Sometimes we tend to make our meals so much more complicated than they need to be. I was blessed to be able to watch many women prepare their meals who learned to cook during the 30’s and 40’s. Some were busy stay at home moms. Others were moms who worked away from home and some were moms who helped their husbands on the farm.
These women used some tricks to prepare their meals that made meal preparation easier and faster. Here are a few of them:
- They didn’t worry if they had homemade biscuits or muffins for every meal. Often for a daily meal they would just place a plate of bread (not always homemade bread, either) on the table to eat with butter and jam or honey. In some homes, this was a staple at every meal.
- They would keep things cleaned and ready to use for a relish dish like carrot sticks, celery sticks, olives, pickles, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes or fresh cauliflower.
- Hard boiled eggs or pickled beets were kept on hand to place in a bowl at the last minute.
- They didn’t hesitate to open some canned fruit to pour into a bowl and set on the table to eat by itself without whipped cream or any added extras.
- Canned vegetables were a life saver for many of them. Then they could just warm some canned peas to set on the table.
They served some combination of all of these at most meals. Then they would add a potato dish, rice or noodles and a meat and they would have dinner.
Sometimes we read cooking magazines and see very elaborate meals on TV and think if this isn’t the kind of food we make we must have failed as good cooks. Each dish doesn’t need five or more ingredients in it to make it good. That is probably one of the places where our diets started going down the tubes. We forgot to keep things simple.
You also save money when you keep it simple because you’re not using as many ingredients or extras like whipped cream or special spices.
Just like in the old days, your family will probably enjoy an icy cold canned peach just as much as a fresh organically grown peach you had to study to determine how ripe it was before you took it home to try to peel and slice it. It’s you, mom and dad, who make the meal special just by being together with the family, not the pedigree of your fruits and vegetables.
Bread and Jam
Bottled (canned) Fruit Cake*
From: Alice B. (I learned this recipe in junior high. It’s tasty, quick to cook, inexpensive, and dirties only one pan!)
1 lb. lean ground beef
8 oz. uncooked noodles
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 large can tomatoes
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Brown meat and onion. Drain off excess grease. Add noodles and canned tomatoes. Chop tomatoes a little bit while in the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and simmer covered for 7 minutes. Stir. Cover and simmer 8 more minutes. That’s it!
You can add other ingredients you may have on hand like chopped green peppers, black olives, mushrooms, fresh herbs, etc. You may want to top with grated cheese. (Never cook the noodles first. They must cook with the rest of ingredients to absorb their flavors.)
I love, love, love recipes that take only one pan and this one really does! Often, people will call something a one dish meal but they end up using 3 pans, 2 mixing bowls and 1 casserole dish. (That’s the one dish, I guess.) Now you can see why I really appreciated your recipe. : )
Bottled Fruit Cake
From: Ruth P.
CAKE USING BOTTLED FRUIT – (Sometimes we have an excess of home bottled fruit and need to use it up before it gets old. This is a great way to use it!)
1 quart of fruit with liquid
4 cups flour
4 tsp. soda
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup oil
Raisins and nuts if desired
Blend all of the above ingredients at the same time. Bake at 350° for 35 to 45 minutes. This makes one sheet cake or two cakes in 9×13 inch pans. This is a nice change from just using the fruit for a crisp, cobbler. or pie. You don’t need to put frosting on this, which can save time, too.
Photo by: Yoames
THANKS for the simple but great recipes… and ideas for making meals easier and frugal! Bettie
For the Bottled Fruit Cake does “blend” mean with a blender or just blend together with a spoon?
blend with a spoon.
Do not want to install coupon printer. Why can’t we have coupons without doing this?
Because coupons.com set up that way. They track the prints so one person doesn’t print a coupon 100 times.
try purple deviled eggs.
separate the egg whites from the yoke as usual.
while blending the yolks put the whites into a dish with pickled beet juice.
when they are a nice colour place them on a plate and add the yoke.
Makes a bit of a change of taste and at easter they look pretty. Don’t sprinkle with paprika because that takes away the purple and doesn’t look as nice.
I like the bottled fruit cake recipe. I have some cherry juice on hand. I was using it to add to diet coke, but the coke seemed to be agravating my FM. Tawra, do soft drinks make you feel bad, produce a lot of pain? And for the noodle dish, would you use gluten free noodles?
Rachel, I think sugar in general makes my pain worse. I don’t drink sodas much anyway so I can’t say for sure on that but I do know if I stay off sugar I do better.
Love the advice and the recipes! Will make the Yankee Noodles tonight. Yum Yum.
Thanks for this. I cook several meat loaves and several packages of chicken breasts, then freeze and package in single servings for our family size. This way, I can take them out at the last minute, thaw in the microwave and either make sandwiches, or serve with rice, instant potatoes, frozen or canned vegetables, and a salad for a quick meal. I was feeling kind of bad that I don’t have a wide variety, and your article made me feel better. Besides, my husband likes these kinds of meals so … no problem!
