Much like the pandemic we’re currently facing, the Great Depression of the 1930s caused a lot of poverty and food insecurity. During those hard times, people had to come up with cheap and innovative ways to keep their bellies full. Because of this, many alternative recipes were created, and they’re making a comeback in 2020. Here are 15 Depression-Era Foods That Are Weirdly Making a Comeback.
15. Stovetop Baked Beans
Stovetop baked beans bring us back to the basics. Easily preservable, easy to make, and to bake, these bad boys will fill you up. Plus, they’re super cheap, so it’s a first-choice for many people looking to stretch whatever money they have. This dish has Indigenous American roots and is made from beans found in the Americas. The recipe was stolen by English colonists in the 17th century and, throughout cookbooks from the 19th century, you can see how quickly their popularity spread. Here’s a fun fact: canned beans were among some of the first convenience foods available, and they’ve been on the shelves of grocery stores ever since grocery stores became a thing. The first mass-produced commercial canning of baked beans in the United States began in 1895 by the Pennsylvania-based H. J. Heinz Company, and, well, we all know how well that turned out. The best part about baked beans is that you can customize them to your liking: maple syrup, brown sugar, any spices you choose. You get to decide whether it’s a side-dish or the full meal, so it can lead to some fun experimentation in the kitchen!
14. Wacky Chocolate Cake
Wacky cake has many names. War Cake, Joe Cake, and Crazy Cake are some of them. Even though this chocolate cake has a silly name, don’t let that fool you; its origins are quite serious. Wacky Cake is a timeless recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. It originated during wartime rationing when some essential ingredients were scarce, using oil instead of butter to stay cost-effective. Unlike in a typical recipe, where butter keeps cake soft and tender thanks to its fat content – thus preventing the gluten in the flour from making the dessert tough – this recipe calls for any sort of neutral oil (though vegetable oil is recommended). As a bonus, the oil doesn’t need to be refrigerated and is dairy-free. The second thing that makes this cake wacky is the fact that it doesn’t need eggs, which are typically used as a leavening agent, making the cake rise and giving it shape. What do you do if you don’t have eggs? This cake uses a combination of vinegar and baking soda to cause a volcano effect, which effectively makes up for the lack of eggs and butter. Looks like that first-grade science experiment came in handy after all! With the magic of low-priced items and innovation, you’ll end up with a light and fluffy cake. Plus, the lack of milk, butter, and eggs make this a great option for people with restricted diets.
13. Navy Bean Soup
Soup is the ultimate comfort food, is one of the easiest things to make when you have few supplies. Even though Navy Bean Soup was first eaten only aboard United States Naval Ships, this recipe quickly made its way into the hands of civilians when money got tight during the Depression. Listed as one of the ‘traditional Navy recipes’ (accompanied by baking powder biscuits and creamed sliced dried beef), Navy Bean Soup is a common dish that can be found in cafeterias all over the United States. It goes by many names: Navy Bean Soup, Senate Bean Soup, or even simply ham bone soup. It seems as though the names weren’t the only thing people couldn’t decide on. If you look at cookbooks from years ago, you can see that no one can settle on one single recipe. In any case, the one thing that people do seem to agree on is that it has beans, ham bones, onions, and salt and pepper. This recipe is so simple, there’s no way to mess it up, and that’s why we love it!
12. Graham Cracker Pie Crust
The graham cracker pie crust is a delicious innovation from the Depression-era. Here’s a fun history lesson for you: the idea to use crackers during the Great Depression starts with a bunch of disgruntled New England bakers and ends with the creation of Nabisco (the cookie manufacturer that brought you Oreos). In the 19th century, there was a minister named Sylvester Graham who preached the importance of fiber and unprocessed grains. He railed against the evils of white sugar and whole wheat. Not only did nutritional deficits go against what Graham felt the Bible required, he felt food should be homemade, not mass-produced. The Boston bakers heard this slander against their livelihoods and decided to fight back… By making cracker-shaped cooking called graham crackers. The crackers used all the processed ingredients that Sylvester Graham hated, though they were still advertised as vaguely healthy. The Boston Bakers formed the National Biscuit Company, known today as Nabisco. In order to avoid a drop in sales during the Great Depression, Nabisco created newspaper ads disguised as editorials claiming science proved the health of the crackers they called “Cracker Cookery.” The ads showed the crackers could be used as a cheap and simple pie crust made without flour, sugar, or a rolling pin. Depression-era bakers around the country updated pie recipes like key lime pie and cheesecake to be made with graham cracker crusts, and a delicious innovation was born.
