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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...

                  2. Always at my Grandma's house, a big pot of navy beans or lima beans simmered for hours with a piece of side meat or a ham bone, then potatoes added to the pot toward the end. This was served with chopped raw onion. You mashed up a potato on your plate and spooned some of the bean gravy over, beans on the side, chopped onion over all. I haven't eaten anything better since. Other Depression foods were fried cornmeal mush and Chili Mac (chili con carne or without the carne served over boiled macaroni). People would go into a drug store and order a Pine Float (glass of water with a toothpick). Re refrigerators and freezers, a lot of people still had iceboxes during the Depression (ice delivered several times a week) and when electric refrigerators came out the freezer compartments were tiny and in any case would not keep ice cream frozen (people used to ask, "Will your box keep cream?"). If you wanted to serve ice cream somebody had to run down to the corner and buy it. I did not see commercially frozen food until the early 1940's when my aunt, who was a major social climber, hired a caterer to do a dinner party for her and on the elegant menu was a dernier-cri delicacy, frozen peas.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Querencia

                      A major New Deal program was Rural Electrification because large areas of the US did not have electricity, much less refrigerators or freezers!
                      Ice delivery was a city thing.
                      My grandmother was cooking on a wood stove in the 1930s in a house without indoor plumbing or running water. They were not considered poor. They just lived in the country in Louisiana, far from hookups for utilities, much like people today in rural areas have septic tanks, their own wells, and have to pay to run power lines in remote locations.

                    2. One of the "stretching a few ingredients" meals that has lasted in our family is "fish potatoes". Contrary to the name, they have no fish in them. In one pot, boil some thickly sliced potatoes, while in another pot you boil sliced onions in a relatively small bit of water. Once the potatoes are getting tender, you put them into the onions and water, seasoning with salt and pepper and pouring in some milk. Stir gently while heating back up so that some of the starch from the potatoes thickens the "soup" a little, and then serve with possibly a bit of butter, or a dollop of smetana, sour cream, or yoghurt, if you have it, or if you want to be very fancy, a sprinkle of parsley. I believe that this dish is also found in some parts of Germany, and the name is supposed to suggest that this would be a good side dish with fish-- but we certainly never had fish with it!

                      1. Let me say more. A big thing then was using what you had. My grandma had a black walnut tree in her back yard and one of my earliest memories is of her sitting on the cellar stairs cracking black walnuts between a hammer and an old flatiron. The nuts went in icebox cookies, chocolate cake, and divinity fudge. Any time there was a crabapple tree, or somebody knew of blackberries growing wild, or an abandoned house had fruit trees bearing, that was the occasion for making a few jars of jam or "putting up" some fruit. I remember a great-aunt putting up a couple of jars of pickled beets using beets from her back yard garden. Another great-aunt put up bread-and-butter pickles because she "had the cucumbers". If you had a few ambitious tomato plants you put up chili sauce.

                        1. Meat was expensive in New Orleans, but seafood was cheap in a city surrounded by water.
                          Sounds funny today when seafood prices make it almost a luxury product.
                          The recipes stayed with my family.
                          Shrimp stew and Shrimp Creole. Shrimp Etouffee. Fried Shrimp. Gumbo. Jambalaya. Oysters in all sorts of dishes. Fish every which way. Fish cakes. Redfish Courtbouillon. Fried fish. Trout Meuniere. Seafood on Poboys. I even love fish for breakfast.
                          Boiled crawfish. Crawfish etouffee and crawfish bisque.
                          We used to go shrimping off the seawall on Lake Pontchartrain - FREE food. And we always crabbed and fished. In the lagoons in Audubon Park or in the nearby Lakes.
                          Everyone fished and hunted so there was always fish, rabbits, ducks, geese, and venison.

                          And vegetable gardens in everyone's yards. We yearned for the first Creole tomatoes and Pontchatoula Strawberries. Stone fruits. Then citrus from Buras down the River from New Orleans and pecans from the back yards.
                          We ate mirlitons until we were sick of them and wished that the vines would die so that we would never have to see them on our plates again. They sprouted again every Spring.

                          1. There seems to be some misinformation about "Depression food" going on here. Well, unless we're talking about food we eat when we're depressed.

                            "The Great Depression" arrived in 1929 with the collapse of the stock market, and lasted until December of 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II, which in turn lasted until 1945. There were some marked differences between the common fare of Americans, as well as the common kitchen furnishings, between the Depression and World War II that are rather interesting.

