30 Sustainable Recipes from the Great Depression

The 1929 crash was exacerbated by the low prices paid for crops, steep increases in machinery costs, and one drought upon another, virtually forcing farmers to use submarginal land in a bid to keep enough money rolling in to pay their mortgages, and feed their families.

With the mass plantings of wheat, grasslands that had held the soil together for thousands of years was gone, and when the drought came, the impoverished soil with nothing to hold it in place developed into a dust bowl with cited figures of 35 million acres rendered useless for farming, and 125 million acres of top soil lost.

cooking 100 years ago

Many in the Midwest and Southern Great Plains areas lost their farms and moved to towns and cities where work was hard to come by. There are stories of professional people working with a pick and shovel constructing roads, just to get enough to eat.

Now, how did the Amish cope during the Great Depression? Pretty well, because they tended to live sustainably and close to the land.

Also, Amish communities do not believe in being reliant on banks – so the land they worked was the land they owned outright, so they were not at the mercy of banks and lawyers when other people lost their farms during one of the periods of greatest hardship in American history.

An economic collapse hits everyone, and the Amish communities lost out on sales, but due to their farming practices they didn’t starve.

People eked out precious supplies with their recipes, making use of what was available. We can learn something from the ingenuity displayed during the Great Depression…

For example, who would have thought a mock lemon pie is actually a vinegar pie– yet has a smooth tart taste, reminiscent of a lemon pie?

Not all the recipes that are supposedly ‘depression era’ were actually invented during the 1930’s. Most had been around for a long time, but people just got more creative with the ingredients.

Go ahead and try out these recipes – they may have been based on necessity but they are recipes that are still popular today for those on a budget and will certain sustain a family during hard times or when you are forced to survive on stockpiled foods and what your survival garden can produce.

Many contain no meat – which is great for people who are converting from meat based diets to vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. There is quite a bit of processed meat in these recipes – simply because it was cheaper than fresh meat.

These days, there is a movement away from processed meat with all its additives – so feel free to substitute fresh if it suits you. A homemade sausage can be substituted for hot dogs, for example.

1. Poor Man’s Meal With Potatoes and Hotdogs

It’s great to watch someone who actually lived through the great depression like this 91 year old lady who recalls those days, and what they used to cook.

She passed in 2013, but young folks who visited her in her 90’s would expressly request her poor man’s meal simply because it tasted so good. Potatoes and hot dogs were relatively inexpensive during the 30’s, and provided a filling meal with plenty of carbs and some protein.

2. Prune Pudding

With prunes a small serving goes a long way. Try this depression era pudding and if you don’t want it plain then spice it up with some additions like cardamom, or crushed pecans or walnuts. Serve with cream, or a dollop of vanilla Greek double cream yogurt.

Yes, these extras weren’t readily available in the depression but if you have them available they why not? This pudding was reported to have even been served in the White House. Get the recipe.

3. Cabbage and Noodles With Hot Dog

Cabbages were something that could be chopped and fried up with a little spice, and combined with hot dog sausages that were cheap during the depression.

The carbs from the addition of the noodles made for a filling meal. Get the recipe.

4. Mock Lemon Pie a.k.a. Vinegar pie

The thought of a vinegar pie isn’t one to get your taste buds going into hyperdrive, but give this old recipe a try and you’ll see how good it can be. When fresh lemons were scarce the vinegar gave the tartness of a lemon pie without the lemons. Get the recipe.

5. Hot Water Desperation Pie

There’s no vinegar in this one, but nevertheless it’s an easy to make pie using flour, vanilla, sugar and butter, with the hot water.

6. Creamed Peas on Toast

This basic recipe gets warm food into hungry tummies. It’s vegetarian, and you can use any homemade or store-bought bread for the toast, then flour, butter and milk provide the sauce into which the peas are placed. Get the recipe.

7. Spaghetti With Boiled Carrot and White Sauce

This was the closest recipe I could find to the old depression era white sauce and pasta one. This recipe does call for broccoli and capsicums (red bell peppers) which may have been in short supply, but it does incorporate the carrots of the original recipe. Get the recipe.

8. Einkorn Chocolate Cake

This moist cake uses no eggs and no milk, items that were in short supply in depression times. You can use Eikhorn flour or regular wheat flour for this recipe.

Eikhorn flour is made from an ancient wheat grain, like spelt flour, before wheat was hybridized into the modern varieties.

It still makes a delightfully moist cake – similar to many vegan recipes that do not include dairy products for ethical reasons. It’s also a pretty good cake for a treat for someone who has dairy allergies. Get the recipe.

