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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 08, 2018
24 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.

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. 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 - they're a great way to use up your leftover zucchini, and they serve as both the vegetable and the bread components of your dinner.

  • Smothered Cabbage

    This 30-minute side dish recipe for fried cabbage is one the whole family will devour. There's just so much to love about Smothered Cabbage; it's fried in bacon grease so the flavor is out of this world, plus it's so easy to make!

  • Hungry Hobo Beans Recipe

    These delicious baked beans are the perfect addition to any picnic or BBQ. This recipe is not only budget friendly, but easy to make. 

  • Amish Church Soup

    This simple soup recipe is one of the best quick and easy Amish recipes you can find. Try this Amish Church Soup for lunch or alongside dinner.

  • 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.

  • Amish Buttermilk Biscuits

    If there's one thing the Amish are known for, it's their bread. This recipe for Amish Buttermilk Biscuits is one of the best we've found. Fluffy and buttery, it's delicious in its own right, but served alongside just about any dinner, these biscuits are absolutely divine. 

  • Tuna Macaroni Hotdish

    For a dish that will take you back to the casseroles your mom used to make, try this Tuna Macaroni Hotdish.

  • Leftover Mashed Potato Cakes

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

Old-Fashioned Dinner Recipes

One Pot 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!

  • 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.

  • Tin Foil Hobo Dinners

    Whether you're going on a camping trip or simply want a budget-friendly recipe to make at home, this recipe for Tin Foil Hobo Dinners is a great cheap dinner idea.

  • Hobo Beans and Sausage Casserole

    If you are looking for some easy budget casserole recipes you've found what you are looking for.

  • Amish After-Church Casserole

    This easy dump and go casserole recipe is similar to ones popular in Amish kitchens. Amish After-Church Casserole is so simple to make, only requires six ingredients, and is absolutely delicious! 

  • Simple Shepherd's Pie

    It doesn't get simpler than this easy ground beef casserole, otherwise known as a Shepherd's pie. This classic favorite never gets old! Make up a Simple Shepherd's Pie for a wonderful weeknight meal.

  • 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.

  • Good Ol' American Beef Stew

    Good Ol' American Beef Stew is a robust simple slow cooker recipe that will remind you of the comforts of home.

  • Ham and Mashed Potato Pot Pie

    This recipe for Ham and Mashed Potato Pot Pie is comfort food at its finest. This classic pot pie recipe is stuffed with corn, peas, carrots, mashed potatoes, and ham.

  • Great Depression Casserole

    During the Great Depression, bologna became a staple in the diets of many who couldn't afford other types of meat.

Traditional Dessert Recipes

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.

  • Crazy Wacky Cake

    Crazy Wacky Cake is so named because it doesn't use eggs. Yep, you read that correctly. This cake originated during the Great Depression, when eggs were harder to acquire.

  • 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



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