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Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Great Depression Cooking for the Recession Cook

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I won’t lie. Times are tough for us. We stress and worry over every penny that leaves our door. One illness or bad run of luck could ruin us. I don’t think it’s an uncommon thing these days. I think that during the current recession that there are a lot of people who have trouble making ends meet every month. But it also seems that whenever times get really tough, we tend to instinctively know how to hunker down in order to weather the storm. I know I seem to. I’m pretty sure it’s a trait that I inherited from my grandmothers and my great-grandmother.I’m also pretty sure that they picked up the ability to squeeze blood from a turnip during the Depression. I want to be just like them.

We can learn a lot from the Depression especially in the culinary sense. I think we can learn creativity, invention, and maybe a little humbleness. The food of the Depression may have been simple but it was by no means boring, and many of the most loved recipes that are passed down from generation to generation have their roots in the Depression. Take my great-grandmother’s Supper on a Loaf for example. It has been handed down through my family for generations, but it started in the Depression when meat was a commodity and a little had to go a long way or somebody wasn’t eating! That recipe can feed 8 people on a pound and half of ground beef. And it’s delicious! Same goes for this Tomato Soup Cake. I mean, come on, if you had to make a cake the first thing you reach for is not a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. It was creativity. Invention. It’s what got these people through. It’s what sustained them through the long dark nights and many would argue that it made America a better place because of it. I think that when you look at the food of the Great Depression you can plainly see that it reflects the hard times and meager means, but, if you look closer, I think you will also find the dreams, hope and faith that ultimately saw them through to the other side.

This dinner is a full-fledged Depression meal. Since meat is the star of this show, you can assume that this would be reserved for a special meal.
The mock filet mignon tastes in no way like actual filet mignon, but it is quite impressive anyway. And I have to wonder why people aren’t serving bacon wrapped hamburgers on top of potato patties more often.

The wilted lettuce salad is a recipe that I saw many variations of and one that my husband’s grandmother put to good use. It is a spectacular use of bacon grease, something that I think should be used on all salads from here on out.

The Tomato Soup Cake is my great-grandmothers and a family favorite. It’s very much like a spice cake and doesn’t taste at all like tomato soup. So don’t worry. It is delicious.

Mock Filet Mignon 
From Kate Aitken’s Canadian Cook Book
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1/3 cup chili sauce
1/4 tsp dry mustard
Dash of pepper and paprika
1 small onion (1/2 cup) finely diced
6 strips bacon (about 1/4 pound)
2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup hot milk
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat Oven to 450
Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling water until soft enough to mash, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine meat, chili sauce, mustard, pepper, paprika and onion, mixing well

. Shape into 6 pucks about 2 inches tall.

Wrap strip of bacon around each; fasten with toothpick. Set aside.

Beat potatoes with hot milk and salt. Form into six flat patties big enough to hold the mock filets; place on baking sheet.

Top with meat.

Bake 10 minutes in 450F oven; reduce to 350F and bake 30 minutes, until bacon is crisp and meat is cooked through.

Wilted Lettuce Salad
a variation from Peace, Love and Barbecue

6-8 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 t. celery seed
2 bunches of leafy lettuce ( such as Romaine or Bibb)
1/2 red onion thinly sliced

Brown the bacon in a skillet. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Leave the grease in the pan. Add the sugar, vinegar, water, salt and pepper, garlic and celery seed to the pan. Simmer over heat until everything is well blended.

Tear the lettuce into pieces and place in a heat proof bowl along with onion. Pour hot dressing over the lettuce, toss, and then place a plate or lid on top of the bowl to allow the greens to steam for a few minutes. Remove plate and serve immediately.

Tomato Soup Cake
1/2 cup shortening or butter
1 c. sugar
1 can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup ( it must be Campbells!) mixed with 1t. baking soda

2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1 t. nutmeg
1 c. raisins
1 c. chopped nuts ( pecans or walnuts are best)

Preheat the oven to 350 and Lightly grease a stem pan.

In a mixing bowl, cream together shortening and sugar and then add in the tomato soup.

In a seperate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Then slowly add it to the soup mixture.
Add in the nuts and raisins

 Pour batter into the stem pan and evenly spread out. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
4oz. cream cheese
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Cream all ingredients together then frost Tomato Soup Cake.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. great, meaningful read, and all three recipes are something I would make regardless of the times, it is the foods I grew up on and those I appreciate to this day….thanks for these

  2. Simple foods make excellent meals such a great menu and what a great read! The recession sure does suck and it is stressful when we have to constantly worry about money and saving money just to get by.

  3. Thrift is an excellent virtue and you show it well.

    Your adept handling of ingredients shine.

    Lee Ann.

    PS: tomato soup cake should be a staple for cake lovers.

  4. These all sound delicious and not at all like something cooked just to to save money. A well-done post. Congrats on 24, 24, 24.

  5. nice entry in general, but have to wonder how hard the economy has hit you, when you're eating three kinds of meat and fresh vegetables in two different courses.

  6. I can see where you could think that this would be an extravagance, and it certainly was for those in the Depression. As I stated in the post, this would be a meal reserved for Sunday dinners or holidays. But even by today's standards this meal is still very inexpensive. This meal easily feeds six people and the total cost including the cake was less than $10,which makes it less than $1.80 per person. I don't know, but that seems pretty darn frugal to me.

  7. Great job on this post! I congrats on the 24,24,24 🙂 I actually just made a version of tomato soup cake and posted it on my blog. i got the recipe from king arthur flour. It's a little different than yours, but you're right it tastes nothing like tomatoes. It just tastes like a delicious spice cake! 🙂

  8. I love the idea of the mock filet mignon .. and I've seen recipes for the tomato soup cake for years and have been shy about trying it ..

  9. I can't tell you how excited I was to see Tomato Soup Cake on your blog. This was my father's favorite cake because his mother made it for him during the depression. We made it every year for his birthday right up until his death. I tell people about Tomato Soup cake all the time, and they look at me like I am nuts. Thanks for posting such a classic depression era recipe that is also an awesome cake.

  10. that's a hilarious title. and meaningful. good job! Swedish food is pretty affordable too 🙂

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Jodie is a wife, mom, writer and lover of chickens and gardens. She runs her family's winery by day and cooks and writes by night.

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