Simple and Creative Depression Era Recipes

Woman cooking at stove in kitchen
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The Great Depression in the 1930s was a time of hardship, but it was also a time of creativity. Faced with limited funds and government-imposed food rationing, the Depression-era cook learned to work magic in the kitchen. Homemakers learned to make cakes without flour and eggs and pie crusts from crackers. You made due with what was in the cupboard, especially if you had to walk to town and back for groceries.

Meat was notably scarce, even if you raised your own livestock as you wouldn't want to eat your profits. Many recipes used rice, beans and cheese instead of meat. They were often simple fare that is easier to prepare, using canned and dried foods that didn't require an icebox, let alone a refrigerator.

Following the Depression, times were still tight as dairy products, butter and eggs were rationed. Recipes began to call for vegetable shortening instead and reduce the amounts of the scarce items. Today, you might turn to them for a quick homemade supper and encourage your family to think back to more frugal times when people didn't have microwaves or frozen prepared meals. The following is a collection of recipes that has survived from that time:

  • Bread, Egg, Asparagus Meal: This Pennsylvania Dutch meal made without meat would have been perfect for spring asparagus season.
  • Chocolate Depression Cake: This cake stems from the Depression era and is also known as Wacky Cake. What's so wacky? It's made without eggs. It gets its leavening from baking soda and vinegar. It is very simple to mix together and is a favorite to let your kids make for you.
  • Cruellers: Carol McKellar sent us this recipe from her grandmother's Depression-era cookbook. You make a potato dough and deep fry it for a treat.
  • Fried Cabbage with Pasta: This is a great recipe for leftovers. You can make it with leftover pasta and with or without meat. If you have bits of turkey, chicken, pork or ham you can toss it with fried cabbage, pasta and spices.
  • Gorge: You can gorge yourself cheaply on this three-ingredient pasta recipe handed down through the generations.
  • Hoover Stew: This was originally a feast dish because it contained meat - hot dogs. It's a pasta dish with macaroni, canned tomatoes, and canned corn or beans.
  • Hot Water Cornbread: This simple cornbread dates from the Depression.
  • Potato Pancakes: If you have potatoes and a grater, you can make tasty potato pancakes. This recipe is from Grammi D of New Brunswick, Canada. You can add in onions, garlic, cheese or even seafood to your liking.
  • Sweet Potatoes in Cream: Grandmother's recipe makes a hearty side dish from sweet potatoes. During the Depression, it may have been the whole meal, adding protein from milk and cream.
  • Washington Cake: This simple white vanilla cake is from a recipe from an Irish grandmother's old brown journal.
  • World War II-Era Wedding Cake Recipe : This cake would have required pooling ration coupons for eggs, and it uses vegetable shortening in the icing.