9. Dandelion Salad

Dandelion leaves can be bitter, but if they are blanched for a minute then revived in ice cold water, the bitterness disappears.

Try to collect the youngest freshest leaves to combine into this forager’s salad. Leaves can be collected on your property or wild areas – just avoid collecting alongside busy roads where exhaust fumes may contaminate them. Get the recipe.

10. Depression Era Meatloaf

Nope, it doesn’t cause depression. This meatloaf makes use of relatively inexpensive ingredients to provide a filling meal and was popular in hard times and during war-time in Britain when food rationing took place.

It allows the flavor of the meat to be extended with other ingredients. It’s best cooked in a slow cooker (crock pot) for a tender moist meatloaf rather than in an oven, where it can get a bit dry unless monitored carefully. Get the recipe.

11. Irish Soda Bread

This bread takes just five minutes, yes you read that right, five minutes, to prepare.

It was quick to get a loaf on the table and who should know about dealing with a hungry family better than the Irish, who battled famines in their homeland, leading many to seek a better life in America and other countries around the world.

Their soda bread came across the ocean with them to provide a quick base for a meal. Get the recipe.

12. Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

Rice and sultanas, milk, butter, sugar and an egg make up this dessert dish. Unfortunately, rice pudding became associated with bland boarding school fare but it can be made really tasty with toppings from the homestead like cherries, blueberries, peanuts, walnuts or goji berries.

In fact, the Chinese have a version called Eight Treasures Rice Pudding which includes no less than eight different toppings although this can be a bit excessive. Get the recipe.

13.Bread Pudding

If you are a bread pudding fan this recipe will tick the boxes, yet there are those who don’t like this humble dessert born of necessity. Personally, I love the soft creaminess of bread pudding, with its taste of cinnamon.

This recipe does not use sultanas, but if you have some in your pantry stash or have dried out some yourself add them in – they make it so delicious. Get the recipe.

14. Baked Apples

Although the apple trees may have had some fruit, with flour and eggs in short supply making a dessert like the traditional baked apple pie was just not possible during the 1930’s.

So, for a sweet treat the apples were left whole, with the skins on, cored and placed on a baking sheet. The sweetness of the baked apples was enhanced with sugar and cinnamon. Yummy! A gluten-free dessert. Get it here.

15. Hoover Stew

Named for the 31st President of the United States, Herbert Hoover, this stew is associated with his term in office, which coincided with the 1929 stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression.

The dish combines pasta with hot dogs sliced into thin rounds, a can of tomatoes and either fresh or canned corn. Get the recipe.

16. Creamed chipped beef

Serve this smooth creamy sauce with is chipped beef pieces over a warm crusty piece of sourdough.

Chipped beef is chopped dried beef. While the recipe is probably not the ‘healthiest’ as it was heavy on carbs, it was a comfort food when fresh meat was hard to come by. If you want, you can serve it over any vegetables available from your homestead.

Try mashed potatoes, broccoli, steamed pumpkin, or sweet potato to create a more balanced meal. Get the recipe.

17. Meat and Potato Patties

These patties use grated potato to extend the ground beef, so more people could be fed. They are cooked with a simple tomato based sauce in the same pan, making them a succulent meal served over rice or pasta. Get the recipe.

18. Navy Bean Soup

The navy bean is also known as the Boston bean or haricot bean, among a number of different names. For preppers everywhere beans are a basic foodstuff to keep on hand. In hard times, a cup of beans could be added to chicken broth.

The addition of some diced ham and whatever could be found in the garden, like tomatoes, an onion and some parsley, created a nutritious yet inexpensive soup. Canned tomatoes are used in this recipe, but you can use fresh ones from the garden. Get the recipe.

19. Leek Soup

I love the silky smoothness of a good leek and potato soup. This one incorporates carrots, celery and ginger, but like cooks anywhere, adapt to what you have available. Get the recipe.

20. Potato Pancakes

The recipe given does include some bacon bits, cheese, onion and garlic for flavor, however, as with most depression era recipes, the cook made do with what was available so these can be made without the optional tasty extras.

What was absolutely necessary was a few potatoes, salt, pepper and oil for frying the potato pancakes.

Back in the day they were probably eaten plain during the hard times but these days you can serve these potato delights with a topping of crème fraiche, smoked salmon, a sprinkle of parsley and a twist of cracked black pepper to create an elegant dinner meal. Get the recipe.

21. Depression Era Corn Chowder

This comfort food is great for survivalists as it relies mostly on canned items – whole kernel corn, evaporated milk and chicken broth, with only fresh diced potatoes and an onion being added.

