossilized Space Alien’ attractions.

    If there was a ‘boom’ going on, we weren’t in it!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I love your road trip stories, Nel! Thanks for sharing them here! Barb@KAF

  16. coysbees

    Boy do I remember those days. Husband &I married in 55. He from VA I from New England made many trips south with ouf children, stopped many times Howard Johnson. The only restaurant our kids enjoyed. Especially those fried clams. Thanks for the memories.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Coysbees, we’re so happy to hear you are eager to share the Coconut Loaf Cake recipe! We are unable to post this to Pintrest, but you can share it by clicking on the link for the recipe and then clicking the red P that is below the title of the recipe. Happy coconut baking! Kye@KAF

  17. member-mimhenry1

    Always a treat to stop at Howard Johnson’s. Don’t remember the coconut cake, but will try it soon. Loved their Raspberry Sherbert.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Oh, I’d forgotten that raspberry sherbet! Yes, that was yummy, wasn’t it? So deeply raspberry… PJH

  18. Nancy England

    PJ, your comments about Howard Johnson’s and coconut made me remember the HoJo just a block away from my grade school, back in the late 1940s. I’d stop there on my walk home (a half hour trek, plenty of time to savor an ice cream cone). Although all those flavors were enticing, my very favorite was coconut ice cream.. No one else had it! And cones were ten cents !!!
    Glad to see the HoJo emblem — Simple Simon meeting a Pie Man!! Great memories!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I remember the 25¢ cone, but not 10¢ – Nancy, you’re a little bit ahead of me on the timeline… 🙂 And I’m glad to see someone else remembers Simple Simon and the Pieman. Now THAT’S going back a ways, isn’t it? Thanks for chiming in here. PJH

  19. Linda Morgan

    I also remember the Fried Clams,no belly’s and the Pistachio Ice Cream with real Pistachios not Almonds in it. Yum!!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I hear you, Linda – I’d forgotten the real pistachios. Thanks for the memory! PJH

  20. Susan Tierney-Cockburn

    Love Howard Johnson as a kid–peppermint ice cream and those grilled hot dogs! I’m making this cake today!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Susan, mint chocolate chip ice cream with those little shavings of chocolate, instead of big chips – to die for! And the grilled hotdogs, of course – my favorite. Thanks for adding your memories here – PJH

  21. Judi

    Just read in today’s Daily Gazette (Schenectady) that the very last HJ is in Lake George and was recently renovated, so stop over soon!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I’d heard that, Judi – we may be driving through there this fall, and I’ll be sure to find it! Thanks – PJH

  22. Lisa Jones

    PJ, this is not a cooking comment, but rather a question about the HoJo logo…could the dog in the silhouette possibly be an English Cocker Spaniel? They certainly are a food-loving breed! Thanks so much for your post! I remember stopping at HoJo’s for ice cream breaks on long road trips! Their ice cream was the best!!

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Lisa, my brief research reveals nothing more than that the logo was created by John Alcott in the 1930s, and includes a “salivating dog.” Which actually covers most breeds, I’d say! I Googled photos of Simple Simon and the Pieman, and only one showed a dog; it actually looked kind of like the dog in RCA’s “his master’s voice.” Kind of generic with a black spot on his eye. But also with a bit of a beard – terrier-like. So I suspect we’ll never know the answer to that… but interesting question, for sure! PJH

  23. Gloria

    To those of you who, like I, love Walnettos – they are always available through Vermont Country Store.
    When we went on road trips we rarely stopped at anything but local restaurants. I remember pulling into one in Ohio as a kid and being served ‘funny’ tasting milk. Turns out it was fresh and un-pasteurized or homogenized. My dad drank it down and ordered another. I had original Orange Crush when it still had orange bits in it. We all have special memories of those times. That is probably why we still make it ourselves if we want “the real thing”.

  24. sharon

    I loved the Howard Johnson’s kids menu. I remember all of the dishes had neat names like Mr. Cluck and Sailor Man. What I find to be interesting is now I hear constantly that today’s kids only like chicken nuggets and frozen pizza. At Howard Johnson’s the kids menu was just smaller portions of adult food–fried clams, turkey, etc. Generations of us ate it and loved it while sitting at a table and behaving. You had to behave or else mom wouldn’t let us have ice cream.

