The Depression Era defined a nation and we can take the tips from folks who went through hard times to stretch our own food budgets and live more frugally. These are recipes handed down from my family from generation to generation and now from me to you. I hope these tips are as helpful to you as they have been for me.
This Depression-era series has helped me find out even more about my grandparents and what it meant to live frugally. I hope it encourages you to find out your family's stories, too. If you missed the other Depression Era episodes here's Building a Great Depression Era Pantry-Frugal Tips and Recipes and 8 Depression Era Tips to Save Money Now
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #44 Depression Era Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget, of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen, and life you want for your family and homestead.
It's important to pass down the things we've learned from the past generations. Thank you for sharing all of your comments and stories on the blog and continue to share. I love reading about it!
This episode is from my mom's side of the family. My mom wasn't raised through the Great Depression, my grandmother (her mother) was. The Great Depression was when the whole United States went through a hard financial time, but many families went through hard times in the years outside of the Great Depression and continued to carry over recipes and life skills learned and handed down from the Depression years. These tips are for anyone needing to cut corners, stretch their dollar, or be more frugal.
Resources to Help You Stretch Your Food Budget
Because most corn is now GMO, we only purchase organic and labeled non-GMO for our corn products. This is old-fashioned cornmeal. Wanting to up your food storage and get the best deal per pound? This 25-pound bag of organic cornmeal is a great deal –> 25 pound bag of Organic Corn Meal
Azure Standard carries wheat berries to grind your own flour or ground wheat (not the same as regular flour) for homemade cream of the wheat recipe below
Best price for spelt wheat berries for home flour grinding price I've found–> 25 pound organic whole grains spelt (I get all my wheat now from Azure Standard. Simply pop in your zip code to see where they deliver in your area. They use what they call your drop zone where everything is delivered in one area in your location. They offer once a month drop-offs, so you have to plan ahead. You can find out if you have a drop zone in your area but going to their website and researching your zip code.)
When my mom was growing up sometimes they didn't have groceries or food in the cupboard. I don't mean not a lot, or just a little bit of food, but sometimes, nothing at all. Though my mother never remembers going hungry. My Grandmother did can Tarheel green beans, but they didn't have a large garden beyond that living in town and the beans were sometimes eaten before the next harvest. Both sides of my family came from North Carolina and relied on the heirloom green beans we've saved and continue to grow and pass down to this day.
Learning to use the tips from the Great Depression-era and our forefathers has so much value in our modern lives. Not only does it help us save money, know where our food comes from and what's in it, help us become more self-sufficient and teaches us values, but it helps us live a better life.
Old-Fashioned Cooking for a Busy Home with Great Depression Era Tips and Recipes
Tired of hectic meal times and complicated recipes or relying on processed foods? Instead, learn how to have
- Simple and easy time tested from scratch meals.
- Frugal ways to stretch your groceries.
- Easy steps and tutorials to make your food last longer and to turn scraps or leftover into entire new meals.
- Discover simple way to reuse the items in your home instead of purchasing new and more.
- Reclaim your home with practical room by room simplifying guides.
Want more easy homemade recipes all in one place? This recipe and 100+ more are found in my book–-> click here Hand Made: the Modern Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living.
7 Depression Era Tips and Recipes to Stretch the Food Budget
The first recipe listed below was in their dinner menu at least a few times a week. As a child it was a normal dinner item and my mom didn't realize until she had dinner in other people's home this wasn't a normal supper menu item. Cornmeal was a staple in Depression Era or early 1900 to 1800 kitchens. Cornmeal was used much more than it is today. People can grow corn easier than wheat and is cheaper than flour in most cases. My grandmother firmly believed only white cornmeal was for people and yellow cornmeal was only for livestock. I don't hold to that belief, but she was adamant.
Most of these recipes only contain 5 ingredients or less. Bonus points! Less ingredients is usually healthier and cheaper to make.
Cornmeal mush recipe
- Take ground cornmeal ratio is 1 part cornmeal to 2 parts water.
- Boil 2 cups water and add 1 cup cornmeal and whisk it in.
- Cook until it thickens up about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add butter, a little bit of salt, and as long as you had sugar, you'd add sugar or other sweeteners.
This was their entire supper. She doesn't ever remember going hungry, there was always enough in the pot for supper. You could also make it savory. But I think molasses or maple syrup would be a great add-in. It could also be breakfast, but they ate it a lot for supper. Nowadays we'd think things were pretty bad if this was all we had to eat for a meal, but
Homemade cream of wheat Recipe
- Use ratio is 2 parts milk to 1 part ground wheat. We grind our own wheat here and I'd use spelt flour for this. (6 Tips for Grinding Your Own Wheat & Tips for Baking with Fresh Flour).
- Heat the milk over medium heat and whisk in the wheat.
- Let it cook on a simmer until it's thickened and cooked for about 4 to 7 minutes.
- I always add a bit of salt because it brings out the sweetness when you add in your sweetener.
- Add honey or sugar and a bit of butter.
These are extremely frugal and Depression-era meals.
Use wild game and foraging. My mom said her grandfather was an avid hunter. They didn't have much chicken or beef growing up, but they had fish and a lot of bear meat. You'll get a lot more bear meat per one animal than you would a deer. They used it as we do beef today. Bear meat and gravy, bear stew, bear steak, and bear roast. My mom's favorite food was made by my great-grandmother.
Because cooking was such a natural part of everyday life, they didn't write their recipes down, because they cooked by sight, feel, and taste, so I don't have her exact recipe to share with you. If you have relatives who make a dish you love, ask them to write it down for you now so you can pass it on.
My great-grandmother made bear mincemeat pie. You mince the bear meat up into little itty bitty pieces. In that, you'd have other fruits and spices to make a sweet and savory pie. You'd taste the meat a little bit, not like a pot pie, but with the spices and fruits, it was sweet. A lot of mincemeat pies call for candied citrus fruit or fruit soaked in alcohol to preserve the fruit.
Bear mincemeat pie is my mother's favorite food ever. We raise our own, but bear meat isn't something that we hunt right now. I've never had bear mincemeat pie, but we're doing more and more wild game as the grocery prices continue to rise.
In this season grouse season is on. Grouse is a wild chicken-a pheasant. It's enough to feed our family, myself, spouse, and two younger children. Two grouse would be needed to feed our family and have leftovers, but one will feed us for a meal. This past weekend my husband got one grouse and some chanterelle mushrooms.
Foraging and hunting was something many people did during the Great Depression. Make sure you're foraging in a legal area, know what mushrooms are safe, and use a good field guide. This is the mushroom field guide we have and use.
The thing with hunting is you're not guaranteed to bring home something just because you go out hunting. I'd roasted a whole chicken a few weeks ago from the chickens we'd butchered ourselves. I thought I'd thawed it all the way out before I roasted it and when we first cut into the chicken it looked great. The second day we cut into the chicken I discovered it wasn't quite cooked all the way through in a couple of spots. I tossed it in the freezer to make chicken broth.
Making homemade soup and re-using the bones from chicken and beef to make broth and stock to get even more meals is extremely frugal and healthy. To make stock, which is from the bones, and the broth is from the bones and meat. When I made chicken and dumplings I was making broth. Here's how to make homemade broth and how to can bone broth!
The Depression-era you re-used everything. Soups are a great way to stretch what you already have into another meal and feed more people. By putting in a couple of cups of vegetables and meat, using the broth and dumplings I almost got a week's worth of meals from one chicken. With Thanksgiving coming up if you're cooking a turkey save the bones. You can turn that into turkey stock afterward. In the bones are some great things, one of is gelatin. Gelatin is a great food to nourish our bodies. Tips for making stock:
I love my crockpot because I can put it to work and not have to babysit it. You can also use your wood stove to simmer your stock on not to use electricity. When my dad grew up they didn't have electricity, an indoor bathroom, or running water. They had a hand pump. I also cook on our wood stove in the winter months to save on electricity, or when the power goes out.
When making stock cover the bones with water and some apple cider vinegar to help pull out all the goodies from the bones into your stock. I keep a bag of frozen bones in my freezer to make my next batch of stock. I add extra vegetables to my stock and herbs for lots of flavors and to make it more nutrient-dense. Can you ever go wrong adding garlic and onions? I don't think so either. Sage is one of my favorite herbs to add.
Let it simmer on a low temp for many hours, even overnight.
Stock will get really thick, especially once cooled. When it's done, you'll strain your stock and pull out the spent vegetables. Feed the veggies to your chickens, pigs, or in the compost pile. Take the stock and use it. You can freeze it or store it in the fridge. I'm not sure if pressure canning stock will break down the gelatin or not. You do have to strain off any fat from stock before canning it. Right now I freeze mine to keep the gelatin thick. If anyone has any experience with this I'd love to hear your tips!
Broth is great for pressure canning. Learn how to pressure can broth in this post and video.
This next recipe was used by my husband's family for supper or breakfast. It's lick-your-plate good and an excellent way to stretch the meal to feed more mouths.
Creamed Eggs on Toast
You take 1/4 stick of butter and melt it in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Take 2 to 3 Tablespoons of flour or any thickener of your choice and whisk it into the melted butter a tablespoon at a time. Slowly add in a cup of milk and stir until combined and thickened. We're basically making a white gravy. If you use salted butter you don't need to add any salt.
Take either a biscuit or toast and slice a hard-boiled egg over your toast or biscuit and pour the gravy over the top. This is great for breakfast or dinner. I use this sauce in place of condensed cans of soups. Canned store-bought soup is not frugal and also has questionable ingredients. I use this homemade replacement recipe for condensed soups.
You can also use broth instead of milk for recipes in place of condensed cream of chicken soup. You can sautee some onion and garlic and then add in more butter and make your sauce.
I got my hot little hands on some 1922 cookbooks and after I try them out, I'll be sharing those Depression-era tips and recipes with you, so stay tuned.
Reader Question of the Week: We have a homestead and I'm interested in writing about it and making money. How do I go about this?
Answer: Starting a blog is great if your goal is to share info and help people. If your primary goal to start a blog is to make money I'd suggest you invest your time somewhere else. I blogged for two years without any money. I spend about 25 to 30 hours a week, on top of my homestead and day job. Now it's been 3 and 1/2 years and I”m starting to make a small amount of money. There are costs involved to host a blog and podcast. If your primary goal is money look into a part-time job or selling some hand crafted items from your homestead.
New Feature What I'm Reading this Week: How to Blog with Profit Without Selling Your Soul by Ruth Soukup from Living Well Spending Less. If you're interested in blogging or learning how to begin to earn a profit, this is one of the best books I've read on the subject.
What are some of your family's recipes that have been handed down? How do you stretch your food budget dollars?
More Simple Living Articles:
- Community Sufficiency vs. Self-Sufficiency
- 10 Things Our Grandparents Reused During the Great Depression
- 6 Things Our Great-Grandparents Did Better Than Us
- 17 Self-Sufficiency Tips from the 1940’s & Great Depression Live Interview
- Time & Budget Saving Tips from the Great Depression & this Homesteader’s Kitchen
- Handmade Gift Bags & Tags from the Great Depression Era
- 5 Life Lessons from the Great-Depression
- Great Depression Era Money Saving Tips w/ Potatoes
- 8 Depression Era Tips to Save Money Now
- Building a Great Depression Era Pantry
- How to Stay Cool in the Summer Naturally & Old Fashioned Tips
- How to Keep Your House Cool in the Summer without Electricity
- A Military Wife’s Look on Homestead Preparedness
I remember my dad telling me about cornmeal mush! He grew up in the depression, and there was a time when that was all they had to eat. Til the day he died he did not like anything made with cornmeal.
First, thank you for such a lovely AND educational blog. Just love it. My mother was born in 1924, so she was very young during the Depression, but they lived pretty much the same before, during and after in the cotton fields of Tennessee near the Mississippi River. With chickens, a milk cow, and a big garden, they lived simply but ate well due to my Grandmother being a good steward of her home and resources. One of my favorite old time recipes that we still make today is a “country” version of bread pudding that we call Biscuit Puddin’. lol It’s chocolate and divine. lol In keeping with the habit of wasting nothing, homemade biscuits and bread were saved (fresh was usually made daily) and when enough accumulated, a “biscuit puddin’ ” was made. Tear bread/biscuits into pieces, soak in milk well. Add sugar, cocoa, vanilla and an egg or two if you have them, a good sprinkle of cinnamon and bake til a toothpick comes out clean. 🙂
I’m so making this recipe! Thank you for sharing it with me.
Isn’t that funny, my mom still remembers it fondly. 🙂
The gel factor in good broth is not broken down by heat, so canning it doesn’t stop it from gelling, but the addition of fresh pineapple or papaya would break it down because of the natural enzymes. I love making soup from my good broth, and taking the leftovers out of the fridge just to hold it upside down and see how solid it gets 🙂 Thanks forna great article!
Thanks for that info Carol. My husband just bought me an All American 921 pressure canner and I have bone broth to can. Now I can go ahead with confidence:)
I remember cornmeal mush as a kid. I was born in 1970. My mom would make it for dinner. With the leftovers she would make fried cornmeal mush for breakfast. She would put the cornmeal mush on a cookie sheet then put it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning she would cut it into squares and fry them in butter. I love it this way the best. Sometimes we put maple syrup over them.
7 Great Depression Era Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget - Prepared Bloggers
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I listened to this podcast & am concerned about the chicken stock I canned recently. I’ve not done it before & followed a recipe instructions from a blog. I used a pressure canner. I wasn’t real careful about skimming all the fat. I’ve not opened any & after listening to what you had to say I’m afraid to. Should I throw it out? Is there a site I can get info about canning broth safely? Thanks.
I never skim the fat off my stocks or soups and in 15 yrs haven’t had any problems.
I was born in Italy and raised in Australia…Mum and Dad grew up as kids during the war in Europe and I guess the depression continued for longer over there than in the USA or here. Mum used to often make the corn meal mush you speak of but in Italian it was called Polenta and known as poor mans food. We used to put leftover polenta the fridge over night and fry it in butter next morning then top it with fried breadcrumbs and sprinkled with sugar or a dollop of jam (you call that jelly lol)…fond memories…
My grandfather was also born in Italy. He taught me how to make polenta and told me how his mother would make a game of it. They would pour the polenta on the cutting board and put marinara sauce over top, then have a contest among the kids to see who could eat from the edge to the center first. It sounded kind of strange to me, but he chuckled as he told the story remembering how it was.
What a neat memory and story. Thanks for sharing!
I considered this cornmush polenta as well. We love it. We use stock for water if we want savoury, on top of steamed greens and kidney beans or sweetened as a porridge for breakfast. Setting in the fridge and grilling slices or on the bbq…yum!!!
We live in depression times NOW. Cornmeal good tip. We dont have any food in cupboards a lot and reusing repurposing items, wasting nothing is way of life for us, out of necessity rather than choice. Old clothing make into rags or quilts, buttons are saved.ect. nice article, thank u
We still eat mush but after cooking it i pour mine in bread pan refrigerate and let it get set then remove from bread pan slice it and fry in a little butter once golden brown on both sides remove and pour maple syrup on it we love it that way
My mother was born in 1916, and we grew up “making do” with our own chickens, wild game, and a huge garden. My mother often made cornmeal mush, but she would let it set up and slice it the next morning, into thick slabs. These would be fried in a cast iron pan and served, browned and toasty, with pure maple syrup or honey. Mm-m-m! It was almost like homemade scrapple, without the meat. It makes me hungry just telling about it! Thanks for bringing up a great memory.
Another good book for people to check out is Growing and Canning Your Own Food by Jackie Clay.
She has a lot of really good information and her website is http://www.backwoodshome.com. She has over 30 years experience and is a wealth of information. I’m sure you would enjoy checking out her sites.
Thanks so much for all the wonderful information you are sharing.
Pressure canning more than takes care of threat of botulism. Once canned goods’ lids seal, no air gets in, so there’s no problem with oils, fats, or such. Rebecca, please don’t waste your canned chicken. I’m canning butter/ghee and cheese, and once sealed they’re just like commercially canned goods. Why would I can those things? Because I don’t want to depend on a refrigerator to keep foods from going rancid.
Melissa, I don’t see a way to contact you by e- mail, and I’d really like to share some stuff with you, rather than write here. I was born in ’37, post depression , and grew up learning to be frugal, and we also had ration problems during the second world war. Then I married a freshman in college who was a veteran on GI bill. We had so little money, my learning how to stretch everything helped us survive that, and then later we went to live in post-war south Korea, and learned even more survival methods. I’d love to share some of that with you, and tell about how our family made it through the depression which came relatively close in recovery to the Civil War. And how my father-in-law became a millionaire during the depression…taking advantage of hard times, etc. I have tales of hunting, and foraging covering four generations. I am the “make-do” queen. Recipes , too.
Anyone interested in making the best of hard times will enjoy “Ersatz in the Confederacy ~.shortages and Substitutes on the Southern Homefront”, By Mary Elizabeth Massey. Ersatz is a German word meaning ‘make do’, imitate,substitute. It’s a look at the ingenuity of Southerners dealing with shortages and very hard times. I think this is the book for your listeners and readers.
For us, it was grits, not mush. It was always eaten as a vegetable, so sugar was never added. Sometimes folks from the north would eat it with sugar, and we’d say, “eeyew!” Grits takes about 30 minutes to cook. You start by covering the bottom of a saucepan about a half inch deep with dry grits. Then cover it with cold water until you can still see the grits in the bottom. Add salt to taste, then bring the grits to a boil, while stirring. This method keeps the grits from clumping or forming lumps. When the water boils, turn the fire to low, and cover with a lid. The grits will simmer, but needs to be stirred fairly often to a avoid burning. We sometimes had meat for supper, but only one kind, swisssteak with gravy. The swiss steak was made from an inch thick round steak. The steaks were tough, so to make them tender, the steak was beaten/pounded with a butcher knife until it was pretty thin. Then the steak was salted and peppered, and drenched in flour. It was cooked in a frying pan with a little oil added. Once the steak was brown on one side, it was turned and cooked on the other side. Whenoth sides were brown, the steak was covered with water, and sliced onions, then covered and left to simmer until tender/cooked. This was our supper almost every night of my life. A breakfast variation was to eat grits with eggs, bacon, and toast or biscuits. Besides salt and pepper, only gravy and/or butter for supper, and just butter for breakfast. I know it sounds yucky, but kids liked to add catsup. Occasionally, we would have breakfast for supper when there was no meat, then we could also have cheese. Eating the same thing day after day, really is not difficult. You just have to like what you eat. If you don’t, oh, well, there was always tomorrow, but it would still be the same food.
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favorite meal growing up was scrapple; boil up some ham hocks till the meat falls off the bone remove the marrow and put back in the pot, chop the meat fine add chopped onion, celery, grated carrots, garlic or other salt, flavoring and/or produce you like and boil till soft. stir in cornmeal and slowly cook till thickening. pour into loaf pans and cool. slice and fry till crisp on the outside for lunch or dinner. also love tamale pie with cornmeal mush on the bottom and top and ground meat, vegetables (beans, corn, onion, celery etc.), tomato sauce, cheese, etc between. the deal is: know what goes together well, use what you have, and season it well to suit your family.
That sounds really good, Wendy. I might have to give that a try!
I use a recipe similar to this that I found in the Mennonite cookbook “More with Less”. So useful as you can put just about anything in your scrapple
I have a British cook book that republished recipes from World War II when most things were rationed or impossible to get over here. One of the tips is how to use the fat that hardens when you’ve cooled your home-made stock (broth). The writer recommends collecting all the fat you have, melting it, then washing it by pouring on boiling water (stand back!!). When the fat solidifies, lift it off the liquid and scrape off any sediment and bits. It’s now useful for frying and roasting. It then says, “Wise housewives will take this a step further. They will heat the fat up again until it stops bubbling. This means that it is quite free from moisture and will keep literally indefinitely. It can be used for anything, even cake making.”
My parents grew up during that era, and I remember as a kid eating a lot of what would probably be considered “Depression Era” food. And of course being Italian they had to add pasta to everything, if they weren’t already eating pasta five or six nights a week, sometimes TWICE A DAY. Everything had potatoes, rice, pasta, more potatoes, and more rice, and whenever I said anything it was always met with “oh, but we’re Italian”… They never met a carbohydrate they didn’t like. I remember my shock my a friend of mine who had lived in Texas and made chilli one night, and it contained no rice AT ALL. Every other incarnation of chilli I had up until that point was MOSTLY rice.
To this day I blame that diet on the weight problems I had growing up. I’m not a fan of potatoes, I can take or leave rice. Looking back now it was a small wonder I didn’t develop diabetes from the high starch, high carbohydrate, and fairly low protein foods that I was eating. I always hear “we always ate this, and nobody every worried about carbohydrates”, and to that I say “Yeah, and pneumonia was a death sentence, and people used to drop dead at 50”.
Time to leave these recipes where they belong, in the past.
my dad was one of ten, grew up in NC. wen hes around and my kids are eating oatmeal he always says, good god, woman; i ate enough oatmeal growing up my GRANDchildren dont have to eat it!! he never allowed my mom to make oatmeal, cream of wheat was allowed but we rarely had it.
all the things they cudnt afford, nasty cold cereal, tonnns of meat including deli meat and bolgna, hotdogs, etc, desserts every night, chips and things…these were what we ate. he was making up for what they didnt have. at 50 i am still dealing with the reprecussions of a bad early diet even tho ive been studying nutrition and cooking from scratch since i was 15.
he does like grits tho so i learned to love those from early on; and vinegar and redhot on everything including grits. i laugh at ppl who sweeten their grits. its not rice pudding i tell them. we have 5 kinds of vinegar in my house: plain, hot pepper, rice, balsamic and red wine. the 1st two live on the table like salt & pepper. white vinegar is a cleaning solution imo. my kids all were weaned onto redhot. at 3 they ate things spicier than most men. i grew up eating homemade tacos as my dad had a friend with a mexican wife. it was funny to us wen mexican fastfood came out: blech. and flour tortillas?? real mexican is corn tortillas…im surprised my dad allowed it as he ate alooooot of mush too lol
it would have been helpful for my dad to appreciate some of his upbringing. but his mom would make a huge pot of beans with fatback and they would eat it till it was gone. rarely had fresh produce, fruit was almost unheard of. he says he was a teen before he ever ate a banana.
my grandpa (from up North) ate scrapple growing up (my dad ate headcheese, tripe, sweetbreads). my grandma wudnt make it as it was poor ppl food. my family was so messed up on both sides! my dad says they ate everything but the squeal wen they got a pig. but he was supporting his family right so we were going to just eat muscle meat. he still will leave the house if he smells liver cooking. it makes him sick.
This was run to read. we still do most of these things- I always hated cornmeal growing up, but knew that it was something that I would eat for breakfast at least once a week- the rotation went cornmeal, cream of wheat, oatmeal, pancakes, and Fridays were always exciting to see what we would get!
Bear mince meat sounds interesting, we make green tomato mincemeat every year after it freezes so that all of those lovely green tomatoes in the garden don´t go to waste- so we substitute them for the meat. My mom makes some little mincemeat pies that she sells at the farmer´s market where she sells the surplus of the half acre garden, and there are people who go every Saturday just to buy the green tomato mincemeat pies.
Podcast #45 Great Depression Era Money Saving Tips
[…] Last week’s episode was from my mother’s side of the family with cornmeal and wild game. […]
A current family favorite recipe that my mom picked up when we lived near Amish country when I was a baby, we call “Creamed Eggs and Biscuits.” I make a sausage gravy, then add sliced boiled eggs to the gravy. We then ladle that over our biscuits. Soooooo, yummy!!!
How to Stretch Your Food Budget via Depression Era - Info You Should Know
[…] How to Stretch Your Food Budget via Depression Era […]
8 Tips to Live Like the Pioneers
[…] 7. Hunting and fishing. While on the move across the frontier, the pioneers couldn’t always bring along enough livestock to feed themselves, but hunting and fishing could be done along the way. Learning how to fish and hunt are still important skills towards feeding your family. My son and I will be taking hunter’s safety course together this spring. One of our favorite wild game meals is fresh grouse and venison. Growing up, my mother fondly remembers bear mince meat pie as her favorite meal my great-grandmother cooked. More of that nature in –> 7 Great Depression Era Tips to Stretch Your Food Budget […]
My parents were both very young during the Depression, but my father’s poor farm family lived “depression style” even into the 70’s. They did not get public electricity until around 1960, but just prior to that they did make their own electricity with a ” Delco-Light Farm Light Plant ” in their basement. They had a hand pump for water and a wood stove for cooking, kerosene lights, a milk cow, chickens, a big garden, and a few fruit trees (apple and seckel pear) and berry bushes, and a chestnut tree. They raised corn and tobacco for sale, so they were mostly self-sufficient. Grandma also raised extra asparagus, and rhubarb for sale or trade. Grandma used everything in at least two ways, or until it fell apart.
It was natural for my parents to continue those practices when I was young. We ate oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and Ralston for breakfast. We too enjoyed corn meal mush and corn pone with molasses or King syrup for dinner. It was a treat to have apple dumplings or scrambled eggs for supper- more frugal dinners. Dad went game hunting many weekends and we ate venison, rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, and even snapping turtle! We also ate meat that you don’t often see in the grocery store today – scrapple, beef tongue and heart (in the pressure cooker) and pig stomach (stuffed with sausage and diced potatoes). The only thing I could not abide was chicken livers, which hid under the table and fed to the cat. I thought everyone ate like this, and did not know my parents were frugally trying to feed 3 children. Living in Amish country, it really is common to still see many of these old recipes still being served.
I grew up on cornmeal mush…not many people I come across now days even now what it is! My grandparents grew up during the Depression and played a large role in my brother and my upbringing. Even though I grew up in a large city, thanks to my grandparents, I was exposed to so many of the “old, country” way of doing things. I used to feel so different from the other kids at school because my lunch sandwiches were always on homemade bread, with a layer of butter, of course, and a piece of homemade cake instead of store bought snacks. Looking back I realize the other kids didn’t think I was so weird, they were trying to talk me out of the waxed paper from the cake so they could eat the homemade icing! LOL I find it ironic that so many people are trying so hard to get back to the old way of doing things and feel very fortunate to have been raised so close to the old ways from the start.
Seems like you would not want to add vegetables that have been cooked with bones/meat to the compost pile.
When my father (who was born in 1916) first tasted Fritos, he said they tasted like fried cornmeal mush. Don’t know how it was made but I can envision cornmeal patties fried in bacon grease.
You have a wonderful site. I have really enjoyed the comments/stories. Please keep the good work.
May GOD bless you,
Melissa, I am wondering if you know of any books available that have similar tips and recipes from the Great Depression Era?
I don’t. I’m actually beginning to work on one myself, interviewing folks and hunting down old articles and books to compile it together. But it will be a year or so before it’s all done and out.
I just came across your web sight. I really love it. thank you so much. Please let me know when you finish your book. I would love to buy one.
Pat, thanks so much. The book is ready and we’ve got some awesome bonuses going on. You can check it out here http://madefromscratchlife.com/
The Foxfire books are full of backwoodsy, depression era &older recipes & homestead, survival, hunting & fishing, planting and preserving, foraging & natural healing how-to’s told by the oldsters who actually lived that way. There are several volumes but the 1st few were the best as I recall.
We actually cooked the corn meal and left it in the pan. It solidifies in the fridge and the next day you slice it and fry it for breakfast! Tasty!
Thanks for the tip, Dana!
I have a recipe for Hunter’s Stew that I’ve started tweaking to include more frugal ways of cooking it. We buy 1 or 2 whole chickens a month. I’ll roast a chicken for a meal and since there is only my husband and I, we can eat on it for a couple of meals. (We don’t really like dark meat). Then I’ll pick the rest of the meat off the carcass and save it for Hunter’s Stew or Chicken Enchiladas. I then use the carcass and left over juices in the pan to make a broth. I do the same thing with beef roasts. I encourage everyone to look for the recipe for Hunter’s Stew. It is a great way to use some left over vegetables and meat.
My great grandmother received 10 lbs of potatoes from her parents as a wedding gift and was thankful. She had a wonderful recipe called baked steak. She would take tough cuts of beef and pound it until thin, then drench the meat with flour/salt/pepper mixture and fry til brown. The meat would be removed and gravy made in the pan. Both meat and gravy would be put into a baking dish with a lid and basically baked (anywhere between 2 to 4 hrs). If done correctly, the meat falls apart in your mouth. The excess gravy would be put over bread or potatoes. The key to making this recipe is to make plenty of gravy since it reduces down during baking.
Thank so much for sharing. Can you imagine what someone today might think of a wedding gift like that. I love these kind of stories. I’ve prepared steak like you mentioned, but I’ve never then baked it in the gravy. I’ve got to try it now!
Your comment about a relative not using a recipe hit home. Many years ago my Polish grandmother would make Pierogi. I loved them so much I decided to write down the recipe. Some things she would give me an approximate amount. When it came time for the flour, I asked “How much flour do you use?” She looked at me like I had just come from another planet) and said “As much as will fit!”
Kris, I love her response!
I like this I am not that old 62 but I do remember eating simple dishes. corn beef and gravy on toast,liver and onions,malt-o-meal.Grandmother raised chickens so fresh chicken and eggs and fresh milk because they were the ones that had a dairy farm in Colorado so lived a bit better during the depression at least having food and some work.I can’t wait to try the gravy ,egg toast for dinner.Mom used to make egg noodles and chicken a lot and I still make them she got that recipe from grandma and it’s so simple to make the noodles. any way I could go on and on as I remember dad hunting Pheasant in Kansas for food not because we had to but it was dinner and the feathers were in demand at the time. Keep up the great work and Thank you.
I bet those noodles are delicious and what a treasured recipe with the memories.
You mention grinding your own wheat for cream of wheat. I have an electric WonderMill, but even on the coarsest setting it doesn’t seem to be something that would turn into cream of wheat. How do to make your homemade cream of wheat? Winter is coming, I would love to know! Thanks!
I always looked forward to Creamed Eggs on Toast. We calls it Eggs Goldenrod because we seporated the hard cooked eggs, only putting the chopped whites in the cream sauce. The first thing on the plate was toast with lots of real butter (there should be enough to melt and run out on the plate when the white sauce is added). Next came the hot cream sauce with egg whites. Then the yokes were pushed through a course sieve to cover the top with Goldenrod. Much more satisfactorily than with yokes diced into the sauce.
We also ate “Cush”: corn grits mixed with raw eggs and carefully Pride
Lol, this flew off into Cyber Space as I was trying to edit 🙂 Cush is made by mixing cold cooked corn grits and raw eggs then pouring into a hot oiled skillet. It is cooked without stirring until lightly brown on the bottom then flipped and broken up a bit to make sure the eggs are cooked. Ratio: enough egg to hold the grits together but not dominate them. When the budget allows, a bit of grated strong cheddar cheese is a pleasant addition. I no longer eat pork because the Creator says it isn’t food so now would use beef fat for this.
Sounds interesting Mom was raised then and she thought I was crazy to like the things from then. But I still loved it. We farm have for 45 yrs so I enjoy canning and drying and growing herbs. Cooked for as few as two and as many as 15 on the farm love cooking from scratch. Its the only way.
I too grew up during some very tough times, depression, dust bowl and WW2 when things were rationed. I am in my 80s and still live very frugally because it has become a way of life. We ate corn cakes (similar to pancakes) and always had bacon fat gravy for them My kids still think they are a treat if I make them when they visit.
No refrigeration and we lived on a farm. Leftover from the noon meal were left on the table, covered with a cloth and heated up for the evening meal or supper. We did have an ice box if we had ice. They make ice in town so if we happened to be there we would buy a block for the ice box or maybe ice cream.
All scraps went to the chickens and we always had chickens to eat. In the latter 30’s probably lockers came into being and we could pkg and freeze chickens, beef and pork to get later. Yes a lot was also canned. I remember storing cooked sausage patties in a stone crock and pouring hot fat over it and it was kept in the basement and would keep for months. We also dried corn on window screens for a winter vegetable. Think the Amish still do that.
Always loved to forage for Lamb’s Quarter, better than spinach.
Lots of good times and good memories as I mostly lived with my grandparents until in the 40’s.