Beans and Dumplings – A Depression-Era Meal

One of my earliest memories is of sitting at a table with my mother, father and little sister.  We are in a one-room, second-floor flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati in the mid-1930s.  All day, Mother has watched over a simmering pot of beans with a pig hock added for flavor.  My father has come in from his timekeeper job on the WPA and we are having about the cheapest supper possible in the midst of the Great Depression.  I have a plateful of beans and a tiny bit of the small amount of meat that is on a pig hock (my father gets the biggest portion of meat and my mother claims to love chewing around on the bone).  The beans are steaming and the teaspoon or so of meat is flavorful – I love it!  It was said in my family that you weren’t an Applegate if you didn’t love beans, so I guess I qualified as a full-fledged member of my father’s side of the family.

As time went on and my father moved to better jobs with the City of Cincinnati and then Dayton Acme (a World War II defense plant), there was more money in my mother’s food budget and she stopped using the mostly-fat pig hocks and either threw in a pork chop or two to cook with the beans or had crisp bacon or fried ham on the side.  This was the only time my father ate pork … along with his beans topped with chopped onion and a lot of black pepper.

By the time my future husband started coming to the house for meals, Mother had added a big cast iron skillet full of fried potatoes to the menu.  It was his favorite supper.  After we were married, I continued to have this meal one night a week.  Every time I hear the John Denver song, “Back Home Again” and the line about “supper on the stove” and the wife who felt the baby move, I think about my young husband coming home to an expectant wife in our little apartment with the windows all steamed up and a big white and red graniteware pot of beans simmering on the range.

My four children didn’t inherit their parents’ love of a bean supper and I got out of the habit of making it.  But now that I’m alone, I crave the beans of my childhood, especially in the fall and winter.  I make a healthier, easier version with a slow cooker.


  • 1/2 lb. Great Northern dry beans
  • 6 cups cold water*
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ham flavored soup base (L. B. Jamison’s)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dry beans cold water in the slow cooker.  *I use this amount of water to insure that I’ll have enough broth to make dumplings.  Cook on low overnight – approximately 8 hours.  Add the ham flavoring, then taste before adding salt and pepper.

I was the only one in the family who liked dumplings with my beans and I used to make a one-person serving.  This works very well for me now when I want to make a meal just for myself.


  • 1/4 cup of My Biscuit Mix**
  • 1-1/2 Tblsp. (approx.) of cold water

In a small bowl, stir the biscuit mix and water together to make a thick, moist dough.

Heat about 1 cup of bean broth and 1 cup of beans in a small pot to boiling.  Drop the dough into the boiling mixture by the tablespoonful, making three dumplings.

Lower the heat to simmering, cover the pot and continue simmering for 10 minutes without lifting the lid.  Note:  The white and red graniteware lid is from my original 1952 set.

Serve immediately with chopped onion and a grating of black pepper.  A small serving of meat is good, but not necessary (to me, at least).  Today, I happened to be browning hot sausage to freeze for my Thanksgiving stuffing and kept back enough to make myself a small grilled patty.  It tasted wonderful.  This is truly my soul food.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tblsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)

Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Cut in the vegetable shortening.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

This is good for making individual servings of biscuits, pancakes … and dumplings. 

Recipe for Walt’s Polish Stuffing

Published by


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.

22 thoughts on “Beans and Dumplings – A Depression-Era Meal”

  1. Lillian I had never eaten beans and ham until I got married and started fixing them for my husband. I also make Jiffy corn bread. I am like your dad I like freshly cut onions and black pepper on mine. When I was a kid we did have bean soup.

    1. Cornbread is definitely a good thing to serve with beans. I also like them spooned onto a piece of homemade bread and topped with onions. Lillian

  2. I have searched high & low for this navy bean & dumpling recipe. My mother-in-law shared alot of family favorite recipes with me but not this one. It’s my hubby’s favorite & my sis-in-laws won’t share it, but they will make it when they visit. I’m so happy!! Thank you!

    1. I hope this is what you were looking for – it’s certainly been a favorite of mine for a long time. My husband also loved his cornbread.

      Thank you for commenting. Lillian

  3. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Growing up my parents fed 8 children on a cool miners pay then a woodsman pay. We ate beans and dumplings at least every other week. My mom never measured or wrote down recipes, always cooked from the heart. Before she died I wasn’t able to get the measurements from her. So one of my favorite dishes ended up going to the grave with her. My family enjoyed sprinkling on a little of vinegar on top of the beans for a bit a tang.

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and for commenting. My mother never owned a cookbook, measuring cups or measuring spoons either. But I was from a different generation and tried to get recipes and measurements from watching her.

      I’ve never heard of sprinkling vinegar on the beans, but that sounds good. Lillian

      1. i am trying to make your dumpling recipe but it is dry..Is there a liquid that i should be adding to it..the crisco is not enough to bring it together

      2. In my post, I gave my biscuit mix (or you could use something like Bisquick) MY BISCUIT MIX

        2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp. salt 1 Tblsp. baking powder 1/3 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)

        Earlier in the post I gave what I use for the dumplings:


        1/4 cup of My Biscuit Mix** 1-1/2 Tblsp. (approx.) of cold water

        In other words, add just enough water to make a soft dough. Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough on that.


  4. I’m so glad I found this recipe! My Grandma used to make beans and dumplings for us when we were kids. I cook for my Mom every day now. Mom has Alzheimer’s. She can still speak some, and said she wants Beans and Dumplings for lunch. Old time recipes are so much tastier than many from today! Jne.

    1. I hope this tastes similar to what your mother remembers, although hers were probably much better – our dishes from the past always are.

      I was caregiver for my husband with Alzheimer’s for many years and I wish you all of the patience and love you need to care for your mother at this very difficult time. Bless you for making dishes that she longs for. Lillian

  5. Beans & Dumplings (i.e., large dried limas, ham hock, dropped dumplings) was one of our family favorites when I was a child. So much so that it was my little brother’s Birthday Dinner. If I needed a retaliation for a playmate’s snub, I would say, “Well, I was going to invite you to my house tonight for Beans ‘n Dumplings, but now I’m not!!!” Sweet revenge every time. I never knew anyone else ever prepared this meal, so I feel like I’ve just found home-folks.
    Hugs, Y’all…

    1. I just loved your reply. Beans ‘n Dumplings are probably still my favorite meal. Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment. Lillian

  6. I’m thinking we might be related my younger pictures look alot like you. Thank you for the beans and dumplings that is the way my mom made them. Thanks again.

  7. Lillian,
    Looking for bean and dumplin recipes. My mom, born in 1926, made her own bisquits, corn bread and bean/dumplins. I’m guessing she got it from her gramma or mother.
    I remember going to pick up 2-3 pieces of coal for our pot bellied stove cause that all we could afford..every morning…Northern Indiana winters aint no wimps.
    Mom has forgotten all the old “measurements” so, don’t cook no more and I was too busy(goofy) as a kid to learn so, have been looking for dumplin recipes.
    I thank you for sharing I gonna try yours next. I hope you are still doing well.
    Don B.

    1. I’ll bet your mother made some great food. Thank you for sharing your memories. We lived on the Ohio/Indiana border for many years and I think we got a taste of how bad your winters can be. I’m doing well at 82+ and thank you for writing.

  8. Enjoyed reading your recipe as it brought back memories from my gramma (born KY). She made hers the same but instead of dropping spoonfuls she cut about 3 inch long and 1 wide and very thick noodle like…she called them hillbilly dumplings…oh they were good in some northern white beans and fried taters….granpa always had a big thick slice of onion and pepper shaker on the side and sometimes some hot sauce. When she didn’t have time to make those dumplings she would grab a can of store bought biscuits and when beans were about done she would lay the biscuits on top of beans and cover..the steam would inflate biscuits about the size of a baseball…as kids we even liked these although they were more bread tasting than dumpling. We grew up in southwest MI on the lake and IN line and winter was very rough in 60/70’s…now back to my roots in TN and doing pinto beans lol..thanks for the recipe dear

    1. Thank you for your lovely memories. My husband liked dumplings the way your gramma made them. I agree that onions and black pepper had to be at hand. I also love pinto beans.

  9. Tonight,my husband abd I had White beans and
    Dumplings. The flavor was not quite right,so I looked on tbe internet and found your receipe. I think that I didn’t put any ham in with the beans is why the flavor was different.
    I first was served this wonderful meal when visiting Springfield, Ohio wth friends in 1959.
    This was my friend’s favorite meal and her mother
    had it ready for us when we arrived. It was so good.Frannie used a lot of black pepper and a ham hock. White Beans and Dumplings became a favorite comfort food of this Texas girl.
    I hope you are well.

  10. My grandma used to make butterbeans with ham and the rolled noodle/dumplin… I make the biscuit dumplins with chicken veggie for my kids. They’re not bean fans unless it’s chilli or mexican food. I could eat em every day. might be why i look like a dumplin too.

  11. Hi! My Grandmother and Granfather also lived on Elm Street in Cincinnati in the 30’s last name Andrews and Koch. My German Grandmother made a recipe very similar to this. She did a dense drop dumpling which she called Spaetzle and navy bean soup with ham hock or ham bone. It is a childhood memory of mine that I unfortunately never got the recipe for. Thank you! I will try this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s