Bread Lines and Tough Times: 12 Totally Normal Food Substitutions from the 1930s

In the 1930s some families were reduced to some very basic meals, potato soup stretched with water or poorman’s meal. But, for many folks there were times when food was plentiful, just not the kind of food they wanted. To make things all around more pleasant, many cooks used variety of substitutions to round out recipes. Here are 12 of the substitutions that folks during the Great Depression used to get by when times were tough.

12) Convincing Coffee

The wheat product, Postum, was used to either simulate coffee or was sometimes added to real coffee in order to make the most of one canister of coffee grounds. Postum is made from toasted wheat germ and molasses for a hearty, roasted flavor.

Likewise, some people use chicory root to make a coffee-like drink, a trick that had been in use at least since the Civil War in the U.S. and in Europe as far back as 1808 at least. Chicory and coffee are still sold together in many places.

11) No Tea? No Problem!

Today we think of hot water with lemon as a soothing cold and beverage for when we have the cold or flu, but in the 1930s it was the closest thing to tea many people had access to.

10) Meat Extenders

As an extender for small amounts of meat, or sometimes to replace meat entirely, beans, lentils, or oats were sometimes used in the making of meatloaf.

9) Pork Cracklins

Baked into a flour mixture on a cookie sheet in the oven or in a dutch oven over an open fire, pork cracklins added a nice crunch and flavor to the bread-like mix and extended the wheat flour. There was also a version made with cornbread batter which is still made in Appalachia and the South to this day. Yum!

8) Mock Apple Pie

Instead of sliced apples, the mock apple pie of the 1930s uses Ritz crackers stacked to make the texture seem like apple pie. What an amazing use of what they had on hand!

7) Good Old Buttermilk

In the old days buttermilk was sometimes drunk instead of regular milk since it was a by-product of making butter at home and was essentially free. It was also used in baking to add leavening, a trick we still use today with pancakes. Sometimes dairies even gave away buttermilk for free because it was a “waste” product: a real boon for a poor family!

6) Who Needs Lunch Meat?

During the 1930s beans were eaten in sandwiches instead of meat. If that sounds strange then just remember that the Great Depression was the era of the onion sandwich, the ketchup sandwich, the liver sandwich, and the butter-and-sugar sandwich.

5) Better Than Butter

As in the cowboy days of the Old West, lard or drippings were slapped on bread when butter wasn’t available. Lard also keeps for a long time, making it ideal for this purpose.

4) Bread Is Bread

As had been done for centuries since the settlers first came from Europe cornbread was used sometimes instead of white bread. Corn flour back then was often cheaper and more abundant than wheat flour was.

3) Catching Vittles from the Wild

Small game like groundhogs, rabbit, squirrels, and raccoon had to be used instead of meat from the butcher. This option was open to those who had the geography and the skill to hunt or set up traps.

2) Making Stock

Chicken feet were sometimes used to make stock instead of regular chicken, bones, or bullion since they were considered waste and could be obtained for cheap or free.

1) Could It Be Chicken

People who lived in cities didn’t always have access to a wide variety of foods. Shortages meant that sometimes they simply didn’t get to eat apples or chicken until whenever they liked. Wives came up with “city chicken” which were ground meats shaped to resemble chicken drumsticks (often pork or beef) and then breaded and deep fried.

9 really creative Depression era recipes: Click “Next Page” below!

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