Depression Recipes – Simple Meal Ideas for Hard Times

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Last Updated on December 14, 2020

The Great Depression is almost universally thought of as the darkest time in recent U.S. history from at least a financial standpoint. Like many of you, I know close family members who lived through the depression and their stories of the hardships, depression recipes they fondly remembered but more precisely how they made do regardless of the times, always seem to fascinate me. People were much hardier back then I believe. This period of time is how we imagine life at its hardest; and the realities that so many people faced during that roughly 10 year span seem to loom larger in our collective consciousness to this day. All we need are the right present day events for us all to see how we fare in a similar situation and the worst predictions seem to point to a time where the Great Depression will look like a picnic by comparison.

There are some that say we are already living through another great depression but we don’t know it because of the social safety nets, which over 100 million people rely on daily to get by. Rather than waiting in line for soup and bread, you are given a credit card so you can buy junk food at the store like everyone else. Remove the stigma of public poverty and one could argue the actual harsh effects, and you might struggle less to get out of it. At a minimum, if nobody sees the outward face of poverty, why worry? Not that people on welfare have it good, but the poor in this country live like Kings and Queens compared to the poor in India or China.

The Great Depression left millions of hungry people who created simple depression recipes out of basic ingredients

Regardless of where you live, it can’t be argued that the prices of food are rising. When the price of groceries increases too far or your ability to pay is decreased, that is when creativity comes into the kitchen and you will need to adjust your menu. During the depression, meat was a luxury that was often only eaten once a week. When I say meat, I am talking about Hot Dogs. Forget having your steaks if we enter another depression. Meals were frequently based on a few simple ingredients like potatoes, flour, onions and vegetables that were grown in the family garden.

Our society faces a few problems, not the least of which is the ability to grow our own food. In the 1930’s we didn’t have frozen dinners, fast food restaurants and microwaves. Most rural families had their own gardens. If we were to suffer an event now, like the great depression that saw 25% of all workers out of a job, there would be a lot of people unable to eat. That is one of the reasons preppers talk about starting to garden now so that you will not be behind the curve when it’s too late.

Depression Recipes were filling and cheap

If it does come to that and you find it is time to tighten your belt and start making do with less, I thought it would be a good idea to look back in time to see some of the depression recipes that people used to make. I know that we stock up on food that we eat now in the hopes that we will have enough to last us, but I doubt anyone here has stocked up 10 years’ worth of food. If another great depression happens, we will be required to be more frugal and these depression recipes allow you to feed your family with much less.

Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression
Clara gives readers practical advice on cooking nourishing meals for less. Using lessons she learned during the Great Depression, she writes, for instance, about how to conserve electricity when cooking and how you can stretch a pot of pasta with a handful of lentils.

I have included a few recipes below, but there are also some great books like Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression. Clara also had her own YouTube Channel and you can see her prepare her Poor man’s Meal and talk about living through the great depression below.

In addition to Clara’s Poormans’ Meal, here are a few other options.

Great Depression Pork Stew – Serves 4-6


  • 2 -3 large pork chops
  • 4 large white potatoes
  • 2 large yellow onions
  • 6 stalks celery, include leaves
  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes


  1. Boil pork until it falls from the bone. Cut into small bite sized pieces (fat as well) and return to pot with some salt and pepper and keep on slow simmer.
  2. Peel and cut potatoes into bite size chunks.
  3. Roughly dice the onion and celery. Add all vegetables and bouillon cubes to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer low until vegetables are done. Thicken with a mix of flour and cold water. Taste for salt or pepper.
  4. The stew is white with some green so you might want to add a chopped carrot for color.
  5. Serve in deep soup bowls with biscuits on the side. Some may want to add ketchup to their bowl of stew. This is OK – I do it.
  6. You may substitute and inexpensive cut of pork for this recipe.

Old Fashioned Corn and Potato Salad– Serves 4-6


  • 2 1/2 cups cooked corn (canned is fine)
  • 2 cups diced potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 1 tablespoon flour, mixed with
  • 1 tablespoon water


  1. Combine, in a large pot, all ingredients except milk and flour/water.
  2. Cook until potatoes are fork tender.
  3. Add milk and flour/water, stirring well.
  4. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with chopped green onion and shredded cheese as a garnish.

