In the 1930s and 1940s, most Americans were living on a very tight budget, due to unemployment in the 1930s, and rationing in the 1940s. Although the current economic situation is not nearly so desperate for most of us as it was during the Great Depression, people are starting to say, “everything old is new again,” and more people’s attention is returning towards reducing waste and being very frugal. Buying fewer things, using them until they wear out, and recycling things we already have, are methods that used to be common knowledge, but are worth learning again. And by “recycling”, our grandparents didn’t mean gathering up the cans and bottles and taking them to the recycling center; they meant taking an old or partially worn-out item, and using its parts to assemble something new and useful.
Kitchen and table leftovers were a large part of this effort. Leftover meat was used as an ingredient in another dish, like a stew or hash; leftover bread could be made into French toast for the next day’s breakfast, and leftover tea was used for many things, both for meals and other household needs.
Tearooms in England and the United States became popular places for lunch, especially for women newly entering the work force. Rationing and practicality ruled much of the foods offered alongside the pots and cups of tea. Bread Hot Cakes – or French Toast – and summer puddings, were not only tasty tea-table dishes, but were economical because they used up stale bread. Peanut butter was invented in the late 19th century, and was combined with jelly in sandwiches by the turn of the 20th century. It became widely popular and was served in both sweet – like peanut butter and orange — and savory – like peanut butter and pickle – sandwiches, in upscale New York tearooms! As it became a commercialized product, the price lowered until peanut butter became a staple of most households in America, and was a standard lunch item, especially for children, during the Great Depression. For the kitchen or tea room table, vegetables could come from private gardens, and berries could be picked wild in most places. With the downturn in the economy these days, using up leftovers in new ways, and even growing your own fruit and vegetables, combining them with inexpensive pantry staples to make new dishes, can be a way back to a simpler time, as well as a way to make our dollars go further. In the spirit of 1930s and 1940s practicality, here is a menu for a recession-appropriate penny-pincher’s tea party or picnic!
Buttered Toast or Bread Hot Cakes and Jam
Peanut Butter and Apricot Sandwiches
Cucumber and Watercress Sandwiches
Malvern (or Summer) Pudding
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.
Department store tea rooms in the 1930s article
1940s menus re-created in 2004 for Kensington Palace restaurant, London
“Tea Making Tips” from 1941 England
1940s recipe for Bread Hot Cakes (or French toast)
Food Timeline: peanut butter
1940s recipe for Aristocrat Sparkling Punch, published in Gourmet magazine
Egg Salad with Lemon and Fennel, a way to use leftover or wild fennel
Syrup Loaf, a 1940s recipe without granulated sugar
Ritz Cracker “Apple” Pie, another vintage ’30s-’40s recipe
Recipe for Victory (WW1 recipe collection)