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What Foods Were Eaten In The Depression Era?

During the Great Depression in the United States, which lasted from 1929 to the late 1930s, many people faced extreme economic hardships. As a result, individuals and families had to make do with limited resources and often had to rely on inexpensive, readily available ingredients to sustain themselves.

Here are some of the foods commonly eaten during the Depression era:

  1. Beans: Beans, particularly pinto beans and navy beans, were a staple due to their affordability and nutritional value. They were often cooked and seasoned with minimal ingredients to create a filling and inexpensive meal.
  2. Potatoes: Potatoes were another affordable and versatile food item that could be used in various ways. They were often mashed, boiled, or used in soups and stews.
  3. Cornbread: Cornmeal was inexpensive, making cornbread a popular choice. It provided a source of carbohydrates and could be paired with beans or other inexpensive ingredients.
  4. Soup and broth: Soups and broths were common during the Depression era. They could be made with inexpensive cuts of meat, bones, or vegetable scraps to add flavor and nutrition to meals.
  5. Bread and biscuits: Bread and biscuits were made at home to save money on store-bought options. Basic ingredients such as flour, yeast, and salt were used to create simple, homemade loaves.
  6. Cabbage: Cabbage was an affordable vegetable that could be used in various dishes. It could be sautéed, added to soups, or used in salads.
  7. Spam: Canned meats like Spam gained popularity during the Depression era due to their long shelf life and affordability.
  8. Applesauce: Applesauce was a common dessert or side dish during this time as it was relatively cheap and could be made using surplus or less-than-perfect apples.
  9. Oatmeal: Oatmeal was a filling and inexpensive breakfast option that provided energy for the day.
  10. Gelatin desserts: Gelatin desserts, like Jello, became popular during this time because they were affordable, easy to make, and provided a sweet treat.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Recipes of the depression era

During the Great Depression, people had to be resourceful and make do with limited ingredients. Here are a few examples of recipes that were commonly made during that time:

Depression-Era “Mock” Apple Pie

  • This recipe was created due to the scarcity of fresh apples during the Depression.
  • It used soda crackers instead of apples to create a similar texture and flavor.
  • The crackers were cooked with sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice to mimic the taste of apple pie filling.

Depression-Era “Hoover” Stew

  • Named after President Herbert Hoover, this simple and economical stew was made with whatever ingredients were available.
  • It typically consisted of potatoes, onions, carrots, and any other vegetables that were on hand.
  • Sometimes, small amounts of meat or leftover scraps were added for flavor.

Image by Matthias Lipinski from Pixabay

Depression-Era Beans and Cornbread

  • This dish was a staple during the Depression era as beans and cornmeal were affordable and filling.
  • Beans were cooked with minimal seasoning and served alongside homemade cornbread.
  • It provided a hearty and nutritious meal on a tight budget.

Depression-Era Peanut Butter Bread

  • Peanut butter bread became popular due to its simplicity and the relatively low cost of peanut butter.
  • The bread was made with flour, sugar, milk, baking powder, and a generous amount of peanut butter.
  • It served as a filling and affordable option for sandwiches or as a snack.

Recipe for Depression-Era Peanut Butter Bread


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups milk (or non-dairy milk for a vegan option)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the peanut butter to the dry ingredients and mix until crumbly.
  4. Pour in the milk and vanilla extract. Stir until the ingredients are well combined and a thick batter forms. The batter should be smooth and slightly sticky.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and spread it evenly.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
  7. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Once the bread has cooled, you can enjoy it as is or spread some additional peanut butter on top for extra flavor.

Note: This Depression-era Peanut Butter Bread recipe utilizes peanut butter as a key ingredient, which was readily available and affordable during that time. The bread is typically moist and has a rich, nutty flavor.

Feel free to adapt the recipe by adding nuts, chocolate chips, or raisins for variations. Also, consider any dietary restrictions or allergies when selecting ingredients or substitutes.

Depression-Era Eggless, Milkless, Butterless Cake

  • This cake recipe was born out of the scarcity of eggs, milk, and butter during the Depression.
  • It used alternative ingredients such as vinegar, vegetable oil, and water to replace the traditional baking staples.
  • Spices like cinnamon or nutmeg were often added for flavor.

Depression-Era Wacky Cake:


  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined.
  3. Create three wells or indentations in the dry ingredients. Pour the vinegar into one well, the vanilla extract into another, and the vegetable oil into the third.
  4. Pour the water over the entire mixture and stir everything together with a fork or whisk until the batter is smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.

Once the cake has cooled, you can enjoy it as is or frost it with your choice of icing, such as a simple powdered sugar glaze or buttercream frosting.

Note: The Depression-era wacky cake recipe is known for its lack of eggs, milk, and butter, which were often scarce or expensive during that time. The vinegar and baking soda combination acts as a substitute for eggs and helps the cake rise. This cake is typically moist and has a fudgy texture.

Please keep in mind that the Depression-era recipes were created based on the limited availability of ingredients during that time. Feel free to modify or adapt the recipe to suit your preferences and dietary needs.

Depression-Era Poor Man’s Meal

  • This meal combined basic ingredients like potatoes, onions, and hot dogs or sausage.
  • The potatoes and onions were thinly sliced and fried, then mixed with sliced hot dogs or sausage for added flavor.
  • It was a simple and budget-friendly option that could feed a family.

These recipes demonstrate the creativity and ingenuity of people during the Great Depression, making the most of what they had available. They relied on inexpensive ingredients and made simple dishes that could stretch their food supplies.

What can we learn from the depression era?

The Great Depression was a time of immense economic hardship, but it also offers lessons that can be applied to help navigate current cost-of-living challenges. Here are some key takeaways from the Depression era that can be helpful:

  1. Resourcefulness and Frugality: During the Depression, people had to be resourceful and make the most of what they had. Adopting a similar mindset today can help us stretch our resources and reduce waste. It involves being mindful of our spending, reusing and repurposing items, and making do with what we already have.
  2. Self-Sufficiency: The Depression era highlighted the importance of self-sufficiency and being able to produce your own food and goods. Growing your own vegetables, learning basic cooking skills, and DIY projects can help reduce reliance on expensive store-bought items and provide a sense of independence.
  3. Community and Sharing: Communities came together during the Depression to support one another. Neighbors shared resources, pooled their skills, and worked collectively to overcome challenges. Building strong community connections today can help create support networks, share resources, and tackle the cost-of-living crisis collectively.
  4. Prioritizing Needs over Wants: During tough economic times, it becomes crucial to differentiate between essential needs and discretionary wants. By focusing on the necessities, such as housing, food, and healthcare, and cutting back on non-essential expenses, individuals can better manage their finances and weather the current cost-of-living crisis.
  5. Financial Planning and Saving: The Depression era highlighted the importance of financial planning and saving for the future. Establishing a budget, setting aside emergency funds, and practicing frugal habits can provide a financial safety net during difficult times and help prepare for unexpected expenses.
  6. Education and Skill-building: During the Depression, individuals often relied on their skills and adaptability to find employment or create their own opportunities. Investing in education and skill-building today can enhance employability and open doors to new opportunities, potentially leading to higher incomes and improved financial stability.
  7. Government Programs and Safety Nets: The Depression era led to the creation of government programs aimed at providing support to those in need. Understanding and utilizing available social welfare programs, unemployment benefits, and community resources can help individuals navigate the current cost-of-living crisis and access essential services.

While the circumstances and challenges may differ between the Great Depression and the present cost-of-living crisis, the lessons learned from that era can still be valuable. By adopting a mindset of resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, community support, and financial planning, individuals can better manage their finances, reduce expenses, and navigate the current economic challenges with greater resilience.

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