20 Money-Saving Meals People Actually Ate In The 1920s and 1930s

By Sophia Maddox | March 7, 2024

Hoover Stew

The Great Depression wreaked havoc on the United States between 1929 and 1941, leaving millions without jobs, money, and resources. Out of the growing need of the American public came some unique and even strange recipes. To keep food on the table with what little they had, families turned to unusual ingredients since some were not available. Check out the unusual foods people had to eat during the Great Depression, and you'll never complain about your mom's cooking again.


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Another dish that incorporated lots of cheap ingredients was Hoover stew. Named in honor of President Herbert Hoover, it was a common meal in Hoover Towns. People struggling during the Great Depression who had nowhere to go often developed shanty towns they named after him. The dish became popular because it just required a few ingredients and was easy to make. Migrants and homeless people could make it right over a fire.

A legend associated with the dish claims that women in Seattle came together to share ingredients, which wound up becoming Hoover stew. In other parts of the country, people called it Great Depression soup or poor man's soup. The basic recipe calls for hot dogs, stewed tomatoes, and elbow macaroni. Stewed tomatoes were readily available as so many people canned their own while elbow macaroni and hot dogs were fairly affordable.

Mulligan Stew

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Though many call it Mulligan stew, some also know it as hobo stew due to its early roots. Food historians can trace it back to the early 1910s when migrant workers known as “hobos” began whipping it up with whatever they had on hand or could find. The dish also became known as community stew as groups of people shared their limited ingredients to make one big soup that could feed a crowd. Mulligan stew grew out of the idea that combining resources would create a dish that was better than anything one person could make on their own.

Since Mulligan stew changed based on who made it, it doesn't have a specific recipe. It usually consists of root vegetables like potatoes and carrots and some meat. While recipes today call for chuck roast or other large cuts, during the Great Depression, squirrel and possum were quite common.