The Great Depression was a time of extreme financial hardship for many people. Those living in very rural areas whom relied on farming for a living were hit especially hard as well as those involved in the mining and logging industries. People living in the dust bowl areas were forced to walk away from their homes, young people took to riding the rails and long lines at soup kitchens became a familiar sight in the larger cities.
Even with all of the economic hardships of that decade, one thing that did remain affordable for most was food. Although people didn't continue to dine on the finer cuts of meat and more expensive dishes as many grew accustomed to during the roaring 20's, they did continue to eat well during the Great Depression with food and sugar prices remaining low.
This theme party is not intended to celebrate the Great Depression but is intended to be interesting, even educational and to recognize some popular items we enjoy today that came about during that time period.
It will offer everyone a glimpse into the past and the daily lives of our grandparents or great-grandparents and give everyone a chance to appreciate the little things in life which brought a little bit of joy into the lives of so many during that decade.
Here are some ideas for planning your unique Great Depression theme party. It can be as elaborate as coming in traditional dress of that era to a pot-luck dinner with guests bringing a traditional food item from that time.
Ask guests to bring a soup ingredient with them to the party. The soups served to the poor at the soup kitchens were made from donated items which were mostly vegetables but usually did include at least a little meat. You will be creating a "stone soup" of sorts with your guests which can be served from the "soup kitchen" area of your party.
Period Menu Ideas
Family Dinners: 1931
The following menus are extracted from Aunt Sammy's Radio Recipes Revised, Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture [Government Printing Office: Washington] 1931
Dinner menus for February:
Scalloped oysters, five-minute cabbage, pickled beets, jellied fruit; Lima beans in tomato sauce with crisp bacon, mashed rutabaga turnip, lettuce with tart dressing, fruit, chocolate drop cookies, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, scalloped parsnips, turnip greens, pickled cherries, Washington pie...
Dinner menus for April:
Cheese soúffle, spring onions on toast, browned parsnips, olives and radishes, rhubarb Betty, pork chops, savory cooked lettuce, parley potatoes, chili sauce, jelly roll; fresh beef tongue, wilted dandelion greens, fried potato cakes, banana pudding...
Dinner menus for July:
Cold sliced meat, potato salad, rolls, peaches and cream, iced coffee, tea, or chocolate; fried or broiled chicken, new potatoes, peas, currant jelly, strawberry ice cream, vanilla wafers; broiled ground beef on toast, lima beans, fried tomatoes, Spanish cream...
Dinner menus for October:
Scalloped onions and peanuts, spinach, hot biscuits, ketchup, lemon pie; cold boiled ham, succotash, carrots, cold slaw, green tomato pie; cream of vegetable soup, oven-toasted bread, grated cheese and lettuce salad, apple sauce, hot gingerbread; roast chicken, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts or some other green vegetable, crabapple jelly, peanut-brittle ice cream, sand tarts..."
Family Meals: 1935
The following menus are extracted from Ida Bailey Allen's Cooking, Menus, Service, [Garden City: New York] 1935
Breakfast (fall menus) (p. 20-21)
Stewed prunes, corn flakes and milk, boiled eggs, toast and butter, coffee, milk.
Oatmeal cooked with dates, top milk, bacon, muffins and butter, coffee, milk.
Pears, cracked wheat, top milk, creamed codfish on toast, coffee, milk.
Lunch (fall menus) (p. 20-21)
Poached eggs with rice and cheese, Graham bread and butter, grape jelly, cocoa.
Boston baked beans, steamed brown bread and butter, piccalilli, canned peaches, tea.
Chicken or veal soup, dumplings, mince pie, tea.
Lunch/School lunch box menus (p. 45-6)
Peanut butter and entire-wheat bread sandwiches, scrambled-egg sandwiches, raising gingerbread, an apple, milk (hot-cold bottle).
Creamed chicken, ham or veal and entire-wheat bread sandwiches, jelly and white bread sandwiches, a hard-cooked egg, sponge cake, lemonade.
Lunch/Lunch box meals for the worker (p. 48)
Sliced ham and currant jelly sandwiches, made with entire-wheat bread, egg salad sandwiches made with white bread, apple pie, cheese, hot coffee, an orange.
Cold baked beans, Boston brown bread and butter sandwiches, spiced beef sandwiches with white bread, a raw tomato with salt and pepper, Portsmouth orange cake, an apple, hot tea.
Dinner (fall menus) (p. 20-21)
Vegetable bouillon, meat loaf, stewed tomatoes, baked potatoes, bread and butter, lettuce, celery and grape salad, gingerbread with whipped cream, black coffee.
Chicken or Veal Fricassee, boiled rice, buttered beets, sweet pickles, bread and butter, hermits, sliced oranges, black coffee.
Broiled halibut of mackerel, parsley sauce, spinach, spaghetti Italian, bread and butter, spice cake (left-over) served with custard sauce, black coffee.
