“I can assure you the absurdity of recipes you can find in old print, I have no need to make anything up,” says Hollis, who posts as @bdylanhollis. “Just buy a cookbook from 1970, and you’ll know what I mean.”
While pandemic bakers dug their hands into sourdough and banana bread, Hollis, 27, found another source of inspiration: vintage cookery. From his humble kitchen, Hollis researches, bakes and tests his way through the 20th century. It’s a journey that’s led him to Depression-era fake apple pies, 1960s SpaghettiOs Jell-O rings and through eras marked by shortages, war and ultraprocessed groceries. It’s not only the weird recipes that viewers cling to; Hollis’s animated personality and slapstick jokes make him an endearing guide of a former century.
Hollis had never baked seriously before the pandemic. Mid-century America, on the other hand, had been a long-nurtured obsession. Born and raised in Bermuda, Hollis moved in 2014 to attend college in Laramie, Wyo., where he studied 1940s big band jazz and drove around in a classic 1963 Cadillac. At the start of the pandemic, he began posting funny shorts to TikTok about Wyoming and jazz, mostly to avoid boredom. But once he stumbled upon his first few vintage recipes, he was hooked.
“I would be baking, say, a 1932 quick bread. And I felt for a moment, just as if I was in 1932 with all of the restrictions that they had at the time,” he says. “I don't think there's much else that can bring about that reaction. I fell in love with it.”
When Hollis attempts a vintage recipe, results are never guaranteed. Groans and grimaces often accompany his on-camera recipe tests — especially when gelatin or canned food is involved. What sets Hollis apart from other TikTok food creators is his daringness to try, and be surprised, by these absurd-sounding recipes.
In his first vintage recipe video, he makes a pork cake. After insulting every element of the recipe, he skeptically digs a fork into a lumpy cake slice and casts a review that only arouses more curiosity. “It tastes like a question mark,” Hollis says. “A good question mark.”
Not all of the recipes involve curious ingredient combinations. To date, his most popular video is a peanut butter bread from the Great Depression that requires only six ingredients and has been viewed nearly 34 million times. According to Hollis, recipes like this have attracted viewers not just for their simplicity but also for their historical perspective. At the end of the video, when it’s time to sample the bread, his skeptical face relaxes into a satisfied grin: “This is why I bake.”
Two years into his retro cookbook passion project, Hollis has seen a vibrant community rally around his videos. He’s learned that recipes that are stomach-churning for some can be nostalgic pleasures for others who request precise measurements to follow along at home. And the few skeptics who doubt his assessments often find themselves agreeing with Hollis after they’ve tried it themselves.
“A lot of people make the recipes that I make because they don’t believe that it’s good,” he says. “Surely enough, two or three days later, you’ll see in the comments. ‘This really is good, I take it back.’”
For Hollis, owning a robust vintage cookbook collection means plenty more sources of wacky culinary inspiration. What began with him rummaging through estate sales and antique stores for old cookbooks has transformed into a book collection 340 strong, and growing quickly. His fan base, eager to hear him sound off and deliver his quippy lines, now supplies most of his cookbooks and recipes.
Be it a simple avocado bread or a Swedish meat ring, Hollis devours everything he cooks. At the very least, he manages one hopeful bite. Within his own circles, however, he reserves most baking creations strictly for the test kitchen. Because when his friends caught wind of his new hobby and saw his pork cake video, their attitudes shifted.
“They stopped asking me to bake desserts for family dinners or friend gatherings,” Hollis says with a shrug and a grin.