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What People Ate to Survive During the Dust Bowl

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In the early 1930s,na severe drought led to devastating dust stormsnthroughout the Southern Great Plains of the United States. The storms affected parts ofnsouthwest Kansas, northeast New Mexico, southeast Colorado,nand the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas in annarea that would come to be known as the Dust Bowl. The lack of rain madenfarming difficult, and the Dust Bowl residentsnbecame desperate for food. People had to makendo with what they had available and focusednon nutrition over taste to make some creative cuisine. Today, we’re lookingnat what people ate to survive in the Dust Bowl. But before we get started,nbe sure to subscribe to the Weird History channel. And let us know in the commentsnbelow what other food topics you would like to hear about. OK, let’s take a look at somenDust Bowl cuisine, where people thought the end ofnthe world was at hand when all traces of the dayndisappeared at 4:00 PM. [MUSIC PLAYING] If you live in a certainnpart of the United States, you’ve undoubtedlynseen tumbleweeds roll by on a windy day. You’ve probably never looked atna tumbleweed and thought, hey, there goes lunch. Almost nothing grew in thendevastated fields of the Dust Bowl, except for weeds. Tumbleweeds and common ediblenweeds like lamb’s quarters thrived as other crops perished. Tumbleweeds couldnalso be consumed raw, cooked like yournfavorite greens, or as an ingredient in soup. You won’t findnthat one on Noodles and Company’s secret menu. Out of desperation, familiesnbrined and canned the weeds to store for winter. It’s not exactly Green Giant,nbut at least it was edible. Canning was crucial to survival. Nearly 4,000 communityncanning kitchens tried to provide foodnto struggling families. Thanks to the efforts of thenBall Canning Corporation, families learned thenspecial canning skills they needed to preserve foodnduring this difficult time. [MUSIC PLAYING] During the Great Depression,nnutritionists emphasized the importance of milk, sonit became a common ingredient in recipes from the period. One bizarre example ofnthis is the strange case of popcorn with milk. Unlike popcorn at movientheaters today, popcorn was affordable for families hitnhard by the Great Depression. Instead of taking out ansecond mortgage to buy a bag of the delicious popcorn, youncould often get one for only $0.5 to $0.10. Adjusted for inflation,nthat’s about $1 to $2 in 2021. Instead of slathering thenpopular snack in butter, hungry individualsnpoured milk onto the corn and consumed it as a meal. It wasn’t even for breakfast. Popcorn with milk becamena dinnertime staple as the main course. One could argue thenmeeting of popcorn and milk might result in a soggy mess,nbut it was just another meal borne out of necessity. [MUSIC PLAYING] The taste of various foodsnwasn’t a huge priority for many Dust Bowl residents. Food had to bencheap and filling, so people developednrecipes with that in mind. The results were concoctionsnwe likely wouldn’t even consider eating today. Take the case of cornednbeef lunch and salad– this monstrosity was a volatilenmix of canned corn and peas combined with gelatin,nlemon juice, and vinegar. The dish was one of manynsimilar recipes from the era. In his book, A Square Meal– A Culinary History of the GreatnDepression, author Andy Coe called the dish “wrongnin every way possible.” It may not be gourmet,nbut at least it’s not meatless meatloafnor [BLEEP] shingle. [MUSIC PLAYING] Marmalade is a fantasticnbreakfast treat. Unfortunately,nthe oranges needed to make it were scarcenin the Dust Bowl. Author and English professornMildred Armstrong Kalish lived through the Dust Bowl. In her book, LittlenHeathens, she describes how her familynpreserved food on their farm. Kalish recalled that orangesnand bananas were a rare treat. They depended onnwhat was growing, so berries and carrotsnwere the order of the day. Since most folks lacked thencitrus to make marmalade, they substitutedncarrots to make jelly. Kalish described it in her book. “With oranges andnmoney in short supply, there was no way we couldnmake orange marmalade. But we did grownmarvelous carrots. When combined with justnone orange and some honey, they always made anvery tasty marmalade.” The recipe only usesn2 cups of raw carrots and a single large orange. And it was apparently delicious. She goes on to tell readers thatnshe never preserved the jelly, because they ate it too fast. And if theyndiscovered mold, they wouldn’t throw the jelly away. Instead, the kids justnscrape the mold off the top half inch of the jarnand ate the jelly anyway. [MUSIC PLAYING] When cooking oilnwas in short supply, people substituted baconngrease for their cooking needs. In addition to hernmarmalade recipe, Armstrong spoke atnlength about the benefits of bacon drippings in her book. She cooked with it constantly,nreferring to it as her family’s “Tuscan olive oil.” Sometimes her familyndrizzled the delicious grease over bread, eggs, ornseasonal vegetables. It also goes great with beans. Where is that steamablenfrozen broccoli dripping with bacon grease? Many people who livednthrough the Depression passed on the value of savingnbacon grease for later use to their children. There are still plentynof recipes and people online who swear by thenversatility of the grease today. [MUSIC PLAYING] While you probably wouldn’tneat the little yellow flowers today, dandelions providednan unlikely food source during difficult times. Dandelion salad wasnone such recipe, and it was easy to make. It started with pickingnplenty of dandelions, then you’d cut the flowersnand roots off the plant. After discardingnthe dead leaves, folks rinsed the fresh onesnwith water to remove dirt. Sometimes the leaves werensoaked in clean water or blanched to getnthem ready for a meal. The salad wouldnbe tossed together and sprinkled with lemonnjuice, olive oil, or salt. It ultimately created a nutty,nslightly bitter-tasting meal that probably went wellnwith bacon or cheese. [MUSIC PLAYING] Casseroles were a commonndish in the Dust Bowl. Casseroles were ideal asna vehicle for nutrition in a time when food was scarce. But when we sayn”casserole,” we’re not talking about baked ziti. Instead, casseroles were anjumble of nutritious and cheap ingredients. Many of them included a saucenmade of flour, buttermilk, and salt. This white saucenfound its way into many recipes from the era,nespecially casseroles. One of the worstnoffenders was probably spaghetti with whitensauce casserole. This nutritionalnnightmare involved mushy and overcooked spaghettinnoodles, boiled carrots, and the dreaded white sauce. Cooks baked thenmixture in a tray until it was blandnand ready to eat. The dish wasn’t supposednto have much flavor or get your familynexcited about dinner. But does anyone getnexcited about casseroles? Take a minute to discussnthat among yourselves. [MUSIC PLAYING] Everyone loves a slicenof cake once in a while. But what do you donif you don’t have the ingredients to make one? You improvise. People didn’t let the lacknof eggs, milk, and butter stop them from baking cakes. Instead, they used a blendnof spices, flour, and sugar to make a unique dessert. Water served as anmilk substitute, while baking powdernand vegetable oil replaced eggs andnbutter, respectively. Unlike other Dust Bowlnrecipes, this Depression cake was quite good. Despite being grantedna patent in 1935, instant cake mixesndidn’t really take off until after thenSecond World War. So these cakes werena good alternative during a rough time. [MUSIC PLAYING] Protein is an integralnpart of everyone’s diet. Jackrabbits fillednthis role admirably for Dust Bowl residents. A meal of jackrabbit,nbiscuits, and beans was almost a staple meal. In an area where virtuallynnothing was bountiful, jackrabbits were the exception. The rabbits thrived in thenwarm, dry weather and hunting the rabbits servedna dual purpose. The first was to provide annessential source of food. The second was tonprevent the rabbits from eating any ofnthe few crops that grew in the harsh environment. Farmers even had a clevernname for the critters– “Hoover hogs,” afternthe president they blamed for causing the GreatnDepression in the first place. [MUSIC PLAYING] Pickling has been anmeans of preserving food for thousands of years. So it would make sensento prepare for hard times by preserving as muchnfood as possible. And that’s what people livingnthrough the Dust Bowl did. People pickled berries andnother fruits during the summer. The storage-friendly fruitsncould be bartered or canned for special occasions. Pickling fruits is a prettynstraightforward dinnertime activity, just simmernwhole or sliced fruits in a syrup made withnvinegar or lemon juice. Afterward, you’ve gotna healthy portable food that’ll last for a while. [MUSIC PLAYING] Breakfast during thenDepression was a unique affair. Along with potato pancakesnand milk Milkorno, cornmeal mush was onenof the several breakfast foods popular amongnDust Bowl residents. While it’s not as strangenas some other options, it’s not something most ofnus think is a breakfast food. Similar to polenta,ncornmeal mush can be made by boilingnany grind of cornmeal in water until it thickens. It has a mildly sweetnflavor and could be eaten with milk ornfried for other recipes. The result was a surprisinglyntasty and robust dish that helped keep peoplenfed in times of great need. [MUSIC PLAYING] In other parts of the country,nsoup kitchens and bread lines helped feed the country. But soup especiallynbecame an essential part of the Great Depression diet. They were especiallynimportant in the Dust Bowl. Soups made from dried beans ornpeas became a household staple. A typical recipe might callnfor 1/2 a cup of pinto beans, 1/2 a cup of black-eyednpeas, and whatever veggies were available. People used flour andnwater to thicken the soup and often kept a pot of soup onntheir stoves around the clock. Eating soup was another waynof getting plenty of nutrition quickly and helped thenpeople of the Dust Bowl survive theirndevastating predicament. Would you ever try anynof these Dust Bowl foods? Let us know in thencomments below. And while you’re at it, checknout some of these other videos from our Weird History. [MUSIC PLAYING]


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What People Ate to Survive During the Dust Bowl
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