Economy lessons from Esther and Herb

How we survived the Great Depression

We raised five children during the tough economic time of the 1920s and 1930s when jobs were scarce and money hard to come by. Our family could not have survived economically without fresh garden veggies in season and the things I canned for winter. Gardening and canning were hard work, but we were so thankful for our vegetable bounty when money was short and kids were hungry.

Herb and I pinched pennies every way we knew how. Meat was expensive then, as it is now, so we often had meat just once a week, on Sunday. We knew the importance of protein back then too, so I made sure my family had eggs, cheese, and milk every day whether meat was available or not.

In this lens you'll find recipes and economizing tips that helped our family survive and thrive during tough times. We'll also share our philosophy that every person deserves to eat, with his dignity intact.

Our economy lessons are simple. We hope you'll find them helpful.

Thanks for Stopping By

We appreciate everyone who leaves a note or reads our economy lessons.


The way we were in the 1920s

Here we are in our Sunday-Go-To-Meetin' outfits. We both cleaned up nice for church on Sunday, but most of our time was spent in everyday work clothes.

From early in spring til the first hard freeze, we worked in our garden. It wasn't fun being hot and bug bit laboring in the garden, but eating all our tasty canned goods when the snow blew around the house made all the hard work worthwhile.

Hope you enjoy the recipes shared here.


Ma refused to allow folks to thank her for sharing fruits, vegetables, or flowers. She said God & Mother Nature created the bounty, not her.

That seemed like a good rule to me, so whenever anyone thanked me for shared food or garden bounty, I said:

"Don't thank me, thank God."

The Depression and Dustbowl

Like everyone else, Herb and Esther struggled through the Great Depression and dustbowl.

The Great Depression: America 1929-1941
The Great Depression: America 1929-1941

With the great plains turned to dust and no jobs available, this era nearly broke the American spirit.




Potatoes were a staple in our diet. Some days we ate them more than once a day because they were filling, nutritious, and could be fixed so many different ways.

We kept our gardening as simple as possible. We didn't buy expensive fertilizers or pesticides because one, we couldn't afford them and two, not many pesticides were available in earlier years of the 20th century. We enriched our garden soil with cow, horse, or chicken manure obtained free from farmers we knew. Nowadays you can buy sterilized manure from Walmart or garden stores, but back then we hauled it from the farm ourselves.

At the end of the growing season, we stored our potato bounty in the basement on newspapers, with more newspapers between each layer. When we lived in houses that did not have a basement, we stored potatoes the same way in a back bedroom closet. We rarely lost a potato storing them that way and always had potatoes left over at winter's end.

Esther's World Famous Potato Soup

Fry bacon til crisp. Set aside to drain. Reserve bacon grease.

Simmer cubed potatoes & onions til tender in just enough chicken stock or water with 2 bouillion cubes to barely cover.

Thicken bacon grease with flour to make a heavy roux. Add potato liquid gradually, stir til smooth. Stir in potatoes & onions, crumble bacon and add to soup. Add milk and stir to desired thickness. Simmer & stir.

This is a rich, hearty soup that sticks to your ribs.

Will Work for Food


Herb believed that no one should go hungry when they were down on their luck. I supported that belief. We were poor as the proverbial church mice but always managed to have nutritious food even when we had very little money.

Seeing family men without work broke Herb's heart, and seeing men trudging the roads or door to door offering to work for food broke mine. When Herb was home, he invited such men in to share a hot meal and after they had eaten he always came up with some job of work for them to do. When he wasn't home, his instructions to me rarely varied. "Give them a sandwich and some soup if you have it. Then let them straighten out nails, or some other little job that will let them keep their dignity." Herb believed that what broke a man down in jobless times was the loss of dignity that came with all the other losses.

So, I kept a hammer by the front door along with a supply of bent nails. When a man came by wanting to work for food, He got a sandwich made out of thick slices of my home made bread, slathered with butter I made myself, and whatever else I could stuff between two slices of bread. We usually had cheese or eggs and bacon on hand. (Bacon and eggs were cheap back then.) And there's nothing like the smell of bacon sizzling to cheer a man's appetite! After a filling meal, I had the man straighten a few of Herb's bent nails with a hammer.

"Give us this day our daily bread..." had special meaning in those hard times.



From the youngest to the oldest in our family, we were a tomato-eating gang.

Herb and I liked to grow several kinds of tomatoes -- early growing, late growing, big tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, red and yellow tomatoes. Each one had a special job to do when it came to canning or making tomato preserves.

I don't know if folks today eat tomato preserves, but Herb was a tomato preserve eating monster, especially in his younger years. I swear, he would have eaten a paper sack if I spread preserves on it! Even more than tomato preserves, he loved breaded tomatoes so I'm including my recipe here.


We made tomatoes into juice and also canned them whole. We didn't know about salsa or spaghetti sauce in the olden days of gardening. Herb liked breaded tomatoes and could have eaten them at every meal. I served this as a side dish.

Chop canned tomatoes into chunks and simmer in pan with desired seasonings. I used salt, pepper, & a pinch of sugar.

Break up white bread and stir into tomatoes. Simmer til bread absorbs juice.



We liked to fish and to reach our favorite fishing spot we had to walk through a field of corn. Herb said the farmers in the area had an unwritten "rule" that the first six rows of corn in a field were public domain. Now, Herb was a big jokester so I never knew if that was true or not. But after fishing, on our way home, Herb would pick a few ears of field corn to eat for supper.

I felt uneasy about that and fussed at Herb for stealing. Sometimes Herb did things just to hear me fuss and fume and this was one of those times. He told me much later that the farmer was a family friend and he had permission to pick a few ears of corn. I didn't believe him so he introduced me to the man at church and sure enough, the man had told Herb we could have all the corn we wanted. Both men had a good laugh at my expense.


When our kids were small I canned corn. In later years we had freezer space so I froze it. This simple recipe makes the BEST frozen corn!!

Add 4 quarts corn cut off the cob into 1 quart water.

Stir in 1 cup sugar and 4 tsp. salt.

Simmer 10 minutes, cool, and put into freezer containers.

I made this corn in small batches to be more manageable.


12 or more red corn cobs -- if you can find them.

2 quarts or more of water.

Wash cobs thoroughly, break into small pieces, simmer in water an hour or more.

Strain water through clean cloth. (I use a tea towel.)

Should be 3 cups liquid. If not, add water.

Add one package SureJell and sugar to taste. Bring to rolling boil, cool a bit and put into jars. If you think the jelly looks pale, add red food coloring.

This was a family favorite.



Herb and I loved to fish. Almost every afternoon in summer we headed to our favorite fishing spot on the Big Blue River with our poles and bait.

Our fishing finery was quite stylish, like our gardening attire.

We liked catfish and carp, both plentiful in the river. Whatever we caught became supper, pan fried fresh from the river. When we caught a few extra carp, I canned it. Personally, I never understood why some people turned their noses up at carp. It's a big meaty fish and delicious canned or fresh cooked.

Carp are suckers for doughballs. To ensure a catch I made doughball bait from Herb's secret recipe. Just in case you'd like to try your hand at catching carp, I'll break Herb's rule and let you in on our secret.


Stir together 2 eggs, 1 cup flour, 1 cup cornmeal, a splash of vanilla, and generous spoonfull of molasses until it makes a heavy dough. If it isn't thick enough to roll, add a bit more flour and cornmeal until you find the right consistency.

You can vary the recipe depending on how many doughballs you want.

Roll into balls about the size of a quarter. Store in a plastic container in the fridge until you want to use them.

Canned Carp

It's a lot tastier than you imagine!!

Wash carp in fresh water. Make sure it's cleaned, scaled. Cut fish into chunks that will fit into canning jars.

Dissolve 1 cup salt in 1 gallon water a NON-METAL container. Soak fish in brine 1 hour, then drain for 10 minutes. Pack into clean sterile jars to within an inch of top. DO NOT add liquid. Seal jars with sterilized lids & rings. Cook in pressure cooker for 100 minutes at 10# presure.

Thanks for stopping by. Herb and Esther enjoy your visits. 66 comments

NicoleRM profile image

NicoleRM 3 years ago

What a great lens, love your story. I was surprised to hear that bacon was cheap during the depression. It seems to always be the most expensive item on my grocery list. Thanks

TreasuresBrenda profile image

TreasuresBrenda 3 years ago from Canada

People were so creative in the 1920s and 1930s!

rattie lm profile image

rattie lm 3 years ago

I wish Esther could come back and teach us all about frugality, God;s bounty and sharing. Thanks so mcuh.

