My parents were just toddlers when the Great Depression burst into their lives. It forever altered their view of the world, and not always in a good way.
My mother, in particular, would tell me horror stories about some of the things that went on during those years. Until the day she died, she always carried some sort of food in her purse, usually peanuts or crackers. She never forgot what it was to be truly hungry.
Perhaps the worst story she told me was that my paternal grandmother, who was in her early 20s at the time, woke up one January morning in a barn to find that her husband had just left her and their toddler in the night. She had no food, no money, no family, no place to live, and a baby to feed. She walked along the highway and offered her baby to anyone who would take her. She assumed that someone with enough money for a car had money to feed a baby.
These type of stories can give you nightmares and make you wonder how people survived! My mother told me many other amazing stories, about how they “just did without” or “made do” with what they had, but some of her stories were practical enough that we could still benefit from them if we should ever find ourselves in the same desperate circumstances.
One of those was how women shared food-stretching recipes, such as macaroni and cheese or fish gravy. One recipe my mother remembered clearly was called “depression soup,” although she said her father called it “garbage soup,” a name that would make my grandmother angry.
My grandmother had a large pot with a lid that she kept in the ice box or outside in the snow. Cans (or jars) of fruit or vegetables were filled with a bit of water, and then scraped out and put in the pot. Everything, and I mean everything, went in that pot: bread crumbs, a tablespoon of rice, a shriveled-up carrot, a half-rotten potato (just cut off the bad part), fish heads and tails, bits of garlic, chicken skin, necks, livers, hearts, the hard skin of onions, broccoli ends, carrot and radish greens — you name it; unless it was rotten, it went into that pot.
Once it was about half full, my grandmother added water, perhaps a tablespoon or two of bacon grease, and cooked it for two hours or so. And that would be dinner. If you were fortunate, she baked bread.
My mother remembers that some soups were better than others. Once they began raising rabbits, the bones were used as a base. Soup made with bones and vegetables had to be tastier than soup made with carrot tops, radish tops and some bacon fat.
The point here is that while we would never dream of eating Depression Soup for lunch, remembering how people survived on scraps, literally, might come in handy for tomorrow’s world. We aren’t promised a land of fruit and honey in the future, so knowing how our ancestors survived during hard times might one day ensure our own survival.
Would you eat Great Depression Soup? Is there a better way to make it? Share your thoughts in the section below: