The Great Depression was undoubtedly one of the hardest times in American history. Though it only lasted a decade, we are still feeling the effects of the greatest economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world. One area of life that has been greatly impacted by the Great Depression is how we eat. Not only were ingredients sparse, but people had to be aware of the nutritional content of their meals. Cooking and eating was for survival, not to impress others with your culinary skills.
That’s not to say there weren’t some very creative home chefs! After all, people had to be resourceful during this time. Let’s take a look at some Depression-Era foods that are making a surprising comeback.
Crazy Chocolate Cake
During the Great Depression, certain ingredients were very expensive, so substitutions had to be made in order to continue making and enjoying the dishes people loved. While most cakes are made with milk, eggs, and butter, these ingredients were difficult to come by in the 1930s, so people got creative and came up with a way to make a decadent, moist, fluffy chocolate cake. What is used in place of eggs, butter, and/or milk? Apple cider vinegar! Check out our recipe for this cake here!
Peanut Butter Bread
Being quarantined at home during 2020 led to an explosion of home chefs trying their hand at baking bread. In fact, according to Delish, online searches for “yeastless bread recipes” went up 4,400% and phrases like “no egg cake recipe” and “canned ham recipes” started trending worldwide. It’s no surprise then, that this very simple, low-ingredient peanut butter bread recipe skyrocketed in popularity this last year. You just need flour, peanut butter, sugar, baking powder, and milk. See more info on peanut butter bread here!
Depression-Era Wieners and Beans
As I’ve mentioned before, food was less about presentation and taste, and more about getting as much nutrition as you can into every meal. Beans were a very popular and cheap source of protein, as were hot dogs. It makes sense these two cheap (albeit at times sketchy) foods would be combined to form a makeshift meal. A lot of times, people would use beans and wieners as a base and then add spices, veggies, rice, and other things to stretch it out. If you’re a fan of baked beans, check out these 8 next-level baked bean recipes!
Meatloaf was a staple during the Great Depression and is still popular today. During the 1930s, “meatloaf” pretty much consisted of whatever kind of meat you could grind up, some spices, and then whatever filler you can get your hands on. Rice, bread crumbs, veggies, it’s all fair game. Over the years, meatloaf has transformed into a rich, savory comfort food. There are dozens of different ways to prepare meatloaf these days. Check out a few of our favorite ways here!
Nowadays, a dandelion salad might sound like something served at that hip, vegan bistro down the road, but back in the Depression-Era, this was a necessity. To make this salad, people would dig up dandelions and discard the roots and flowers. Then, they would soak the leaves in clean water and rinse several times. Finally, they would put the leaves in a bowl and toss with whatever sort of dressing they had – lemon juice, olive oil, etc.
Leftover Potato Pancakes
I’m a fan of any recipe that has potato in the name! During the 1930s, people got creative with what to do with their leftovers, since they couldn’t afford to let anything go to waste. While throwing everything in a casserole dish and baking it certainly works, these potato pancakes sure made things tastier! These are similar to Latkes, but with a much looser definition of what should be included. Throw whatever you want into the mashed potato batter and fry ’em up!