TransplantedSoul profile image

TransplantedSoul 4 years ago

We should all lear from HERB and ESTHER. There may be another depression on the way from what I hear.

anonymous 5 years ago

This is another sweet memory I have of your excellent memories now open to us all, I wasn't an angel when I visited before and am returning with angel dust for these great economy lessons taught by Herb and Esther.

SiochainGraSonas profile image

SiochainGraSonas 5 years ago

My parents grew up in the depression. We can learn something from them. Great lens!

GrowWear 5 years ago

Most delightful visit! That is awesome about canning the fish, and these times we're now living in, we just may have to start doing that again.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 5 years ago from Washington KS Author

@anonymous: I always used to say that Grandma and Grandpa ate grease on their grease. She fried in lard that she rendered herself. They ate lard cracklins in scrambled eggs and stirred into corn bread, and yeah, saved bacon grease to season green beans and fry eggs in. But neither of them ever had high cholesterol or other fatty food related problems. Hard physical labor or genetics or both.

anonymous 5 years ago

Fantabulous! A delight to read and you brought back some memories for me of all the "old timers" when I was growing up. I remember when everyone would save their bacon grease and have it in a container on or near the stove. No wonder everything that was fried used to taste so good.

anonymous 5 years ago

I love this lens! I love their attitude. My parents grew up during the Depression, and always feared that people today couldn't make it through if we ever had another one like that.(I think they were right.) Times were hard then, more so than we can imagine, yet people were so much more willing to help others. ( my dad used to make dough balls--I'd forgotten all about about that!) Great lens!

linhah lm profile image

linhah lm 5 years ago from California

This is a wonderful lens, practical, yet filled with hope & good karma.

stevie10772 5 years ago

I always love reading about Herb and Esther... great words of wisdom. Isn't is amazing what our seniors pass on to us?!

sukkran trichy profile image

sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

thanks for sharing herb and esther's teachings. wonderful lens.

MyCrazyAdventures profile image

MyCrazyAdventures 5 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

Gads. This lens makes me hungry and incredibly happy. Blessed by a Squid Angel.

kguru1979 lm profile image

kguru1979 lm 5 years ago

Delicious lens...!

Harshitha LM profile image

Harshitha LM 5 years ago

Wonderful lens. We all need to learn how to manage our resources well like Herb and Esther. Thumbs up.

sheriangell profile image

sheriangell 5 years ago

This is just so incredibly precious and that potato soup sounds delicious! Blessed today by a Squid Angel.

poutine 5 years ago

I, also wish I could have met this great couple.

Excellent advice from them.

anonymous 6 years ago

What an absolutely wonderful lens, I loved reading every word. I wish I could have met Herb and Esther and sat down to chat with them. While reading this, I wondered if our society of today could one, be able to survive in times like this, or two, treat their fellow man and neighbour with such care, and dignity. Although we are a spoiled generation, I can only hope we would. Thank you so much for sharing Herb and Esther with us! - Kathy

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 6 years ago from Washington KS Author

Thanks so much everyone for stopping by. I miss my grandparents so much, and lenses like this is one way I keep them fresh in my memory. :))

OhMe profile image

OhMe 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

This is so wonderful and Herb and Esther have so much to teach us through this great lens. Our mother's name was Esther. You don't hear that much anymore except in the Bible. I love the name although my mom was never called Esther. I love the Breaded Tomato Recipe, too. This lens is blessed!

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 6 years ago from Washington KS Author

@mbgphoto: Thanks so much for the Squid Angel Blessing, MGB Photo. I'm so happy!! I tried to visit you breakfast brunch lens and leave my message, but not sure it posted.

You are, indeed, and angel.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 6 years ago from Washington KS Author

@tandemonimom lm: Thanks for the lensroll. I lensrolled your Granny's lens to several of mine featuring my grandparents.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 6 years ago from Washington KS Author

@HealthfulMD: Hi Comfortdoc. I did write a book about my Grandma's life from childhood to old age, but haven't published a recipe book. I have many of her recipe cards and use them to this day.

Joan4 6 years ago

Fantastic and we all need to learn these lessons from Herb and Esther!

tandemonimom lm profile image

tandemonimom lm 6 years ago

This is fabulous! Lensrolled to my own grandmother lens!

profile image

julieannbrady 6 years ago

OMG, how much we could learn today from our grandparents and those who survived The Great Depression. This is such a lovely and remarkable page that is rather profound. I'm thinking, yeah I'd love some of that canned carp! Congratulations on that glorious purple star!

mbgphoto profile image

mbgphoto 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

Wonderful lens. Congratulations on your Purple Star. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

Congrats on the purple star. This lens deserves it!

I've lensrolled it to Green Living in the 1930s about my mother's experiences.

jptanabe profile image

jptanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

Great recipes and lovely stories of surviving the Depression. Congrats on your well-deserved Purple Star!

HealthfulMD profile image

HealthfulMD 6 years ago from Northern California

Lollyj. Congrats on getting the Purple Star. With so many people needing to economize, the recipes and tips from those who survived the Depression are now very helpful. Have you put them into a cookbook or eBook yet?

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 6 years ago from Washington KS Author

I'm so excited!! Grandma and Grandpa's economy lessons lens has a PURPLE STAR!!

Thanks so much for this honor. My grandparents would be so proud.

LoKackl profile image

LoKackl 6 years ago

So happy to meet Herb and Esther today! I recognize some of the economy lessons from my mother's kitchen. SquidAngel blessed.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 7 years ago from Washington KS Author

@Virginia Allain: Grandma used canned carp like we would use salmon today -- to make carp patties. She mixed them up just like salmon patties then dipped them in egg and cracker crumbs and fried them. It was one of Grandpa's favorites.

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

I enjoyed this one so much, that I came back to read it again.

Virginia Allain profile image

Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

My folks would can carp also, then use it to make fish cakes.

I'm glad you've made Esther Clara's memories into a book, so more people get to learn from Herb and Esther's lives.

myraggededge profile image

myraggededge 7 years ago

What a fascinating read! I love Herb and Esther's philosophy... and what proud, honest and hard-working people they were. Lovely lens.

Dianne Loomos profile image

Dianne Loomos 7 years ago

Blessed and featured on Angels Unaware!

anonymous 7 years ago

This is the first time I've found this. So interesting and entertaining. I think I'll try making the potato soup but I'll pass on the canned carp.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 7 years ago from Washington KS Author

Thanks so much for the lensroll, TST.[in reply to TopStyleTravel]

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 7 years ago from Washington KS Author

Thanks for the lensroll, CCGAL.[in reply to CCGAL]

kateloving profile image

kateloving 7 years ago from Lancaster PA

Gardening and putting up the harvested foods ia a great lesson in economy. Thanks for telling the stories about your grandparents. That makes it extra special!!

Dianne Loomos profile image

Dianne Loomos 7 years ago

I enjoyed reading about Herb and Esther. What a nice lens. Potato soup sounds wonderful!

CCGAL profile image

CCGAL 7 years ago

I love this lens. Lensrolling to as many of my lenses as are appropriate for the subject matter.

AND ... your potato soup recipe is exactly how I learned to make it from my grandmother - it is scrumptious!!!

Five stars, in case there was any doubt.

anonymous 7 years ago

I love this because it is the voice of our people, strong, wise, frugal, perservers of family, fruits(even some in our family) and wonderful, healthy luscious vegetables. Thank you, Laurel, from the bottom of my heart for bringing Esther and Herb's voice alive.

I love you, Cousin.

And anyone who has not read My Name is Esther Clare is missing a masterpiece.

John_Doe 7 years ago

Fantastic advice, makes you appreciate what you have. Thanks for dropping by my lens

TopStyleTravel profile image

TopStyleTravel 7 years ago

Simple lessons with timeless value. Love the recipes too. Five stars and a lensroll.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 7 years ago from Washington KS Author

Special thanks to everyone for visiting and leaving comments. I know my grandparents' life is more interesting to me than it is to most people, so I support your kind comments and support of their lens.

HealthfulMD profile image

HealthfulMD 8 years ago from Northern California

Angel Blessings for donating a copy of My Name is Esther Clara as an incentive for the Spirit of the Season Challenge.

allinfoisfree profile image

allinfoisfree 8 years ago

A story like that really makes you appreciate what you have! Thanks! 5 *'s.

Tammylove profile image

Tammylove 8 years ago

My husband always tells me he wouldn't care if we had to live in a cardboard box as long as we are together that is all he needs (thank God we don't have to). As Herb & Esther prove... love is all you need and everything else is just icing on the cake!

HealthfulMD profile image

HealthfulMD 8 years ago from Northern California

Thank you for donating your book to the Spirit of the Season incentives.

FORTUNATA 8 years ago

I loved reading this. It was full of wisdom, and love. Thanks so much for sharing. I look forward to reading more soon.


Eldeen 8 years ago

Wish I had known Herb and Esther. I could use some economy lessons now!

anonymous 8 years ago

Great advice...everyone should take heed!

anonymous 8 years ago

I keep recommending and outright giving copies of Laurel's book on Esther Clara to my friends it is SO GOOD! I have read it numerous times, and am lifted up and enlightened each time I do. Usually I am in bed in the evening, and my husband who is attempting sleep has to tell me to leave the room because I am howling so hard. This is especially so when I think of that outhouse..... Well, I won't ruin the story. Just read it!

Here's an excerpt from my initial review posted when the book came out.

"Laurel Johnson's ability to captivate a voice from memory and paint it for the rest of the world to hear is an irreplaceable gift. Reading the family tales and yarns of Johnson's grandmother in My Name Is Esther Clara is to come to know and love Esther. Her voice with its deep dialect can be heard jumping off the page through Johnson's talent and first hand knowledge. ..."

You will read this book over and over for the sheer fun it!.

anonymous 8 years ago

Laurel reading "Herb & Esther" was such a delight. Being part of the Ford family, is a treasure that will always be part of our lives. It reminds us that love sometimes is all we really need to get us through the hard times of life. If we can remember that, especially now, we can go far with our lives.

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 8 years ago from Washington KS Author

Thanks for popping in, Squeegie. I doubt Herb and Esther worried much about what Freud and others thought about child discipline. "Applied psychology" to them probably meant applying something ouchie to the seat of a misbehaving child's pants. I can't say for sure, because I wasn't around when their children were little. Speaking from personal experience, Esther's "straight mouth" when she was displeased was enough to shape me up immediately. Grandkids who did not respond to the straight mouth, or Herb pointing his index finger at the offender, were treated to a trip to the basement stairs where a razor strap hung in all its glory.

I imagine their kids got spankings, their mouths washed out with soap for cussing, or other proven remedies for misbehaving. I can say for sure that proper behaviors and self discipline were taught by example.

anonymous 8 years ago

How did Esther & Herb discipline their kids & teach self-discipline? disciplining kids seemed to erode with the Freudian belief that one shouldn't frustrate a kid.

anonymous 8 years ago

Here's a book with a message that is profound and timely. 'Where there's a will there's a way...." Laurel, the story of your grandparents' pioneering life is a masterpiece. It should be filmed.

Carol Adler

anonymous 8 years ago

[in reply to lollyj] I really enjoy reading and re reading these tidbits about Gma and Gpa's life together..I can put myself back in that time and see them..young,strong.full of life and hope...I know most all of us blessed with "Ford" blood can make it thru the toughest times and come out smiling and strong..and we owe it all to Herb and Esther.Thanks Lolly...your talent keeps them alive forever.......

chefkeem profile image

chefkeem 8 years ago from Austin, Texas

Welcome to Squidoo, Laurel! You're having a great start and I hope we'll see more from you, soon. 5*s :)

lollyj lm profile image

lollyj lm 8 years ago from Washington KS Author

OH HOW NICE to find such positive comments about Herb and Esther's economy lessons!! Thanks to all for brightening my day.

anonymous 8 years ago

Sound advice from Esther and Herb via their granddaughter, Laurel Johnson, in any age and time, but particularly now. The need to re-examine what is most important in our lives couldn't be more pressing.

anonymous 8 years ago

What a great little place this is. We often forget that our parents and grandparents had it a lot harder than we have it. I really enjoyed reading "My Name is Esther Clara." What a great book!

anonymous 8 years ago

Great advice. Too bad we don't have politicians and CEOs with these values running our country.

Having spent my life working as an assistant to CEOs...commonly called a secretary in those days..I soon learned that the good ole boys at the top are the biggest crooks in our country. Something should have been done about their greed long ago. Also, the lack of work ethic in our country is killing us. It seems to get worse with each generation. We need to go back to the "Herb & Esther" days and stop teaching our children that this country owes them a pampered life. This is a wonderful book with many good lessons for all of us to learn. The author is right when she says that tough times do not prevent us from creating a strong family unit. It should in fact create a strong bond and teach us that the important things in life aren't "Things" at all but the love of family and friends. This is a must read!

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