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

Walt’s Polish Stuffing


I call this “Polish Stuffing” only because I got the general instructions from a wonderful Polish gentleman in my office (about 20 years ago).  I’m sure he used some kind of great sausage and maybe some extra herbs, but this was my version and my family always wants a side casserole of this stuffing for Thanksgiving.  I don’t stuff the bird with it in consideration of those who don’t like spicy ingredients in their turkey.  First, though, I make the bread that I use, an adaptation of an old Saco Buttermilk Powder recipe.


  • 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 packages fast-rising yeast
  • 1/4 cup SACO buttermilk powder
  • 2 Tblsp. granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tblsp. shortening
  • 1-3/4 cups of water heated to 130 degrees F
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, place 2 cups of flour, yeast, buttermilk powder, sugar, salt.  Mix to blend and add the 130 degree F water and shortening.  Beat on medium high for 3 minutes.  Insert dough hook and add sage, celery, seed, nutmeg and pepper.  Beat for a total of 6-1/2 minutes more, adding flour as necessary to make a stiff dough.  If necessary, knead a small amount of flour into the dough by hand.  Cover and place in a warm spot to rise for 30 minutes.  Punch down and spread dough in a thin layer in an oiled jelly roll pan.  Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake bread for approximately 15 minutes until dough has baked through and the top is golden brown.

Let cool on a wire rack.  Best to make the bread the day before use and then cut it into small cubes.

Note:  If I don’t have time to make this bread, I use a purchased 14 oz. bag of seasoned bread cubes.


  • 1 lb. of good spicy hot pork sausage, cooked until the pink is gone
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 12 cups of herb bread cubes or 14 oz. pkg.
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Mix all of the above ingredients together and place in an oiled baking dish.  Cover and bake approximately 20 minutes @ 350 degrees F.  Uncover and bake another 10 minutes.