    Funny, mom is a huge coconut cake fan (yes, the Pepperidge Farm one is excellent and we often enjoy it). However, she had no recollection of it being on the Howard Johnson’s menu. She said-I guess they had desserts-but we never ordered dessert. Kids got ice cream with their meal, adults didn’t. Mom said portions were generous so you didn’t really want dessert.

    We vacationed at cottages that had a Howard Johnson’s within walking distance. It was a big treat to walk over and get ice cream. On some nights when we had a simple supper at the cottage (complete with a kitchenette), we would go over to Howard Johnson’s ice cream window. It was the highlight of vacation. I still remember it vividly.

  25. Eileen Parker

    My Dad’s sister was a Sister of Mercy Nun. And in those days they could not eat in public. Odd I know, She could not even sit in the car alone with her own brother. He had to pick up her friend and another nun drive to where my Aunt was stationed and drop one off and then have her and her friend in the car with him. He would then drive us all to Howard Johnson where he knew the manager and he would park in the back and they would bring out menu’s for us. We would order and they would bring out a table and chairs and the food.They were always so nice to us.I was just a kid about 7 but I remember it still and I loved those Chicken croquettes so. I wish I could still get them. The Good Old Days

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Eileen, thanks so much for sharing those wonderful memories with us. It’s heartening that the Howard Johnson’s staff was understanding about your aunt’s religious strictures, and kind about following them; makes me like HoJo’s all the more. And I’m with you on the chicken croquettes! Wish they still sold them in the supermarket, as they did for many years… PJH

  26. mrmoran

    Friday night all-you-can-eat fish fries at HoJo’s are a fond memory from my childhood. On special occasions, we had coconut cake for dessert. Can’t wait to recapture the magic by baking this over the weekend. Thank you, PJ!

  27. Elaine Gavoli

    Oh PJ, thank you for this and for conjuring up some great memories! Any chance of getting the recipe for HoJo’s chicken croquettes? I (and millions of others I’m sure) would be eternally grateful.

  28. Becky Borgman

    I haven’t read all of the posts, so forgive me if this post is redundant. If I am not mistaken, we have Jacques Pepin and Pierre Franey to thank for the success of Howard Johnson’s food and recipes. Jacques Pepin’s Biography, The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen, is a wonderful read. In this book, he explains the history behind the food at Howard Johnson’s.
    I enjoyed this article by PJ Hamel very much and cannot wait to try this coconut cake recipe. Coconut cake rates up there as one of my all time favorites. For any of you southerners out there …. do any of you remember the over-the-top delicious coconut cake produced by Rich’s Bakery at the Rich’s Department Stores in Atlanta many years ago? Oh, how I miss that cake.
    Thanks much for this article. Good memories.

  29. Rose Forte

    Those clam strips. Wish we could still get them. We used to go there with our 2 sons when they were little. They loved going there. The hot dogs were great too. Brings back a lot of memories. We got married in 1959 and we used to go there a lot.

  30. "Miss Mudd"

    I can remember in the late 50’s early 60’s the weekend drives from PA to NY. We would always stop at HOJO’s on our way to NY and back home to PA. One of the fondest memories of those trips was their Butter Crunch candy. That was a special treat. Thanks for the Buttery Hot Dog Buns recipe.This will let me make up some childhood memories and share them with my family.

  31. "Queen Nana"

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Here in California in those days we had no HOJO’s. We did have Foster’s Freeze and Dairy Queen. My memories of coconut cake are the 4th of July at my Grandmothers. We always had coconut cake on the 4th at her house. Rich, delicious yellow coconut flavored cake, and frosting with tons of coconut. Yum.

  32. Sally

    I wish with all my heart you had the recipe for Howard Johnson’s coconut ice cream! That was my all time favorite! I have not had anything that tasted anywhere near it since then,

  33. Becky Myers

    HoJo’s!! What a great memory. And don’t forget the Tommy Tucker Plate. Roast turkey, dressing and gravy and green peas. Always my favorite. Thanks for a walk down memory lane.

  34. Bridgid

    I loved the fearless fido (kids hot dog meal – the bun was buttered & grilled!! ) and ALWAYS got the small silver dish of orange sherbet. I loved the oval shortbread cookie with Howard Johnsons in raised letters.

  35. Geri

    I loved going to Howard Johnson’s in Ohio.
    Wish they were still around .
    I loved the chicken croquets. Do you know where I could find the recipe for theirs?


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