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

By Sophia Maddox | March 21, 2024

Banana Cake

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.


test article image

You might assume that fresh fruits weren't readily available during the Great Depression, but both banana bread and banana cakes were popular. Part of the reason for their popularity was that home cooks couldn't afford to throw away ingredients. When bananas went bad and turned brown or black, they had to find some way to use them. Thus, banana cake was born.

Banana cake was easy to make with limited pantry ingredients like flour and sugar. Entenmann's even began making and selling a version that didn't include eggs, as they were so hard to come by. Regional variations popped up, too. Those who could afford to spend more could add a handful of chocolate chips or top it with frosting. As a bonus, home bakers could add any alcohol they had on hand to preserve the cake and make it last longer.

Mulligan Stew

test article image
Library of Congress

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.