                            During the Depression, there were few electric refrigerators in the average American home. Many homes still had "ice boxes," and the ice man would deliver blocks of ice throughout cities and towns, some with trucks, some with horse drawn carriages. Both had streams of kids behind them during the summer begging for ice chips as the ice man chipped off blocks of ice for each home in the amount shown in the front window. Ice companies provided customers with square signs that were about 6' by 6', to hang in their window on ice day. Each corner indicated a weight of ice, and if memory serves me, they ran from 5 to 25 pounds.

                            Depression era refrigerators did not have a compartment intended to hold frozen food as well as ice trays, but they did have a compartment for ice trays, usually with protruding racks for the trays to hang in much like the protrusions in the sides of an oven for shelves to rest on. Two ice trays per refrigerator was the norm. As the Depression years passed, refrigerators got a little larger, but they were a luxury item. The appliances of 1939 were generally bigger and better than those of 1929. We had a Norge Refrigerator that ran on LP or natural gas and with an 18 cu ft capacity (iirc), it was considered huge in its day. There were NO new refrigerators or any other appliances (or cars) produced for public consumption during World War II. Everything went into the war effort.

                            For food, there is an intresting difference in the foods America was eating during the Depression and during WWII. Food was "restricted" in both cases, but for very different reasons. During the Great Depression, even poor people ate meat, simply because all butchers gave away soup bones and trimmings. Even a lot of offal. It was the food that had to be bought that most families had to skimp on simply because they couldn't afford much. City families fared much worse than farm families because city families (depending on the city) either had smallish back yards in which to grow food or no yards at all.

                            As if things weren't bad enough, there was a huge drought during the Depression in the middle of the country that wiped out most farmers in those areas completely, turned vast farms into "dust bowls", and created further poverty. Didn't matter whether you lived on a farm or in a city in those areas, you couldn't grow anything because you couldn't afford to water it.

                            Once World War II broke out, the Depression ended with even a bigger bang (bombs!) than it started with (Wall Street crash)! Suddenly there were jobs for everyone and pretty big paychecks. Any male who wasn't classified as 4-F by his draft board was in the military, and women quickly took over their jobs. And there were more jobs than anyone had ever dreamed of as "defense plants" sprang up all over the country to build the equipment, planes and vehicles needed by the military. And EVERYTHING worth buying with all this new income was extremely limted and rationed! Meaning that now that any family could afford meat, meat was seriously rationed, so "a chicken in every pot" became the reality. If you had enough cash and ration stamps to buy a big juicy steak or roast, chances were high your butcher didn't have any to sell. So the average American's diet changed from lots of beef (some of it free) during the Depression to poultry, rabbits and fish during the war. Beef soups and stews were quietly replaced by chicken pies, chicken and dumplings, and fried chicken or rabbit or fish. And since most women worked during WWII, not a whole lot of "slow cooking" was going on. Favorite recipes that took hours or days to make were reserved for weekends and casseroles took center stage (mac and cheese counts as a "casserole").

                            Once World War II ended, it didn't take the appliance manufacturers long to come up with great improvements that housewives couldn't resist. Yes, the government coaxed (guilt trips!) women to give up their jobs to returning GIs, then a few years later Westinghouse and Betty Furness convinced them to go back to work so they could afford the new kitchen appliances with great things like cripser drawers and freezer chests big enough to hold more than two ice trays!

                            The "war plants" that had been manufacturing radar switched to using their cathode ray tubes for television reception. Swanson's introduced TV dinners. And finally Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, and Woolworths introduced TV trays, thereby supplying us all with places to put our TV dinners while we watchted our picture-carrying cathode ray tubes, and housewives set off on their happy quests in search of the perfect aspic, Jell-O molds, and searching out that new Italian craze, pizza! All of which meant the dining room table could finally be used for a game of solitaire, which could last for days with nobody noticing. '-)

                            16 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              That's a great summary Caroline! Are you a historian?

                              And women working in defense related (or any other) factories during WW-II were the iconic "Rosie the Riveters", who were not just guilted out of their jobs when the men returned, but they were flat out fired if they didn't quit.
                              Never mind if they were unmarried, widowed, divorced, or their returning husbands were too injured to work, and they needed that paycheck.

                              Weren't Victory Gardens also a WW-II feature, and now the White House has a veg garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden?

                              Those also vanished in the post--post-war processed food era, and now we have rising generations who have never seen anyone cook in the home, and have no idea how to do it.

                              1. re: Rasam

                                My MIL worked in a plant putting windshield wipers on fighter planes, while her husband was overseas with the war. Her usual lunch was a bread and oleo sandwich, sprinkled with a little sugar, honey or molasses. She's fed these to my kids for years, and even my husband still likes them . The oleo has been replaced with butter now.

                                My MIL said she didn't do a lot of cooking once she got her war job - there were too many young women like herself to go hang out with after work, so they would hit up the bar after work most nights, and pick up cheap takeaway.

                                1. re: Rasam

                                  Yup. Many women who did not work in "women only" career fields (ie nurses or beauticians) were outright fired if they tried to hold onto their jobs. The U.S. government was not a shining example of fairness during those years. If you have doubts, just ask any Japanese American who spent the war in lovely rustic vacation homes in Utah, and other scenically deprived areas. Absolutely criminal!!!

                                  Victory gardens were remarkable. My brandfather didn't just grow a "vegetable garden," he grew a supermarket! But my family was multiply blessed. We escaped many of the ravages of the Great Depression, because my father was career military, so we not only had income that afforded us food, but medical care for my mother, my brother, and me.

                                  Then we lived very close to the Mexican border by the time the war broke out, so we escaped the misery of rationing until the Mexican border south of San Diego was closed toward the end of the war to try to keep sailors out of the brothels. Prior to that, my mother would go to Tijuana to shop once a week. There was NO rationing in Mexico, and Mexico was neutral during the war.

                                  Strangely, very few neighbors followed my mother's example. But at school, it was very easy to tell which kids' mothers did. We all wore Mexican hueraches! Those are sandals woven from strips of leather that could be bought in Tijuana in unlimited quantities and no need of ration stamps. I loved mine! Soo comfortable!

                                  My mother also bought beef in Mexico, which was quite different from U.S. beef because it wasn't dry aged. But with braising, it came out quite tender and flavorful. My mother shopped at the butcher shop that got the bulls from the Sunday corridas, and prefered the shoulder roasts that already had a pocket for her to pack garlic into. Bravo for the matadors who created perfect garlic nests!

                                  And she also bought sugar in Mexico. One of my sharpest memories of the war is of carrying two huge brown grocery bags full of cookies the two miles I had to walk to school because of gas rationing. One bag was full of oatmeal raisin cookies, and the other was packed with chocolate chip cookies. By the time I got to class, the bags were nearly transparent from the amount of butter in them. My teacher served the cookies for the going away party at the end of the school day she gave for my best friend. She was Japanese American, and she and her family left for a "relocation camp:" the next day. We sat next to each other at the party, sometimes holding hands but couldn't speak to each other or we would cry. We were in the third grade and knew it was the last time we would see each other until the war ended. Or maybe ever. So frightening. So much injustice. Sometimes I think the only things stupider than people are governments.

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    These are awesome stories, Caroline1 and others with memories of those times.

                                    I hope you are recording these memories somewhere else in addition to here.

                                    I sense a fantastic project for a student in "food studies" (whether from anthropology or nutrition or culinary school).

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      Both of my grandfathers were career military, and my parents had no recollections of hardship during the Great Depression. Other sacrifices were made, however.

                                    2. re: Rasam

                                      I have heard about Victory Gardens. Can you tell me more?

                                      1. re: sarah galvin

                                        Victory Gardens were part of the war mobilization movement in the US. People were encouraged to grow as much as they could for their own use so that all available commercially grown food could be directed to the troops both in the US and in the European and Pacific theaters. We were also providing food for Europeans who were starving as their cities and fields were destroyed by Axis attacks.
                                        Americans were all pulling together to win the war. Kids scrounged for scrap metal and their parents saved everything including old toothpaste tubes which were melted for arms and machinery. Everything was geared toward the war effort.
                                        Nothing was wasted. That was unpatriotic.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          I recently saw a news story about Victory Gardens- NBC I think. The story showed gardens of the past and gardens of today. Very interesting, as most of what I know about the Depression is from history class. I don't have a garden or even a yard, so I'm thinking about growing some herbs on my kitchen windowsill...

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            My mother lived on a dairy farm and doesn't remember needing to skrimp on food during the war. I think the story was quite a bit different in town.

