Feeding our family in times of deprivation can be so hard. It’s made far harder when we don’t know how to use the limited ingredients we might have on hand.
There’s nothing worse as a mama and wife than not knowing how to take care of your family. I’ve faced many times of deprivation through the years but God prepared me to be able to keep on feeding my family because I learned how to make do with little and make it taste good.
I was raised by a mother who was raised in the Great Depression. When I was tiny, she fled from my abusive father, taking me with her, and we lived on so very little for so very long. Even though she never taught me to cook, I grew up observing how she cooked and kept us fed. I was always fascinated by the ways my folks survived during the Depression. The times were so hard but my mother’s family still managed to eat. So I gathered family recipes and read over many old Great Depression resources, books, and articles. I applied what I learned as best I could.
Feeding our family during hard times doesn’t mean that food has to taste bad. I’ve actually heard this claim and, I’m sorry, but it’s ridiculous. Food can be made to taste good in times of little if you have the knowledge you need. This is why I’ve taught all of my children to cook.
In this limited format, there’s not a lot I can teach you about cooking so I’m going to keep my advice simple and simply share some ideas and make suggestions about things you can do with little. Assuming you know your way around the kitchen at least a bit and you have access to some basic supplies, here’s some things you can do to feed your family well when the wolf is at the door.
One way to stretch a limited food budget is to plan as many meals as possible around one item. Today, we’ll focus on two items. No matter how much or how little we have, the Lord is our Provider. We are called to be good stewards, whether of much or of little.
Feeding our family eggs
Eggs can be served in so many ways: scrambled, fried, boiled, poached, cheesy, scrambles, soups, casseroles, omelets or frittatas.
If you don’t know how to scramble eggs so that they remain soft, that’s your first lesson. Beat your eggs and season as desired and set aside. Put your pan on the fire and, once it’s heated add butter, bacon grease, olive oil, etc. Let it melt or warm well and then remove from the fire. Immediately pour your eggs into the pan and start stirring. If the pan cools too much to continue cooking, briefly put it over the fire again and continue cooking. Be careful you don’t leave it on the fire too long. Remove once heated and continue cooking off the fire. Pour your eggs up while they are still a bit wet looking. They will continue cooking from the residual heat but remain soft and fluffy.
Cheesy eggs are simply eggs scrambled with cheddar cheese. You can substitute processed cheese or any other cheese you would prefer. Pepper jack, for instance, or Mexican cheese blend are both quite good.
Eggs are good scrambled with cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, or cream cheese. Add chives, green onions, bacon bits, or other add-ins as desired.
You can make a sandwich: Fried or scrambled eggs on toasted buttered (or with mayonnaise) bread makes a filling and tasty supper. To me, little is more comforting than a scrambled egg sandwich (and I am not a sandwich lover). Another tasty sandwich starts with boiled eggs. You slice them and layer them on bread or toast (buttered or with mayo) along with sliced salted tomatoes. You can eat as is or add cheese. Very tasty. There’s many other ways you can make eggs into sandwiches: fried egg, cheese, onion, and bacon or sausage; scrambled eggs with veggies; poached eggs served on top of a open faced grilled cheese sandwich (just put butter in a skillet, add bread, top with cheese, and brown). Just use your imagination.
Eggs served in biscuits. With or without bacon or sausage and/or cheese, egg and biscuits are a classic combination.
Eggs are delicious served in an English muffin. You know, McSomething or other style.
Sub rolls or croissants or even bagels for an egg sandwich. Some have even subbed donuts. I would never but they liked it.
A simple deli plate can be made out of a boiled egg, crackers, pickles, a bit of cheese or fruit. Add or subtract according to what you have and if you have other things that would taste yummy, add it.
Deviled eggs are a must when times are hard. Deviled means spicy. Boil a couple of eggs, shell, dice or mash, add a tiny bit of mayo and a tiny bit of mustard, and relish to taste. If you are making a larger amount, adjust as needed. You can add just about anything in this: bacon, Cajun spices, hot sauce, ham, cheese, celery, onion, and lots of other ingredients. It really is a do whatever you can or want to type of recipe.
Egg salad is a classic: Boil your eggs, dice or mash them, add a bit of mayo and/or a bit of mustard, and if you have it a bit of relish (dill or sweet). If you can and want to, add a bit of celery, a little onion, and the like. This makes a good sandwich filling or you can serve it with crackers.
Goldenrod eggs or creamed eggs: Boil eggs. Dice or slice. Make a simple white sauce–1/4 cup oil or margarine or butter and 1/4 cup flour (whatever you have; even biscuit mix or pancake mix will do in a pinch). Add a dash or two or three of salt and pepper to taste. Mix in one cup of water or milk. Heat in microwave until thickened, stirring before you start microwaving and every minute thereafter. It will likely take about three minutes to thicken completely. Mix eggs in and serve over toast, biscuits, or whatever you have. Make it fancier by adding cheese, bacon, cooked sausage, peppers, onions, butter, etc.
Soft boiled eggs (boiled for four minutes) are delicious peeled and diced up in salad, served with toast, chopped up in grits or oatmeal, or dipped in salt and pepper. If hard boiled eggs are more your style, you can easily substitute them.
Fried eggs are great mashed up in grits, cream of wheat, or oatmeal. It was the only way Mama could get me to eat the white of fried eggs. I wasn’t picky about many things (as long as I was getting real food and not junk food, I’d eat it) but I was picky about fried egg whites. I found that they were delicious mashed up in these foods. The only other way I’d eat a fried egg was in a fried egg sandwich.