You are welcome Cindy. I don’t know why but we as gals usually expect more from ourselves then our families usually do. We also have so many “ideals” throw at us, then try to achieve them and fail because they are an ideal and not what the reality is. Even the stories about how grandma did it and what a wonderful cook and housekeeper she was. By the time we are old enough to be aware of these things grandma has had many years experience under her belt and no little ones at home running around to mess things up. Trust me. Most grandmas when they were new moms didn’t have a spotless house and had their share of burnt meals and exhausting “I give up ” days.
Thanks so much for this boost to my self esteem. My mom cooked a lot with these types of meals..canned fruits and vegetables, slice of bread, and simple main dishes. When I watch today’s cooking shows I generally feel like I’m not cooking what is “in” with all of the new herbs, spices, vinegars, etc.
Mary J. Dean
When I saw the words “Yankee Noodles,” I thought, oh,boy,
you’ll share the egg noodle recipe! No… Here it is–very simple, wonderful to eat. My younger grandsons love to make them when they visit on weekends. I use chicken thighs to make a rich broth (and “spare parts” from a whole chicken–neck, wing tips, fatty parts, backs, etc). To about 6 – 7 cups water, add chicken parts, bring to a boil. Skim off unpleasant-looking stuff that bubbles to the top, then add celery pieces, chopped onion, a chopped carrot and 2 – 3 chicken boullion cubes, if desired (no need to add add’l salt if you add the salty cubes). Simmer on stove until chicken is tender and broth smells great (on low heat, maybe an hour). Strain broth, then reheat to boiling (add more water, if needed–noodles absorb a lot as they cook). Add homemade noodles to about 5 – 6 cups boiling broth.
Beat 2 or 3 whole eggg with 2-3 tablespoons water and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix well, then add enough flour to make a dough that can be rolled out on a floured board. Knead until smooth and most of the flour mixed into the dough, then roll out onto a lightly floured board and cut into long strips. Drop, a few at a time, into boiling broth. After all noodles are added to broth, reduce heat to just below boiling and cook about 10-15 minutes (depending on how big you’ve made the noodles).
They are wonderful! If you don’t have time to roll out the noodles, use the same recipe but add less flour. Make it about the consistency of biscuit dough and drop tsps-full into the boiling broth. (Using a long-handled spoon, put the dough right into broth and it’ll slide off the the bowl of the spoon.) These little drops are called rivels and puff up like little dumplings. Cut up the cooked chicken pieces and add it (and vegs) back into the cooked noodles and broth. A cheap, delicious and hearty meal!
This post reminded me of a dessert my husband taught me: cuppa-cuppa-cuppa:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup canned fruit
Mix together and bake in a greased pan at 350 for about 20 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
Will have to try this liz. My kind of recipe simple easy and yummy.
I also agree with Barb. Thank you for relieving the “inadequacy” that I sometimes feel when I watch those cooking shows. Almost everyone of them tells you “it is so simple”, etc. But the fact is that while I am CAPABLE of making those meals, they are not always frugal and they are usually time consuming and often they are not so SIMPLE. Just remembering to shop or hunt for some of the items is tiring after a long day at work. We live far from a major city and some of the produce items called for are gross at my store, too expensive or just not available. My mom and grandmothers were amazing cooks and fed lots of people, often with little notice. And sure enough, there was a jar of home canned peaches in a bowl on our table. I am blessed in that my 75 year old mother still preserves lots of food, she canned 84 quarts of peaches last summer…and she shares! There was always a stack of bread on our table, homemade or otherwise. Thanks to your article, I am giving myself the freedom to revert to these habits even more than I do now. Also, cottage cheese is a nice side to the peaches, pears, pineapple, mandarin oranges, tomato slices. Bread is great with butter, honey, peanut butter, jam. The kids feel like they have had dessert! In the fall of the year, I shop the case sales for green beans, corn, etc. With the cost of lids and electricity or gas for heat, you cannot raise them and can them for .39 cents a can. Green Giant tastes pretty darn good at .39 cents. Case lots of soups are a great price at that time of year, I almost always get the store brand (Western Family here). Maybe not all stores offer this benefit, but our local grocers offer this at least once a year. Thanks again.
I was curious if using can fruits is just as good and the soda ingredient to this Bottle Fruit Cake is that baking soda?
I ask about the canned fruit because I have a lot of canned apricots that I want to use up. Also is there a way of making apricot jam out of canned?
Thank you for your great website!
Teresa the soda does mean baking soda. Canned fruits are just as good especially in this type of thing and yes you can use canned apricots to make jam. Drain them and if they were canned in sweet syrup then cut back on the sugar in your recipe and cut back on the cooking time.
