The 1930s were a tough time for people around the world. Rising unemployment and the collapse of global trade hit Canada very hard. Much of Canada’s economy was based on exports. So when international trade collapsed at the beginning of the Great Depression entire Canadian industries fell apart. This hit Western Canada particularly hard, as exports were most of the economy. As of 1932 the Western Canadian provinces were all technically bankrupt.
To make matters worse, Canadian wheat farmers suffered disaster after disaster in the years leading up to the Depression. There were years of drought, hailstorms, and even infestations of crop killing grasshoppers. People even began referring to the Prairies as “the Dust Bowl”. Simply put, wheat farmers had barely any wheat to sell, and what they had wasn’t selling for much. Because of the collapse of the export industry, in the early 1930s the price of wheat was the lowest in Saskatchewan’s recorded history. There are even accounts of farmers burning the wheat they managed to farm to heat their homes; it was cheaper than buying fuel.
Across Canada people were suffering. In 1933 one in five Canadians were dependent on government relief and scurvy and other diseases brought on by poor diets were not uncommon.
The Great Depression was truly a time of hardship, but you can also see ingenuity and resilience. Homemakers had the tough job of keeping their families fed on next to nothing. So they would use cheap ingredients like beans, noodles, hotdogs and potatoes, and ingredient stretching recipes like soups.
People were able to do remarkable things with what little they had. A mock apple pie featuring Ritz crackers instead of apples gained popularity during the decade, as did mock chicken made from pork (chicken was often more expensive). There were also recipes like water pie, dandelion salad (yes, the weeds), peanut butter stuffed onions, or creamed chipped beef. Some of these dishes tasted better than others, but that wasn’t the point. Homemakers had to keep their families fed, whether or not they enjoyed everything they were eating.
Another Depression-era meal is actually, the Canadian favourite, Kraft Dinner. First hitting the shelves in 1937, KD was a simple, inexpensive, non-perishable and meatless meal that could be stretched to feed a whole family. Plus, let’s be honest – it’s delicious.
They would also plan for leftovers. If you were able to have a chicken or a roast for Sunday dinner, you could be sure that for the next few days you’d be seeing leftovers in sandwiches or soups. And as a treat, you might get something like baked apples. This simple dish, made out of relatively cheap ingredients, would have made an excellent, but rare, dessert during these hard years. It’s a lot like an apple pie without the crust – those ingredients would have been used in another meal.
What people ate at any given time can tell us so much about what their lives were like. Food from the 1930s is all about going without; without meat, without eggs, or without fresh veggies. It was about using what you had to make up for what you couldn’t get. It was often simple or downright strange but it kept people going, day after day.
Be sure to share on social media whatever you create and tag the Sidney Museum.
Recipe adapted from The Canadian Homeschooler
- 4 apples
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 4 tbsp butter
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Core your apples. It’s best to do this with an apple corer, however if you don’t have one this can be carefully done with a knife.
- Put 1/2 tbsp in the bottom of each cored apple.
- Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and fill the cores of each apple. Ensure the apple is well filled, you may need to mix more sugar and cinnamon.
- Place 1/2 tbsp on top of each apple.
- Place the apples in an oven safe dish. Add a small amount of water to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Bake in the over from 45min – 1hr; until the apples are completely cooked. They may collapse, this is okay.