                                            One thing she talks about is scrounging for milkweed pods. The fluff inside was collected and used to fill life preservers for the war effort.

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              Thank you, MakingSense. I have seen reference to Victory Gardens but was not clear about the meaning. I wonder if today's coddled generation could fathom this depth of need.

                                              1. re: sarah galvin

                                                Funny. Not as much a sense of need, but a sense of joint national purpose.
                                                Even with rationing, people could eat during the war. They couldn't get some items but there were things in stores and they had money.
                                                If you have a chance to see old newsreels or read popular magazines from that era, there was a general cheerleading for America and the Allied Forces.
                                                We absolutely HAD to win that war.
                                                Yes, there were anti-war voices, just as there had been strong voices in the 30s who had discounted the growing threat in Europe and urged appeasement, but once we entered the war, America was behind it. United.
                                                Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" is worth reading.
                                                I'm so glad to have been able to sit around and listen to the stories of those times from my parents, grandparents, relatives, and their friends.
                                                Oddly, the men almost never spoke about actual battles, just like our troops today rarely speak of Vietnam, Kuwait, or Iraq. Oh, and Korea, the Forgotten War.
                                                They all have the best and warmest memories of the camaraderie of pulling together, sacrificing what they had to, getting the job done for freedom and America. They laugh about the hard times as though they were a glorious adventure that they all survived.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  That's the truth, my uncle only told us he was part of the troop that liberated Aushwitz after he started getting Altzheimers. He remembered every detail much too clearly.

                                          2. re: Rasam

                                            Vegetable gardening never stopped. But it has shown a rapid increase lately.
                                            The latest figures from the National Garden Association show consumer spending on vegetable gardens is up 25 percent from two years ago.
                                            In 2007, the association said Americans spent nearly $1.4 billion on growing their own vegetables.
                                            This is a huge business.

                                            The White House added vegetables and herbs during the Clinton years and kept it up under Laura Bush.

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              And now, Mrs. Obama is putting in a much larger vegetable garden and having school children help. Everyone is jumping on the "less processed foods" bandwagon (though I do suspect the Obama's have been on that bandwagon for a longer time). I've only got herbs but am trying to expand to tomatoes and maybe arugula.

                                              1. re: Val

                                                That may be a very common misconception. Mrs. Obama herself said that she had to reform the family's eating habits on the advice of the kids' doctor because they were eating too much carryout and sandwiches while the Senator was away in DC. They all started losing weight.
                                                He was known to pick up carryout on his way home from the gym in Washington.

                                                From http://obamafoodorama.blogspot.com/20...
                                                "But as the experts on the subject, we feel comfortable informing you that it's something of a fiction that Barack's a very healthy eater. This idea is based on the slimmest of evidence, a few off-hand remarks from chefs who've cooked for him, and pictures of Barack and Michelle emerging from upscale restaurants.
                                                What was ignored: Plenty of pix of Barack eating junk food, and the comments of his own right-hand man, Reggie Love, who told a New York Daily News reporter early in the campaign that Barack's fave "foods" are Nicorette gum, Planter's Peanut Trail Mix, water, Dentyne Ice gum, and MET-RX bars. Healthy? Um, not really."

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  Well, he must be doing *something* right. Our president certainly doesn't look like a junk food junkie and he's easy on the eyes in swimming trunks!

                                                  Then again, we all have our moments of indulgence. Lucky for the rest of us, those moments aren't photographed and televised.

                                                  Val, we started with herbs and expanded to tomatoes last year. It was at that point that we had to move our deck furniture to make room for all the plants (we live in a townhouse). Good luck with your garden, no matter how small! Oh, and something I miss from Nanny and Poppy's garden--rhubarb!

                                        2. My paternal grandmother had a working farm with probably 10 acres or more of garden foods, plus the livestock that goes with it. I remember she churned her own butter and got the milk from her cattle. Twice a year or so they'd butcher a pig, and there were droves of chickens. She lived off the land all her life (died at 99). My maternal grandparents grew their own veggies and caught a lot of fish. Nothing went to waste in either household, and it was some of the best food I've ever eaten, to this day.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: bayoucook

                                            My grandfather had 13 acres in what is now the downtown detroit and dearborn area. Oakwood Blvd a major road was named after my grandfathers family, Eicholtz meaning in German Oak Wood.

