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Mar 22, 2009 03:10 PM

Depression Cooking: What Recipes Did Your Family Have?

I love Depression Cooking with Clara.
And I'm sure I'm not alone when all I can think of is my grandmother while watching her. I know my grandparents used many of their depression era recipes later in life when food and money was much more plentiful.

One that stands out is my grandmothers hamburger stew. It was garlic and onions sauteed with the ground beef until brown and onion are translucent. Then she added diced potatoes and just enough water to cover, cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft.. Then very liberal with the salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce and that's it.

It was served with toasted homemade bread and butter.

What recipes from that era did your family use?

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  1. They didn't waste anything. Gravy made from bacon drippings was served over toast.

    1. Meatloaf with several hard boiled eggs cooked into the middle. Probably healthier anyway.

      1. My grandparents were very lucky (on my mothers side) because they lived on a farm. So they had meat and fresh vegetables. They canned and froze so year round food. But back then lots of potatoes, gravies and meats. My grandma used to always make her own bread as well.

        Roasts, lots. They raised chickens ... so lots of chicken. Most seasoning was simple, s/p or whatever store bought sauce was available. Gravies, bacon and lard. Chicken and dumplings is in her book. Stuffed cabbage rolls, beef tips with butter noodles, stroganoff. Eggs with sausage and biscuits; ground beef casserole with onions, potatoes and peas with a gravy. Lots of vegetables since they had a garden mostly boiled back then. Cabbage was a big part too, they grew it and being german it was served a lot.

        9 Replies
        1. re: kchurchill5

          Most of the old fridges back then had a freezer compartment less than a square foot in size. Just enough room for a couple of ice cube trays and maybe a couple of packages of frozen peas.
          The average person didn't own a separate freezer.

          1. re: Antilope

            So true on the freezer - my grandparents only upgraded their ref (it must have been 5 sq ft) when it just went BLONK in the early 70's. My grandmother always canned from her urban garden (she was raised on a farm but she and my gf had a large backyard in the city dedicated to food). We always tried to avoid coming anywhere near them in the fall for fear of becoming 'manufacturers' - ugh! Now I freeze (and my tomatoes last until Jan/Feb) but not can. Like my GM, I use less/stretch meat than my parents and buy whole foods (grains, entire vegetables, etc) that I can use in multiple ways. And although I hate gardening, I also have an urban garden - in central Boston.

            My GM's recipe that her entire family misses (I asked) - her jarred beans cooked with bacon fat and onions. And of course, her biscuits also made with lard.

            1. re: Antilope

              My grandmother and grandfather who just passed away last week at 97 said that had a huge chest freezer. He brother had a meat packing company so they had lots of room, but yes you are right.

              1. re: kchurchill5

                Wow, 97! Sorry for your loss, just the same. Glad you have the stories (and recipes) to carry on your memories. I only had one set of living grandparents and lost them both as a young teen. I have lots of good memories (food and otherwise!) of Nanny and Poppy, but always wished we could have had more time together. Doesn't everyone, I suppose. :(

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  Yep, thx, good stories and good recipes. Gramps never cooked growing up but became a very good cook later in life. Cooked up until age 94! Baked BBQ chicken, scalloped potatoes and ham and a fresh veggie. Not gourmet, but pretty damn good for 94. He rode a bike and fished until he was 90. Pretty amazing.

                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    Definitely amazing. If my Poppy were still here, he'd be 90. I love that your Gramps continued to ride a bike and fish...and that he became a cook later in life. It's not true about old dog/new tricks whatsoever. ;)

                    One last tribute--my Poppy made the best grinders ever--the kind so thick with cold cuts, they're hard to get your mouth around--at Silver Lane Deli in East Hartford, CT. The business is long gone, but the original building is still there (it's a pizza joint now). Probably surviving the leaner times made them (and my mom and her siblings) appreciate good food all the more after things turned around.

              2. re: Antilope

                In the 30s, no, most people didn't have separate freezers. But shared meat lockers were fairly common in both rural areas and cities. You could buy your half cow or pig or hunt your deer and store it there. It was inexpensive.

                Everything else was canned for the most part. But my grandparents lived likes this thread and made extensive use of both canning (higher acid fruits and veg) and freezing (meats, whole wild berries). They grew, raised, or hunted about 90% of what they ate, both taught full time, and my grandfather preached at a small church in town.

                Everything was made from scratch. They bought flour, honey, salt and leavening agents and that was about it.
                I always laugh at people who say they modern family doesn't have time. They don't know the half of it.

              3. re: kchurchill5

                Weren't there lockers for frozen meat back then? (If you hunted or butchered a cow or pig?)

                My great uncle had a smokehouse on his farm and some of the other families jointly made sausages, hams and things like that.

                Cabbage was also big in my family's Depression years. Including lots of sauerkraut. I have two "sauerkraut stones" that my grandmother and greatgrandmother used to weight down the lid on the sauerkraut crock.

                I've also heard stories about the kids bringing "lard sandwiches" to school. Apparently my mother thought it was vile but her cousin told me recently that he thought they were good -- lots of flavor from the bacon drippings.

                1. re: karykat

                  Yes, we always had a locker. There was a locker plant in town and they rented out spaces. My father hunted and fished and we sometimes bought a side of beef. We would raise our own pigs and chickens. But always had a locker in town.

              4. I have no idea where or why she bought them, but a friend gave me 5 spiral-bound volumes of Depression-era stories and recipes that were self-published by a Wisconsin woman. There's a LOT of duplication, as she basically just published everything that was given her by people responding to her request for material. The index is heavy on simple cakes, bread, pudding, potatoes, and soup. Economical ingredients, of course, save for a heavy emphasis on dairy. That's dairy country, so I'm sure many of her contributors lived on dairy farms or had ready access to the products.

                1 Reply
                1. re: greygarious

                  cheese and fresh milk from bessie I'm sure helped. They had a huge farm and family owned a meat packing company.

                2. My Italian mother-in-law taught me this one (called Minestra) - tear up some old stale bread and put in a large bowl. Fry some garlic, hot peppers and olive oil in a pot. Once golden, add a sliced onion, a peeled/sliced potatoe, a couple of cups of water and a handfull of celery leaves. Once all the ingredients are thoroughly softened and cooked, pour over the old bread and cover until all the ingredients are moistened. Let sit about 30 minutes, and top with parmesan cheese. You can feed a family of four, nutritiously, for about $3. We're talkin' depression-era Italy. Some of the finest food ever.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Quattrociocchi

                    In our family Minestra always incorporated escarole, cannellini beans and some sausage meat.. Curious how the same word means different things in various parts of Italy. Either way it's a nice comforting and tasty soup...