This does take me back Jill. My mom used to open a can of Dinty Moore stew and we had it over noodles or mashed potatoes. Side dishes were cottage cheese and fruit, sliced bread on the table, stewed tomatoes as a hot side, and canned peas or beans, with a piece of chicken or a quickly fried pork chop!
My dad would just crumble hamburger and fry in a pan and add a can of brown gravy, with potatoes on the side. nothing fancy, but dinner was on!
They also used canned hash with an egg in the middle. Quick and simple!
It is funny you mentioned this Donna. They are now advertising on TV how you can take a can of some kind of soup and just pour it on top of mashed potatoes, noodles or rice for a quick and easy meal. What goes around comes around.
Judy in Maine
Great posting and great comments. There is a great website called greatdepressioncookingwithclara.com (I think) It’s a 94 year old woman filmed by her grandson making the food she ate during the Depression. Very interesting and so inspiring.
I made the Yankee Noodles last night. Very good. I did have to add a little water though, because there didn’t seem to be enough liquid in the large can of whole tomatoes that I used. It tasted great though and now I have some wonderful leftovers to look forward to.
I’ve had a crock pot all of my married life, 30 years, and I am mad at myself that I never realized what a great tool this is. If mom can’t be there in the evening, the family can still eat. My husband is working 12 hour shifts with no day off for the next two weeks. Earlier this week I went to keep my grandkids, thinking my son in law got off at 5. Well, he did not get off till 6:30. Then he stayed later than that. It was almost 8 when I left to come home. I had planned on frying some frozen breaded shrimp, making a couple of side dishes. In no way did I feel like starting all that after 8, so I pulled through the Zaxbys drive thru. Three chicken plates came to $18!! Yikes! This morning I put some chicken in the crock pot covered with cream of mushroom soup. Late this afternoon I got a call from my mother that her sister has gone into the hospital and she wants to go see her. I made a quick pot of rice, there are leftover lima beans in the fridge, so dinner is ready. So now I am free to drive my mom to the hospital, not having to scramble at the last minute to cook quickly, or worse yet, go for fast food.
Yes, Judy in Maine, I have watched Clara many times on her website!! Very cool! I believe it’s called, Depression Era Cooking. Her grandson has done the video series to document this amazingly strong woman who still has great fun and laughs at life and herself.
I have a cake recipe that uses canned fruit cocktail and it’s really moist and delish. I blended the fruit cocktail for a few secs in my blender last time I made it, and I really liked it even better. It’s great warm with cool whip.
I love to collect old cookbooks. I get a lot of the ones that are available free online because they are no longer under copyright. They have great fun recipes (although beware some of the home remedies… some are great, some are questionable), and they are usually pretty simple to make.
My personal cooking style (which my DH sometimes finds kind-of funny is to look around in my pantry and freezer, find some stuff that needs to be used up, and come up with a way to stick it together in a meal. So, for example, the other day, I cooked up some quinoa, then while it was boiling, added half a bag of mixed veggies, and a couple handfuls of frozen diced ham. It was wonderful, and only got one dish dirty. (Plus, it was quite healthy!). :)
Again you hit the nail on the head with how simple our mothers and grandmothers prepared our meals. The yankee noodle recipe is almost exactly like my mom made. She went to college to get her RN degree while having 5 children at home, and WWII disabled husband(my dad), who didn’t work. Benefits were not the same then as they are now. Always a plate of bread,pickled beets, and pickled eggs (which my dad loved),Never did we expect to have those elaborate meals, and my husband and his family were the same way, Large families are still doing things this way, just look at the Duggers. The greatest gift you can give yourself talke to people who lived during the depression, they survived, and so will we(have to tell myself and everyone that with gas now $3.39 a gal. here in FL). Food prices soaring, wages not changing is nothing new. Recipes like these are timeles for a reason! Good job! And Tawra, still not stopping at Dunkin Donuts in morning for that coffee. Everyday it gets easier to ignore that junk food a 1/2 a block away., LOL!
Good going Jody. It will get easier and easier. For years one of my favorite things I loved to do is to go out to eat but then I didn’t have the money to any more and had to stop. Do you know I still love to go out to eat but if I don’t get to I don’t really think about it that much. Some things become just plain habits with us and if we quit them and replace them with something else it gets so much easier. Although Dunkin Donuts. Oh Yummmm. They only reason I probably can resist that is the fact we don’t have any in town. Can you believe a huge city with no Dunkin donuts????
This is a recipe I saw in an Amish cookbook. It’s called
5-6 fresh peaches 4 vanilla wafers
Pit and slice peaches. Put vanilla wafers in a paper bag and crush with rolling pin. Put crumbs on piece on waxed paper; roll peaches in crumbs till peaches are covered. Serve in dessert dishes with whipped cream.
