What People Eat During the Great Depression to Survive?



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With all the talk about food storage and growing our own food, I did a little digging around to find out what some people ate during America’s Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Surprisingly, a few of these were made by my mother and grandmother, traditions, I’m sure, from a more frugal era.  I still have a soft spot for Chipped Beef on Toast!  How many of these are familiar to you, and do you have any others to add to the list?

  • Milk toast
  • Chipped beef on toast
  • Cucumber and mustard sandwiches
  • Mayonnaise sandwiches
  • Ketchup sandwiches
  • Hot milk and rice
  • Turtle/tortoise
  • Gopher
  • Potato soup – water base, not milk
  • Dandelion salad
  • Lard sandwiches
  • Bacon grease sandwiches
  • Sugar sandwiches
  • Hot dogs and baked beans
  • Road kill
  • One eyed Sam – piece of bread with an easy over egg in the center
  • Oatmeal mixed with lard
  • Fried potatoes and hot dogs
  • Onion sandwich – slices of onion between bread
  • Tomato gravy and biscuits
  • Deep fried chicken skin
  • Cornbread in milk
  • Gravy and bread – as a main dish
  • Toast with mashed potatoes on top with gravy
  • Creamed corn on toast
  • Corn mush with milk for breakfast, fried corn mush for dinner
  • Squirrel
  • Rice in milk with some sugar
  • Beans
  • Fried potato peel sandwiches
  • Banana slices with powdered sugar and milk
  • Boiled cabbage
  • Hamburger mixed with oatmeal
  • American cheese sandwich: ‘American’ cheese was invented because it was cheap to make, and didn’t require refrigeration that many people who lived during this era didn’t have.
  • Tomato gravy on rice
  • Toast with milk gravy
  • Water fried pancakes
  • Chicken feet in broth
  • Fried bologna
  • Warm canned tomatoes with bread
  • Butter and sugar sandwiches
  • Fried potato and bread cubes
  • Bean soup
  • Runny eggs with grits
  • Butter and grits with sugar and milk
  • Baked apples
  • Sliced boiled pork liver on buttered toast (slice liver with potato peeler)
  • Corn meal mush
  • Spaghetti with tomato juice and navy beans
  • Whatever fish or game you could catch/hunt
  • Tomato sandwiches
  • Hard boiled eggs in white sauce over rice
  • Spam and noodles with cream of mushroom soup
  • Rag soup: spinach, broth and lots of macaroni
  • Garbanzo beans fried in chicken fat or lard, salted, and eaten cold
  • Popcorn with milk and sugar – ate it like cereal

Lessons learned from this list?  Stock up on ingredients for bread, including buckets of wheat.  Bread, in some form, is one of the main ingredients for many of these meals.  Second, know how to make different types of bread.  Next, have chickens around as a source for meat and eggs, and if possible, have a cow or goat for milk.  Know how to make many different foods from scratch.

Another lesson is to have a garden that will provide at least some fresh produce, and plant fruit trees and bushes. You may be interested in this article with tips for Planning an Edible Landscape. Finally, don’t waste anything, even chicken feet!

Read the original article here.

Click here to learn more about life in the Great Depression.


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  1. Pingback: Would You Eat These Great Depression Meals? | Marlon Karda

  2. Eileen

    May 10, 2018 at 5:49 AM

    Many of those are meals that poor people eat to this day and never they supposedly arose during the financially difficult times brought about due to President Franklin Roosevelt’s era when he ordered cattle of all types, including goats, sheep cows and horses slaughtered in his effort to kill off most Americans who lived rurally and herd them into cities. He even wanted vegetable crops burned to the ground.

    AND any wheat you stock must be nonGMO or it will probably mildew right inside the containers.

    • jack cade

      May 10, 2018 at 11:37 AM

      One of the most evil men in history, FDR!

  3. Joe Williamson

    May 10, 2018 at 7:31 AM

    Yeah, I always loved my Grandfather’s nickname for ‘Chipped beef on toast’ 🙂

    • Joe

      May 10, 2018 at 8:15 AM

      SOS ????

  4. Larry D. Butler, PhD.

    May 10, 2018 at 7:53 AM

    I wrote you a lengthy commentary on my experiences of this period. It was a waste of my time, because unknown to me you threw it away, because I don’t use Facebook! What a load of crap! Discriminated against because I don’t use your form of social media! I won’t trouble myself in the future commenting on you articles, because it’s obvious you don’t care what people have to say…it’s obvious because you use a “filter” for comments!

  5. Gayle Pleasant

    May 10, 2018 at 7:56 AM

    My mother went thru the depression so I grew up eating many of these meals & foods! So to this day I still fall back on them a lot!
    I was the kid on the block with Onion Breath! After school, go in and slap a piece of bologna between bread!
    We didn’t have much, we didn’t expect much, but in those days it was plenty!!!

  6. E Eroh

    May 10, 2018 at 8:13 AM

    I didn’t go thru the depression but living in the “Coal Regions” of Pa in the 50’s it wasn’t the best of times.
    I remember we use to buy 50Lb bags of Potatoes and made lots of Potato soup.
    Also, Potatoe pancakes and others I have forgotten.
    At the time we acutally got a “handout” from our gracious Government before
    the advent of Food Stamps.
    They gave use a big Block of american cheese, peanut butter, and Horrible
    powered milk. But it was better than nothing.
    Kids today including my own don’t have a clue what it is to struggle or want for anything.
    Thanks for the article.

  7. Jeff

    May 10, 2018 at 9:33 AM

    Don’t forget toast sandwiches. A piece of dry toasted bread between two unbuttered slices of bread. Apparently it was popular in the UK during WWII.

  8. dave

    May 10, 2018 at 2:27 PM

    Only 6 on the list I have NOT eaten, and many more similar meals not listed, e.g. boiled potatoes, macaroni and fried onions tossed with sour cream & paprika. Also ground hog – large, plentiful and open season in every state I know of. Snapping turtle is delicious deep-fried, but really big ones are tough to chew.

  9. Mac

    May 10, 2018 at 7:38 PM

    Ground Hog was good as well as squirrels . My Dad worked at a sawmill. The owner did not have money
    but he had fruit trees. My Dad was paid with a bushel of peaches or apples. Mom stayed up and canned
    them that night or they would be too ripe the next day. I remember stringing beans and apples on a string and hanging them in a spare bedroom where we could close the door so flies could not get in. During WWII rubber jar ring were unavailable., so things were dried or pickled in large crocks.

  10. Jerry

    May 19, 2018 at 10:20 AM

    Peanut Butter & Syrup & Crackers & Milk.,favorite standby after getting home from school .

  11. Gary Wagoner

    September 10, 2019 at 10:00 AM

    My grandfather always said you could tell how hungry a person had been by how clean the bones are when they finish eating. Usually as he was cracking the chicken bones and eating the marrow.

  12. Jerry Underwood

    September 11, 2019 at 9:35 AM

    My mom would fry 5 pieces of bologna and I always got to smear mayo, Ketchup or mustard on the bread to make a family main course. Seems like my mom always had canned apples,pears or maybe even peaches to fill out what I always thought was the perfect dinner. I never knew that was all we had. Oh for the days when we went bare foot and wore cutoff old jeans to go outside and make mud puddle rivers with stick boats in them. Just think about all that nasty dirt we played in and I grew up without a single allergy. Makes you feel bad for today’s kids who live in mom’s sterile world. Stop it mom you’re killing your kids.

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