7 Frugal Cooking Tips from The Great Depression

Basket of colorful eggs and several shelves full of home canned food.

Check out this list of Frugal Cooking Tips From the Great Depression for some old-fashioned money saving advice!

Basket of colorful eggs and several shelves full of home canned food.

Frugal Cooking Tips From the Great Depression

I don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated with cooking habits from the past and I love hearing how things used to be, especially from my grandpa who lived through the depression.

He grew up one of nine children on an 80 acre farm in Arkansas and recalls a life full of hard work, plentiful food and close-knit community.

When I asked him if he thought food was better back then he replied, “Oh lord yea, it was straight out of the ground and fresh.”

So I asked him several questions about his diet and eating habits through the depression and came up with a few tips for eating well during hard times. If you like this article then you will also want to check out 8 Lessons Learned From the Great Depression.

Grow Your Own

   Growing your own food was basically the only way anyone could afford to eat during the Depression. My grandpa’s family had 80 acres so they were able to grow enough food to feed eleven people for a year. I think everyone should grow at least something since it connects you to the food that you eat and the people who came before us. If you are new to gardening then you may want to check out 5 Tips for the Beginner Gardener.

Eat From the Wild

   My grandpa recalls eating a lot of greens, herbs, fruit and meat from the wild. I’m sure a significant part of his diet came from foraging and I think it’s a great skill to have today. He said that they ate a lot of rabbit and squirrel and when I asked him about deer he said people didn’t hunt it much then. I’m sure they had more to choose from in the way of wild food during the depression, but you can still find edible wild food if you know where to look and hunting is still a great way to get fresh meat.

Barter with Neighbors

   My grandpa didn’t mention bartering during the Depression, but I imagine it went on a lot back then. If one family kept chickens and one had a dairy cow then it would only make sense to trade. I think bartering is a skill that should be revived today.

Use What is Available to You

   When talking about the depression, the main theme was to make the most of what you had. My grandpa said they didn’t eat beef because they didn’t have enough pasture to keep cows, but they ate a lot of pork and chicken because they raised them themselves. While I’m glad that we have options in our diet today, I sometimes wish that things were more limited because it would help me to simplify, be creative and appreciate food more.

Let Nothing Go To Waste

   When times are hard you make the most with what you have which means NOTHING is wasted. Wastefulness was probably somewhat of a dirty word during the Depression because resources were so scare. Everything was used and reused and all scraps were fed to the animals or composed for the garden. Considering the average American wastes a quarter of their food per year we could learn a lot from the resourcefulness previous generations. If you want to learn how to reduce your food waste, then you may want to read 20 Creative Ways to Use Kitchen Scraps or 10 Steps to Reduce Waste in the Kitchen.

Preserve Everything

   When you can’t go to the store you learn to make use of anything you can get. During the depression women used to can anything and everything including fruit, vegetables, meat and lard. I think it would serve us well to think in this manner today and try to make the most of what comes our way by preserving it. Plus, if you can get food for a good deal or even free it’s a great money saver!

Eat Lots of Corn and Potatoes

   My grandpa said they ate fried potatoes three times a day all year-long because they were filling and cheap. They also grew their own corn and ground 100 lbs of it per week to make cornmeal. These cheap, filling staples are what sustained them and kept them going through hard times. These two food items have a bad rap today, but I’m of the opinion that if it comes out of the ground then it’s probably full of nutrients and is way better for us than anything processed.

   I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and I would love to hear any that you might have about Depression Era cooking. What did your family eat? I’d love to know!

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Want more old-fashioned money saving tips? Here are some of my favorites:

8 Lessons Learned from the Great Depression
Frugal Lessons Learned From the Amish Lifestyle
10 Forgotten Money-Saving Skills that You Need to Learn
30 Old-Fashioned Frugal Tips from Grandma

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  1. One article you wrote you said your grandpa lived on an 80 acre farn in arkansas and another article you said it was oaklahoma. which is it. There alot of space between the states. Both articles were on the dreression.
    1. Actually there is no space. They could very well own a Farm that was in Oklahoma and Arkansas. We (Oklahoma & Arkansas) are side by side.
  2. Fantastic tips. I'm always fascinated with how things were done in the generations before. People are always complaining about how tough times are, but to be honest, we have it easy compared to our ancestors. We need to learn how to make do with what we have and drop the "want, want, want"
  3. I can't get enough stories from my grandma. She was a child of the depression too and has so much wisdom to share. Glad to hear that you value your Grandpa's wisdom!
  4. My Grandmother was raised in Arkansas also, this sounds familiar. Also my parents were borned in 1926 and 1930 so I was raised do not waste!!
  5. I love the idea of growing your own. We don't have a lot of land, but my husband is working on building a garden on the side of our house where it looks like the old owners used to have one. We tried it last year but the dirt was too dry, so he is trying again this year and learning from our mistakes from last year. I also agree with using up what you have, there is no need to waste when the internet is here to tell you just how you can use up about anything. We are trying to teach our daughters these simple, but meaningful life lessons as well.
    1. All are great suggestions. I was aware of some, but not all. I’m fortunate to have a decent size garden for summer and can plant many varieties of vegetables and a few fruits. I worry about the folks in the cities who are less likely to: a) believe there’s a problem and need to begin growing their own food b) have room to grow a decent amount of food for their family c) in general, our soil is no longer what it used to be as far as minerals go. People don’t realize that generation past didn’t buy dirt at the store, lol. Thank you for spreading your (and grandfather’s) knowledge. Extremely helpful.
  6. My grandparents were in MD during the depression. They taught me to make due with what you have. With 7 kids, we do! Our oldest son,21, and my husband went crabbing today. They caught 36 crabs. Yum. Almost free food!
  7. If you look at old recipes, you often find that there are no measurements, only ingredients, like flour, baking soda, apples, etc. It was assumed and understood that the one cooking would know how much to use. I just loved that.
    1. Disagree. Common sense is only common sense if it's consistently passed down to every generation. The reason why we need exact measurements today is because something happened along the way that broke the chain of passing along information. If there's no respect for the documentation of a thing then expect that thing to die out. Not everyone grew up on a farm, so a city dweller wouldn't have the same understanding of cooking than a farm raised person would have. This subtle, unintentional gatekeeping is unnecessary and creates a barriers. Heck, I try to get my own mom to document some of her recipes and she just keeps doing the same thing "oh, just some flour and some xyx. Cook until it's done."well....I guess that dish will never be made again unless you make it mom. The beauty of having actual instructions and measurements is that if you need them - they're there. If you DON'T need them - you can ignore them.
      1. My mother in law tried to get a recipe from her mother in law. Each time she asked she got ingredients, but no measurements. My father in law kept telling her no that's not it. Unfortunately little amounts make a big difference in a recipe.
      2. My mum doesn't like anyone in the kitchen when she cooks. She made hearty soups for a family of 11, during all seasons, using staple vegetables, low cost protien with spices and S&P, to add flavour. She never measures anything. Back in the day groceries were in lbs and ozs, which made it was easier to guess how much was needed to cook a meal or bake. Spices and S&P are the secret to making food taste good. At 63, I'm only just now starting to ask mum for the recepies to cook our traditional meals, and I'm begining to master them. However, I measure the spices so as I remember how to make the food taste like mum's cooking.
  8. Today, a great alternative to canning is freezing. My parents used to save old yogurt cartons (with lids), wash them, and then fill them with chopped onion or whatnot. Not only did it cut down on prep work when it was time to cook, but it also allowed them to save what they grew. (My mother also did some canning, but sometimes I feel that the cost of canning today isn't as cost effective as it was 80 years ago.) The freezing option works quite well if you have a large chest freezer, not just a small one with the fridge.
  9. I enjoy reading and sometimes using baking recipes from the depression and the war era. They have quite a bit less sugar and often less butter or shortening than today's recipes. Probably because they were expensive ingredients, and during wartime they would have been rationed.
  10. Your blog is everything I've been looking for online. Thank you so much for taking the time to record this information!
  11. I agree that eating food out of the ground is healthy, but I grown organically and I believe that is a whole lot healthier. Back in your Grandparents time, also in mine, they only used what they had, not chemicals from the store. Now there is so much spraying that I read that even if you don't spray it is in the air and ground-sad
  12. Please do not reuse/store bacon grease unless it is nitrate free. Regular bacon grease contains a concentrated form of nitrates which has been associated with causing cancers. Bacon grease was a collected staple in my parents house and although a great flavour enhancer think twice do some research online an leave this off the frugal list. Actually the price of bacon puts this idea as non frugal anyways.
  13. First off your very lucky to have grandparents, then ones that will share these things with you. I would absolutely love to hear stories like that. Second, I’m looking for information on all of the things you mentioned. Cooking from scratch, frugal tips, gardening and canning. Thank you very much for this opportunity and I’m excited to learn. Tammy from SE Michigan
  14. Mom made something we called "brown stuff" which was any leftover gravy mixed with oatmeal and put in a loaf pan and refrigerated, then sliced like you would a loaf of bread and fried in butter...it was a favorite breakfast often when I was a kid. Along with corn meal mush which was also fried...I don't know quite how she made that though.
  15. I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time around my Grandma who was a GREAT cook and baker (actually that's how she met my Grandpa - his Mother had hired her to do all their cooking and baking) who taught my Mom a thing or two. My Mom was born in 1930, so she had the remnants of the depression but my Grandma and her parents and in-laws (who lived until I was a pre-teen) really taught me a lot. My Great-Grandma would use a tea bag to make a cuppa tea and then hang it on a nail in the pantry to dry and reuse it...Grandma taught me how to cook, bake, can, sew, knit and crochet (Mom was busy raising 6 kids and didn't have a lot of time to "waste" on teaching me)....so glad she did! Over the years, even when living alone, I was very frugal and saved quite a bit for my "old age
  16. You said you wish things were more limited so you would benefit more. This is how I grew up & we grew what we ate, I milked cows before I went to school. I've always carried on the traditions I grew up with even though things are plentiful I still garden. I'm now retired & trust me that will really put you on track when you don't have a working salary coming in anymore& being single now in my 70's it's a good thing that I still garden every year. There is absolutely nothing that tastes better than vegetables straight out of the garden! Just because food is plentiful doesn't mean you need to buy all that stuff! Grow it, I'll be waiting to hear back! Many thanks for beautiful posts!

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