This is another easy one. “Farmer’s Rice”
1-1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar
1 small egg 1 tsp vanilla
3-1/2 cups milk Cinnamon
Add egg to flour. Mix together and form into small rivels by rubbing mixture between your hands. Stir rivels into ALMOST boiling milk. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add sugar and vanilla plus cinnamon if desired.
Bea that Farmer’s Rice is a new one on me but sure sounds interesting.
Jill, The cookbook I got the “Farmer’s Rice” recipe from said that during the depression many farmers wives made this to stretch the food budget. It does sound interesting. Like a frugal rice pudding.
Jill, I love Dunkin Donuts. We have 2 of them near me. I don’t go too much though, but I love donuts! Did you know that the day before Lent is called “Fat Tuesday” and it’s a day to stuff your face with donuts before Lent. Jelly donuts are the tradition, but any donut will do. YUM!
I did not know that Bea. I may have to try that tradition. Yummm. Many many years ago we did have a dunkin donut and we went to it one time close to closing. Come to find out the people when to our church and knew us so gave us boxes of donuts they were going to toss anyway. For about a year every Sat. they gave us free dunkin donuts. Boy did I die and go to heaven or what??? That was maybe God’s way of supplying me real well because shortly after that all of them closed down in our area.:(
Jill, Free donuts every Saturday IS like a bit of Heaven on earth. That is for sure! God gives us so many gifts and surprises.
Amen Bea! Jill, it is strange that a big city doesn’t have a Dunkin Donuts, though! As small and rural as a county in west central can be (which really isn’t that small) our county has 2, both are owned by the same people though. Now if it was a Krispy Kreme Donut place, I would have to pray alot more for stength, but alas they are no longer in business around here. Thank the good Lord.
That was west central Florida by the way (horse country)!
My mom taught me how to cook meals just like you mentioned in your post. Since I was the kid who didn’t like different food groups touching on my plate this worked out perfectly. he-he-he. I find it easier to feed my picky eaters this way too. A meat, two veggies, two fruits, a starch and bread on the side makes everyone happy and fed. At least in my house.
I tried a Yankee Noodles recipe a few days after I read it on your blog post. All I had to buy was some hamburger and a can of tomatoes – everything else was in our pantry or freezer. Even though I bought the 93% lean hamburger, which was almost $7, we got five servings out of this recipe, so the cost of dinner was well below what we would have spent on fast food. Our whole family liked it, so this will be a meal we make again and again.
So glad you liked it. Just a hint to help with the cost. When a recipe like this calls for a pound of hamburger there is nothing wrong with using only 1/2 lb. and adding a few extra noodles to stretch it more. That way you can get 2 meals or recipes out of your 1 lb of hamburger and it helps with the cost a little. I have done this for years and my family really didn’t notice any difference.
The ‘Tips’ you gave at the beginning here, is very typical of how my family was in the 50’s. We had a large family (8 kids) and we were not poor, nor were we well-to-do, but my mom had our meals on the table everyday and we all sat down to eat, whether we were wanted to or not. Many of our meals were a meat, a potato of some sort, a canned vegie, bread & butter and a can of fruit, quite a bit like you mentioned. Very rarely desserts, unless it was a special occasion. My mother was a stay at home mom and was an excellent cook, but most of our meals were very plain.
All of this is very much how I grew up, too, and have cooked since I had my own home. When I was growing up I stayed with an aunt & uncle quite often & they farmed & worked hard. His brother (another uncle) was a bachelor & he lived with them as a farm hand. They ALWAYS had a pot of beans & boiled potatoes to accompany every meal & those were great “fillers.” Must be healthy as both men lived into their 90’s. :-)
I’m so glad for this article… when I watch cooking shows or read magazines, all the “simple” recipes are things I don’t have time for! I think cooking overwhelms me some days because I feel like I’m supposed to produce some grand creation, LOL! It seems like our grandmothers were more sensible about this, and quite honestly it was probably healthier for them as well. Generations ago, they ate butter and eggs and meat, but with their active lifestyle (farming, walking, more manual labor at home) and the lack of processed chemicals in their food… I’m convinced they were probably better off than most of us!!!
My sister learned how to make Yankee noodles in High school and it was such a hit it was added to my Mom’s rotaton. I’ve been looking for this recipe to make for my kids only difference is her recipe added a can of corn to the mix. Thanks livingonadime.com
I love the ideas you present for simple meals and I am 75 yrs.old. Keep up the good work and Hugs! I am still learning to cook and at my age you’d think I knew everything about it.LOL
I’m like you Judy – I’m 60 plus and there are some days when I think why did I not think of that or learn that 40 years ago. Thanks for your sweet words of encouragement. : )