Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Oct 10, 2011 08:21 PM

Recession-era (both the old and the new) Recipes

I love this board and I use all of you lovely people as a resource constantly. Now I find myself, as so many others, in straitened circumstances. It doesn't change my love of food or cooking, and I - inspired by many of you - choose to see this as a rewarding challenge instead of a drain. Help me keep it up! I'm looking for any and all recipes that your grandmothers cooked in the 1930s, or that you have developed today, to keep you and your family happy and healthy and focused on the things that matter - eating delicious food together, whether or not that delicious food includes truffle butter.

I'll start us off with mujadarah, learned on this board. Who's next?

Thank you so much!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've given this a bit of thought myself, and I am not sure that the 'old' recession recipes will work this time around.
    Partly because people don't eat the same way any more (headcheese anyone? A nice bowl of bread and milk?) and partly because what is cheap and good now is not necessarily what was cheap and good last time around.

    However I am open to being proven wrong!

    What do others think?

    2 Replies
    1. re: AnotherMother

      Agreed. I was gifted with a 5-volume spiral-bound collection of Depression-era recipes, mostly from the upper Midwest USA. It has a lot or repetition and was apparently a vanity project of some sort. Plenty of bread and milk type dishes. Very litte use of herbs or spices. I skimmed it pretty thoroughly and saw nothing I would consider making other than things like pancakes, the recipes for which were the same as you'd find today. Matter of fact, if anyone would like it I would be happy to send it C.O.D. for the cost of postage only.

      1. re: AnotherMother

        Lots of people still eat headcheese - why not?

      2. My wife's grandparents emigrated from southern Italy. One of the survival meals that they prepared was 'pasta e fagioli', dialectically known as 'pasta fazool.' The reason I dub it 'survival' is because it contained complete protein due to the combination of a grain and a legume. Pasta fazool is an inexpensive meal. I'm sure that recipes for this dish abound online.

        When my in-laws were alive and they came to visit us from 800 miles away, my wife fed them pasta e fagioli upon there arrival. I was away on a 5th grade camping trip with one of our kids. My in-laws were eating the pasta e fagioli when I got home from camping on a Friday afternoon. I had made the dish using my mother-in-laws recipe. They seemed to be enjoying it. I asked my wife, 'Did you tell them who made the stuff?' She said no. BTW, i miei antenati non erano italiani (my ancestors were not Italian).

        1. I have been making a swiss chard dish with beans. I cook up some bacon, add in sliced onions, when soft I add in cleaned and chopped chard along with some chicken stock, simmer for a bit then add in a can of white beans (rinsed). I serve this on top of soft polenta, it is inexpensive, satisfying, and easy.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JEN10

            this sounds almost like my favorite dish! minus the bacon and chicken stock, vegetarian here. I sauté swiss or neon chard (or rapine) with onions and garlic, then add in some cannelloni beans

            1. re: kubasd23

              I make the same dish, also minus the bacon and chicken stock, and use garbanzo beans instead of cannellini. Also grate some parm over the top. This is great over pasta or rice, as well as polenta.

          2. One of my then-as-now tips is homemade bread. As yeast is more expensive than in our grandmothers' day, I've toyed with starting a sourdough "mother." But a nice slab of fresh bread with a bit of butter or olive oil helps to stretch your proteins and vegetables. Stale bread tossed into soup gives it body, or use as croutons, bread crumbs, etc. (I like the Amish White Bread recipe here: - it is a simple bread, but for some reason always turns out beautifully for me, and makes great sandwich bread.


            My grandmother never (never!) threw anything away, but not in a hoarders kind of way. She'd reuse foil (seriously lol), feed scraps to her barn cats, save every single plastic container that came into her home. Now obviously I'm not advocating this extreme thrift, but some things are worth looking at - for instance, what *do* you do with empty glass jars? If you're not washing them and using them for everything from herbs in your fridge to storing rice in the pantry or whatever, you're throwing away money. Remind yourself that you didn't just pay for the olives, but the jar as well and you'll be more likely to save it, in my experience. Oh, and in my family, it's considered a sin (Sin!) to throw bacon grease out. Period.

