Welcome to my kitchen. I'm Clara. I'm 91 years old. Today we are making meals from the Depression.
February 19, 2009 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Feeling the pinch? Ninety-something Clara Cannucciari can teach you how to survive the lean times. In a series of YouTube videos directed by her great grandson, Clara reminisces about the Great Depression ("I had to quit high school because I couldn't afford socks!"), and provides cooking tips on such Depression-era fare as Pasta with Peas (6:32), Egg Drop Soup (6:52), Poorman's Meal (6:50), Peppers and Eggs (Part 1, 5:41; Part 2, 5:47), Bread (4:08), and Depression Breakfast (6:13).

The first three videos were filmed when Clara was 91. The latter three, at 93.
posted by mudpuppie (26 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite
I would like to know if she thinks that FDR prolonged the Depression. And I would like all of the right wing assholes who think so to sit there while she answer.
posted by spicynuts at 3:06 PM on February 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Hey, this is great. Thanks.
posted by Miko at 3:08 PM on February 19, 2009

this is pretty great. Reminds me of the Indian cooking videos back in December.
posted by boo_radley at 3:18 PM on February 19, 2009

These are awesome for at least a couple reasons - for one thing, the filming and editing are really well done. For another, they capture someone not just remembering and talking, but expressing things through their activities, movements, and even stuff (seeing her worn cutting board and little knife remind me so much of my grandmother - tools they were used to and which worked fine, even if they weren't as 'appropriate to the task' as I might think). And finally, there's an authenticity and intimacy to the films that you would never, ever get in the process of doing a thousand oral history interviews with people you didn't know as well. It's her great-grandson, in her kitchen. And she's a great subject - she's comfortable - she loves it.
posted by Miko at 3:24 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's a website for the series.
posted by Miko at 3:29 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

By the time Clara finishes peeling those potatoes, the Depression will be over.
posted by squalor at 3:30 PM on February 19, 2009

I've been subscribed to her/her great grandson's channel for a while now, and I was sad to see there weren't more frequent updates. I'm glad to learn more about her.

I did consider making the christmas cookies that called for a whole bag of flour and a box of lard, but decided not to. Love the line "you make these cookies after the depression, because they're too expensive"
posted by fontophilic at 3:31 PM on February 19, 2009

Damn -- I found that website last week, Miko, but forgot to include it here. Thanks!
posted by mudpuppie at 3:31 PM on February 19, 2009

nice, thanks.
posted by Substrata at 3:32 PM on February 19, 2009

My depression breakfast is whisky, lightly salted by my tears.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:42 PM on February 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

What a most excellent post, mudpuppie.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2009

Terrific, I love this. Makes me miss my grandmothers and, oh god, their wonderful cooking.
posted by scody at 3:46 PM on February 19, 2009

These were great - cooking is a great way to get somebody talking about food and history. My father grew up during the depression, and talks about how the kids would steal potatoes from market carts in Brooklyn, and the roast them on garbage fires in alley ways. The result was called a "mickey." It was considered a great treat. He usually tells this story while seated in a modern fast food place.

What is interesting - given the economic crisis that is bringing reminiscences of the Great Depression - is that in many places, such as Ireland, older people don't remember those times as much different than any other times. People with no money lived as they always had - usually on potatoes. I have spent months living on variations of potatoes and pasta with small bits of veg or cheap meat tossed in. I'm living that way right now.

My Mom was raised in Hungary before WWII, and growing up one of the first dishes I learned to cook was her childhood favorite: sauteed onions on bread. That was what they could afford. The great flood of meat dishes that symbolize Hungarian cuisine came after the war when the Communist government sought to provide the people with the foods they could only dream about previously.

I'm watching all of these tommorow morning!
posted by zaelic at 3:55 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know when people ask "where's all the wonderful content we were supposed to get once real humans could create stuff without Big Corporate Media in the way?" Here's one more answer.
posted by DU at 4:20 PM on February 19, 2009 [9 favorites]

Good stuff! It is great that her great grandson is doing this.

My grandmother was in Germany during WWI. She said toward the end of the war it was pretty much turnips morning, noon and night. That was all they had to eat for a while. She said they even made some sort of pseudo coffee beverage out of turnips.

Later, during the early part of the depression, she married and the family emigrated to America. My grandmother taught herself to bake and baked when times were particularly tough to make some extra money, and my mother (a fairly young child at the time), sold the baked goods door to door. My grandmother was also working 2 jobs for a while and would go to an all night movie theater to catch some sleep between the two jobs. My mother said that things were tough, and they didn't have much, but somehow their parents always managed to keep them from starving. Mom was underweight, and they were worried about her lungs, so the state sent her off to a TB sanitorium (at no cost to her parents, and none of them were even U.S. citizens at that time). She gained at least 10 pounds while she was there and always talked about the wonderful fresh milk with cream on top, and the other good food they gave her.

My father remembers a time during the early part of the Depression when he came home from school some time after his father had lost his job, to find his mother crying over what to feed the 3 kids. He remembers going into the kitchen cabinets and hunting around to try to find something for them all to eat, since his mother was too upset to do anything.

My father also talks about baking potatoes with his friends. They used to bury them under the hot coals/fire that they would make in a vacant lot, and he said they were delicious, just as they were, with maybe a bit of salt.
posted by gudrun at 4:28 PM on February 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thank you - these are fantastic!

Clara reminds me of my Nanny, Genevieve, who died two years ago (she would be 93). She used to serve a bowl of ketchup as a side dish, kept a ball of tinfoil in her cupboards, and recycled plastic bags to the point of disintegration.

No offense to my Nanny, but Clara's cooking rocks.
posted by suki at 4:48 PM on February 19, 2009

my granny used to give onion sandwiches to the many hobos, and other people, just down on their luck during the big depression. they often offered to do a small job, like yard work or something. it wasn't necessary to get the sandwich though...
posted by billybobtoo at 5:56 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks, I'm really enjoying these.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:45 PM on February 19, 2009

I'll always remember one meal that my grandma made for me. It was the simplest of the simple:noodles in a b├ęchamel* sauce. She was an excellent cook, particularly renowned for her warak enab**, but such things were only made -- with my aunts as sous-chefs -- for when we met the whole family for dinner at her house every week or so. The weekly meals were wonderful, but these noodles came during an afternoon that she and I had spent together, alone. Perhaps the only one. She didn't speak English very well, but I understood what she wanted to say when I took a bite of those noodles.

*It was probably more of a Mornay sauce, since I remember there being cheese in it, but we referred to it as b├ęchamel.

**Stuffed grape leaves, like dolma, but her version called for a very different sauce

posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:45 PM on February 19, 2009

These are really wonderful. This is such a treasure for a family to have, let alone to share these videos and stories with the whole internet.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:16 PM on February 19, 2009

i absolutely love this...such a great post.

posted by MsCoco@6:58 at 9:16 PM on February 19, 2009

Clara is cool. I like that she's so "matter-of-fact" about the Depression, although I think I can see some of the pain still there from living through tough times - what a tough lady. I loved how she so carefully doled out just three little spoons full from a $3 jar of spaghetti sauce, as if it were a precious commodity. It reminds me a lot of wartime in Bosnia, and the way that desperation and hunger (and, to be honest, tedium) could make the preparation of even a simple dish (I'm referring to "pasta with peas") a little bit of a show.

It's a fine thing that people like Clara never forgot the simple lessons about life that they learned during the Depression, and it's a sad fact that later generations didn't manage to keep these lessons alive. From where I sit today, it looks like much of the world will be learning those same lessons, yet again, from scratch.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:44 PM on February 19, 2009

I can't imagine our modern society dealing well with this level of subsistence. Most people I know can't live two days without internet and cable, and food is always a phone call away. But then I suppose that maybe we are stronger than we think, and that when times are lean people will become very resourceful. Either that or it'll be total anarchy...
posted by Vindaloo at 7:41 AM on February 20, 2009

Most people I know can't live two days without internet and cable, and food is always a phone call away.

Pshaw, we just think we can't live without our luxuries. Of course we can. Do people whine about their privations? Sure they do. But people are extremely adaptable and will do what it takes to survive. IT's happened so many times before.

it's a sad fact that later generations didn't manage to keep these lessons alive.

I'm not sure they didn't. I do think the relative prosperity of the years following World War II through the 70s meant that many members of the baby boom generation didn't need to practice these lessons as a regular thing. It did seem unnecessary and food production, in terms of raw calories, has never been higher. However, I've been involved in sustainability movements for a while, and I'd say it's no coincidence that many people active in these areas had grandparents or other relations who lived through depression and war. We were little when we observed their tinfoil balls and their judicious saving of tiny root-ends of onion and drawers full of sugar packets and the like. It seemed that they were being silly, but at some point I internalized the knowledge, from my grandparents, that just about everything had some value and that a throwaway culture had not always existed and might not always exist.

Today one of the most common questions asked to local-food leaders is "where/how can I learn to can/store vegetables?"
posted by Miko at 7:54 AM on February 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

I miss my great-grandmother more than ever now. (She would have been 92 this year if she'd lived; both my grandmothers died quite young so she was, really, the only grandmother I knew and knew well growing up. She died in my 20s).

Everything I know about cooking, canning, and just about every other practical cooking skill came from her. Mom's a pretty good cook, sure, but Grandma Dorothy could whomp anyone to pieces. I was just talking about her canned peaches and her pickles the other night when watching Alton Brown discuss dills. I wish more than anything that I'd had this kind of technology to record her when I had the chance. That old school Southern Ohio wisdom just isn't as accessible as it should be.

(Funny Grandma story: me, age 14ish, shaves back of head all punk rock-y. Father hates it, is bitching and moaning about it in front of her. Grandma: "I like it. In fact, I cut my hair like that when I was her age. Dad: "YOU HAD SCARLET FEVER!")
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:03 AM on February 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

Depression breakfast sounds like something out of the Achewood cookbook.
posted by Widepath at 11:37 PM on February 20, 2009

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