The Great Depression has been on my mind a bit lately. Partly because I love Art Deco art, architecture, and clothing, partly because I Netflix binged The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and partly because my books Holistic Personal Finance, Build Your Signature Wardrobe, and my in-progress gratitude book and novel all draw against that period. So, I reckon it’s time for a Great Depression Stress Free Dinner Party!
While a lot of people did go hungry, we’ll offer a simple two-course meal of the sort that unemployed working class people may have eaten. I’ll give the quantities for a filling meal, but if you’d like to give your guests a real taste of the depression, cut the quantities in half and let them leave hungry.
And tempting as it is to only offer water, we’ll match the drinks as usual.
Today’s photo shows an inner-city Melbourne slum. Going by this and other photos in the series, the walls and floor were probably unfinished so the house would have been dirty – both from the cooking fires and tracked in from outside. There may have been some newspaper or some such stuffed in cracks in the walls and ceiling to keep the weather out. You might have sold your furniture and knick-knacks so you could buy food. So take as much as possible out of your dining area, and leave your table uncovered (unless it’s a very good quality table in which case you need to protect it).
Rags and worn out clothing. In the modern era, you might like to take steps to preserve your modesty and to keep warm/cool depending on your climate. Shoes optional.
As always, six guests invited to arrive 6.30 for 7.00 pm.
6:30 Apéritif: Peanuts and Beer
You wouldn’t have had an apéritif before dinner, but we’ll go with beer and peanuts while we wait for everyone else to arrive.
7.00 Main: Beef Stew with more beer (or red wine if you want to be fancy)
As you would most likely be cooking over an open fire or small stove, with only one or maybe two pots, you’d be making a slow-cooked stew, most likely beef. As spices were rare and expensive, something quite plain.
Chuck 1 kg (2 lb) diced beef, 1 chopped onion, ½ head of chopped celery, 6 chopped potatoes, 6 sliced carrots, 2 bay leaves, 600 ml (1 pint) stock in your crock pot and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours (or 4 – 6 on high). If that’s a bit bland for you, add your favourite herbs and spices to taste; just remember that the flavour will intensify over time.
Or double the liquid and simmer over a low heat for up to three hours. Add more liquid if it looks too dry.
Serve with LOTS of bread to sop up the juices.
8.00 Dessert: Fruit Pie and ice cream (with a rich dessert wine like Muscat)
Without an oven or reliable refrigeration, many people made stove top puddings like custard, tapioca or steamed puddings. But they may also have eaten a plain piece fresh fruit like an apple or banana, and many people bought lollies (sweets, candy) or prepared desserts (cakes or pies) as well.
This is a special occasion, so let’s buy a fruit pie. Ice cream was available at the time, (though you probably would have eaten it in a cone) so it isn’t cheating to eat it with your pie. If you’re not happy about not making dessert, aside from the previously mentioned kitchen limitations, you would have suffered from nutritional deficiencies of iron, calcium, and vitamin A and would have been permanently exhausted.
9.00 Cheese with Coffee and Port
Cheese was not an urban thing during the depression (that would be the lack of refrigeration). So you can either end the Depression at this point and get some nice cheese and a port/brandy to go with it, or buy the cheapest cheese and crackers you can and skip the booze
9.00 am prepare the stew to slow cook on low heat
1.00 pm prepare the stew to slow cook on high heat
4.00 prepare the stew to cook on the stove/hob
6.30 guests arrive!
7.00 serve the stew
8.00 serve pie and ice cream
9.00 serve coffee