Nowadays, with the never-ending supply of cookbooks online and in bookstores, and the family recipes your parents passed down, there’s an exhaustive supply of meal ideas. And with modern technology and agriculture, we can basically get any ingredient we need with a quick and affordable trip to the grocery store.
But back in the 1930s, people had to be a little more resourceful. The Great Depression, which lasted an entire decade, was the worst economic downturn in U.S. history. Cooking during a time where there was little money to go around meant utilizing few ingredients and turning them into something delicious.
So if you want to add a little more frugal ingenuity to your kitchen, and experience meals your grandparents or great-grandparents probably ate, check out some of our favorite Great Depression-era recipes.
1. The Poorman’s Feast
I want to start off this recipe list with one of my favorite chefs on YouTube: 94-year old Clara who grew up during the Great Depression. Her charming demeanor makes her fun to watch, and the recipes come with her commentary about what the Great Depression was really like. The video recipe features steak which truly was a luxury during the Great Depression.
2. Meat And Potato Patties
We were definitely a meat and potatoes kind of family when I was growing up, so this meal looks absolutely delicious to me. Meat rations were pretty low per family in the 30s, so to add a little more sustenance, potatoes were mixed in to create this dinner. Pair it with a simple tomato sauce and some brussels sprouts to round out the meal.
3. Depression-Era Potato Soup
This IS your grandma’s potato soup. Simple, hardy, and tasty, potatoes are a huge staple in Great Depression-era cooking and this soup is a prime example.
Related Post: Growing Potatoes (The Best Varieties, Avoiding Disease, And Harvesting Tips)
If you want to add more flavor, some bacon and green onions would make a great addition to this dish.
4. Creamed Chipped Beef
Also lovingly known as sh*t on a shingle, creamed chipped beef is typically served on a piece of toast, aka, the shingle. This was a popular recipe in the 30s because the beef offered some protein while the bechamel sauce provided filling carbohydrates.
5. 1930s Einkorn Chocolate Cake
Milk and eggs are perishable, and unless you lived on a farm, they probably weren’t a huge staple in your depression-era kitchen. This cake recipe from A Modern Homestead doesn’t require milk or eggs and still has that delectable chocolate flavor. This is also a great option for those with allergies or dietary restrictions.
6. Dandelion Salad
One of the most frugal ways to eat is to forage off your land. It seems like dandelions are just about everywhere and during the depression, those “weeds” were free sustenance waiting to be picked.
Related Post: How To Make Dandelion Wine
Of course, salad can be as simple or as complex as you want. Pair it with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette and some garden-fresh cherry tomatoes to add a punch of flavor.
7. The Poor Man’s Meal
Comprised mainly of potatoes and hot dogs, the poor man’s meal is a simple dish that’s super filling and comes together quickly. Hot dogs will offer a little bit of protein while the potatoes fill up those hungry bellies. Clara says her grandson and his friends just can’t get enough of it.
8. Depression-Era Meatloaf
Coming from a large family, ground beef was a big staple in our home. Meatloaf filled us up and was something we could all eat without complaints. This recipe is a very bare-bones meatloaf that really reflects the simplicity of the ingredients that were available at the time.
9. Homemade Bread
Bread is cheap and can feed a crowd, and that’s basically the requirements of depression-era cooking.
Related Post: How To Make Irish Soda Bread
This recipe, in particular, requires only flour, salt, and yeast, and yields eight loaves of bread. Overall, this recipe only costs $3.50 in ingredients, and makes a loaf of bread for only 44 cents apiece!
10. Pasta Peas
Pasta dishes are so easy to whip up and this one includes just a few simple ingredients that complement each other well. Peas are inexpensive and shelf-stable, making them a good staple item in the depression-era kitchen. Pancetta is included in this recipe to add some saltiness but could be excluded to make this dish even more affordable.
11. Depression-Era Pizza
Who doesn’t love pizza? In this recipe, Clara set aside some dough from the bread she made the day before and used it to make flatbread pizza. Topped with mozzarella and anchovies, it’s a filling meal that’s a great option for Friday night.
12. Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding
Rice pudding only requires five inexpensive ingredients and results in a filling dish that could be served as a snack or as dessert after dinner. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top or mix in some raisins for more texture and flavor.
13. Baked Apples
A more affordable alternative to traditional American apple pie, baked apples have all the flavor of pie without the crust. Not only does eliminating the crust decrease the overall cost of the meal, but if you’re going carb-free, this recipe could be a great solution for a sweet treat during the holidays. If you have an apple orchard with more apples than you know what to do with, cook these up for an easy after-dinner treat.
14. Cabbage And Noodles
Hot dogs are another staple ingredient in depression-era cooking. They’re cheap, offer some protein, and are an easy substitute for more expensive meats. Paired with cabbage, peas, and egg noodles, this dish could fill up a crowd for just a few bucks.
15. Hot Water Pie
If you were half expecting this to be a pie crust filled with hot water, you’re not alone. When I came across this recipe I was justifiably confused. I’d describe this pie as having more of a custard-type filling comprised of simple sugar, egg, flour, and of course, hot water. The ingredients are super cheap and result in a delicious dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
16. Creamed Peas On Toast
Similar to creamed chipped beef, creamed peas on toast is a classic depression-era recipe that has been served for decades. It’s made out of simple ingredients that are probably already in your pantry and makes for a great midday lunch or snack.
17. Old Fashioned Vinegar Pie
Now, before you get turned off by the name, just know that this pie doesn’t contain nearly as much vinegar as you may be envisioning. The vinegar is used more to bring all the flavors together rather than offer a pungent bite. This recipe is similar to hot water pie but offers a different, thicker consistency with the filling.
And though this isn’t a recipe, I couldn’t resist adding this video at the end to give you all a little chuckle.
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