Homesteaders can adapt the recipe to include more fresh ingredients, like fresh corn and whole milk, as well as homemade chicken broth. Get the recipe.

22. Potato Soup

The point the presenter makes in this video is that he receives comments that depression era recipes seem to use plenty of fresh vegetables and meat.

During the 1930’s it was both city and country folk who were affected, but since many country folk did manage to grow their own vegetables they were significantly better off than those in urban areas. Try this recipe – a good potato soup ticks all the boxes.

23. Chicken and Dumplings

When chicken was available, the taste was stretched further with the addition of dumplings but make no mistake this is quite a luxurious recipe with its addition of cream and chicken breast pieces.

It was a recipe around long before hard times hit, and would simply have been made with less luxury ingredients. Try this one – it’s a delicious Southern recipe. Get the recipe.

24. Egg Sandwiches

Before the Depression, sandwiches were made mainly with cold meat, but with very little meat available the humble egg sandwich moved up the ladder to replace ham or beef as a source of protein. The egg sandwich, born of deprivation, hasn’t lost is popularity since. Get the recipe.

25. Corned Beef Luncheon Salad

In keeping with using processed meat over fresh in hard times, this recipe uses a can of corned beef to create a mousse-like dish that is set in a form or set in a bowl. Jell-o had been around for about 30 years by 1930, and was used to set savory dishes as well as for sweet desserts.

This recipe also calls for Miracle Whip, invented in 1933, but today we prefer to substitute a homemade mayonnaise, or at least one made without corn syrup and soybean oil, items which have been linked to health issues. Get the recipe.

26. Grape Pie

This pie uses a traditional pie crust, but with a filling made from grapes. The original recipe calls for peeling grapes, but seriously who has time to peel grapes?

Anyway, an adaptation in this recipes allows you to bypass that tedious step, and create a grape filling for the pie. Get the recipe.

27. Fish Stew

Fish were still relatively plentiful in streams and oceans, so many families used fresh caught fish to supplement their meals.

The recipe calls for clam juice, which certainly add to the taste but can be omitted and the required weight made up in water. It also calls for wine which is a nice addition but not strictly necessary for a sustainable recipe.

As long as you have some fresh caught fish, onion, and tomatoes you’re in luck. All you need is some herbs and spices, which were admittedly quite hard to come by during the 30’s, but today homesteaders wanting to recreate those recipes will have fresh oregano, thyme, garlic and parsley to use in this hearty quick cooking soup that is best served with some homemade sourdough. Get the recipe.

28. Bacon Roll-ups

A quick and tasty way to use up bread that might be stale was to cut up the bread, spread it with butter or cream cheese (if this was available), roll up and place a slice of bacon around the outside, securing with the toothpick.

Placed in a single layer in the oven to bake the bacon rolls up allowed the flavor of the bacon to permeate the bread and cooked up fairly crispy, stretching that delicious bacon flavoring. Get the recipe.

29. Sausage Johnny Cake

During the 1930s, people took wrapping their food with other food, as in the bacon roll ups above, or concealing protein within a dish, and this Johnny cake is no exception.

The recipe calls for cornmeal and buttermilk to be incorporated with the flour in the dough, with a maple syrup topping and the savory flavor of the sausage at the base. It makes for a hearty breakfast or lunch dish. Get the recipe.

30. Pigs in a Blanket

Not a new idea, these however, were popular during the depression as they used cocktail sausages wrapped in a puff pastry dough, although other types of pastry dough could be used.

Not everyone was suffering in abject poverty, so there were still cocktail parties going on, and these provided an affordable alternative to more expensive items like salmon and caviar. Get the recipe.

Great Depression recipes Pinterest image

3 thoughts on “30 Sustainable Recipes from the Great Depression”

  1. Avatar
    Kieran Roberts

    When all hell breaks loose a lot of people are going to become very inventive. They may end up having to ask their grand parents for help.

    These are very interesting recipes

  2. Avatar

    The basic idea was to use up and make do with what you had in the cupboards and fridge. Still is in a lot of house holds. It just takes imagination to figure out how to use them. I always said if people just had basic’s like flour and seasonings along with some rice, beans, pasta ect I could make them a meal that they will love. Meat helps but its not really needed

  3. Avatar

    Dan,these are some very interesting recipes! Thanks for them. I am going to try the mock lemon pie. Who doesn’t like lemon custard pie (using ACV hmmm). Water pie,very inventive. Thanks for the tip on debittering larger dandy leaves too. Desperation food,yum!
    God Bless and stay safe…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *