Unusual Foods That Kept People Alive During The Great Depression

The United States isn’t the oldest country in the world, but it’s certainly had its fair share of historical events. This was the case in 1929 when the US was the first country in the world to feel the full effects of the Great Depression. Considered to be one of the biggest economic shocks in history, the Great Depression was started after the stock market crash of October 1929. With Wall Street wiped out and companies going bust here, there, and everywhere, money was sparse, and a quarter of the population was unemployed.

With very little to live off, families in the US and across the world had to be a little creative with the ingredients in their pantries and the little food that was in stores. They didn’t have the money to buy everyday food that we now enjoy, so instead, they had to whip up these unconventional foods just to keep them alive.

Spaghetti with boiled carrots and white sauce

We’re starting off small, here. While there are some pretty weird and unconventional foods on this list, there’s no doubt about the fact that this one is perhaps more ordinary than the rest. In fact, some of you might eat this at home nowadays! During the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to share recipes with her country that involved cheap food items, without cheapening the taste.

This meal of spaghetti with boiled carrots and white sauce was one of them. Into a pot went a huge amount of spaghetti and boiled carrots, and this blend was then topped off with a white sauce that was made from salt, butter, milk, and flour. The clincher was that each part of this dish had to be overcooked to create a mush-like consistency that made you feel as though you were eating more than you were.

Milkorno superfoods

During the Great Depression, experts across the US tried their hardest to ensure that their people didn’t go too hungry, and that’s exactly what scientists at the prestigious Cornell University did. In 1933, they were able to create a new superfood that would be cheap, but also extremely nutritious and supposedly delicious. Their creation? Milkorno. This product was made using salt, cornmeal, and powdered skim milk, and it was a revelation for large families with parents and children to feed.

That’s because the Milkorno superfood boasted the notion that it would be able to feed a family of five for just $5 a week. Of course, the experts knew that some people weren’t a fan of corn, so they decided to expand their brand to include Milkwheato and Milkoato as well. The end result was somewhat like porridge, and it went down a storm.

Onions stuffed with peanut butter

Do you like onions? Do you like peanut butter? There’s a high chance that you like both of these foods separately, but we can bet your bottom dollar that you would never cook them together. However, they weren’t quite as lucky back in the day. In an effort to use the cheap foods that were available to them, recipes made their way around the US that were a little more unconventional than what people were used to.

One particular recipe involved onions stuffed with peanut butter and featured a baked onion that was stuffed with a giant dollop of the crunchy stuff. It’s believed that this dish was incredibly popular with those who wanted a sharp and sweet addition to their diet, although we have a feeling that it wouldn’t go down so well if it was served up in today’s day and age.

Vinegar cobbler

When you think of a cobbler, you probably think of delicious fruit. Unfortunately, those who lived during the Great Depression didn’t get the chance to eat delicious fruit cobbler because theirs was full of vinegar instead! In an attempt to give people delicious food but on a budget, the vinegar cobbler recipe made the rounds and made its way onto countless dinner tables across the globe.

While a normal cobbler would involve pieces of fresh apple, this recipe substituted the fresh apple with apple cider vinegar instead. The idea was to give people the acidic hint of apple in every bite, but most people remember their tongues tingling instead. We’re pretty glad that this recipe is no longer around because we can’t imagine that it would go down too well with the people of the world.

Red food coloring

While you might question whether this is really a food, the fact that red food coloring was so prevalent during the Great Depression means that it was basically one of the biggest food groups of them all. That’s because red food coloring made the almighty – and expensive – chocolate cake much more economical.

While the exact story surrounding the creation of the famous red velvet still remains a mystery, many rumors suggest that those during the Great Depression substituted expensive ingredients such as butter and cocoa powder for vegetable oil and food coloring, and so the red velvet cake was born. This coloring was also used in various other recipes, and it seemed as though this color added a sense of fun to a depressing era of history. Of course, it’s also still widely used today.

Prune pudding

While most people who lived during the Great Depression were struggling under the sinking economy, you would have thought that the White House would at least have food, right? Well, those who lived in this house were struggling too. As her husband took his place in the Oval Office, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt made sure that her country knew that she was standing with them.

Because of this, she made sure that her family was eating exactly the same thing as the rest of the country, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was being served up the same food as those who weren’t the President of the United States. According to reports, Franklin and his family just loved to chow down on some prune pudding for dessert. Dried fruit was much more accessible during this time, so many people ate fruit puddings.


The word “loaves” is pretty ambiguous, but that ambiguity is fitting when it comes to this food eaten during the Great Depression. With money being scarce and many hungry mouths to feed, households would often make or buy loaves of food that was mushed together to form something that looked nothing like the original food product.

The notion behind this food was that one main food source made up the bulk of the product, and it was then stretched out with add-ins such as gravy, beans, ketchup, soup, oats, and more. It’s believed that most people just couldn’t get enough of loaves such as liver loaf and lima bean loaf, and they couldn’t wait to slice it up and serve it to their family. Of course, they also ate a lot of meatloaves, which many people still eat today.