Family Meals: 1937
A Week of Family Menus, America's Cook Book, compiled by the Home Institute of the New York Herald Tribune [Charles Scribner's Sons:New York] 1937 (p. 855)
Sliced oranges, prepared cereal, fluffy omelet, toast, marmalade, coffee, milk;
Tomato loaf salad, cream cheese and chives sandwiches, peach cream dessert, tea, cocoa;
Stuffed shoulder of lamb, browned potatoes, buttered beets, asparagus salad, frozen prune pudding, milk, coffee.
Applesauce, hominy with shredded dates, poached egg on English muffin, coffee, milk;
Chopped lamb, green pepper and lemon sandwiches; creamed carrots and peas, sliced peaches, cookies, tea, milk;
Creole beef with noodles, summer squash, perfection salad, lemon meringue bread pudding, coffee, milk.
Orange juice, flaked cereal, scrambled eggs, muffins, jam, coffee, milk;
scalloped mixed vegetables (with cheese), fruit gelatin, fruit drop cookies, tea, milk;
Baked salmon, parsley sauce, stuffed baked potatoes, spinach, orange and watercress salad, pineapple topped pudding, coffee, milk.
Club Party Menu
Ice cream or punch, small cakes or sandwiches, coffee, butter balls, petite fours, maple meringue cookies.
Chicken soup with noodles, Chicken Chop Suey, Chinese rice, egg foo yung, tea rolls, preserved kumquats, tea.
Tomato juice cocktail, Dubonnet and sherry, ice cubes, charged water, ginger ale, bourbon, rye, and Scotch whiskey.
Platter of hot appetizers: sardine snacks, rolled toast with mushrooms, rolled toast with asparagus, cheese puffs, deviled olives, chicken livers in bacon blankets, crab-meat or lobster, small canapés, sausage snacks or cocktail sausage in snack holder.
Platter of cold appetizers: rainbow rye bread appetizer, canapés of smoked salmon, stuffed celery stalk with crab-meat, caviar sandwiches piped with cream cheese, rolled sandwiches, filled with mock pate de foié gras or any spread, dried beef snacks.
Afternoon Tea or Coffee
Shrimp aspic with Thousand Island Dressing, Sally Lunn, Himmel Trote or caramel tea rolls, poppyseed roll, coffee.
Children's Supper Party
Bouillon, croutons, chicken timbales or mousse, mashed potatoes with parsley, jellied oranges, bread and butter sandwiches or orange and nut bread or butterscotch toast, sunshine cake, vanilla ice cream, daisy cream candy.
Children's Birthday Menus
Creamed chicken, animal shaped sandwiches, milk or orangeade, birthday cake with candles, junket custard or chocolate rice, marshmallows or date and walnut bonbons.
Washington's Birthday Luncheon
Halves of oranges, with Maraschino cherries in center, chicken a la Maryland, with drum sticks, southern sweet potatoes, Virginia corn bread, cherry salad, Boston brown bread, chocolate log cake (cocoa roll), nuts, raisins, coffee, Washington punch.
Saint Patrick's Day Party
Halves of grapefruit with green Maraschino cherry in center, olives, celery and nuts, cream of spinach soup with shamrock shaped toast, pork chops with apples, onions and green peppers, O'Brien potatoes, clover leaf rolls, shamrock salad with Irish dressing (Vinaigrette), salted wafers, Erin Ice (Creme de Menthe ice) or blanc-mange, with a bit of "Ould Sod" (grated sweet chocolate), potato chocolate torte, mint wafers, tea."
The Settlement Cook Book, Mrs. Simon Kander [Settlement Cook Book Co.:Milwaukee WI] 1936 (p. 608-616)
You will find dozens of elegant dinner menus from the 1930s online, courtesy of the Los Angles Public Library. Many of these menus were composed for black-tie type events. Search date 193*
The following menus were published in the Ladies' Home Journal, August 1932:
Sunday Midday Dinner:
Corn soup, Fricasseed Chicken with Brown Rice, Broiled Tomatoes, Avocado-and-Lettuce Salad, Blueberry Pudding, Cream or hard sauce, Iced Tea or Black Coffee.
Hot Toasted Ham-and-Cheese Sandwiches, Sliced Peaches and Cream, Cookies, Egg Lemonade or Milk.
Iced cantaloupe, Kentucky Succotash Garnished with bacon, Hearts of Lettuce, French Dressing, Toasted Wafers, Creamy Rice Pudding Frappe, Tea, Coffee." (p. 32)
Cocktail of Mixed Melon Balls, Minute Steaks, French Fried Potatoes, Sauteed Mushrooms, Buttered Summer squash, Vanilla Junket with Raspberries, Coffee or Iced Tea...
Chilled Tomato Cocktails, Salmon Loaf, Molded Potato Salad, Hawaiian Coleslaw, Olives, Spiced Sekel Pears, Water-Cress-and-Lettuce Sandwiches, Buttered Nut Bread, French Peach Pie, Hot Coffee, Grape-Juice Lemonade, Milk. (p. 38)
Learn some popular dance steps from the 1930's such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and the Balboa and teach your guests a few moves while listening to some popular dance tunes from the 30's such as: