Depression Vegetable Soup

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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.

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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.

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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

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*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.

Published by

quilt32

Lillian Applegate Westfelt was a mother of 4, grandmother of 6, and great-grandmother of 3. She was an 86-year-old widow living in a nice little bungalow with her oldest daughter and a beagle-dachsund named Addie. She passed away in November, 2018.

4 thoughts on “Depression Vegetable Soup”

  1. I love hearing stories about the past like this. So much has changed in the world, and yet here we are talking about a Depression again.
    With recipes like this, at least we’ll have tasty food.

  2. Oh, I really enjoyed reading this post.
    The soup looks hearty. Of course, I’ll be making this one.
    My grandparents used to talk about the Depression era before they passed on. Their stories always scared me. Times were beyond “tough”.
    I came from a very poor family, and we practically lived on saltine crackers. We had them in milk and in poor man’s potato soup–simply milk or water with potatoes and salt. Sometimes we lived on the road and I remember my mother giving us coffee with milk, sugar, and saltines for breakfast. I don’t miss those days.
    Thanks for sharing.

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