Grandma’s Kitchen: Keeping Spirits High During the Great Depression

Reader Contribution by Megan Harris
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This story is from Robin Roderick and submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear.

When the Great Depression hit, Grandpa and Grandma Chilan already lived in a Sears Catalog home on a farm in Ohio. They were poor but always had plenty of food. Grandma (Nagy Anya) made homemade bread in the woodstove, cooked potatoes, cabbage and vegetables from the garden, eggs from the chickens, and made pálinka, a Hungarian fruit brandy, from the peaches in the orchard. Chicken was served once a week, usually a hearty soup so marvelous I can still recall its taste. Sometimes Grandma cooked a more elaborate meal, served picnic-style, for city folks willing to pay in order to enjoy a day in the country. 

Mom told stories of the summer kitchen, about putting up meat and vegetables, fattening the geese on corn and oil, and the mouse that slipped into her boot one cold winter morning to get warm. She also told the story of when she met that handsome fella who moved into the farmhouse a mile down the road. Not long after that, the tractor conveniently kept breaking down so he could come to make repairs.

Aside from the tractor, their next most expensive purchase was a radio. The grandchildren had to be absolutely quiet for a whole half-hour while Grandma and Grandpa sat at the table in the winter kitchen, listening to a rare broadcast of Hungarian music and news on Sundays. Despite the hard times, there was always work for the hobo who showed up on the doorstep, and a plate of food to pay him. Out of that Great Depression, most people emerged stronger, self-reliant and able to weather the bad times with a spirit of grace and thanksgiving.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

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