How would your attitude and outlook change if you focused only on the things you do have in your life, without knowledge that others have more or that there are endless things you could buy?
Such was the case of a lady named Clara Cannucciari. A couple months ago, I was looking for something to read at my local library, when I stumbled upon a small cookbook called “Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories and Recipes from the Great Depression.”
The book was written with her grandson, Christopher Cannucciari, and published in 2009. He also recorded and uploaded videos to YouTube of Clara cooking and sharing her stories. I read the book cover to cover, enchanted by her sassy tone and positive attitude.
Clara’s family was already poor before the start of the Great Depression. In fact, she wasn’t very aware of the great hardship facing the nation because not much changed in the way they lived. Several times, in her anecdotes she points out that “the children didn’t know what they didn’t have.”
Despite growing up in poverty, her memories of childhood are happy ones. They are of family being together, working and playing together. Any small treat was greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
The recipes throughout the book are as basic and inexpensive as you can imagine. There was rarely any meat to be had, and everything was made from scratch. Bread played a key role for nourishing both body and spirit. She says it was the one thing they got to have fresh each week, when their mother would bake enough loaves for the week. At the end of the week, they fried stale pieces and dipped them in milk to eat. Food was never wasted.
In Clara’s words: “Probably the only thing we ever had that was “new” or “fresh” was the fresh bread my mother would bake for us twice a week. Otherwise, everything was salvaged—repurposed and reused. We would save everything. If something came to our house in a box, we’d save the box, the packaging, even the string that held it closed. … As long as something could be used for some kind of purpose, we kept it.
But every week, my mother would make six loaves of bread, and every week, we went through it. Especially during the Great Depression. … Bread may not be simple to make but it’s cheap, and it’s filling, and we made sandwiches all the time—the trick being to find something to put between the slices of bread.” Often the something was greens foraged on her way home from school or work. She says when she started a job where she walked 5 miles each way that her mom would give her extra greens for dinner to provide the energy she needed.
Timeless Tips from the Great Depression Era
From reading her story, I gleaned these points to surviving in challenging economic times:
1. Resources were conserved and stretched to the maximum. If they had a little meat, it was sliced very thin so everyone could have a little taste. One large meatball was shared by everyone during their weekly pasta dinner.
2. They were resourceful: if something broke, they improvised. Clara would borrow a cousin’s skates that were falling apart, rigging them up so she could play with the other kids.
3. They looked to nature for sustenance. Families planted seeds, children foraged for dandelions, greens, and berries as a delicious treat of fresh produce.
4. They worked together. Clara’s mother had arthritis so Clara was often asked to make the bread or do the wash for the family. Whoever could work, did so, and families shared their resources.
5. They appreciated what they had, rather than complaining about or coveting what they lacked. There was an attitude of practicality and acceptance, which is very different than in our modern society. It wasn’t that didn’t work to improve their lot in life. In fact, they worked very hard just to survive. But there wasn’t a sense of expectation or entitlement. They made the best of what they had.
Reading “Clara’s Kitchen” inspired me to do a lot more digging into the stories and lessons learned from the Great Depression. My own grandmother grew up in an Italian family in New York, similar to Clara’s. She will be letting me share her story, and the ways she is still influenced by having lived through those hard times.
I hope you will enjoy the stories and ideas I have uncovered and will be sharing over the next month. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and memories in the comments.
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