Depression Era Living
In the depression, it was common to eat meat no more than once a week, if at all. Some of the kind of meals you might expect were: bread and baked beans, bread and gravy, breaded tomatoes (garden tomato sauce on bread - sugar and butter can be added), buttered noodles, cornbread in buttermilk, creamed eggs on toast,  dropped dumplings in broth, fried cornmeal mush (ash cakes), fried egg sandwich (mayo optional), fried egg with a slice of onion, fried eggs on toast, gnocci (pasta made with flour and mashed potatoes), ketchup on egg sandwich, noodles and tomatoes (onions optional), pasta and bean soup (pasta y fagioli, pronounced pasta fazool), potatoes and gravy, potatoes fried in bacon fat, raw onion sandwich [marinated onions recipe below], sauerkraut and boiled potatoes, scrambled egg with potato and onion [recipe below], sour milk pancakes (raw milk sours and does not go bad like pasteurized milk), spaghetti and tomatoes, spaghetti and sauerkraut (depression era spaghetti -- recipe below), tomatoes and onions on toast, tomato sandwiches and tomato and cheese sandwich.

Obviously, different combinations of inexpensive eggs, flour, potatoes, onions, cabbage, beans and corn made up a lot of your diet. You got tomatoes if you grew them in your garden. Rice wasn't popular during the last American Depression, but I think it should be more popular during the next now that there is more US-grown rice available.

If you were lucky, you got meat once a week, usually on Sunday. The menu could be something like:

Fried chicken or bacon, blackeyed pea soup, mashed potatoes and gravy, parsnips. Dessert: bread pudding with cream

The Irish dinner of corned beef, potatoes, cabbage and carrots would also fit in well, but make the cabbage sauerkraut rather than eating it boiled. No mention is made of the traditional cheap dessert, but peach cobbler would be a good choice.

Restaurant meal for the price of a cup of coffee:

Order a cup of coffee, extra light, and a cup of hot water (which should be free). Put ketchup in the hot water to make "tomato soup", and then crumble saltine/crackers into it (assuming restaurant has cracker packets at the counter). Salt and pepper to taste.


Tear up a slice of bread in a bowl, add sugar and milk.


Raw milk
Many depression-era families had access to raw milk from a goat or cow-owner in walking distance who would sell excess milk from the cow inexpensively. Many families owned the goat or cow themselves.

Pickles and sour cream
All these carb-heavy menus would be greatly enhanced nutritionally if a raw, lacto-fermented pickle or sauerkraut were added to them. Cucumber and apples can be made into a pickle easily, either sweet or salty.[recipe below] and are inexpensive. All these meals would be better with "a raw, lacto-fermented pickle or pickled fruit or veg and some raw, cultured or clabbered milk or cream."* added to them. (*raw sauerkraut and yogurt basically, but there are many variations once you learn how to make pickles/sauerkraut and culture dairy)

Other sources of food
Many families grew tomatoes, probably because they preserve so well which can then be stored through the winter.

Beans were bought in large quantity (25-50 pounds) from a dry goods store, white flour was bought in 50-pound sacks. White flour doesn't need refrigeration like whole grain flour, can be kept in a cool storage area. That much whole grain flour would have to be kept in the freezer. Whole grains can be kept in a cool storage area if you have a way to mill them into flour when you are ready to use the flour.

Rice was not popular during the last depression but it would make a good addition to the list.

Bad as this diet may sound to people used to meat every day, studies have shown that children fed a depression-era diet were healthier than children fed a modern diet high in processed foods, and many children who were fed these depression-era diets loved them, and grew to have fond food memories when they became prosperous, often having a favorite comfort food being a food from their impoverished past.

The best foods to grow for a depression are tomatoes, cabbages and onions. Buy beans and rice at a dry-goods store, and milk from the nearest cow or goat.

Bacon should not have synthetically made nitrates in it. In the old days, they used bird guano as a naturlal source for the nitrogen needed to make bacon and sausages safe. Now, if you don't want or can't get guano-cured meats, you can keep them refrigerated the meat instead. If you butcher the pig, have the butcher cut the bacon area of the pig into chunks, it is not necessary to have bacon long and thinly sliced. If you buy bacon from a farm or butcher, be sure to include all the fat and any surrounding areas meat that is otherwise less expensive.

