Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A '30's World-- What Did People Eat In The 1930's??

Another B&CHB feature I would like to expand upon in 2010, is a feature called A '30's World. Down blog right near the bottom is a selection of 1930's images, I thought would be interesting to those of us who thrive on the history from this unique era. As questions sometimes arise, regarding what things were like during the time of Bonnie and Clyde-- it seems this feature fits right in with our interests in these outlaws.

For all we know of B&C, there's remarkably little known concerning their personal habits. Much of what we do know, has come via family recollections. Such is the case with food. We know a few of the couple's culinary likes, but not many-- red beans and rice for Bonnie, and fried chicken with french fried potatoes and peas with cream and lots of pepper for Clyde. Also hot chocolate with marshmallows played an important role in B&C History when Bonnie and Clyde met. We hear from witnesses, of the times B&C stopped at cafes, but we know little more than a cursory overview of these stories. I believe this has prompted some to ask about food in the '30's. This is a question which I've addressed previously, but have decided to revive-- in order to provide more detail this go round.

People often envision the Depression ravaged 1930's as a time of starvation in America. However in reality, although there were many for whom hunger was a constant reality, apparently starvation in the U.S. during this time was rare. One of the silver linings of the Depression (if there was one)-- was that food was relatively inexpensive. There were soup kitchens open in areas of need, to support those who couldn't afford to eat. The soup kitchens were often run by charitable groups such as churches, Ladies Aid Societies or the Salvation Army. Three meals were served each day including Sundays.

Breakfast at soup kitchens often consisted of a sweet roll and coffee, and dinner and supper as the meals were known then-- were comprised of soup, bread and coffee. Fruits and vegetables for soup kitchens were sometimes provided through charity gardens and donations. Another entity which existed were called penny restaurants, which served low cost meals. For those with the space to plant, home gardens were common-- and provided a plentiful source of sustenance for little money. Local farms which were more prolific in number during the '30s, were also an important source of food. Many farms then were quite diversified, in offering not only vegetables and fruit, but chickens, eggs, hogs, cattle and even sheep for both meat and wool.

For those in better circumstances financially, cafes and restaurants were available where you could eat in or order food to go. Of course for Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow Gang, food made to go was an important factor-- thus the many stories concerning stops at local cafes wherever they roamed. Local groceries were prevalent, but also chains like Piggly Wiggly and A&P markets were on the rise. Self sufficiency was the norm during this time, and carried over from the home into people's social lives. Church and pot luck dinners were common. Also home economists could be heard on radio, teaching women how to stretch their food budget-- with dishes like casseroles, macaroni and cheese, creamed chipped beef and other such modest meals.

Without question, food in the 1930's was freshly prepared by comparison to today's fast food mentality. The words made "from scratch" are often heard when the preparation of food in the '30's is described. There were some fast food chains like White Castle which debuted in 1921, but for the most part, fast food as we know it today-- didn't arrive en masse until the 1950's. Therefore for those with means, eating at home or at a cafe was the norm. But this was "real" home made food by today's standards-- and likely not dissimilar to what you can order today at modern diners and cafes, however without the wide variety available now. One of the things I miss most about Gibsland, LA when I leave there, is the cafe in town. They serve real home cooking, with a limited but good menu. I would think the experience of eating at a small town cafe such as in Gibsland, would be similar to eating at the cafes of old. This is food served promptly, but not meant to be fast-- just good.

I took a look at some menus and food brands available in the 1930's to give you an idea of the "flavor' of things then. Now of course depending on social and financial situations for people, these menus would vary. For this purpose, I have deliberately avoided menus for ritzy get-togethers for the well to do-- as I don't feel those who wonder about food in the Depression Years, would care much to know of the extravagant. Food at that level is always special, but likely not indicative of foods for the average family during the Depression years.

