Depression Cooking

Meet Clara. She’s a 93 year old great grandmother. She’s also the host of one of the most compelling things I’ve ever seen on the internet.

Clara was a young woman during the years of the Great Depression. During those years, she learned a lot of survival skills – among them was the ability to create a tasty meal for the absolute minimum cost.

Today, Clara’s a spry ninety three year old who is still able to get around in her kitchen and is also a good storyteller, so she’s sharing her stories and her Depression-era recipes on YouTube.

Part of the reason that I liked these videos so much is that in some ways, Clara reminded me a lot of my own great grandmother, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 89. I miss her every day, still – she was an amazing woman with a nice touch in the kitchen and a good story always on her lips.

Not only are Clare’s recipes well worth trying, Clara’s stories and her humble mannerisms make this series come together into something special. There are currently ten videos in her YouTube channel – below, I chose four of them to highlight. I strongly encourage you to watch them all if you find the ones below even half as interesting as I did.

Clara’s pasta with peas is a very clear example of the simplicity of these Depression-era meals. It simply consists of a simple stew (just water and milk as the liquid backbone) of potatoes, onions, peas, and a bit of tomato sauce (with some salt and pepper) cooked together with pasta, providing you plenty of nutrients – and it’s incredibly cheap. Her tip about saving energy (and money) by simply turning off the heat and letting the pasta finish cooking from its own heat is excellent, too. The highlight, though, was Clara’s tale about Depression-era bootleggers hiding illegal liquor in the garage of her neighbors.

Clara’s depression breakfast is actually more of a snack, as it consists of very simple sugar cookies (flour, eggs, and sugar) which you can dip in coffee, which she demonstrates how to make in a Depression-era coffee pot. She also goes through a bunch of old photographs and tells a number of wonderful stories about her family and friends, providing visual glimpses into the Depression and pre-Depression eras.

Clara’s peppers and eggs is actually an incredible breakfast, one that I’ve come to enjoy. It’s about as simple as it sounds – she’d just take bell peppers (saving the seeds for next year, of course) and slice them, then cook them along with scrambled eggs with some toast on the side. She also tells tales of how people swapped food (especially in schools) and the prevalence of home canning and basic farming (chickens, for one) during the Depression. This video actually has a second part, where Clara makes a very simple homemade bread from flour, water, and yeast.

Clara’s poorman’s feast consists of lentils, rice or pasta, salad, and inexpensive cuts of meat – steaks that were cut very thin to make them stretch. She tenderizes the meat by soaking it in lemon juice and olive oil and fries it and simply boils the lentils and rice together to make a healthy backbone. For the salad, she recommends fresh endive and drenches it with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and lemon juice.

Thank you so much, Clara, for sharing these videos with the world on YouTube. If you liked these videos, be sure to check out Clara’s other videos including Sicilian fig cookies and egg drop soup among other foods – they’re timeless and have provided me with hours of entertainment (and cooking).

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.