What to expect
If you are a woman with children, you will most likely be living in a house -- someone will take you in -- but it may be as a charity case and you will be expected to appreciate it and contribute to the running of the house.

If you are a man with a family to support, you will be more likely to keep your job, but you will be paid less money.

If you are a single able-bodied man, you may be living in a tent city. You won't do much of your own cooking beyond coffee on a communal campfire, but will get most of your food from the community your tent city is in. There will almost  always be a campfire going. If it gets really cold, you'll go sleep in a shelter. At that shelter, if you want coffee and doughnuts in the morning, you'll either have to do some work beforehand like chopping wood or you'll have to listen to a religious-oriented lecture while you get your coffee and doughnuts.

If you live in a house, you will have to provide occasional meals to hungry beggars. Since you're going to have to do it anyway, you may as well believe you're doing it out of christian charity rather than for fear of an unfortunate accident to your property. When your children are old, they'll fondly reminisce how "Mom could never turn away someone hungry."

Hopefully, you have a home and can save your mortgage, but, if worse comes to worst, you can sleep for free in a car or tent. Put some black cardboard over the windows to shut out the light. 

In the first Depression, shanty towns were built with tin and wood. Because of the prevalence of old cars, it is possible the next Hoovervilles will inlude a lot of car living, but the availability of cheap, easy-to-pitch tents may make them the residence of choice. Blue tarps can be spread over a couple cars and tents to make a home or small community. Lots of blankets or sleeping bags in your car will help keep you warm through all but the coldest (below freezing) temperatures.

Depression era grocery list:
Buy in large quantity:
flour, beans, rice, sugar, cornmeal, potatoes, sea salt
Grow in garden/front lawn:
tomatoes, cabbages, onions
Get from a farmer:
Raw milk and cream, (make your own butter from the cream.), bacon or pork with fat (fatback/back fat), eggs, soup bones

Whole grain/brown flour/rice or white?
The human digestive system needs fiber to move food along. The best sources for that fiber are the bodies of the bacteria and microbial symbionts that digest the food, making its nutrients available to us. The second best source is plant fiber, whole grain flour and brown rice. If you have a superlative digestive system (unlikely in anyone growing up on a modern diet), you could get away with white grains. If not, it is probably better to stick to whole grains. There are some anti-nutrients in the fiber areas of the grains, so whole grain foods should always be soaked overnight before consuming. If pre-soaking is not possible due to the particular recipe involved, then unbleached white is better.

 Healthy Depression-Era Style Recipes and Menus 

Apple Pickles
Peel apples. Throw away peels and continue peeling apple with potato peeler into thin slices. Put in a glass jar. Add whey from a cultured dairy or liquid from a batch of sauerkraut or previous batch of apple pickles. Add brine to cover (salt water with a ratio of 1 pint water to 1 teaspoon sea salt or other full array salt). Put water into a plastic baggie. Tie or knot baggie so water doesn't leak. Put on top of apple slices to hold apples under water (or see sauerkraut to see how to use leaves to hold fermenting vegetables under water.) Cover with a piece of plastic secured with a rubber band and leave overnight at room temperature (that's about as "instant" as you can get with raw, lacto-fermented food.)  In the morning, eat the apples, drink the liquid and reserve about a quarter cup of the liquid as your starter for the next batch. You can also peel and thin slice cucumbers or any other soft fruit or vegetable that you could eat raw and add them to the apples. Eat some apple pickles with every meal until your sauerkraut is ready to be eaten with every meal.

Apple cider vinegar
Peel, chop and core the apples. Put in blender with water and blend on high. Strain through a flannel jelly bag and save the juice. Add a few raisins to the apple juice, cover with an airlock and allow to ferment. When the juice has become an alcoholic/hard cider, put a mother of vinegar or a mother of kombucha matrix into it. Cover with a cloth to keep out insects, and then let it set at room temperature for a couple weeks.