Creamed chipped beef on toast

You probably don’t need us to tell you that this was an acquired taste. In fact, the US soldiers who had to eat this on a regular basis during the Great Depression had a name for this dish that we can’t repeat – because it really is that rude! While many people still chow down on creamed chipped beef today because they love the taste and the nostalgia that goes with it, the large majority of people who lived during the Great Depression wished that they could eat something else.

That’s because this concoction of gelatin, canned corned beef, vinegar, canned peas, and lemon juice was a strange texture and consistency that just wasn’t appealing. The whole thing was then served atop either bread or crackers to add more substance. It was certainly pretty interesting…


Gelatin is something that you’re probably used to seeing in many different products in your pantry, and you might even use gelatin in your own cooking. What you might not realize, however, is that gelatin got its start during the Great Depression. Gelatin became one of the most popular products during the 1930s due to the fact that it’s not only full of protein but because it’s also super cheap.

As if that wasn’t enough, this gelatin could also be used within a wide range of recipes, including both sweet and savory. Perhaps one of the most popular gelatin recipes of the time was a corned beef luncheon salad – made from gelatin, corned beef, peas, and lemon juice. With the whole thing mixed together, it would create one jellied piece of deliciousness. Or so they say, anyway.

Apple-free apple pie

When you think of apple pie, you probably think of a deliciously sweet pie filled with crunchy and soft apple. After all, that’s why it’s called an apple pie, right? Well, it seems as though you don’t have to fill this pastry with apples if you really want to taste the good stuff. That’s because the Ritz Mock Apple Pie is so-called because it doesn’t have any apple in it at all – despite the fact that they call it an apple pie.

It was created during the Great Depression and featured Ritz crackers in place of the apple. What’s incredible about this bizarre and unconventional food is the fact that it’s still hugely popular today, because it’s a cheaper alternative to a usual apple pie. Rumor has it that crushed-up crackers taste just like fruit!

Hoover Stew

Food during the Great Depression was all about making the most out of nothing, and the cooks who lived during this era were often able to put together dishes that were kind-of-edible without breaking the bank in the process. One of these dishes was the Hoover Stew, which was so named after President Hoover who famously had a thing for hot dogs.

So, what was in this stew? Made from fried potatoes, onions, and hot dogs, this mixture was then topped off with canned corn, canned peas, and stewed tomatoes. It became hugely popular during the Great Depression, largely due to the fact that it was one of the few recipes of the era that featured hot dogs. This treat was something that people couldn’t help but love, and some people even still eat this today.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

There’s a high chance that you have actually eaten Kraft Macaroni and Cheese before. What you might not realize, however, is that this product actually made its mark during the Great Depression. This creation was not just the work of the Kraft company, though. In the 1930s, a St. Louis salesman started a business selling macaroni to hungry people around the area.

By the time 1937 came around, he decided to up the ante and sold the macaroni alongside a delicious packet of Kraft cheese to make the whole thing even tastier. It wasn’t long before Kraft caught wind of this, and they were pretty impressed. They asked the salesman to join their team, and they created a product that boasted the idea that just one packet would serve a family of four – and for just 19 cents!

Tobacco seasoned Mulligan’s stew

When you read the name of this unconventional food, what’s your first thought? We’re gonna go ahead and assume that it doesn’t sound like the tastiest recipe in the world to you – and that’s because it isn’t. Although the tobacco seasoned Mulligan’s stew wasn’t the kind of dish to end up on the dinner table of every household, there were many who just loved to chow down on this goodness.

One of the main reasons for that was because the stew, filled with potatoes, onions, corn, mixed greens, beans, and sometimes meat, was warm and hearty and filled up the bellies of those who ate it. However, that wasn’t all this stew had to offer. To top off this delicacy, households would scatter Bull Durham tobacco on the top of the stew, and sometimes even some extra lint for good measure.

Dandelion salad

When the Great Depression struck the United States, the government relied on its own knowledge to put together recipes and food products for its citizens to eat. However, one thing they failed to do was use the knowledge of what many immigrants in the country had to offer. After all, there were many Italian immigrants living in the US who knew exactly how to make delicious food from nothing, but their advances to help were ignored by the masses.

Despite the fact that their important knowledge was ignored by those in power, that didn’t mean that everyone else ignored them. In New York City, Italian women spent their days foraging for dandelion greens. While many people were confused as to why they would do such a thing, it all made sense when they were made into delicious dandelion salads.


Milk isn’t anything new, is it? Well, although all kinds of milk is still one of the most popular drinks that this world has to offer, the way we drink milk nowadays is nothing to how they drank it back in the day. During the Great Depression, food was scarce, but milk was plentiful. In order for youngsters and adults alike to get their fix of calcium and aid healthy teeth and bones, the government made sure that everyone drank as much milk as they could.

In fact, they believed this product to be so beneficial that they recommended that every child of school age should drink at least a quart of the stuff every single day. It was even considered to be a “wonder food” of the era. Could you drink that much milk?