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.
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HERB and ESTHER. THAT'S US as YOUNG FOLKS
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.
With the great plains turned to dust and no jobs available, this era nearly broke the American spirit.
A MUST HAVE IN OUR GARDEN
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
....OUR DAILY BREAD
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.
FRESH, CANNED, BREADED, or IN PRESERVES
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.
HERB's FAVORITE TOMATO DISH
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.
FRESH, CANNED, or FROZEN
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.
ESTHER's RECIPE for FROZEN CORN
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.
ESTHER's RECIPE for CORN COB JELLY
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.
NOT A VEGETABLE BUT I CANNED IT ANYWAY
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.
OUR SECRET RECIPE FOR DOUGH BALLS
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.
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.