Ash Cakes or Fried cornmeal mush
Mix 1/2 cup of cornmeal and 1 cup of bone broth or water in a glass or ceramic bowl and let set over night. Pat into a bread loaf pan and refrigerate. To cook, slice and fry in bacon grease. Instant cornmeal mush: mix cornmeal and boiling water half and half, shape into patty and fry in fat.

Baked beans
Soak beans for at least 24  hours in water with lemon juice, vinegar or whey added. Drain, rinse and drain again. Put in slow cooker, cover with bone broth and simmer at low temperature for a day or until beans are soft. Add extra bone broth if needed to keep beans under liquid. When beans are soft, add some tomatoes or tomato sauce, onions and garlic cloves fried in lard, sea salt, pepper, a little molasses and some cooked bacon or pork with fat on. Continue to simmer on low heat for another day or until all ingredients have blended together.

Baked onions
Hollow out some onions and fill with sugar or honey. Bake at medium-low temperature until soft.

Broiled tomato and cheese sandwiches
Put a slice of tomato and a slice of cheese under the broiler until the cheese is melted.

Chicken and dumplings
Get an old chicken that would be too dry and tough for a roast, put in a pot of water, bring to a boil and then simmer until cooked. Remove chicken and set aside. Make dumplings and drop into simmering water, cook for about 15 minutes. Remove dumplings, add more dough and repeat until you have as many dumplings for however many people you are feeding. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the chicken, set aside skin and bones. When all dumplings have been cooked, return to pot with chicken meat. Use skin and bones to make more broth for more dumplings during the week, or make into biscuits and gravy. Dumplings: 1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons melted butter, 1/4 cup milk. Mix until smooth and drop by tablespoonfuls in broth. Cook 15 minutes, covered. Do not lift lid while cooking. Other birds or fowl may be used.

Creamed Eggs on Toast
Take 1 tablespoon butter, lard or tallow, 1 1/2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 cup milk. Melt butter in baked enamel or cast iron saucepan over low heat. Add flour and salt, stirring constantly until smooth and frothy. Cook about 2 minutes stirring often to prevent browning. Gradually stir in milk. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth, thick and boiling. Shell and slice 4 hard-boiled eggs. Gently stir into cream mixture and spoon of 4 slices of toast.

Creamed Peas on Toast
Make a white sauce (see cream/white sauce below). Add a cup of peas and cook over medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over toast.

Depression Era Spaghetti:
Boil a pound of spaghetti. Add cabbage slaw or drained sauerkraut when nearly done. Continue cooking until cabbage slaw is done to your taste if that is what you used. Drain and add some chopped chicken and butter. Stir and add some cheese. (If using raw sauerkraut, drain boiled spaghetti and add sauerkraut, chicken and butter. No need to cook further except to heat.)

Marinated Onions
Thinly slice 2 onions and separate into rings. Mix the following ingredients (amounts can be varied according to taste): 1 ounce of extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup raw apple cider vinegar or extra sour kombucha, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon sea salt or other full-array salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives, 1 garlic clove, chopped and crushed.(Hot pepper optional.) Put all in a glass jar with a cover and store in refrigerator for at least 1 day. Liquid can be re-used to marinate more onions.

Scrambled eggs with fried potatoes and onions
Slice potatoes and fry in hot lard in a baked enamel or cast iron skillet. Add onions and continue cooking until both potatoes and onions are cooked. Scramble some eggs (you can add pieces of bread to the egg if you want), then add to the potato mix and fry until eggs are cooked.

Cream/white sauce. To make a creamed anything:
Take 2 tablespoons butter, lard or tallow, 3 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 cups milk. Melt butter in baked enamel saucepan over low heat. Add flour and salt, stirring constantly until smooth and frothy. Cook about 3 minutes stirring often to prevent browning. Gradually stir in milk. Increase heat to medium and simmer, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth, thick and boiling.

Fried egg sandwich
Fry an egg in lard, bacon grease or other animal fat. Place on bread. Add salt and pepper. Mayonnaise optional.

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