Depression Era Recipes
Get this collection of more than 450 Depression Era recipes, with nostalgic photos, illustrations and comments.


Creamed Tuna on Toast – Serves 4

Creamed Tuna on Toast
Creamed Tuna on Toast


  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 can drained tuna fish
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper
  • bread (for toasting)


  • Thaw frozen peas in a colander.
  • Melt the margarine in a saucepan.
  • Add the flour and blend.
  • Add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent clumping and stir until creamy.
  • Add the tuna, peas, salt and pepper and warm through.
  • As the tuna is warming, toast bread.
  • After toasted, cut in triangles and spoon tuna mixture over the toast.

Cornmeal Griddle Cakes – Serves 10-15

Cornmeal Griddle Cakes
Cornmeal Griddle Cakes


  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons fat, melted


  • Mix and sift dry ingredients.
  • Combine beaten egg and milk.
  • Add to dry ingredients.
  • Stir in shortening.
  • Pour on a hot griddle.

Wacky Cake – 1 Cake

This gained fame during the depression because unlike traditional cake recipes, the wacky cake didn’t need milk or eggs. It is still delicious!

Wacky Cake
Wacky Cake


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Sift flour, sugar, salt, soda, and cocoa together into an 8×8 inch ungreased cake pan. Make three depressions. Pour oil into one well, vinegar into second, and vanilla into third well. Pour water over all, and stir well with fork.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tooth pick inserted comes out clean. Frost with your favorite icing.

Do you have any depression recipes your family loves?

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Freedom-loving American doing what I can to help prepare and inform others. Editor and creator of The Prepper Journal 2013-2017, 2020 -

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I make a spicy vegetable soup that’s simple and delicious. This can be done with any veggies grown, canned, dried, or substituted. The spiciness can be adjusted or avoided depending on cost, availability, or preference. In frying pan, heat some oil and fry the seeds of those little dried red pepper’s you use in chinese cooking for General Tso’s chicken. You can either leave the seeds in or strain them out. The longer they’re in the oil, the hotter it gets. The more seeds used, the hotter it gets. To this add 2-3 med/large yellow onions coarsely chopped and sautee… Read more »


This sounds very much like a soup/stew my Father would make on occasion. He lived through the “Great Depression”, fought in WWII, was a heck of an outdoors-man, and was just one of those guys that seemed to know things. Anyways he would make this thing he called “Hunters Stew”, one day I asked him why he called it that, a simple response was, ”I hunt for anything that’s around the kitchen that’s ½ used, leftover or sitting in the frig for a bit and about to go bad. Just toss it in a pot and cook…. HAHAHA He was… Read more »

Pat Henry

That does sound delicious! Might have to try that one out when the garden gets going this year.



What peppers are you getting the seeds from?


My grandmother had four young daughters and an alcoholic husband during WWII in rural Illinois. So, my mother grew up literally “dirt poor” (the floor in their house was compacted dirt). The girls survived mostly on potatoes and milk. In the morning, my grandmother would bake four potatoes and wrap them in newspaper or a towel. The girls would carry them to school in their pockets, and in winter, this was how they kept their hands warm as they had no gloves. They’d eat the cooled potatoes as their lunch. Every. Day. My grandmother would peel vegetables throughout the week… Read more »


It is amazing what the Human body can live through as well as what we put each other through (assuming your alcoholic grandfather was a non-contributor). I’m Sure your mother learned to become extremely resourceful and passed a great deal on to you.

Pat Henry

Thanks for the comments Marie and for sharing your grandmother’s story. It is stories like this that I was referring to in the post. It is almost unthinkable for anyone to live like that now, but as Matt says, humans are incredibly resilient or at least we used to be.



