A Depression-Era Thanksgiving — Just as Many Calories Circa 1932

I came across an interesting article recently about Thanksgiving in the 1930s thanks to journalist Julie Chang. She notes  that, for those who could not afford to dine in an elegant hotel or club, making recipes from scratch compensated for inflated food prices during the Depression. And many Americans remained optimistic despite their troubles.  At that point, at least in Texas, “the average cost of Thanksgiving for a family of six was about $5.50.” That’s close to $70.00 in 2017 — if you cook at home and shop the sales.

Writing for the Southeast Texas-based Beaumont Enterprise a few years ago, Chang reproduced recipes that were published in the Beaumont Journal on November 21, 1932, by a Mrs. Alexander George “who advised that Thanksgiving no longer had to be a ‘trial to the housewife in the matter of cost or labor involved.’ Although we don’t doubt that Mrs. George meant well by her menu and recipes, they seem a little labor-intensive today. You Thanksgiving chefs out there can be the judge:”  (Recipes below are exactly as published.)

Chestnut Stuffing
1 pound of chestnuts
6 cups of bread, crumbled
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Cover nuts with water. Cook slowly 15 minutes. With knife, make slits in side of nuts. Remove meats and press through a sieve and potato ricer. Add to rest of ingredients and lightly stuff fowl.

Asparagus Swiss Serving 6
4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cub cheese, cut fine
2 hard cooked eggs, diced
2 tablespoons chopped pimentos
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
2 cups cooked asparagus
2/3 cup (bread) crumbs
3 teaspoons butter, melted

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and add flour. Mix well and add milk and cook until creamy sauce forms. Add seasonings, cheese and eggs. Mix and add asparagus and pour into buttered baking dish. Cover with crumbs which have been mixed with melted butter. Bake 20 minutes in moderate oven. Serve in dish in which cooked.

Candied Sweet Potatoes
10 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled
1 cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix ingredients and pour into shallow pan. Bake 50 minutes in moderate oven. Turn potatoes frequently to allow even cooking and browning.

Spiced Cranberry Jelly
6 cups berries
3 cups water
4 whole cloves
1 tablespoon broken cinnamon bark
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix berries, water, spices and salt. Cover and cook slowly 10 minutes. Strain and add sugar. Boil 4 minutes. Pour into molds and chill until stiff.

Colonial Pumpkin Pie
2 unbaked pie crusts
3 cups cooked mashed pumpkin
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon ginger
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream
2 1/2 cups milk

Mix pumpkin, sugar, salt, spices, eggs, cream and milk. Pour into unbaked crusts. Bake 10 minutes in moderate oven. Lower fire and bake 45 minutes in slow oven. Have crusts deep so that thick pie will result when it is done.

Today, Julie Chang is an education reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. For Julie or for anyone who is tackling Thanksgiving dinner at home, the task may be made far simpler by  using some carefully chosen prepackaged shortcuts and to-go options for everything including the turkey, options that did not exist 80 years ago.

My immediate family includes at least two vegans, two seafood lovers who do not eat meat, and three who favor turkey. Because some of  them will be in Florida for the first time ever, we will go out to a nearby feast where everyone can have their choice of a main course; we will be unified in gratitude if not in culinary tastes. Here are some guaranteed- to-be healthy vegan recipes for Thanksgiving from a place very near my apartment in the Sunshine State.

For other Depression-era recipes “that are good enough to eat today” try this link.

And just for fun, click here for some shots of the 1930s Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!