The greatest generation had to live very frugally during the Depression .It shaped the way they ate and how they cooked. There's a new book out showing the recipes of the day, what was served and why. It is an eye opener but a also a window into a fascinating era.
Steven Kurutz rote about the book and interviewed the authors in yesterday's New York Times Food section. Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman .wrote A Square Meal (Harper Publishers) chronicles what was promoted, cooked and eaten between 1930 and 1940.Not surprisingly they met Mr. Kurutz at Eisenburg's Sandwich Shop, a Flatiron District staple since the year of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929. Ms. Ziegelman ordered a sandwich, right from the era, cream cheese and chopped olives while Mr. Coe had a classic that's still loved today: turkey with mashed potatoes and veggies. Even the interviewer ordered a depression worthy meal - meat loaf. The book is an interesting window into what everyone ate, from presidents to the average American. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an aristocrat who grew up with chefs and gourmet foods , ate what his constituents ate. His wife, Eleanor, had something to do with it as well, being more down to earth than him.. As much as he would have loved foie gras and terrapin soup, ate humbler foods. such as deviled eggs in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and prune whip, a popular dessert of the time.His predecessor, Herbert Hoover was entirely different. Even though he grew up on an Iowa farm, he had gold plated tastes, dining on fish with cucumber sauce as he wore a dinner jacket.
The books also showcases how America went from the being the land of plenty to penny pinching.The country fed a starving Europe during World War I while having an open all you can eat buffet at home. Teams of women cooked for male farm workers while fresh baked pies were served after every meal, including breakfast. The Depression changed all that.Ingenuity and frugality were now the main ingredients of every American kitchen. According to Ms/ Ziegelman, loaves were very popular. Of course there were ones made from meat, but also ones made of peanut, liver and bean too.They had to be concocted from a variety of ingredients and a cheap filler that allowed for stretching out. Casseroles also became staples too, because they could be made from leftovers. Cream sauces were popular because they could hide the look and taste of unappetizing ingredients. Diets were compromised because fresh fruit was too expensive so it was replaced by the cheaper dried fruit,Strange mash ups also arose like onions stuffed with peanut butter as a caloric and nutritional substitute to meat.The government also had a hand in helping women to be budgeteers, and rise to the challenge of creating spaghetti with creamed carrots.
A Square Meal shows us how America survived a nutritional depression as well as the actual one. It's a fascinating look at how the Greatest Generation ate during the worst of times. It's not only a history book but a testament to ingenuity and frugality.