Putting food on the table in times of want

Times of want

In times of want, people get desperate. Many women cannot cook and seem to take pride in that. It’s nothing to be proud of. Mama didn’t teach me how to cook. I learned through watching her when I was little and later through reading, and by trial and error. I wanted to be able to feed my family. If I can learn this way, anybody can. Personally I believe that everybody, men and women, need to know how to cook. I believe firmly that by the Lord’s design it’s normally a woman’s job to cook for her family just as it’s a man’s job to provide for his family but you just never know what might happen that the husband might need to put a meal on the table. Plus some men, like my son Tristan, just really love to cook.

I’ve known hard times nearly all my life. I’m not saying this to complain; there’s blessings in difficulties. One of the good things that came out of the poverty I’ve lived through is that I know how to feed a family when there is almost no food in the house. I’ve had to do that so many times. When there’s times of want we can’t put a feast on the table but we can still make the meals taste good.

I just want to make this clear: this isn’t me offering you cooking instructions. These aren’t recipes in the normal sense. I’m offering ideas for you to run with. Ideas for how to make do and keep your family fed during times of want. We’re not looking at health issues, healthy eating, or anything fancy. We’re looking at what we can do when we need to feed our family and there is little food in the house. I hope this helps some of y’all.


If you’ve got flour, some kind of fat or oil, and water, you can make gravy. Obviously, it won’t taste very good like this but it’d still be gravy. Just not good gravy. We want our gravy to taste good.

Southerners in general like gravy. It’s in our blood, I think, and borne of all the years of hardship that many Southerners have faced. Gravy was added to the table because it makes things taste good, it was easy, and it was inexpensive. So we used it and lots of it. Gravy has fallen out of favor in recent years due to the low fat craze but fat won’t kill you nor will it make you fat. It’s sugar that makes you fat. Gravy just makes you happy. At least it does me.

Milk gravy: Ah, milk gravy–this is my absolute favorite gravy in the world. If you’ve got bacon grease, you have the makings of a feast. At least in my born and bred Southern soul. Put a pan on the stove, add about 1/4 a cup of bacon grease and about an equal amount of flour. Stir until mixed well. Some like to brown it until it’s medium or dark brown but I like mine pale. Whatever you want, once it’s where you want it, add some milk until it’s thin as you’d like., approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups or so of milk. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over biscuits, toast, eggs, grits, mashed potatoes, rice, etc.

Me, I love milk gravy over buttermilk biscuits. There simply ain’t nothing better. I don’t eat it all the time, and honestly not even that often, but when I can get it I love it so much!

Sawmill gravy: True sawmill gravy would use cornmeal instead of flour but you get a completely different texture. Yes, gravy with cornmeal was a thing back in the days of the Depression and, to be honest, long before. But, say you’re using either–whichever–follow the directions above and then, instead of milk, add water. Stir. Serve over whatever you wish. It’s delicious.

Simple gravy from bouillon: Mix 1 1/2 cups water, 1 Tablespoon beef or chicken bouillon, and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. If using cubes, make it 2 cups water, 2 cubes, and a little over 1/3 cup of flour. If desired, add one onion that’s been diced or chopped and sautéed in butter. Stir into gravy. Bring to a boil over and cook until thickened. Serve with biscuits, toast, cornbread, mashed potatoes, rice, noodles, etc. Tasty over meat.

Tomato gravy: To a gravy base (I like to use milk gravy but others will do), add some tomatoes, and sprinkle in some sugar and salt to taste. Tomatoes are a fruit and the sugar really brings out their flavor and combats the acid. The salt makes the flavor snap. Now you don’t have to use fresh tomatoes though you could. I use diced or crushed tomatoes. Some folks like to add tomato paste or sauce instead of the diced or crushed or even along with it, and you can do as you wish but as for me, I prefer just the canned tomatoes. Play with it a bit to get the flavor you want. Tomato gravy is wonderful over biscuits, mashed potatoes, meat loaf, or fried meats.

Sausage gravy: Scramble one pound bulk sausage. Do not drain. Toss in up to 1/2 cup flour. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in milk or water. You can also add cooked onion, spices, and the like but I prefer mine plain.

Eggs and sausage gravy: Do the above but scramble some eggs and mix in with it. This is good over toast or biscuits or even served over grits.

Peas and beans

In the South after Sherman destroyed everything in sight, no one had anything. He and his men killed all the animals and destroyed the crops. They left peas in the field. That’s it. Black eyed peas and then only because they thought it was food for animals. The thing is, there’s a lot you can do with peas–they just didn’t know that!

Today you can look online and find lots of ways to cook peas, black-eyed or otherwise. Back then, women were raised by their mamas knowing how to cook so they were able to figure things out for themselves. That’s my goal: to be able to figure things out and to help you to do so.

If you’ve got peas–any kind–or beans, water, bacon grease, and salt and pepper, you’ve got a feast. No kidding. But you can…if you absolutely must…use margarine or butter in your peas instead of bacon grease. Just kidding, they will still taste good. You can also cook beans or peas in chicken bouillon. Tasty. Or add in some bacon, sausage, a ham hock, some ham bits, and so on. Peas and beans are forgiving. Your family, well, you have to decide that. Serve your peas or beans with cornbread or biscuits. Top with a bit of hot pepper vinegar or hot sauce. Delicious!

Besides serving as is, there’s a lot you can do with beans or peas. Here’s a couple of ideas. Look online for others.

Make a bean/pea soup: Mama made a dish that was large lima beans (called pocketbook lima beans), black eyed peas, and tomatoes. She prepared the lima beans first, then the peas, added together, mixed in tomatoes she’d canned, and seasoned. She served them with cornbread. Sometimes she’d leave them more soupy and that was my favorite way. I loved to soak my cornbread in the juices. But even if they weren’t as juicy, they were still great. There was still some juice to sop in. Man, that was some good eating! But you can go farther. Toss in cooked rice or cooked diced potatoes. Add in other vegetables (corn, greens, okra, carrots, whatever you’ve got). Mix in some meat. Add in seasoning (Cajun, cayenne, or whatever you want). Just make sure that all vegetables are done before serving. You don’t want crunchy carrots or potatoes messing up the meal.

Poor man’s steak: When the peas are done, you can drain them, mash them, add in some flour or cornmeal, an egg, add seasoning and even diced veggies as desired and fry them. And then you’ve got…Poor man’s steak. That’s what they called it. It’s basically a vegetarian “meat” patty. See, the South was doing the cool thing long before it was the cool thing because we had to eat and this is what we had. We long survived on beans, peas, fried whatever was on hand, and gravies. But back to this. You can even put this patty between a bun, should you so desire. Or serve it with gravy over it. After all, everything is better with gravy!

Fried anything

Prepare whatever it is you wish to fry (meat, vegetables). Down here we fry everything. You can batter and fry nearly any meat. You can fry squash, onions, potatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes and many other vegetables in this method. Frying makes many foods seem more special and were often served in place of meat in times of want.

So, on with it. Set out a bowl of flour (self-rising or all-purpose will do; you can even use a biscuit mix or pancake mix if it’s all you have). Beat an egg, mix with a bit of milk and set aside. Prepare another bowl with flour but mix this one with spices or salt and pepper (to taste). Dip your meat or vegetables into the plain flour, then into egg mixture. Then dip into seasoned flour. If you desire a cornmeal coating, instead of dipping in seasoned flour, dip in seasoned cornmeal (or even in seasoned cornmeal mix). Fry in hot oil. Drain.


Behold the humble potato. To my Irish heart, potatoes are gold. I love them. You can’t go wrong with a potato. If you have some potatoes, you can feed your family well. Sliced, diced, fried, baked, boiled, as patties, in soup or whatever, potatoes are wonderful. Here’s some ideas.

Baked potatoes: Wash your potato. Slice it. Rub oil or butter over it. Wrap in tinfoil and bake in the oven. If you are cooking something else, just toss it in on whatever temp you’ve got the oven on already. Otherwise, I like to cook them on 450 to 500 degrees for about an hour if they are large potatoes and a shorter time for smaller ones, but if dinner is a while away I stick with 350. Completely forgiving. Just cook until soft. Now here’s the neat part: When the potatoes are done, you get to top them. I like mine with butter. Just butter. But sometimes you have more and want to do more.

