What’s old is new again
Published 10:43 am Wednesday, July 26, 2023
By Kara Kimbrough
Here’s a little-known fact: Many of the recipes we use today – or at least variations of them – originated during the dismal decade between 1929 and 1939, better known as the Great Depression.
Prior to this time, many in the U.S. “lived off the land,” feasting on home-grown vegetables and farm-raised beef, chicken and pork. Many lost everything in the Depression, causing them to be more resourceful in the kitchen when it came to feeding their families.
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As a result, recipes for hundreds of varieties of soups, potatoes fixed 1,000 different ways and edible cakes lacking milk, sugar and eggs became a necessity to keep from starving during the lean years.
Thankfully, we’re living in more prosperous times. However, several old-fashioned foods from a bygone era have resurfaced on restaurant menus and on family dinner tables. This could be due to nostalgia-based memories of a parent or grandparent serving the dishes in the past…maybe to save money in a fluctuating economy… or possibly because most of these dishes are simply delicious.
Here are a few Depression-era foods and dishes that may be worth reviving for your family:
Navy Bean Soup
It’s easy to understand why beans were a staple during leaner times. They’re cheap, easy to prepare and one pot will feed an Army. Beans were the main ingredient in many Depression dishes, especially soup. Today’s version is a bit more tasty, filled with ham, carrots, onions and garlic.
Speaking of the Army, the soup got its name during World War II, when Navy ship cooks found it was the perfect dish to feed the thousands of hungry sailors aboard the massive vessels. It’s still just as good today as it was nearly 100 years ago.
I was surprised by this entry, because, well, potato soup never really went out of style. However, poor families’ versions were little more than boiled potatoes topped with hot water. Today, we load ours with chopped bacon, heavy cream, cheese and anything else that’s fattening and good. Suffice to say, it’s a lot better today than it was back then.
I know what you’re thinking – cornbread never went away. But hear me out of this entry. Cornbread used to be a staple on every table in America, dating back to the Pilgrims, probably. However, as the years passed, cornbread shortcuts became more prevalent. Picture the little blue box labeled “Jiffy Mix,” and you’ll see where I’m going. Cornbread of yesteryear was composed of cornmeal, water, salt and a little hard-to-season skillet.
After all, milk, eggs and flour were scarce, especially during WWII. Today, rich cornbread is showing up in fine restaurants, albeit in cute little black skillets. However you make or serve it, cornbread is a side that should never again be allowed to go out of style.
As I said, potatoes were the savior of the Depression years and other lean times. In short, they kept many families from starving. But don’t get the idea Americans discovered the fancier version of boiled potatoes.
Recipes for potato pancakes were brought over from the Old Country by immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, England and Poland. Sure, they were called by other names, but had one commonality with our version. Most were made with shredded potatoes held together with flour, baking powder and eggs, then flattened and fried to a crispy brown color. Somehow they slipped into obscurity, but they’re back and I hope they stay.
Chicken and dumplings
Like me, I hope you have fond memories of a large bowl of steaming chicken and dumplings being placed before you on the Sunday dinner table. This dish used to be a staple in any proper Southern cook’s repertoire, but all the mixing, rolling, cutting and boiling was eschewed by modern cooks.
Thankfully, they’ve made a comeback, as they should have. Once you get the technique down pat, dumplings are not hard or really that time-consuming to make. And as we all know, they’re worth it in the end.
Here’s a recipe for a chill-slice-and-bake cookie recipe that became popular almost 100 years ago when the first electric refrigerator became a fixture in many American homes. Mixed together in mere minutes and baked in 8, like the refrigerator, they’re one of the best inventions of the previous century.
8-Minute Butterscotch Refrigerator Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla and mix well. Mix baking powder with flour and add to creamed mixture. Stir in nuts. Roll in waxed paper and refrigerate until firm. Storing the roll in the freezer works well, too.
Slice and bake 8 minutes or until lightly browned in a 375-degree oven.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. She is also a travel agent. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.