During the Great Depression, there were many families who had to give up their usual ‘meat and potatoes’ type of dinners and come up with more creative things to eat with the food that they were able to afford. While there are many people in the south and Appalachian areas who had always lived off the land and their own farm raised meat, so they didn’t see much of a difference in their everyday meals, but those who lived in the larger cities did have a more difficult time.
So, what did families eat during the Great Depression? During that time, the Bureau of Home Economics offered some suggestions for food substitution, leading to some very disgusting results. The government also pushed bland foods on Americans because “they wanted to force people to get jobs and earn enough money to buy spices and seasonings.”
The introduction of the refrigerator meant that people could save their leftovers, so food during the Great Depression was prepared to last for several days, such as casseroles and stews.
Because we didn’t have a “national conscious or memory of hunger” at the time, the Great Depression not only changed our attitudes toward food but it also affected a lot of people’s behavior for the remainder of their lives. Many of the elderly people who were children during the Depression turned into hoarders who held on to everything from butter bowls to plastic bags in case they needed them later.
Here are some of the strange foods that people ate to get through the Great Depression and how it managed to change the way that we eat foods today.
President Roosevelt Ate Prune Pudding
The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was not going to stand by and allow the Great Depression to bring the country down. She was an early supporter of the home economics movement and she practiced what she preached. She didn’t just instruct the American people to eat otherwise undesirable foods, she also did it herself. The food that was served in the White House during the Great Depression was famously the most tasteless in history. FDR had to eat deviled eggs served in a tomato sauce with a side of mashed potatoes and prune whip (pudding) for dessert. The easily accessible prune was a common substitute during the Depression for more expensive fresh fruit.
Peanut Butter Stuffed Onions
Another concoction that was invented by the Bureau of Home Economics (who was in charge of this madness anyway?) was the Peanut Butter Stuffed Onion. The professional home economists published recipes and articles in the nation’s newspapers and magazines urging housewives to become “budgeters” and serve this “treat” to their family members.
Recently food historians Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman, the authors of A Square Meal, prepared the peanut butter stuffed baked onions using a Depression-era cookbook. So how did the dish turn out?
“It was not a popular addition to the dinner table,” Coe said. Ziegelman called the experience “surreal,” noting sagely that “peanut butter has nothing to say to a baked onion.”
Mock Apple Pie Using Ritz Crackers
This unusual treat is known today as a Depression-era favorite. The Ritz Mock Apple Pie is an apple-free apple pie that people would imagine was the real thing when they were eating it. The recipe involved 36 Ritz crackers, 2 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, the grated rind of one lemon, butter and cinnamon.
Apparently the sugar, cinnamon, butter and lemon juice came together along with the buttery taste and unique texture of the Ritz crackers to convince your senses that you were actually eating apple pie. Surprisingly. There are some people who prepare and eat this concoction even today. Of course, it does sound much better than peanut butter and onion.
Boiled Spaghetti with Carrots and White Sauce
Another Depression-era meal that was thought up by the First Lady, while she did promote some foul dishes in her efforts to promote good home economics, this dish may have inspired future spaghetti favorites. The casserole was made from spaghetti, boiled carrots, and a simple white sauce made from milk, flour, salt, and butter.
The first step was to cook the spaghetti for 25 minutes so that they are mushy and pair nicely with the already mushy boiled carrots. The white sauce was poured over the top of the mush making it a great nutritious dinner for those who could stomach it.
Hooray for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Even though the Great Depression gets a pretty bad rap as far as food goes, it did provide us with a staple that is still enjoyed today and is very delicious, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. In 1937, Kraft heard about a salesman for the Tenderoni Macaroni company of St. Louis going rogue and selling his noodles with packets of Kraft grated cheese attached. They hired the now-forgotten national hero to promote the concept and started selling it to cash-strapped Americans at the low, low price of 19 cents for four servings.