Goods from the Garden and "Found" Foods
ESPECIALLY IN THE LEAN YEARS of the Depression, we lived on vegetables and, and it kept us plenty strong and healthy for all the hard work at hand. Meat was a treat, but vegetables were our staples.
When I was a kid, my father kept a garden in the backyard, which we helped him keep up, and my mother would take the vegetables we grew and make them into all kinds of meals. Not just side dishes like you would today. The vegetables, made with pasta or on their own, were the main event. Meat was too hard to come by most of the time. We had to stretch out whatever we had for as long as we could, so whatever we couldn't eat, my mother would can and preserve for winter. Sometimes we'd eat stuff that grew wild,like burdock and dandelions and mushrooms. We'd find it, and Ma would clean and cook it.
My father would plant vegetables all summer. Ma would take out the seeds, dry them out, and then my father would plant them again. And that's how we kept our garden growing. Whatever was left over, my mother would can. We ate really well in the Depression, and throughout the year, because of that. Here are some of my favorite recipes Ma made with the vegetables we grew.
Swiss Chard with Garlic
IT'S EASY TO FORGET about nutrition when your pockets are empty, but where there's dirt, there's food--healthy, nutritious food. Back in the Depression, lots of people grew gardens to eat from, including us. Some people would grow gardens in the summer and then go through the streets and try and sell their stuff. Buying someone else's vegetables was too expensive for us, but we still needed to eat.
A couple of times, my father stood in line for food the government supplied, but he hated it. He was very proud and self-reliant, and he would rather go without than take handouts. I think he went twice and then never again. Instead, my father took matters into his own hands and kept a great big garden in our backyard. He grew just about everything there. Carrots, escarole, spinach, asparagus, radishes, beans, eggplant, peppers, Swiss chard, you name it. We ate so healthy with all those vegetables and we weren't even trying. And we worked hard helping him keep that garden in shape. No wonder we all live so long--my brother and I are both healthy and strong and in our nineties!
Swiss chard was good, but it was always a little bitter for me, so Ma would always add some garlic to give it a little extra something. You can toss this over pasta or serve it as a side for a meat dish.
You will need
1 bunch Swiss chard 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 clove garlic, minced Salt and pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
2. Thoroughly rinse the Swiss chard, removing most of the tough stems (but leave some if they look like they will be tender).
3. Add the Swiss chard to the pot. Boil 5 minutes, then drain and set aside. When it's cool enough to handle, squeeze it between your hands to get all the extra water out of the chard.
4. Add the oil to a medium frying pan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until the garlic turns a very light brown.
5. Add the Swiss chard and saute until tender--about 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Fried Potatoes and Vegetables
WINTERS WERE TOUGH in the Midwest, then and now.
I never liked winter. And I hate snow. It's white, but it darkens your heart. Especially when you have to walk through piles of it with holes in your stockings to get to school.
But it did have one upside for us. In winter, when there was snow and ice, we'd be able to save food longer. We didn't have a refrigerator or even an icebox when I was a kid, and we'd have to eat everything or else it'd go bad. But in the wintertime, we could store our food outside, digging a hole in the snow and ice. Mom would say: "Sam, go out and get the leftover roast from last night. It's buried out by the fence." I laugh about it now, but it was kind of sad.
Later, though, we had an icebox. The iceman would come and bring us fifty pounds of ice. There was a tray underneath that Sam and I were supposed to remember to empty. We'd forget about it all the time and get such a whuppin' if all that water ended up on the floor. They sure didn't "spare the rod" in those days.
No, we didn't have most of the modern conveniences everyone has today. We relied on canning and jarring to preserve our food when we couldn't "ice" it. We didn't have a washing machine until after the Depression. We used to wash clothes with a washboard, which I still have hangingin my home. Because of my mother's arthritis, she would boil the clothes, but then it would be up to me to scrub them against the washboard and wring them out through a hand-cranked wringer. It was pretty hard to do.
We had indoor plumbing, but we didn't have central heat. We warmed our house with a wood-burning stove and furnace, but because my parents always wanted to save coal and wood, it was always cold in the house. And they didn't want to use up what they had in case it got colder. We'd sit in front of the stove and the front of us would be warm, but our backs would freeze. Then we'd turn around and warm our backs, and our fronts would freeze. Those were the good old days, before we had a real furnace.
The only lights we had were from our two kerosene lamps, but in the 1920s, we got gaslights. They put in pipes and almost every room had a light. The lights would be on the side of the wall and there would be little jets of gas that you would light by putting a match there. There would be the little flicker of gaslight and we thought this was so bright. In the 1930s, our house got wired with electricity and we had our first lightbulbs. When we turned them on for the first time we thought, "Oh my gosh, it's like daylight!" Maybe it was 20 or 15 watts, but we thought it was so bright. (And we left in the gaslights just in case we lost the lightbulbs.)
Fried Potatoes and Vegetables is a hearty meal that's good in the winter because it'sfilling and warms you from the inside. Turnips are in season from November to April, so they're good to cook with in winter, but they can be stored a long time, so this meal can be eaten any time of the year.
You will need
4 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes ½ red onion, diced 1 celery stalk (leaves and all), chopped 1 tomato, chopped ½ heap escarole, chopped Salt and pepper Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Pour the vegetable oil into a frying pan and set it over medium heat Add the potatoes, turnip, carrots, and onion and saute slowly, about 15 minutes, but don't mix the vegetables too much or they won't brown.
2. Add the chopped celery and saute for another 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are brown on all sides.
3. Add the tomato and escarole and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.
Squash with Eggs
WE MADE A LOT OF MEALS with eggs because they weren't just cheap, they were practically free. Back in those days, we all had our own chickens, which we kept in the yard. It was pretty normal to have a few chickens running around the yard back then, but they probably wouldn't allow that anymore. So we always had our own eggs. And then sometimes for Sunday dinner, we'd kill a chicken. But that was rare. We needed the eggs!
Squash was one of the vegetables we grew in our garden, and there was always plenty of it to go around. So free eggs and free vegetables made Squash and Eggs one of our most delicious meals. Maybe more delicious because it didn't cost anything but the time it took to fry it up.
You will need
4 tablespoons vegetable oil 3 large yellow summer squash, diced 12 large eggs Salt and pepper Pecorino Romano cheese, optional
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium to high heat. Add the squash to the oil and saute for about 10 minutes, or until tender.
2. Crack the eggs into the pan with the squash (for one-pot cooking) and scramble until they achieve the desired texture.
3. Remove the pan from the heat, and add salt and pepper to taste. I also like to top this with a little Pecorino Romano cheese.
Take It from Me
If you don't think you have time to exercise, just clean your kitchen. I think it's kind of silly--the people jogging. Scrubbing my floors and counters makes everything strong, and my kitchen looks good.
Spinach and Rice
WHEN I WAS A GIRL, I was a tomboy. I loved playing active games, running around and using up a lot of energy. After school, some of the girls played house or with dolls, but I liked playing tag or hide-and-seek. And pretty much every time we were playing, someone would ask: "Do you want to play baseball?" I always wanted to play baseball. But I'd get skinned if I got my school clothes dirty, so I'd say, "Yeah! I'll be out in a minute," and then I'd race home, take off my school dress, and put on a play dress.
I used to play a lot of baseball. Boys and girls would play together and we would play in the streets. Even in high school, I was still playing baseball with the boys. I didn't date any of them, but we were always hanging around together. The boys never asked what I was doing playing with them. I guess I just belonged with them. They would get into trouble, and I'd be with them, but when it got dark we'd all go home or our mothers would give us a lickin'. Sometimes I used to get one anyway. "Why don't you play dolls with the girls?" she'd ask ...