Prepping · Recipes

Great Depression Era Recipes – The Series

I don’t feel old most days, until I talk with people whose grandparents were born in the 1960’s. Then I feel oh so old. My Father was born in 1939, at the end of the Great Depression. Though the Great Depression left Eastern Montana a lot later than it did in the Eastern cities of the United States. His Dad, my paternal grandfather, was born in 1918. They bounced around, sometimes on the family cattle ranch, which sat in the middle of nowhere, living a life of severe poverty, and other times just being. Life wasn’t ever easy those years. They were travelers often. Elmer, my grandfather, was a complicated man. He was a bitter man to say the least. He was in my life always as a child. He showed up 6 months after my parents got married in his pickup truck that had a camper on the back and never left….till he died. I was 13 or 14 when that happened. I am solid middle of the road Gen X.

I am not sure when this photo was taken. I’d have to think my Dad was around 18 to 20 in it. So maybe in the late 1950’s.

My Mother was a War baby, born in 1944. Life was still wonky even in those years. It wasn’t till the 1950’s that the economy was good, for she grew up in an agriculture valley. She had it better than my Dad though. Her Dad was a business owner. They lived middle class. But oddly I grew up eating Depression recipes. I think it was the long time housekeeper her family had (Nana didn’t cook, and was working in the business). Because as I looked at the recipes, I realized my Mom had learned them from someone. At some point.

I was reading a post recently of “Depression Recipes” and I realized I had grown up on these recipes. One of my first memories is eating milk toast, which I hated, but my grandfather loved. He and his second wife often would go poach the local fruit trees and bring back tons of Italian Plums. He’d get Mabel, my step-grandmother, to make him cooked plums, cooking the plums down till it was a soft mess. I did like eating that at least. But the milk toast? I will never understand that one, although a friend said it was popular in areas where bread dried out rock hard in a day, with low humidity. Considering Eastern Montana is very dry, that explained a lot.

I may not have liked Old Man Elmer very much (and almost no one did, for he was an epic jerk in general), he left a legacy of foraging. That man was willing to eat anything he found, rather than to spend money. In later years my Dad talked a lot about his upbringing and how they hunted all over Montana. Be it in a National Forest or Park…that didn’t stop them in the 1940’s. Hunger is a good incentive to chance meeting the game warden. The Depression stayed around for a very long time for much of the US.

The recipes I am going to be posting as a series the next few weeks are all ones I ate as a child and teenager, and honestly? Sometimes I still eat them. They are simple and fill your stomach. And can be made as a bigger batch to serve bigger families. And every one of these recipes was eaten by my parents and their parents for years. I picked out the recipes I have personally used/eaten and cleaned up the directions for modern times. I have quite a few to make and share, this will be a fun series. Consider it a prepping/prepper series if you will. How to make food stretch. And fill the bellies.

But for our first…we will start with the one recipe that I remember eating at 4 years old….in a little house on the hill, in a town that never quite left the olden days. It was still stuck in the logging days of long ago. I’ve gone back and it still feels that way.

The recipe I hated.

Milk Toast


2 cups of cold whole milk
2 Tbsp butter
6 slices thick bread, preferably stale day old, homemade or rustic bread


Place a large skillet over medium heat. Melt butter in the skillet. Add the bread, and brown it on both sides.

Lower the heat, pour in milk, and let the bread absorb it. Remove bread from the pan when the milk is warm. Add salt and pepper to serve.

Eggs can also be added to the skillet to poach in the milk.

This can also be made with a little condensed milk and a dash of brandy for a sweet, dessert like dish.

My grandfather would serve it with Italian plums he cooked down into a thick sauce. Usually poured over the gross mess of bread and milk. Meanwhile my Father would wax on about how how “when I was young I could buy my milk with cream on top”. Who knew I’d end up being his twin in that late in life.