                                            They too had a large farm with all the veggies, milk the cow, churn the butter canned everything. They did have electricity from what he said and his some kind of a chest freezer or storage. His uncle owned a meat packing or some kind of business where they stored stuff, someone mentioned lockers. Not sure what they called it back then. They raised tons of chickens too. And lard ... tons of lard. Gramps just past away last week, 96. You wonder it seems how people tend to die earlier in life now a days and we eat healthy, but some of our ancestors live to a ripe old age. Maybe all that processed stuff is not the best, ya think?

                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                              Yes! I forgot about the lard. I was very young and don't remember what it was, but they some kind of smokehouse where they cured (?) the meats. My paternal grandmother didn't have electricity until I was 13 years old. You know, it was really neat back then at her house. Fireplaces in every room, rain on the tin roof, always something cooking on the (iron) stove and then the gas stove. Great memories.
                                              BUT - I won't drink milk to this day b/c of that warm cow milk - yuk! Both my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandparents ate what they wanted and all died in their 80s or 90s - my dad's mother never went to or saw a doctor in her life.
                                              What a different time it was. And I remember chickens singe-ing (sp) overnight by the fireplace. Nowadays, they would say that would kill us. But we are a healthy, hardy group of survivors, I can tell you. I wouldn't have missed a thing.

                                          2. I guess we one of the lucky ones. During the Great Depression my mother was accepted, after auditioning, into the WPA Music Program as a vocal teacher. My father worked on early Sonar at the Boston Navy Yard, spent two weeks on a submarine and is credited with finding a German U-Boat in the Atlantic beyond Boston Harbor. We lived 10 miles north of Boston and had a gardener who grew all our vegetables and fruit...and his own as well. Meat, fish and poultry were bought in the North End of Boston or at Haymarket Square. We had a large refridgerator, and first an oil stove then a gas range. I don't remember wanting for anything and honestly don't remember not having enough to eat. I do remember rationing of sugar, butter, heating oil and gasoline.... but I was young and probably was not aware of other restrictions. Both sets of Grandparents always had enough to eat and frequently the family would congregate at one or another's house for dinners.

                                            Recently I learned that not only Japanese people were sent to internment camps, but Italians and Germans as well, no matter what the profession. . In fact Joe DiMagio's father was not allowed to watch him play baseball because he was living in a "restricted zone."

                                            1. I love reading everyone's stories. One of my mom's favorite Depression-era food memories is of fighting over the "potato water" with my Uncle Al. Nanny "served" it in a soup bowl with broken up pieces of bread or toast for dipping...and, yeah, it was just the starchy water from boiling the potatoes with a little butter, S&P, if you can imagine this was something worth fighting over. ;) Toast seemed to be a big component of the day. Peas on toast was another dish Mom has told me about--and creamed eggs on toast. And, though I recently attributed this dish to my uncle, apparently Nanny made SOS (dried beef gravy on toast--Nanny wouldn't say $#*+!) long before my uncle joined the Marines. It, too, is Depression fare and mighty tasty, too. I just made the last of the dried beef for yesterday's breakfast. I don't eat it often, but I love it.

                                              More Depression dining--remember American Chop Suey a.k.a. goulash? Onions, peppers, hamburg, tomato soup with pasta in it. I still remember eating it long after that era ended...right through the 70s, and every once in a while, I still make it today.

                                              1. the recipe i most associate with the depression is my grandmother's waffle recipe. she told me that during the 30's folks in her small town would get together on sunday nights for waffle parties. it makes sense. it is lots cheaper to cook waffles than a roast. the milk and eggs were always on hand. waffles are so much better when the egg whites are beaten separately--as my grandma did.

                                                by the by--the smithsonian recently opened a show on art of the 30's. their web site shows the works, too.

                                                1. its hard to generalize too much about food of this period. People who had access to gardens or farm animals obviously did a lot better. the depression was a major formative factor for my parents and food selfsufficiency is still a theme for them, with canning freezing, jam-making breadmaking still being big activities. The foods I associate particularly with my Dad's straitened depression childhood were mac and cheese, milk toast, stewed tomatoes with bread in it , baked beans and slumgullion (a canned tomato-HB-macaroni concoction. Rarely saw meat other than hamburger based stuff on the table as a child. His mom baked and sold pies to get the family through those hard times.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                                    My grandparents and great grandparents were very lucky to own a farm. This certainly helped with sufficiency. They were able to basically able to live off the land. But I know that many were not. Still many of the dishes remained the same. Hard to believe how well they lived and were so happy with so little. Now a days we complain about way too much and expect way too much. It was much more simpler then.

