D is for Depression Era Cooking

Gail Martin wrote an article for the eHow site some years ago on how to save money with cooking methods from the Great Depression. She grew up in the 1930s, so this is first-hand advice.

Depression Era Cooking by Gail Lee Martin: 

If you want to cut food expenses, consider preparing meals like they did during the Great Depression. There’s even a TV show called Great Depression Cooking with Clara, so low-cost meals are gaining in popularity. Here are my memories of Depression cooking from my childhood days.

Grow your own food. It’s cheaper and tastes better than store-bought food. My parents always kept a big garden, not just during the Depression. We had chickens too and a milk cow. My 84-year-old husband remembers they raised rabbits during those hard times.

Pick wild foods. You can gather wild onions, mushrooms and garlic. Mother picked gooseweed, dandelions, and lamb’s quarter for cooked greens that took the place of spinach. When poke first came through the ground, we gathered the stalks that resembled asparagus and we would boil it in water, then drain and add more water to finish cooking until tender. By adding a white sauce it was very good on toasted homemade bread. Both Mother and Clyde’s mother, Cora used a yeasty sourdough starter they kept on their stove top to make biscuits, bread and pancakes.

Go hunting for wild animals. We had fish that we caught and the crawdad tails that my sister, Melba, and I would find in the creek that ran between the camp and the school. Maybe in your area, you can hunt wild turkey or deer. We heard that some people ate possum and rattlesnakes but we never did.

Store up extra food. Cora made sausage links and wrapped them around and around inside the stone crocks and poured melted lard over them, then stored in the cellar. You may not want to make your own sausage, but stock your pantry with staples when they are on sale.

Consider bartering for food. They did barter with neighbors and family that had other food that we could trade for with our eggs, milk and butter.
Do you have a skill that you can trade to a neighbor in exchange for their home-made bread? How about trading excess tomatoes from your garden for venison that your friend has in his freezer?

Use more fillers in meals like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread. I do remember Mother stretching canned stewed tomatoes by adding a jar of them to cooked macaroni. Her macaroni and cheese doesn’t taste like they make it now. Probably the difference in cheese. Rice was used as a cereal or pudding.

We ate a lot of potato soup with onions cooked with the potatoes like Clara cooked hers on the Great Depression Cooking with Clara show. Mother would make a white sauce and add it as a thickening or made dumplings with flour, baking powder, salt and an egg. Then she dropped them by the spoonful on top of the potato soup covered with a lid and a low fire until she thought they were done. She would never let me lift the lid for a peek. Soups are filling and inexpensive to make.

This is typical of a kitchen from the 1930s. I don't have a photo of my grandmother's kitchen from that time.

This is typical of a kitchen from the 1930s. I don’t have a photo of my grandmother Ruth’s kitchen from that time.


7 thoughts on “D is for Depression Era Cooking

  1. Ah, potato soup: definitely a staple during the Depression era! My mom, who was born in 1934, said they lived on potatoes back then and her mother had a zillion ways to turn potatoes into a meal. My mom makes tremendous potato soup and your post now has me hungry for it. I never heard of putting dumplings in the potato soup so I’m going to give that a try. I do love a good dumpling! I remember my paternal grandmother made everything from scratch, including noodles. She was always in the kitchen! Oh how I wish I still had my grandparents around. The wisdom they could share!! I enjoyed reading your piece. Happy A-Zing…
    Michele at Angels Bark

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember those kitchens! When I was a little girl, we were thrilled to move into a house with indoor plumbing, which meant it had a small water pump in the kitchen, so Mom didn’t have to go outside to pump water for cooking, washing dishes and bathing.

    My parents grew up during the depression, and I grew up with similar food practices. Almost everything, except the crawdaddies, are familiar, though we knew other families who caught crawdaddies and thought of them as a delicacy.

    Only today, I did a blog post about one of our favorite spring time foods, asparagus, always foraged from ditch banks when I was kid.

    Thankfully, food foraging is making a comeback, especially in the cities, where lots trees and shrubs produce fruits that no one eats.

    Thanks for the memories!


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