I thought maybe I should follow up and not leave that sad story hanging out there. My grandmother ended up divorcing my grandfather and remarried. Her second husband was a kind man who took great care of her and her daughters. US, my mother doesn’t like to be reminded of her childhood. She and my father did pretty well for themselves, and in many ways she did a complete 180. She is never wasteful, but she rejects any behaviors or habits which remind her of the extreme poverty she experienced as a child. My grandmother on the other hand… Well,… Read more »


Your story backs up what I’ve thought for a long time……… You, we, are descended from pretty tough stock.

Mary Elizabeth Harvey

I would love to hear more examples because I think we may need this type of information…Most recipes include ingredients that may be scarce at some point. Thank you for the info!!


I agree, my family too. It would be great to have a chat with you. Even I hand washed diapers, used can milk formula and made bread crumb soup flavoured with bacon paper at times and I was born in ’66.
Cheers from Canada : )


Made the cake yesterday with the kiddos and it is delicious. Next time I will sift the flour because we have been finding little white kernels throughout. Flavor is extremely chocolatey, pretty moist though a glass of milk or water makes it better, and it is pretty dense. I’m not a chemist but I wonder if more baking soda and vinegar would produce more CO2 bubbles and lighten it up without changing flavor.

Will definitely make it again.

David Ceiler

I am a big fan of so-called “peasant food” which, in terms of meat, includes anything you cannot cook successfully for a few minutes and expect to eat. Instead, you can braise things like lamb shanks, pork neck bones, beef shanks (osso bucco), chuck roasts, and ox tails using very simple ingredients and techniques. The results are flavorful, satisfying, and so simple. Brown the meat in an oven-proof pan in olive oil or other fat (bacon fat works wonderfully), just to get some color on the meat for deeper flavor. Take the meat out of the pan and add a… Read more »

Pat Henry

That does sound delicious! Thanks for the recipe.


John Alba "The Tenth Man"

My grandmother would cook up a potful of pinto beans (smash up the beans adding salt and a large scoop of lard) and as it cooked she added flour tortillas (warmed over a burner). She would serve this and believe it or not it felt like a complete meal!

Pat Henry

I can smell it cooking now. Beans have a way of filling you up and that is one reason why I have over a hundred pounds of them myself.


In Arkansas we had what we called “Poor-Man Beans”. Basically, you use whatever pork you can and add whatever you have to make it a meal. The basic recipe is reliant on on boiling the gas out and any possibility of “poison” out of the beans .. being sure NOT to burn them. When you have them everyday, it is good to soak, de-gas and hard boil them. They weren’t good if the bean didn’t peel the minute it hit the air. I consider myself lucky because the lady across the street was an old …what she called “witch doctor”… Read more »


Funny, when I was growing up our grandmother fed us ‘wacky cake’, I never even thought it was a poorman cake


Cheap Pasta/Ham (about $1)
In garlic oil, saute green peas, chopped onion, dash of garlic powder.
Add chopped ham, heat thoroughly.
Add this to cooked pasta and stir.
Great dish.


Oh, I love Clara’s “Peas and Pasta” recipe she has on YouTube. I leave out the tomato and let the moisture cook down. It’s pretty similar and quite addictive.

Alfred Lutzick

Will try them all.


My mother had a lot of great recipes but the one I remember the best and was her favorite was the carrot salad. She would shred the carrots until she had a pretty good bowl full. Then she would throw in some raisins (whatever we had). Then she would put about 1/2 to 1 cup of mayo and add a spoonful of sugar and stir that together. Once her mayo sauce was ready she would pour it over the carrot shreds and raisins. It was really delicious and pretty simple too. My grandfather taught her as a young girl how… Read more »


I love it with either crushed pineapple or shredded apples. It’s so tasty.


I had a link card for several years. I’m an excellent cook and worked hard to feed my children. My ex husband had some huge problems and I left. This forced me to apply for the card. The interesting thing is how many people thought they could say whatever they wanted to me. I purchased heathy food that I could stretch. Never forget that everyone has a different idea on healthy. Did I buy pop? Yes. Once a week as a weekend treat. Did i buy produce? Yes ! In bulk! Did I buy ice cream? Yes. I did. I… Read more »

Wild Bill

Good point. Be well.

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