Top ten recipes from the 1930s that are better left to history

Bailey Phillips

More stories from Bailey Phillips

May 20, 2021

Bailey Phillips

A peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich prepared by Prowl reporter and copy editor Bailey Phillips.

Many have referred to the recession caused by COVID-19 as a second Great Depression, which is a gross exaggeration. The Great Depression was an era of shantytowns, bread lines and an unemployment rate that enveloped over a quarter of the country. 

While some of the foodstuffs to come out of America’s bleakest era have since become household staples (looking at you Kraft Macaroni and Cheese), the bad eggs far outweigh the good. A few recipes, though, stand head and shoulders below the rest. As a reminder that America has come out of far worse than what it’s facing now, I’ve organized these souvenirs of a much grimmer time from least to most egregious.

10. Hoover Stew–Many hallmarks of the Great Depression were named for Herbert Hoover, the man who had been President when the inciting stock market crash occurred. Typically having something named after oneself is an achievement, but I can’t imagine Hoover was pleased to have his name plastered on shanty towns and stews that treated hot dogs as a primary source of protein.

9. Apple Pie (Sans Apples)–Fresh fruit–or any other kind of fruit for that matter–was difficult to come by during the Depression, so housewives looking to maintain a sense of normalcy for their floundering families were forced to find alternative pie fillings. Unfortunately, many of them landed on Ritz crackers.  

8. Vinegar Pie–Another common solution to the apple shortage was vinegar, specifically of the apple cider variety. While Ritz crackers were intended to mimic apple pie’s texture, apple cider vinegar was intended to replicate its flavor. 

7. Surprise Spice Cake–What’s the surprise spice, you ask? Canned tomato soup.

6. Water Pie–I imagine this pie was conceived when a husband, beleaguered from a long day of not having a job, griped from his recliner, “Where’s my pie, Alice?” and his wife, who was sick of being a housewife in the 1900s, replied, “Linus, the only food we have in this house is water. Do you want a water pie, Linus?” and then made it out of spite. I can’t imagine any other reason to make a water pie.

5. Twice-Baked Bread–This one was more of a preservation method than its own recipe, but when bread became too stale to eat, it was common practice to tear it into small pieces, douse it in olive oil and salt and bake it again into rebirthed double bread.

4. Milkorno–A mixture of milk and cornmeal, Milkorno was the brainchild of Cornell’s Home Economics department as a cheap way to feed the masses. It usually wasn’t eaten alone, but mixed into other things as its own ingredient. Because liquid cement is so much more palatable when mixed with tomato sauce.

3. Corned Beef Salad–Gelatin was a life-saver during the Great Depression. It was inexpensive, a decent source of protein by the day’s standards and able to be mixed with just about anything. Unfortunately, this zeal for Jell-O led to an era of things that should never be put in gelatin somehow ending up there. Corned beef salad, a mixture of corned beef, leafy greens, onions, peppers and mayonnaise all congealed inside a gelatin mold, is an excellent example of this phenomenon.

2. Peanut Butter and Mayonnaise Sandwiches–Speaking of mayonnaise, it’s one of the three ingredients in this sandwich, the others being peanut butter and bread. I don’t think I really need to explain what’s wrong with this one.

1. Peanut Butter Stuffed Onions– And we’ve arrived at the worst of the worst, the creme a la creme of foodstuffs that should make us thankful we don’t live in the 1930s. This recipe was promoted in Home Economics classes. People taught the youth of this nation that hollowing out an onion, stuffing it with peanut butter and baking it was a good idea, and, to be perfectly honest, I think all of modern America’s problems can be traced back to this monstrosity.

So there you have it. Next time you’re bemoaning what the country has come to, carve out an onion, fill it with peanut butter, throw it in the oven and bite in; it’ll make you realize that this world has sunk to and risen from much lower depths. 

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