Depression Era Living

My daughter, Heidi, posed a question on Facebook this morning: “When you think of ‘depression era foods’ what comes to mind? Think grandma.” I didn’t know if she was addressing me or she was saying to anyone, “Think about your grandmother as you respond.”

I had fun responding:

Using bacon in spaghetti sauce. Eating all parts of the animal. Fried calves brains, czanina (duck’s blood soup) (sp?), sausage using real intestine skins, ziltz (head cheese from head parts of a pig), liver, gizzards, heart, pickled pigs feet. Potatoes fixed a million different ways. I didn’t live during the depression, but the foods fed to me as a child were cooked by those who did. Lots of sharing. Food from the farm families up in Wisconsin were brought back to Chicago for canning. Reading someone else’s response sparks other food memories: potato soup, macaroni and cheese casserole (macaroni, hamburger and canned tomato soup), and lard and sugar sandwiches (how could I forget that?)

I think also, as with foods, using all materials. Can you imagine someone actually making a living selling rags? My grandfather, I am told, did this. Folks used rags instead of paper products. I still do this although we use paper towels, too. I am more apt to grab a rag than a paper towel when there is a spill to clean up.

Clothes were passed on or remade into new clothing. My grandmother made rugs out of scraps, which I am starting to do now. When my children were small, I did this and made clothes out of old curtains, like Maria in the sound of music. These were practices passed on and I am glad to have been aware of them to know what to do during our personal “depressions.”

The same was true of furniture. Furniture was repaired, refinished, recovered and lasted for years. They were passed on to others starting out on their own. We furnished our first apartment with such furniture. We bought a bedroom set (which we still have)…the rest was given to us. Noone worried about “fashion” in decor or dress. It was about practicality and thrift.

People did a lot of sharing of living spaces such as apartments. Or they rented out their bedrooms. My grandmother did this. She slept on a daybed in her dining room so she could rent out her two bedrooms. It was accepted practice, smart practice. Rooming houses were plentiful. My grandmother used this idea in her apartment building. Boarders ate at her table as did  my brothers and I and my cousins who all lived in the same building. We weren’t necessarily supposed to be eating at Grandma’s but it was definitely more interesting to eat there than with our parents.

Adult family members who continued to live at home and were working payed rent. Anyone in the family who made money contributed all or part of their money to the household. It was survival and working together for the good of the family. Friends were not forgotten, however. There were often drop-ins who were fed and given food to take with them when they left. Food would be given to vagrants passing by, also. Entertainment was always in someone’s home. Lots of card playing where I lived with the neighbors sharing in the games.

I was did not live through the depression, but my ancestors did. People often carried the skills they learned during those years into the next more plentiful era. This is why some of them became rich. A good lesson to learn. Acquiring wealth isn’t just about making more money…but about spending less.

5 thoughts on “Depression Era Living”

  1. I noticed that you mentioned making rag rugs.I only did this once, in girl scout, as a child. I have tried finding directions but can’t find anything “easy” I thought all we did was sew pieces and braid.Do you know and will you share how to do this? thank you.

      1. Brandie, I want to add one more thing to my explanation. When I sew the strips of material end to end, I fold them in half. The stitching is done lengthwise with one strip folded into another. Then as I wind the long strips into a ball, I make sure they are wound folded. This solves the problem of materials that have a pattern on only one side. As you crochet, the side with the bright colors will show up in your stitches instead of the dull side. I want to do a blog with a picture of one of my rugs and more info about where to get patterns. I need to restudy how to get pictures onto my blog. This is a good excuse to relearn something I have forgotten how to do. Thanks for the nudging.

    1. I crochet my rugs. I cut the material in long strips about 1 1/2 inches wide, sew them strips end to end and roll these in balls. I use one color up, then start another. To make a nice size rug, the ball should be about the size of a basketball, a tip given to me by a woman I met at a craft store. The pattern for oval or round crocheted rugs can be found on line. There are books in the craft stores too. One tip…I made sure my last row was black and went all the way around the rug to give it a nice finished look. Have to use a large hook – 15 (10.0) hook or a P-15 (11.5) hook. Red Heart, the people who make yarn make these hooks. I can’t really give the pattern…doing circles is kind of testy…they will say things like “increase where needed”. Not as exact as I like. Good luck

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