                                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                                      It was so much simpler then. We'd all get glasses of sweet tea and sit on the porch and shell bushels of peas and butterbeans for canning. The pantry, and later the freezer, were always full of goodies. Learned a lot about canning and freezing at an early age, thankful for that. Also, my grandfather was an excellent fisherman (channel catfish, bass, trout) and hunter (mostly quail). I remember hot, sweltering summers in the kitchen putting up the vegetables (no a/c). I fondly remember it all.

                                                      1. re: bayoucook

                                                        I went hunting with him more times than I can count. Quail, Duck, Rabbit, even Bambi, Yes but I shot Dad. I felt so bad but damn that was cook eats ... So am I a bad person for that. Fishing. I'm addicted, still to this day, gramps taught me well. I love too. Perch, bass, trout, pike, walleye is what we got in MI before moving here. Canning ... more strawberries, cherries and apples than I can count. Freezing, ears of corn, zuchinni, peas, beans, rhubbard, carrots, potatoes, onions, pumpkin, you name it. It was so much fun and I remember every memory. Cool isn't it.

                                                        The memories of that are great. We seem very similar in our up bringing although different areas. No sweet tea but lemonade was our thing. Butter beans are still a fave with me. Tons of strawberry jam and cherry preserves, pies and cakes, fresh fried fish with hushpuppies and coleslaw every Friday night with friends. Rhubard pie, grilled corn before grilled corn was popular. Not enough room in the oven. Cobblers, peas out of the pod. Carrots just rinsed and ate out of the ground. tomatoes off the vine. We used to take a mix of tomatoes cut in big wedges and just oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and that was salad.

                                                        FYI, I love quail, and feel bad about bambi and peter rabbit, but geeze they were tasty ... and btw ... those damn rabbits are sure hard to hit. It was an experience, I have mixed feeling in I hate the killing, but we lived a lot off our land so, a torn emotion. I've fished my entire life and hunted since age 12. And to this day when I have time still can a few things.

                                                        I guess some of that simple living wore off. And now with my work schedule I feel guilty some times using short cuts but those days I had and he had time to do things the "right" way. Now we just buy bagged this or that or use whatever we can to eat quick. It's a shame at times but reality. Ok rambling on ...

                                                        1. re: kchurchill5

                                                          We definately have similar upbringings. So weird I never thought of hunting, but did some fishing. Did a lot more fishing as an adult. We've almost always owned a boat and love to take it out to the blue water and fish. My grandmother's family hunted deer and rabbits but I don't remember eating either one. I lived with my maternal grandparents so more experience there.
                                                          I bet it was neat having strawberries and cherries - if we have them down here I don't know about them. But I make the tomato salad you spoke of to this day. We have 7 tomato plants in pots on the deck. Fun!

                                                  2. My father grew up on the prairies and they had rations of salt cod (which they hated), sugar and other things, but can't remember the stories. Navy beans, I think.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: sarah galvin

                                                      My grandparents were born, raised and died in Montana. My grandmother dropped out of school after 8th grade and my grandfather dropped out in "11th grade." Helena didn't have a lot to offer them, as my grandfather worked cooking and washing dishes in at a local hotel.

                                                      They were so poor during the depression that they actually lived in a chicken coop. A family friend took pity on them when they were kicked out of their apartment and offered them and old chicken coop. My grandfather worked on it to make it somewhat habitable and but a pot bellied stove in it for heating and cooking. They were in that coop for 2 years, at first with two children, and later three children.

                                                      My grandmother took care of the chickens and some other farm animals and as payment she was able to have one chicken a month, cows milk, flour, and eggs.

                                                      My grandmother also used to talk about salt cod. Years after the depression she refused to eat it. Also she couldn't stand the smell of chicken or eggs because they reminded her of the coop and how much chicken and eggs she ate during those days.

                                                      After two years they fled the coop to go live in a rental house.

                                                      My other set of grandparents had little hardship during the depression. In fact, they traveled well and ate out most evenings.

                                                    2. I don't have anything to share, but I'm very much enjoying the contributions to this thread. I'll have to find out the answers to this question from my own family when I'm home next.


                                                      1. Has anyone mentioned Spam. Specifically criss crossed with cloves and mustard on top, like a fake ham. Or was that after the war?

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: coll

                                                          According to Hormel, Spam was introduced in 1937. http://www.spam.com/about/history/def... Apparently, Spam was not rationed during the war, which made it appealing to some. Also, it required no refrigeration.


                                                          1. re: coll

                                                            I've had it with cloves, mustard, and brown sugar - not too healthy but actually quite tasty!

                                                          2. My father often spoke of "po' boy" sandwiches he ate during the depression -- a hoagie roll hollowed out somewhat and filled with a spicy stewed chickpea & onion filling. He & his siblings would fish in the rivers, and they had a small garden. His father did bookkeeping for the Greek restaurants around town and the owners would give him a little of this and a little of that to get by.

                                                            My mom grew up on a farm in the Appalachian mountains, so although they had enough food, there was hardly any cash beyond what was needed to pay taxes on the farm and buy seed, so things like metal parts to repair farm equipment and shoes were extremely difficult to afford. She & her siblings would walk barefoot to school (you had to have shoes on in class) to save the wear & tear to the soles during warmer weather so they would last through the cold of winter.

                                                            1. my parents were children during the depression and carried some of those dishes into my childhood.
                                                              I remember creamed peas on toast
                                                              Navy beans cooked with a ham bone, served over white bread, with ketchup
                                                              Canned creamed corn on mashed potatoes
                                                              Canned creamed salmon on mashed potatoes
                                                              Pancakes for dinner

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: laliz

                                                                Yes the pancake supper - or waffle supper or scrambled egg supper for that matter. those were all common in my childhood. too

                                                              2. My grandparents on my mother's side were in California - grandpa had a still during prohibition, the family suffered more than enough racism, and the food was mostly our very traditional and really, really healthy; o-kazu: any combination of lots of vegetables and a bit of meat cooked quickly in a touch of oil, soy sauce, bit of water, ginger, and whatever else. Always with lots of steamed rice and homemade Japanese style pickled vegetables and ume. My granparents on my father's side were in Hawaii - again, lots of vegetables, lots of rice, a bit of fish! Very, very healthy.

                                                                A bit later in the Depression, Dad moved to McMinneville, Oregon (then very remote) where he had his garden, orchard, dog, .22 rifle - a real hippy until he became one of the Japanese - American paratroopers.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  My grandma in hawaii told me how they used to get 1 hotdog for the whole family, and they'd slice it up and cook it with a lot of vegetables and patis. served with rice. that was when they had enough money. other times they had to eat rice cooked with cocoa powder.

                                                                  1. re: kirinraj

                                                                    One great dish / a lot of dishes as I was growing up relatively poor was a few hotdogs and lots of asparagus from the garden sliced along the diagonal and sauteed with a bit of sugar, soy sauce, and maybe a dash of stock as needed. Lots of gohan. I look back at growing up and think of Dolly Parton's "My coat of many colors (that my mama sewed for me)".

                                                                    "Those dishes of many veggies our Mom made for us
                                                                    "Made of all that we had, no matter there was no more
                                                                    "We ate all with such joy and now remember well
                                                                    "All she prepared, our Mom who loved us so"

                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                      I just realized, the Little Rascals had a lot of Depression era foods scenes, like when they took one bean and started carving it up like a roast. Slightly exaggerated but still gives you an idea.

                                                                2. I just have to say ...

                                                                  Some very great and very interesting stories. Makes us think about just how lucky we are these days.

                                                                  1. My mother's family were cattle ranchers on the Az. border. They had generators for electricity. They still had them when I was a little kid. They kept a house in town too for the school week when my grandmother or one of her sisters would stay with the kids during the week. With cattle, chickens and gardens they were okay. I don't know much about my father's parents. My father's mother died when he was quite young and all I know about his father is that he was in the oil business of some sort. It could not have been too bad, my father had his own plane in HS.

                                                                    1. I am from an agricultural family so food etc wasn't such an issue even in WWII during the rationing state side.However the European half of the family was frustrated at every turn
                                                                      by shortages.War on "your soil" really is devastating for all involved.The creative ways found to make things stretch was facinating to listen to as a child.As the French Jew would trade tips with the Italian Jew, with the Scotts branch and so on." frugal" contests were never dull.We still are from scratch,no waste family.