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24 Classic Great Depression Era Recipes

Try these creative old fashioned meals from the 1930s!

By: Jamie Garcia, Editor, RecipeLion
Updated March 06, 2019
Classic Great Depression Era Recipes

The Great Depression caused many hardships, but the cuisine that came from it proves how resilient people can truly be. These Depression-era recipes are proof that food from the 1930s is worth revisiting.

People at the time were forced to find cheap and creative ways to use food efficiently, resulting in some dishes you may not think of making today, but that was what the resources of the time allowed for.

Rice, beans, and cheese were major sources of protein, instead of meat, which was much more expensive. Of course, people didn't go entirely without meat. Substitutes for popular meats, like spam or bologna, were used instead. When families did get their hands on good meat, it was a real treat, and they would prepare the meat extraordinarily well, as well as preserve it in salt to make it last longer.

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Check out the video below for a delicious applesauce cake dessert. A dessert many people who were alive in the 1930s might remember. 

Side Dish Ideas

Baked With Love Zucchini Casserole

These side dishes are packed with protein and flavor, so your whole family will love eating them. When you explain that these are actually inspired by Great Depression recipes, they will probably be surprised!

You could even serve some of the recipes as a hearty lunch, like Amish Church Soup and Hungry Hobo Beans. Make sure to try Baked With Love Zucchini Casserole, too. This recipe is a great way to use up leftover zucchini, and we just love the comforting flavor and texture of the meal.

  • Southern Fried Cabbage

    This easy side dish recipe is affordable, which is good because everyone will be asking for a second helping. Crispy fried cabbage gets a flavor boost from rich bacon. Yum!

  • Amish Church Soup

    Soup recipes are great budget-friendly meals. They make a large portion, often for not very much money, and they are great as leftover meals. Try this traditional Amish soup today!

  • Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad

    This Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad is just like Mom used to make, and it's the perfect summertime potluck dish. This easy macaroni salad is great served hot or chilled, is portable and simple to make for a crowd.

  • Easy Cast Iron Skillet Biscuits

    These old fashioned skillet biscuits prove that sometimes old recipes are the best ones. Fluffy, buttery, and perfect with butter or jam, this is one budget-friendly side you'll make again and again.

  • Comforting Retro Tuna Noodle Casserole

    This tuna noodle casserole tastes so good that you won't even remember that it's a frugal recipe. Buttery noodles and a crispy topping feature in this perfect comfort food.

  • Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes

    Use your leftover mashed potatoes in this Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes recipe!

Old-Fashioned Dinner Recipes

Easy Bisquick Chicken and Dumplings

These are some of the best frugal dinner recipes out there. All of the dishes are filling, easy to make, and delicious. Even if they use meat, it's in the most efficient way. You'll love eating these classic meals after a long day. Your family will ask for them again and again!

Get started with this delicious recipe for chicken and dumplings. Our version uses Bisquick, which wasn't a component of Great Depression recipes, but we think the modern upgrade is a good one. The recipe is absolutely delicious, and it's a little easier to make!

  • Poor Man's Spam

    Even if you don't care for Spam, you'll love it in this easy-to-make dish. Poor Man's Spam is a budget-friendly recipe for dinner that has been passed down through generations.

  • Quick and Easy Tin Foil Dinner

    This dinner recipe is budget-friendly and could not be easier to make. Your family will love the novelty of this tin foil meal, and they will love it even more once they try a bite.

  • Dump and Go Amish Casserole

    This easy Amish casserole recipe is going to be a new favorite at your house. Your family will love it because it tastes amazing, and you will love it because it is affordable to make.

  • Classic Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast

    Classic Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast is a frugal dinner recipe that has been around for ages. You might have heard it referred to as "SOS" chipped beef, but no matter what you call it, it's hard to beat this example of 1930s food.

  • One Pot Pork Chop Supper

    Simple pork chop recipes do not get any easier than this one. With only a few ingredients and one pot, you'll have dinner in less than one hour.

  • Old Timey Country Potato Soup

    Potatoes are a classic budget-friendly meal option, and they were popular during the 1930s as well. This old fashioned potato soup uses very basic ingredients to keep costs down. It's simple, yet delicious, and it's as good now as it was during the Great Depression.

  • 1930s Kitchen Sink Casserole

    This easy casserole recipe is inspired by 1930s food, when home chefs had to make tasty dinners with ingredients that were affordable. We like that this recipe uses the same budget-friendly ingredients that were popular during the Great Depression, and we love that it tastes incredible.

  • Dude Ranch Beans

    This affordable recipe for baked beans is topped with skewers of hot dogs and onions. It's simple, affordable, and one of our favorite retro meals.

Depression Era Desserts

1950s Hot Milk Sponge Cake

I have a well-kept secret for you: the best Depression-era recipes are actually the desserts. Egg-less cakes are the big draw of this era (don't worry - they taste fantastic without eggs!). But, the 1930s Banana Cake is definitely the best, with mashed bananas and buttermilk in the recipe to make the cake ultra moist. You'll soon be convinced that vintage recipes are among the very best recipes of all, especially when it comes to dessert.

  • Chocolate Wacky Cake Recipe

    This depression era dessert will make you question why we need to cook with eggs and dairy in the first place (just kidding, but it is really good!). This chocolate cake uses neither one, and yet it tastes completely scrumptious.

  • 1930s Banana Cake

    This vintage dessert recipe dates all the way back to the 1930s! If you're a fan of banana desserts, you'll love this family favorite recipe for 1930s Banana Cake.

  • Little Old Lady Lemon Pound Cake

    Adding a touch of lemon to a classic pound cake recipe gives it that extra something that will make everyone want a second piece. 

  • Red Hot Applesauce

    If you haven’t yet tried the vintage classic that is red hot applesauce (and even if you have), you’re in for a real treat!

Great Depression Era Food Facts

1. Milk was considered a highly nutrient-rich food source and was either incorporated into most dishes or served as a beverage.

2.  Italian immigrants were said to have eaten Dandelion greens, sauteing them with olive oil, during this time and were, in hindsight, one of the healthiest classes of people. They didn't eat much meat, because of how expensive it was at this time, and instead, filled up on delicious pasta dishes, which happened to be quite nutrient rich.

3. Relief meals were purposely made bland in an effort to force people to get jobs in order to become "excited about food" again. The thought was, if people were not excited about their meals, they would work harder in order to buy the spices and condiments that would make eating something to look forward to again.

4. Preparing one-dish suppers and attending potlucks were how people during the Great Depression were able to have fun and share food.

5.  Some women were known to use the wrappers on margarine to butter their baking pans. 

What are some of your favorite depression era recipes? Let us know in the comments below!

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I definitely wasn't around during this time period, but it's so interesting to learn how people got food on the table during those hard times. The recipes that interest me the most are the desserts, especially since some of them are missing the "traditional" ingredients, like eggs.

Yummo! I can't wait to try the recipe for One Pot Chicken and Dumplings. I love dumplings SO MUCH.

Thanks for the "Theme Recipes" not only are they interesting but they're good tasting and fun! How about a theme day for Victory (WWII) recipes. With rationing coupons, there were some VERY innovative recipes being made.

What a great idea! Keep an eye out for a page like this in the future :)

Trying these recipes would be a great way to keep my grocery budget down!

the food looks yummy and your website is very helpful

awesome

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