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11 Nearly-Forgotten Ingredients Grandma Always Cooked With

Consider adding these ingredients to your shopping list.

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Baking preparing background. Female hands knead dough on the worktop.Alena Kazlouskaya/Shutterstock

Cook just like grandma with these ingredients

No matter how long it’s been since Grandma’s cooked for you, we bet you’ll never forget that “little something” in every dish she made. In addition to a pinch of love, she may have used a mystery ingredient or two. Here, we break down the old-fashioned items she probably kept in her pantry to create these 20 recipes like grandma used to make.

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Many of us have seen the “green-and-white box full of white stuff” sitting on the kitchen counter or in Grandma’s pantry. Chances are, your grandmother was (and still might be) using lard. Why, you ask? It’s shelf-stable, richer than butter and used to make the flakiest pastries around—think biscuits and pie dough. You can also use it for frying or in vegetable side dishes like these collard greens.

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Turkish Drink Ayran or Kefir / Buttermilk made with yogurt.Alp Aksoy/Shutterstock

Sweet milk

If you have a collection of recipes from Grandma, chances are you may have seen “sweet milk” in an ingredient line. Back in the day, this referred to cows that had just been milked and the sweet taste their milk had. Alternately, once the milk “turned,” or curdled, it was called “sour milk,” or what we know today as buttermilk. Now, there are so many more milk options that you need this breakdown to know the difference between milk label colors.

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Tahini and Molasses / Turkish Tahin Pekmezoykuozgu/Shutterstock


Molasses is a byproduct of the process of making cane sugar. You may see both light and dark molasses at the grocery store, but most of us are familiar with dark molasses for its color and thick texture. If you’ve made gingerbread cookies with your grandma during the holidays, I bet she was using this (it gives gingerbread cookies their signature rich, brown color). Cool fact: Molasses is added to granulated sugar to produce brown sugar! This is the reason bread dough rises.

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black currant top viewigorsm8/Shutterstock


While currants are not a popular ingredient nowadays (we tend to use raisins instead), some grandmothers are fond of the dried grape. Similar to raisins, currants are good for snacking and add flavor to baked goods and jams, jellies, and preserves. They also work well in Irish soda bread.

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Natural-Remedies-to-Boost-Your-Sex-DriveSea Wave/Shutterstock


This oval-shaped dried spice, found in the spice aisle (whole or ground), can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. My grandmother preferred whole nutmeg and would grate it into the dish. You’ll know its familiar taste and aroma if you’ve had eggnog during the holidays or jerk chicken during a summer barbecue. Here are just a few pantry staples that will make your recipes way better.

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Dark Corn Syrup in MotionMichelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock

Corn syrup

If Grandma made pecan pie or candies, chances are this was part of her recipe. It comes in both light and dark variations and stores indefinitely in the pantry or refrigerator.

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vanilla extract on wooden surfaceDiana Taliun/Shutterstock

Vanilla extract

Called “flavoring” by my grandma, vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in an alcohol-water solution to extract the flavor. Today it’s available in many different forms—pure vanilla extract, imitation vanilla, vanilla paste, etc. Mostly used in baking, all varieties essentially add flavor (as Grandma says) to your dish. Cool fact: Those speckles in vanilla ice cream come from the vanilla bean pod used to make the extract. It’s easier than you think to make vanilla extract at home. Here are 12 ingredients that will make you a better cook.

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Rolling pin and white flour on a dark background. Free space for text . Top view.YARUNIV Studio/Shutterstock

Cake flour

Who knew such a thing exists? After all, all-purpose flour is “all-purpose,” so we shouldn’t need any other kind, right? I believe, though, that cake flour is the secret to why Grandma’s cakes are always so delicious. Cake flour has a finer texture and is used in baking to yield cakes that are tender and fluffy. It also works in waffles or pancakes. Cool fact: Many Southerners use cake flour in biscuits and mile-high layer cakes. Not using this flour is one of the baking mistakes you didn’t know you were making.

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top view of glass milk / Glass of Milk From Above / gray toneOoddySmile Studio/Shutterstock

Evaporated milk

This is canned milk in which most of the water has been “evaporated” from the product during processing. My grandmother calls it “Pet milk,” after the brand name. Shelf-stable and inexpensive, evaporated milk has a caramelized flavor. It’s versatile, and on a whim can be combined with water and used as a substitute for milk in cooking, or slightly frozen and whipped as a substitute for fresh whipped cream. If you’re unsure how to use it, we offer a couple dozen reasons (aka recipes) for keeping it in your cupboard. Here’s how to stock a kitchen pantry, according to a kitchen expert.

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Condensed milk pouring from spoon into tin can on grey background, closeup. Dairy productNew Africa/Shutterstock

Sweetened condensed milk

This is evaporated milk (same process) but sweetened with sugar. It’s canned, too, and has a sticky texture and sweet taste. It’s shelf-stable and is typically used in baked goods, desserts, and coffee beverages. Try it out in these super-sweet recipes! Next, make sure you know these brilliant kitchen shortcuts you’ll wish you’d always known.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home

Rashanda Cobbins
Rashanda loves all things food! When she’s not selecting recipe content for the magazines you love, she enjoys tracking culinary trends and predicting the next ‘it’ thing in the world of food.