11. Un-Yeasted Peanut Butter Bread
Because of how many people took up bread-making over the course of the pandemic, there were times where it was nearly impossible to find some yeast, and that was if you wanted to risk going out to the grocery stores. So, people had to make do without it. Research shows that online searches for “yeastless bread recipes” went up 4,400% and phrases like “no egg cake recipe” and “canned ham recipes” started trending worldwide. On top of that, peanut butter bread, once popular during the Great Depression, has made a comeback. People are spending more time in their kitchen, which means that they’re getting more creative. Peanut butter bread is a type of quick bread, which tends to be dense and more dessert-y than regular bread. The recipe for this bread doesn’t call for you to knead it, or wait for it to rise! Plus, the peanut butter and milk make this bread a hearty yet affordable snack, which makes it perfect for people in our current situation!
10. Wieners And Beans
Nowadays, this dish is a camping classic. Throw some canned beans in a pot, cut up some wieners, and over the fire it goes. But, did you know that wieners became popular thanks to the Great Depression? Hot dogs allegedly debuted in 1893, at Chicago’s World Fair and it is believed that in the 1930s, vegetable stands started offering the “depression sandwich,” a hot frankfurter on a roll with fries and a rotating selection of vegetables on top. The hot-dog then slowly took over dinner plates all across America, the cheap meat being the only thing most homes could afford at the local butcher. As we know, people had to get creative during this era. So, they decided to pair their wieners with another staple of the time period: canned beans. The combination of the protein-rich beans and wieners made for a hearty meal that could fill up empty stomachs for a small price.
9. Chocolate Cream Pie
A cream pie is a type of pie filled with a rich custard or pudding made from milk, cream, sugar, wheat flour, and eggs. The cream pie comes in many different varieties, but for many, the chocolate cream pie is the best of all. For people stuck inside during our current situation, as well as people going through the Great Depression, this dessert has consistently been a way to distract yourself during the hardships going on in the outside world. The chocolate cream pie is a deliciously simple recipe that brings joy to anyone who tries it. The taste is nostalgic, reminiscent of a simpler time, and the rich, creamy filling is perfect if you have a sweet tooth.
8. Depression-Era Meatloaf
Meatloaf is an affordable, filling meal that people have always had strong feelings about. Whether you love it or you hate it, it’s undeniable that this loaf of meat has a way of transforming a small amount of ground beef into a full meal. It’s not surprising that the main appeal of meatloaf is its ability to stretch out meat with as much filling and flavor as possible. This, of course, is one of the reasons meatloaf became so popular during the Great Depression. Nowadays, meatloaf is often thought of as comfort food due to its nostalgic taste of childhood that isn’t too hard to master in the kitchen. This American classic first appeared in the late 1890s, and has been a lifesaver for those who need to stretch a dollar or two. There’s a reason meatloaf is a classic, and it doesn’t look like this dish is going anywhere anytime soon.
7. Dandelion Salad
Nowadays, fancy restaurants sell dandelion salads for a high price. However, it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to make this salad at home than you might think. Dandelions have been threatening gardens for decades, and as it turns out, there’s something useful you can do with this plant. The Depression forced people to get creative, and so they turned to their gardens and lawns to see if there was anything they could harvest to eat. Over the years, many people have explored dandelion salads, and they have some tips for anyone who wants to try it at home: avoid areas that might be treated with pesticides, clean the plants well, and discard any brown leaves and flowers. The dandelion greens can be served fresh, but you can also sautee and wilt the greens in bacon fat. Serve the greens with bacon and a hard-boiled egg, and you’ve got yourself a hardy, budget-friendly breakfast.
