Not too long ago, I was on the receiving end of some buzz around the net indicating that there was an overabundance of web sites that focused on the “food” aspect of survival and prepping. You know: the beans, the rice, the wheat and the other low cost, long shelf life products that make up the core of most family’s emergency survival pantry. The gist of the buzz was “how boring”.
Here at Backdoor Survival the hackles went up. After all, along with air and water, food is an essential component to life itself. Without food we die.
Today I want to tell you unequivocally that Backdoor Survival is not going to give up on the research and discussion of food products for health and survival. Quite the contrary. We are going to continue to delve into the study of various food items in order to learn how to eat better and to sustain ourselves when the budget is meager, the pantry cupboard is bare and the usual food sources no longer exist. And what better way to start than to talk about depression cooking?
- True unemployment is in the 20% range and there are no jobs
- Droughts have resulted in poor crop yields
- Seed production is greatly reduced due to hybridization and the failure of such seeds to accurately reproduce themselves
- Meat and vegetable supplies are plagued with e-coli and other diseases
- Food banks that in the past would serve 300 families a week are now serving 1000 families a week and most are out of food by mid-week
Perhaps you don’t even have to imagine these things for there is much fact laced into this so-called imaginary listing. The point being that if times are bad – really bad – food or the money to buy food – will be scarce. And other than stockpiling for such times, the very best way to get by in thin times is to get by with less. Trite as it sounds, that means make do with what you have and, well, to simply manage.
With this in mind, I set out to learn about depression cooking, By that I mean learning how resourceful, but food-poor families cooked delicious meals when there was very little in the way of ingredients to choose from. This was the situation during the great depression of the 30s and could quite possibly be our situation in the future.
Surprisingly, this was not an easy task. I did not have a grandmother or elderly aunt to ask and I could find a dearth of books in the subject. Until I met Clara, that is.
Welcome to Clara’s Kitchen
Quite by accident, I stumbled upon “Cooking With Clara”. Clara is a ninety-something dynamo that lived through the depression and upon the encouragement of her grandson, became a celebrity chef so to speak on You Tube. I would like to introduce you to her by way of one of her videos:
As you can see, Clara’s pasta with peas is a very clear example of the simplicity and frugality of depression-era meals. In this case, the meal consists of a simple stew of potatoes, onions, canned peas and a bit of tomato sauce. These ingredients plus some salt and pepper, are cooked together with pasta, providing plenty of nutrients for an incredibly cheap price. Did you catch the tip about saving money by turning off the heat and letting the pasta finish cooking from its own heat?
After watching a number of her videos, I decided that I wanted to learn more. I wanted to learn some of the tricks families used to feed hungry mouths when all that was available was some bread, some olive oil and some salt (and yes, you can make a meal out of those few ingredients). All of this and more can be found in the book Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression. And what a delight this is!
While reading this little book, I learned how to stretch what is available (such as mixing a handful of lentils with pasta), how to conserve, and how to get by food-wise in a potential SHTF economic situation. I learned how Clara and her family both survived and thrived; not only with love and a common bond to help each other out but with common sense and practical household tactics that are still useful today.
Not surprisingly, Clara’s father’s garden was the cornerstone of the family’s food supply and nothing was wasted. Leftovers were re-purposed at another meal and excess from the garden was canned. The recipes she describes and shares in the book are mostly very simple–Dandelion Salad, Eggs and Potatoes, Pasta with Beans, Pasta with Broccoli, Pasta with Peas – well, you get the drift.
Because of her heritage most of her dishes stem from traditional Italian cooking, with lots of pasta, greens, and eggplant, supplemented with eggs, potatoes and tomato sauce. Meat is used more as a condiment and even then, mostly for special occasion dishes or for meals on Sunday after church.
Even though these are simple peasant-type foods, Clara somehow makes all of these things seem utterly delicious.
The Final Word
Beyond the recipes, this small book is full of memories, photos, and recipes from the 1920s and 30s. It is a peek into a slice of time when the economy was in the dump and people struggled to simply get through the hard times, one day at a time. It is about hardship as much as it is about love and about strength. And of course, it is about the food and about cooking techniques required by the era and the times.
I would like to recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to get by, and more specifically, how to eat well with less. Pick a recipe or two and give them a try. See if you like the results and adapt if need be. The time to learn is now, while we still have choices and luxury of time. Whereas we may never have to make a satisfying meal out of old, hardened bread and olive oil, wouldn’t it be nice to know you could – just in case?
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Spotlight Item: Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression: The book is about $15 and a true treasure. Recommended not only for the recipes, but for the heartwarming anecdotes that fondly recall memories of life when all you could count on was yourself and strength of the family unit.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make.
How to Live on Wheat: Everything you need to know about wheat.
Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): For less than $8, this pack of 10 is a great deal. Free shipping too.
Fiskars 7855 8-Inch Hatchet: The Fiskars products are easily sharpened and will last a lifetime. For less than $25, what is not to like? Oh, and while you are at it, you might also like the Fiskars Axe & Knife Sharpener for an additional $10.
Kaito Voyager KA500 Solar/Crank Emergency AM/FM/SW NOAA Weather Radio: A lot of different hand crank radios were sold but this was by far, the most popular.
Sabre Compact Pepper Spray with Quick Release Key Ring: The portability of this pepper spray adds to its appeal since it can be easily carried on a key ring or in a handbag or backpack.
The Prepper’s Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things You Can Do to Ready Your Home for a Disaster: Written by Bernie Carr at the Apartment Prepper blog, this is highly readable guide to all things preparedness.
Rothco 550lb. Type III Nylon Paracord: As far as I am concerned, paracord ranks up there with duct tape and zip ties. I wish I had know about this stuff years ago.
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