On You Tube, there's a wonderful series of Depressions Age recipes, as expressed by Clara
Cannucciari who's in her 90's. She recounts frugal recipes from that period, along with charming and insightful personal memories from the Depression. Clara shows how to make '30's meals such as the poor man's meal, peppers and eggs, pasta with peas, egg drop soup, dandelion salad, eggplant Parmesan, baked apples and couscous with vegetables. I don't know which are more interesting-- Clara's recollections or her recipes which have inspired a cookbook. But for those of us interested in Depression Age history, I feel it's worth many trips to this terrific Great Depression cooking series. A link to this site can be found here-- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGX8m8lAzOs&feature=related

In doing research for this piece, I found websites devoted to Depression Age food. Some examples of family dinner meal suggestions I found, and listed here in no particular order include-- Cheese souffle, pork chops, roast or broiled chicken, meat loaf, fresh beef tongue, baked salmon, Creole beef with noodles, spaghetti Italian, cold boiled ham, broiled ground beef on toast, cream of vegetable soup, browned parsnips, olives and radishes, rhubarb Betty, Lima beans in tomato sauce with crisp bacon, savory cooked lettuce, parsley potatoes, fried tomatoes, wilted dandelion greens, new potatoes, peas, mashed potatoes, french fried potatoes, spring onions on toast, celery and grape salad, Scalloped onions and peanuts, spinach, summer squash, grated cheese and lettuce salad, perfection salad, succotash, carrots, cold (cole) slaw, green tomato pie, Brussels sprouts, fried potato cakes, hot biscuits, oven toasted bread and butter, crab apple jelly, banana pudding, lemon meringue bread pudding, apple sauce, jelly roll, lemon pie, peanut brittle ice cream, sand tarts, peaches and cream, vanilla wafers, Strawberry ice cream, Spanish cream, Ginger bread with whipped cream, iced tea, iced coffee, coffee and milk.

Luncheon examples included-- Sliced ham and currant jelly sandwiches, made with entire-wheat bread, egg salad sandwiches made with white bread, Peanut butter and entire-wheat bread sandwiches, scrambled-egg sandwiches, ham or veal and entire wheat bread sandwiches, jelly and white bread sandwiches a hard cooked egg, cold baked beans, Boston brown bread and butter sandwiches, spiced beef sandwiches with white bread, a raw tomato with salt and pepper, creamed chicken, a hard cooked egg, apple pie, cheese, hot coffee, an orange, an apple, Portsmouth orange cake, raising gingerbread, sponge cake, hot tea and lemonade. Note-- I always love the '30's vernacular, such as "entire wheat" used as an early description for whole wheat.

Breakfasts haven't seemed to have changed much, with '30's offerings including sliced oranges, prepared cereal, fluffy omelet or scrambled eggs, hominy with shredded dates, poached egg on English muffin, toast, muffins, marmalade, applesauce, coffee and milk.

Let's Eat!!

As far as name brands you know, the 30's was a banner decade for the introduction of many including-- Birds Eye Frosted Foods, Wonder Bread, Del Monte Tomato Sauce, Land O Lakes Sweet Cream Butter, Mott's Apple Sauce, Hostess Twinkies, Snickers, Kit Kat, Butterfingers and many candy bars known today, Gerber and Beech-Nut Baby Foods, Bisquick, Ovaltine (promoted as health food for children), Gold Medal Cake Flour, Welch's Grape Juice, Kellogg's Rice Crispies, Frito Corn Chips, Skippy Peanut Butter, Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies, Campbell's Soups in varieties you know, but also including-- mock turtle, muligatawny, pepper pot, tomato-okra and vermicelli-tomato, Kraft Miracle Whip, Royal Crown Cola, Ritz Crackers, Five Flavors Life Savers, RealLemon Lemon Juice, Goya brand foods, Orangina, Pepperidge Farm Breads, Kix Cereal, Spam, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Ragu Spaghetti Sauce, Motts Apple Juice, Nescafe instant coffee, Lay's Potato Chips and 5 Minute Cream of Wheat.