6. Leftover Potato Pancakes
Chances are, you’ve probably left some food in the fridge before, only to forget about it and let it go bad before you got a chance to eat it. In the Great Depression, no food went to waste. This meant that people had to stretch meals with what they had, grow their own foods, and forage in the wild for things to eat. Today, people are once again adopting a no-waste policy. Depression-era potato pancakes have the ability to transform any leftovers into a new meal, which is why they’re making such a strong comeback. Potato pancakes go by many names and are found in many different cultures. To make them, simply fry up your leftover mashed potatoes of potato scraps in oil. This creates a hearty pancake, that you can top with anything you want!
5. Rice Pudding
Rice pudding is a classic dessert that became popular out of necessity during the Depression. This snack is great for your wallet, but also offers a taste of luxury. Because of how easy and rewarding it is to make, it’s not surprising that many home-cooks are trying out this recipe during the pandemic. This dish uses a small number of ingredients: rice, water or milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and raisins. The simplicity is alluring, plus, the shelf-stable rice makes this dessert ideal for times of uncertainty. On top of that, this dish offers a lot of delicious variations, so it can appeal to just about anyone. You can serve it warm or cold. You can also add vanilla, cinnamon, jam, raisins, nutmeg, you name it! The taste of it is up to you, which is why this dish remains popular to this day. This Depression-era food is ideal for anyone looking to save money or try a new recipe, which, let’s be honest, is everyone at this point.
4. Chipped Beef on Toast
Chipped beef is a form of pressed, salted, and dried beef sliced into thin pieces. Put it on toast, and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy breakfast. This recipe was most popular amongst soldiers during World War I and World War II, and they deemed it “SOS”, same old stuff. The reason chipped beef was so popular is that most people didn’t have access to things like fresh beef, because they were too expensive. Chipped beef, on the other hand, was preserved in a can, and was a lot cheaper. Chipped beef on toast consists of white sauce or gravy with pieces of dried beef spread over toasted bread. If you’re feeling exploratory, you can also add it to biscuits, potatoes, egg noodles, or anything else you feel like!
3. Water Pie
Water pie is something like magic. It sounds a little silly at first, to eat a pie made of water, but it can actually be quite tasty. Even though your main ingredient is water, you still end up with an indulgent, creamy pie. During the 1930s, cooks used water as a filler, especially when things like eggs and milk were scarce. All you need to make this pie is water, vanilla, sugar, butter, flour, salt, and pie crust! You pour the water into the pie crust, add the flour and sugar, then sprinkle the salt on top. Drizzle the vanilla over it, then add a few slices of butter, and voila! You’ve got a surprisingly good dessert!
2. Cake without Eggs or Dairy
Much like in our current situation, hoarding of supplies became a problem during the Great Depression, so the government started rationing food items in order to prevent it, and to try to stabilize the economy. The main foods rationed during the Great Depression were sugar, coffee, meat, fish, butter, eggs, and cheese, and so people had to get creative when they wanted something sweet to eat. The ingredients of this cake were pantry staples during the Great Depression: raisings, cream cheese, baking soda, and spices such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. If this list has taught us anything is that nothing stands in the way of a sweet tooth.
1. Frozen Fruit Salad
The frozen fruit salad was a treat for the family and was typically served around the holidays. This innovative dessert is a mixture of canned fruit cocktail, egg yolks, and whipped cream. Not only was this a very popular choice for anyone trying to stray away from heavier and overly sweet desserts like cakes or pies, but also for people on a budget who still wanted to bring some holly jolly spirit to the Holidays. It’s slowly making a comeback because, well, let’s be honest, it sounds absolutely delicious and is pretty easy to make.