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Life Hacks from the Great Depression

The Higgins & Hawke Mysteries series begins in the hot and humid East Coast summer of 1931. Like many women during the ‘dirty thirties,’ Dr. Haley Higgins is serious and savvy and has what it takes to hold up under depressive times.

The 1930s was a great example of people’s ingenuity and resilience. As I’ve been researching for Higgins & Hawke, I’ve been fascinated by the many creative and resourceful ways women made-do with tight budgets and limited food. For example, money was saved on groceries by adding lentils to meat, and by cooking using staples such as pasta, potatoes, and hotdogs.

Image courtesy of Pat Turgeon 

Instead of spending money on costly items such as cooking oil, tomato soup would be added to cake batter to create a rich and delicious treat. Another budget saver was adding salt to coffee grounds to reduce the bitterness of cheap coffee. Families in more desperate situations sometimes turned to canning tumbleweed, or foraging for other wild edibles as a source of food. Tumbleweed was also used to feed cattle.

One popular dish was ‘Hoover’ stew, named after the 31st president Herbert Hoover who came into office right before the economic crash. Hoover stew refers to a soup with a thin broth, typically made using noodles, hotdogs, pasta and canned tomatoes. Other canned vegetables such as peas or corn were also added when available.

Around the household other hacks were used, including hanging wet sheets over doors to keep cool on hot summer days and making clothing out of feed sacks. Rather than spending money buying seeds, many people used old vegetables to grow their gardens. Another clever trick was to make simple cleaning products using vinegar, water and baking soda. This was a cheap and effective way of keeping a clean home.

Although the great depression is in the past, many of these life hacks are still useful today. Does your family have any recipes or hacks that they’ve passed down from the Depression-era? I’d love to hear about them!

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