My parents married as teenagers during the Great Depression. For the first three years they lived with family but after my father got a job with the WPA, he moved his wife and two young daughters to a one-room apartment on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati. My mother had never cooked for a family before and knew nothing about it. My father drew on his experiences of traveling around with his father and younger brother from one fairground and racetrack to another where they did horseshoeing, grooming of horses and my father picked up drives in harness horse races. They did their cooking in barns and tack stalls on a small electric hot plate and my father knew all about making dishes like pancakes with fried eggs, chili, and a hearty vegetable soup – on the cheap and as quickly as possible.
Our first apartment was about three blocks from the large Cincinnati Sixth Street Market where every conceivable kind of food was sold. Each morning my father would hand my mother the correct amount of money to cover the ingredients for the day’s supper. We didn’t have an ice box in that first flat so the three-block-long walk had to be made every day with my mother carrying my year-old sister and with me at three years old walking alongside, hanging onto the shopping bag. My father gave my mother instructions on how to cook what she bought and he made it clear that supper was to be ready on time – no excuses of a crying baby or obstinate toddler.
This soup was a weekly menu item during the 1930s and beyond. When I was married in the 1950s and on a strict budget, it became a regular meal for my family. Like everything my mother cooked, it was frugal, filling and only contained items that my father liked (so, no carrots or green beans or barley or noodles, etc., etc.) It’s still my favorite soup, thick and hearty – even better the next day.
DEPRESSION VEGETABLE SOUP
- 1/2 lb. of stewing beef, cubed*
- 2 cups of diced potatoes
- 1 cup of diced onion
- One 14 oz. can of tomato puree
- 3 cups water
- One 14 oz. can of peas
- Salt & pepper to taste
Place all ingredients except peas and seasonings in a large pot. Cover with 3 cups of water. Let cook for about an hour and a half on medium heat, stirring occasionally and adding a small amount of water if the mixture is getting too thick. Add the can of peas, including liquid, and allow to cook for 10 minutes or so longer until peas are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with saltine crackers. Yield: 4 servings
*My mother would have used the cheapest cut of beef available but I like to use chuck or round steak with all of the fat removed and then cubed.