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

A Summer Supper from Leftovers

sunflowerAfter cooking dinner for guests on Sunday, I had some leftover grilled chicken and some pasta – very small amounts.  I also had one large ripe peach and a little bit of rhubarb from my garden.  I thought if I put all of the small amounts together in the right way, I might have a nice supper for myself.

I used the peach and rhubarb along with some staples to make a Fruit Betty.  I found this recipe in a 1976 Redbook cookbook which I had gotten way back in the day for subscribing to Redbook magazine.  It’s been a good source for me all these years, although I had never made this dish before.

While the dessert was cooling, I put together a simple  salad with the chicken, pasta, some onion, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and one of my favorite dressings.

It was a very easy, fast and tasty meal.  I might have to come up with these particular leftovers again sometime.


  • 1-1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut in 1″ pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh peach slices
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 slices white bread, cut in 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 Tblsp. granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, peach slices and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

In a small skillet over moderately low heat, melt the butter.  Add the bread cubes and raise heat slightly, toss cubes with butter and heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally.  Watch the bread cubes so that they don’t get too brown.

Place half of the fruit in a 4 to 6 inch buttered baking dish.  Top with half of the bread cubes.  Repeat layers.  Sprinkle top with 1 Tblsp. granulated sugar.

Bake uncovered @ 375 degrees F for approximately 40 minutes.

Serve with half-and-half cream. 

withcreamI really enjoyed this dessert.  It’s good warm from the oven or at room temperature and the cream is perfect to temper the tartness of the fruit.  Actually, I have more leftovers to contend with since the recipe made 3 servings, but I don’t mind a bit.


  • 1 cup cooked pasta
  • 2 oz. grilled chicken breast
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped sweet onion
  • 4-5 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Red Wine Dressing
  • 2 Tblsp. fresh basil for garnish


  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I like Hellman’s Olive Oil Mayonnaise)
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 Tblsp. red wine vinegar
  • Sprinkling of salt
  • Grating of black pepper

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.

Toss together the pasta, chicken and vegetables.  Add the Red Wine Vinegar Dressing and garnish with fresh basil. 

chpastaforoneThis is a very good light salad.  Of course, any vegetables and herbs could be substituted – this was what I happened to have in the refrigerator.

Being frugal and using up all the leftovers is a pretty good idea.