I hope you've enjoyed this look into food of the 1930's. Perhaps soon, I'll delve into entertainment, transportation or cars of the '30's-- or concentrate on the Warren car. I may need to ask the help of a guest poster for that one. For now, I know one thing-- I'm hungry. Food sure seemed good sounding then, and I'm sure better for you. The photo attached to this post, is the restored 1930's Conoco station & UdropIn cafe, located in Shamrock, Texas. For now AWW signing off, and for all the kids of B&C aficionados everywhere-- be sure to drink your Ovaltine.


Anonymous said...

Clyde was known to have downed a few RC Cola's in his day.

Shelley said...

Yes, I would imagine that for the last few years of his life, Clyde probably had much better access to RCs than he did to hot chocolates!

Thanks for the interesting and well-researched post, Winston. Never realized so many of today's familiar brands were available back in B&C's day! I too am curious to know all about the more mundane details of the Barrows' everyday lives. After all, in between all those gory gun-battles and spectacular escapes, there were real people who needed to eat, sleep, bathe, and so on.

We all know of Bonnie's love for red beans and rice, and Clyde's particular fondness for hot chocolate. But I have found that Blanche's book (brilliantly co-authored by John Neal Phillips, of course!) - seems to be the absolute best resource out there when it comes to the gang's personal habits. At least, while she and Buck were still with them.

In her telling of the events leading up to the Joplin raid and ensuing gun-battle, she says she "enjoyed seeing Clyde, Bonnie, and W.D. eat. I felt so sorry for them because they could not always enjoy their food for fear the cops may run in on them at any time. I was glad to cook anything they wanted to eat." W.D., she adds, would eat "most anything."

She also states that Clyde liked "french-fried potatoes and English peas, cooked with lots of cream and pepper. He ate them at almost every meal except breakfast." We also know the whole gang loved fried chicken.

Blanche goes on to say that on the day of the raid, April 13, Bonnie had asked her to boil her an egg (apparently Bonnie wasn't much on cooking). Blanche did so, peeled the shell off, and served it to her. No sooner did she give Bonnie her egg than all hell broke loose!

I have spent much time at my local library, reading up on the microfilm about "alleged" Barrow Gang sightings here in the Spa City, and the various accounts of their notorious escapades elsewhere. Along the way, I have also come across countless pages of recipes of the era, usually submitted by the readers of the newspaper themselves. I even printed many of them for future use.

I'm a big fan of casseroles, and in my "research" of this topic, I discovered an interesting tidbit of trivia. Casseroles, it seems, first gained popularity back in the 1930s! Probably because it was more practical and economical to throw together a little of this and a little of that and...viola! A great meal.

Poor Bonnie & Clyde though. I doubt seriously they had much opportunity to enjoy a hearty casserole, anymore than they could sip on hot chocolates loaded with marshmallows. Roasting weiners and eating beans out of a can was probably as good as it got most of the time for them.

We'll never know what kind of sandwich Bonnie was REALLY eating when they got blasted into eternity. Was it a BLT? A hamburger? Maybe an Egg McMuffin perhaps? Okay, that's a bit of a stretch. But we just don't know for sure - another important fact lost to history forever.

So in the end - according to Ted Hinton, who was there - in addition to some clothing and other personal items including Clyde's saxophone and camping equipment - and a hefty arsenal - there was "a grocery sack of canned goods and some sandwiches" in the back seat. I have also heard rumored reports of cornbread found inside the Death Car, but that's another story...

Shelley said...

Here is one more fascinating tidbit of food trivia that I somehow forgot to add in my previous post.

Blanche also recalled that "Buck and Bonnie liked pickled pig's feet and olives. Clyde and I could not see why."

Although I love olives, I am definitely in agreement with Blanche and Clyde regarding the pickled pig's feet. Ewwww! That does sound thoroughly disgusting to me. I have no idea if this is something even available to modern-day consumers or not, nor do I care to find out!

shanvi said...

good information about food

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