Potatoes taste good with butter, sour cream (or yogurt or cottage cheese), shredded cheese, and diced bacon. They are yummy with cooked broccoli and cheese sauce. For an Idaho Sunrise (seriously, that’s the name) fry an egg and plop it right on top of your baked and squished open tater. My Father-in-law Paul introduced me to that one and it’s so good! You can also top potatoes with gravy, chopped ham and shredded cheese, any kind of chili and fixing’s, taco meat, salsa, and with vegetables of any kind with a sprinkling of cheese. Or just experiment; I’m sure it’ll be good.

Mashed potato patties: These are also known a potato pancakes. If you have left-over mashed potatoes, mix some with a beaten egg, a bit of flour, and if needed to thin a bit of milk. Season as desired. If you want to, dice an onion in it. I love it this way but since I can’t eat onion, we don’t usually add it. You can also toss in some bacon bits just for fun. Heat oil in a pan and drop by scoops. Spread out and flatten. You don’t want the patty too thick or it won’t fry right. Fry on one side and then the other until golden. You want them crispy. Serve however you wish.

You can serve gravy over potato patties. Eat them with eggs and bacon. Eat as a side dish. These are great with applesauce (which I also can’t have as I can’t eat apples but my daughters adore these with applesauce). You can even use ketchup; some do, though why you’d want to is a mystery to me.

Mashed potato soup: Mix mashed potatoes with some combination of bouillon (chicken), milk, or even water and milk powder. If desired add bacon bits and/or cheese. We often use processed cheese spread. Thin as desired. I prefer it a bit thicker, some in my family like it a bit thinner. Top with sour cream, yogurt, cheese, bacon bits, or make a delicious sauce out of a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise (mix to taste, I prefer a bit more mayo and the others liked it more balanced) and add in diced raw onions–don’t laugh. I saw this sauce on a Paula Deen show over a decade ago and it’s great. She called it ‘Tater Sauce. She actually served it over baked potatoes so there’s that. Our family loves it in our potato soup. Serve your soup with crackers, cornbread, biscuits, etc.


Yes, crackers. Crackers are a great way to stretch your budget if you either make them yourself or buy the more inexpensive store brands. I usually have saltines, buttery crackers, graham crackers, and oyster crackers on hand. None of these are expensive and they have so many uses. You can oil them and season them and heat them in the oven to crisp. My children used to love the Ranch snack crackers recipe.

You can slather peanut butter on one side and top them with another cracker (graham crackers are great for this but so are others). Top your cracker with any kind of dip or sauce. Some I’ve seen serve them with salsa. Ain’t no accounting for taste, y’all. But seriously, you can serve crackers along side of just about anything. You can use them to make a crust or for topping recipes. Some folks like to break up saltines in a glass of milk just like you would cornbread. Did you know you can even make a salad out of them? Well, you can. Here’s how:

Cracker salad: Dice a tomato. Some folks take the seeds out, I don’t. Smash up some saltines, maybe 1/4 of a sleeve. I like to leave little chunks for texture but it’s up to you how mashed they are. Toss with your diced tomatoe and mix the whole lot with a small dollop of mayonnaise (seriously, just a little bit; you can add more if needed but you can’t take it out). If desired, add in some salt and pepper but I think it’s good without seasoning as the crackers are already salty (we don’t buy the unsalted saltines). Tastes kinda like a crunchy tomato sandwich. You do need to eat it pretty soon after it’s made or it will get very soggy very fast. It sure is tasty. If you are making enough for everybody, Southern Bite has a great recipe.

Well, that’s all for now. Remember, the Lord gives us the ability to afford food, whether through growing our own or through the money to purchase food, and He gives us the ability to gain the knowledge to prepare it well. This, as in everything, is done for His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Photo by Katerina Smirnova on Unsplash

Consider supporting this work by becoming a patron: Become a Patron!

You may also like...