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Depression-era recipes used what was handy


Several months ago I had a request for Depression-era recipes. I appealed to my readers for help but got no response. I'm afraid there are few who are old enough to remember that time and those who are do not wish to be reminded.

I was born during that era so remember nothing about it. I do remember vividly the shortage of products that were unavailable during World War II and many of those that were available were "rationed.”

To explain to those who do not know that term, the government issued stamps that limited the amount of products you could buy, those products that were needed for the war effort such as gasoline, car tires, food products such as coffee, sugar, shortening, flour, meat, etc. The number of stamps were distributed according to the number of persons in each family.

My family was not badly affected by the rationing as we grew or raised our food, including flour, meal, meat, etc. We had to buy only such as coffee, sugar, salt, etc., (that which couldn't be produced on our farm) when it came to food. My family had a molasses mill, so molasses became our major sweetener. The stamps we were issued that we didn't need were passed along to neighbors who did need them. We were blessed.

Back to Great Depression recipes: (How did it get the name "Great"?) Most of what I have today may not be true to that era but they come close to the time when you used what you had. This first recipe was requested in particular (why, I don't know) but please, please be VERY cautious when using lye.

I can remember my mother making lye soap in a huge cast iron kettle (which my son Randall still has). That was always Mom's job right after hog butchering. And it was used wherever soap was needed.

I have no idea where you will get old grease unless you know someone who has a restaurant and will save some for you. You will need a cast iron container to mix this in, a long wooden paddle or spoon for stirring, and an enamel pan to pour the finished product into.


1 can pure lye

3 1/2 pints very warm water

5 pounds old grease, strained

In a medium enamel container dissolve lye in water; allow to cool to about 80 degrees. In a cast iron pot carefully heat grease to 120 degrees. (Ours was heated in that cast iron kettle with a fire built under it out in the yard.) Slowly and carefully add lye mixture to grease, stirring until mixture drops from paddle like strained honey. Do not stir too long; it will separate, 5 to 10 minutes is about right.

Pour mixture into an enamel pan or glass molds. Cover with a heavy blanket and allow to set 2 days. If pouring into one container, you may want to cut it into bars while warm. It can be used to wash hands, clothes, dishes or whatever.

This dessert recipe is one where you "use what you have.” Raisins were a real treat when I was a child, but we had plenty of black walnut kernels.


2 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon each cinnamon,ground cloves and nutmeg

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

3 cups milk

1 1/3 pounds bread cubes*

1 cups chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spray or butter 9x13-inch baking pan.

Cream sugar and butter. In a small bowl combine spices, with baking powder and soda. Add to creamed mixture mixing well. Add eggs and milk, blending well. Fold in bread cubes and nuts mixing thoroughly. Spread evenly in prepared pan; bake 1 1/2 hours. Serve with hard sauce (recipe follows) while warm or chill and serve with whipped cream.

*Whole wheat bread is very good used in this.

This sauce is very good on pound cake, short cake, bread pudding, etc. Please use real butter, unsalted, for best results.


5 tablespoons unsalted soft butter

1 c. powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 tablespoon rum, coffee or fruit juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

Beat butter until fluffy; gradually add sugar while beating; beat until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, beating until smooth. Serve as-is or chill before serving.

The these last two recipes are authentic depression recipes.


1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons real butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoon vinegar

1 egg

1 cup water

Pastry for 1-crust pie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream sugar and butter; blend in flour and spices. In a small bowl whisk together remaining ingredients; add to dry mixture, mixing well.

Transfer mixture to top of double boiler; cook over gently simmering water, stirring frequently until mixture has thickened. Meanwhile place the pastry-lined pie pan in the preheated oven for about 3 minutes.

Remove from oven and when filling has thickened pour it into the warmed pastry; return to oven and bake about 45 minutes or until pie is puffy and set.


From Faith Wilson

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoons sugar

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup milk

1/3 cup butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Combine the four the dry ingredients in a bowl; slowly add milk, stirring with a fork until moistened. Pour dough out onto very lightly floured surface; knead about 10 times. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut in narrow strips.

Melt butter in a 9x-13-inch baking pan. (This can be done in the oven.) Roll each strip of dough in the butter then roll strip up as for cinnamon roll. Place close together in the buttered pan. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Good eating!

Watch for more recipes from Faith in coming weeks. Thanks, Faith.


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