Clara's Kitchen

I recently finished a really sweet, and wonderful book called Clara's Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression.  It is a blend of memoir and cookbook which suits me just ideally.  Clara shares stories, tips, and recipes she grew up with and that helped her family survive some really, really tough times.  It is both interesting and also quite useful for people, like myself, with a leaning towards (voluntary) simple living.

I first discovered Clara on youtube.  I am not really sure how now.  She has a channel there, Great Depression Cooking, with nice videos of her making the recipes found in the book.  I made Pasta and Peas right off the bat based on the video.  Then I got the book from the library.

The book is filled with practical and sharp tips such as "If you don't think you have time to exercise, just clean your kitchen.  I think its kind of silly--the people jogging.  Scrubbing my floors and counters makes everything strong, and my kitchen looks good," or "If you run out of oil, just add a little water to your pan.  It will keep food from sticking--and its free," or "Remember, there's nothing like sharing a nice plate of pasta with the people you love to brighten even the darkest days."  Brilliant, practical stuff.

There are even a few games in there.  I've probably never been prouder to be a Bunco player than when I saw that listed as something to do "while the water boils." 

Of course, there are also a few bits of wisdom that have been called into doubt, such as her mother's test for wild mushrooms which involved frying the mushrooms with a quarter.  If the quarter turned black the mushrooms were supposedly toxic.  While Clara and her brother obviously lived to tell the tale I doubt that is a practice I will be adopting any time soon.  In fact, I am too intimidated by toxic mushrooms to go mushroom hunting at all.  Of course, mushrooms aren't my favorite food either so I don't have a strong drive to go picking for that reason, too.

Probably most surprising though was how many of her recipes bore a striking resemblance to meals Matt and I make.  Recipes like Pasta with Beans, Eggplant Burgers, Spinach with Rice, or Pasta With Garlic and Olive Oil. Clara says her family ate pretty well during the Depression because they always had a garden so there was always vegetables.  Meat was a rarity and extra special as a result.

It is certainly a book that makes one feel grateful.  I've never known real hunger in my life.  I've always had food to eat every day.  But, Clara's attitude is not one of self-pity.  It is one of self-reliance and simple needs.  She says growing up they didn't realize they were going without because they never expected to get anything beyond the basics.  Consequently when they did get a treat, like holiday cookies, meat ragu, or a night at a dance hall, it was a truly special and savored occasion.  I think that is a swell way to be.

In my small way I've felt this, too.  The incredible pleasure from a special--yet simple--treat.  Like when I make a loaf of all white-flour bread.  Or when the tomatoes are in season.  Or when I splurge on an organic soda (I used to be a soda junkie you may recall).  Or when I stop at an old-timey candy store and treat myself.  Those things are a lot more special and pleasurable to me now that I don't just have white flour, tomatoes, soda, candy, etc all willy-nilly, everyday.  It is pretty incredible really.  I like it a lot.

I am really glad that Clara's grandson recognized the need to get this sort of wisdom and history recorded, not just for his family, but for the sake of the future, before it was too late.

Clara turns 96 this year.  She still seems as full of life as ever.  And now her family recipes and stories will live on for even more generations.


  1. This book sounds wonderful, thank you for sharing it. This one is definitely going in my "to read" journal. (okay, I don't really have a "to read" journal per se, but I do have a list ;-)

  2. I saw on her on youtube and the book sounds really interesting. They had a great deal of knowledge on getting by on nothing during the great depression and it would be sad if these things didn't get passed on. I'm putting this one on my list. By the way I also used to have a soft drink (as we call soda) addiction. Only an occasional treat now.

  3. I have heard of Clara and I think the book sounds great. I will have to I.L.L. it from our little library.
    A treat for me is coffee out rather than at home. Once in awhile my husband and I eat out for lunch. There is a small restaurant in Choteau that serves a garden panini with feta cheese, sprouts and a variety of vegetables. It is wonderful.
    So far no snow up here and it's not windy today either. Yahoo!

  4. I love Clara's videos. Maybe I don't get as much from these videos as young people. It seems like most recipes are opportunities to go to the grocery and buy something not already in the house. My mother could put together a meal from simple things.

    My father suffered from hunger during The Great Depression, so he demanded meat at all meals. However, he had to have his bowl of beans too, nothing fancy, just beans, salted and peppered and seasoned with just a bit of meat or bones. Oh, he had to have potatoes often.

    My mother had a better diet and more food. But, she grew up on a large farm (90) acres. Her life was not abundant, but not deprived.

    Many times, I make do with what is here, leaving out the thing I don't have or adding something else. Often, I am not making do, I am just eating what I have or using up vegetables that are going to be wilted if I don't tend to them. Rarely do I make a grocery run just for dinner or a meal I have my heart set on eating.

    It sounds like Claras's book would be especially good for young people who wish not to be bound to recipes that call for a trip to the store. Or, for folk of any age that have not learned how to cook with what they have, making do.

  5. First paragraph in my comment where I said most recipes require a trip to the store--I was referring to most recipe books, not Clara's.

  6. Both my parents were children of the Great Depression. We were raised not to waste anything and to stock pile. It was just the way things were done when you lived out in the boonies. I think it is awesome that so many people are moving back in that direction.

    Once a week growing up we had what Momma called Duke's Mixture. She made something out of all the leftovers for a meal. The refrigerator got cleaned out once a week and we very rarely threw any food out and if we did the dog usually got it!

  7. I requested it from the library after reading this post. It's waiting for me to pick it up now. Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. Hooray for the library! I hope you enjoy it!


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