            One of my favorite dinners - cost be damned - is actually around $3 for my husband, two teenage daughters and 20yo bottomless-pit son. I made frybread (4C flour, 1 1/2T baking powder, 2 tsp. salt, 2 cups milk - just mix, let sit, knead for about 3 minutes, let sit for 10 minutes while you heat oil for deep frying, then pinch off golfball sized pieces and pull them into a rounded shape about 4 inches around. Pull a slight tear in the middle to help with even cooking, and fry in hot oil for about 3-4 minutes a side), and serve it with tacos made from a mix of ground beef and lentils, plus onion, garlic, cumin, Mex. oregano, beef broth and a bit of El Pato Salsa Fresca - a hot canned tomato sauce. Due to the frying, it's an occasional treat, but one that we all love. I can guarantee my grandmother would've looked at this recipe as if it had sprouted horns from Satan himself, so.. yeah, tastes change. :)

            But I do love to look back at what she cooked, and play with it for today - one of my current "kicks" is chicken and dressing (cornbread dressing is common in the South), followed closely by fried chicken or chicken & dumplings. Comfort food from items that are almost always on hand in my kitchen (corn mean, flour, etc).

            9 Replies
            1. re: shanagain

              Thanks for all of the sound advice!! I've never made chicken and dumplings - do you have a favored recipe?

              1. re: oldfangled

                I don't care for traditional rolled type dumplings, I like big fluffy ones, and I don't go by a recipe anymore, but this version from Lisa at homesicktexan is in the ballpark:

                Essentially, though, I don't thicken it with cream, but with a quick roux of equal parts butter and flour, and like this recipe everything but the kitchen sink may find its way in. But I linked to that recipe because one of my favorites is to add cubed potatoes back to the broth during the simmering stage, as well as drained/rinsed and chopped jarred napolitos - prickly pear cactus that tastes vaguely like green beans.

                Oh, and I add a handful of shredded cheddar to the dumplings. (Parmesean, garlic, and a bit of fresh oregano or thyme are really REALLY good on top of beef stew.)

                1. re: shanagain

                  In my old neck of the woods, traditional dumplings are not rolled at all; they are essentially drop biscuits, scooped up with a spoon and dropped onto the simmering gravy. Twenty minutes under the lid, no peeking allowed, and there are your big fluffy calorie-bombs, gooey on the outside and light but firm within. Oh, heaven.

                  I do have a recipe I haven't tried yet, from North Carolina, for dumplings made from strips of rolled-out biscuit dough. This seems like an interesting hybrid of our biscuit dumplings and other regions' noodle-dough dumplings.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    When I think "traditional" that's exactly what I think of - a biscuit dough that's been rolled out and cut into strips. My grandmother was originally from Georgia and moved to Texas in her 20's, so I'm not sure which of those regions consider that "traditional," now that I think of it.

                    All I know is when I make "my" dumplings my mom always mentions "those aren't dumplings!"

                  2. re: shanagain

                    So it's essentially a chicken stew (or the innards of a chicken pot pie) topped with biscuits? Sounds delicious! I'll bet it would even be good (and somewhat cheaper) as a vegetarian dish with enough beans and seasoning!

                    1. re: oldfangled

                      Exactly - and yes, there are MANY variations you can play with.

                      1. re: oldfangled

                        Actually, there are plenty of chicken "pie" recipes whose crust consists of biscuits, either partly baked and then laid on top of the filling and finished in the oven, or laid on raw and baked. To make them be dumplings they're cooked in the hot simmering stew instead of being baked, and they can be rolled biscuit dough (shanagain's method) or dropped in by spoonfuls (my method). Each is different and each is good, though the bake-from-raw biscuit topping never seems cooked enough for my taste.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          My dumplings turn out light and fluffy, but I want the dense/leaden ones of my youth! Ideas?

                          1. re: pine time

                            I think the dumpling recipe handed down from my grandma is the type you're looking for. It's pretty simple--about a cup of flour, an egg or two, and a bit of salt for seasoning. You don't want the mix to be too firm; instead, it's about the consistency of ricotta. Then, you just take a spoon, scoop up a bit and drop it into the boiling soup. Usually, I leave them boil for about 10 minutes. Sorry about the lack of measurements, but you know these are the types of recipes that no one ever had measurements for :)

                2. What a great idea for a thread!!
                  My grandmother used to make tomato & macaroni soup that goes something like this:
                  Combine in pot:
                  1 28oz can diced tomatoes
                  5 cups water
                  2 small onions, roughly chopped
                  1 or 2 bay leaves
                  1 tbsp sugar
                  1 tsp salt
                  Bring to boil, turn down heat, cover & simmer for 45 min - 1 hour (until onions are very soft)
                  Add 1-2 tbsp butter (or oil to keep it vegan), then 1 cup elbow macaroni.
                  Cover and cook until pasta is tender.
                  We would always enjoy this with a bit of milk to cool the soup and some home-made bread. I think of my frugal grandmother every time I make this, and wish I'd paid closer attention to all of the other things she did.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hungryjoanne

                    The soup sounds delicious! I wish I had a frugal grandmother to learn from - mine was one of the first demonstrators of packaged and frozen foods in the 1950s, and so even though she is 90 years old, she's never cooked a thing from scratch in her life!