Modern society can learn quite a bit from how families were able to stretch their food supply during the Great Depression. Some were self-sufficient enough to raise everything they ate, from livestock to growing their own fruits and vegetables.
Those who weren’t fortunate enough to have a farm at their disposal opted for inexpensive ingredients that could be used in a variety of recipes. Canned items were popular—meats, fruit cocktails, and vegetables from a can were all far cheaper than the fresh versions, and they lasted longer too.
Poor Man’s Meal
Potatoes and hotdogs were the most inexpensive and versatile ingredients of the Depression era. The Poor Man’s Meal was a staple in just about every home. All it took was peeling and cubing potatoes, frying them up in oil with onions until brown, and then adding slices of hotdog to the pan for a few minutes. For those who had tomato sauce handy, a couple of tablespoons would be added in and warmed just prior to serving.
Corned Beef Luncheon Salad
Gelatin was all the rage in the 1930s—it was deemed an innovative and modern food. Apparently, someone thought mixing it with canned corned beef would be the cutting edge recipe to ease hunger pains. Corned Beef Luncheon Salad consisted of canned corned beef, canned peas, plain gelatin, vinegar, lemon juice, and if you were really feeling zany, some shredded cabbage.
Frozen Fruit Salad
A simple and sweet treat that was often served on holidays or special occasions was frozen fruit salad. All it took was a can of fruit cocktail or any canned fruit for that matter, mixed with egg yolk, whipping cream, and honey. Pour it all into a tray and freeze it.
During the Great Depression, shantytowns showed up all over the U.S. as unemployed individuals were forced out of their homes. President Herbert Hoover was blamed for the unbearable monetary and social conditions, so these urban communities became known as Hoovervilles, and the soup served at the soup kitchen became known as Hoover Stew. Basically, any cheap mass-produced soup was considered Hoover Stew. One recipe contains a 16-ounce box of noodles, two cans of stewed tomatoes, sliced hotdogs, and any can of cheap vegetables—usually peas or corn.
Baked Apples Were The Perfect Dessert
Baked apples were both healthy and inexpensive, literally the perfect dessert no matter what the economic status of the country is currently in. During the Depression they would wash and core apples, mix about 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon together and fill in the hollows with it. Then they would just slide a sliver of butter in the bottom to keep the spice mixture in place.
To keep the apples from burning, a tiny bit of water could be added to the pan before baking for about 30 to 40 minutes.
It wasn’t uncommon for people to grow their own vegetables and eat salads. One popular type was Dandelion salad, which was basically free because they grow wild in many areas, so there was no real farming required. First, you pick unbroken dandelions, then you remove the roots, and finally you wash the leaves and let them soak for an hour. Add a simple dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Presto!
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided they’d eat modestly in the White House as an act of culinary solidarity with the American people, only getting as decadent as Prune Pudding.
At the time prunes weren’t already pitted and had to be soaked in water overnight (now they come pitted and only need an hour’s soak). They’d add a bit of cardamom or cinnamon, and a sprinkle of walnuts and cream. At the time there was no whipped cream, they’d just use a little bit of flour, sugar, water, and some cinnamon to spoon over it.
Hard Bread Was Cooked
If bread became unbearably hard to eat it wasn’t thrown away, it was cooked. First they’d slice the bread, then they’d put it on a tray and sprinkle water and olive oil over it for added moisture. They would boil additional water and pour it over the bread just until it softened enough to be mashed up.
Creamed Chipped Beef
What’s politely called cream of chipped beef, but more commonly referred to as S.O.S. which stands for “Sh*t on a Shingle,” originated in Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country. This simple dish filled the tummies of families during the Great Depression, as well as the United States military troops throughout World War I and World War II.
In a pot over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of flour, whisk into a roux. Then whisk in a cup and a half of milk until it thickens and boils. Finally, add about eight ounces of a dried beef like Hormel’s, let it warm up in the gravy before serving scoops over toast.
Spaghetti, Boiled Carrots, And White Sauce
During the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt actually promoted this recipe and it was taught in schools during home economics class. Spaghetti was boiled until it was all mushy and unappetizing, then it was mixed in with boiled carrots (just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse). The sauce mix was flour, milk, butter, salt, and pepper. The two concoctions were combined, put in a casserole dish, baked, and sliced to serve.