Beat eggs and mix with tomatoes, canned or fresh. These are great scrambled as is, or you can add in other vegetables such as onions and peppers. You can also scramble eggs with bits of bacon, or ham, or sausage, or even salami or pepperoni. If you have other veggies on hand, you can add them too.
Egg drop soup. This is a simple mixture of chicken broth (or bouillon and water), rice vinegar and soy sauce. Add your beaten egg in a stream. Remove from heat immediately. Serve.
Egg in a hole. There’s multiple ways to do this but the way I do it is to butter the bread front and back, use a small glass or a biscuit cutter and cut a hole in it. Heat a pan, add the buttered bread. Drop a bit of butter in the middle. Crack an egg in the hole. Cook until set, puncturing the white as needed so it cooks evenly. Flip and cook briefly, browning the bread but not firming the eggs. Add the hole to the pan and cook on both sides until brown. Serve. If you don’t like the yolk being runny, you can puncture it. You can add shredded cheese on top and let it melt a bit.
Idaho sunrise: My father-in-law introduced me to this. Bake a potato and split it. If you want to, you can butter it, maybe add salt and pepper but you don’t have to. Fry an egg and plop on top. It’s about as cheap a main dish as you can make.
Make a simple gravy and mix scrambled eggs in it. Milk, water, or sawmill gravy is good and inexpensive. If you’ve got a some sausage on hand, sausage gravy is also good with scrambled eggs mixed in it.
Eggs served in hash. You can used canned corned beef hash or you can make your own out of diced potatoes and onions and some kind of meat (ground beef, sausage, kielbasa, chicken, turkey, ham, etc.). Either cook the hash and serve the eggs along side it or put your hash in a pan and, make indentions and drop your raw eggs into the holes and put in oven to bake until they are set.
Tramp eggs are so good and one of my son’s favorites. I found the recipe in an old cookbook. The story goes that during the Great Depression a tramp came by this home asking for a meal in exchange for work. While he worked chopping wood and straightening up, the mother made these eggs along with a few other items. When the tramp finished eating, he asked her for the recipe so he could share it with his wife when he got home, “These are the best eggs I’ve ever eaten,” he said. We decided to try them and loved them. Hopefully, you will too. Here’s how you make them: Butter a casserole dish (small for a few eggs, larger for a big family), crack raw eggs in the bottom of the dish (as many or as few as you want), pour some milk around them so it covers about half way up the eggs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with shredded cheddar (substitute with whatever cheese you have). Bake at 350 until egg whites are set. The yolk should still be somewhat runny but you can cook them until hard cooked if you desire to.
And, finally, baked eggs and crackers. Get out a casserole dish, add some butter you have browned and two cups of milk, and then pour four beaten eggs into pan. Top with 16 to 20 crushed crackers (saltines or Ritz or whatever you have). Bake at 350 until set. If you want to, you could top with cheese before baking. Before adding the crackers, you could also add bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, etc.
There’s many other ways you could prepare eggs in a pinch. You simply have to think outside of the box.
Feeding our family with flour
Well, obviously we’re not going to be feeding our family just flour (though as a little girl, I enjoyed the taste of browned flour but then, I was a little strange). What we’re going to do is talk about feeding our family with recipes that focus on flour. Remember that, in a pinch, you can substitute pancake mix, biscuit mix, AP, or SR, or even bread flour for the kind of flour called for. Now I won’t claim that it will work perfectly but it will keep your family fed. Use what called for if you can; if not, do what you can.
If you can make pancakes somehow, you can adjust the pancakes to your taste or according to what you have on hand. You can toss in bits of banana or berries, canned pumpkin, diced apple, applesauce, cocoa and extra sugar, chocolate chips, coconuts, nut pieces (in old recipes, nuts were called nut meats–just in case you wondered what nut meats were), or even candies such as white chocolate chips, tiny M&M’s and other tiny or soft candies. Or add in shredded cheese, bacon (cooked), or sausage (cooked), flavorings such as maple, rum, coconut, vanilla, etc. You could also mix in sprinkles and extra sugar and vanilla. You can add spices such as nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and the such. Or, well, you get the idea. Make the mix a little less thin and you can cook it in a waffle iron.
Feeding our family biscuits opens up a world of possibilities. You can stuff them, serve with butter, syrup, molasses, sugar (something often done during the Depression), use them for sopping, and so on. Leftovers can be used to add to leftover cornbread, onions, celery, sage, eggs, etc., and served as dressing. You can make bread pudding out of them. You can crumble them up, mix with cooked sausage or hamburger meat or whatever you have, some veggies, and milk, broth, or cheese sauce and make a use it up casserole. Another use it up casserole can be made with crumbled biscuits, cooked sausage, and apples or applesauce. Onions are a good addition as is cinnamon or other warm spices. Mix well, tweak as needed, and bake.
Instead of baking biscuits, make your biscuit dough and roll out in a rectangle. Butter if desired then sprinkle with some combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, tiny bits of diced up apple, raisins, cinnamon sugar, sugar and various warm spices (as desired…nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves), cream cheese, peaches or pears (canned is fine), maple sausage or sausage with maple flavored syrup, nuts, honey, syrup, etc. OR…roll out in rectangle, sprinkle with cooked scrambled eggs, boiled diced eggs, cheese, cooked bacon, cooked sausage (any kind), cooked diced potatoes, cooked onions or peppers, and so on. OR…roll into rectangle, spread cream cheese, sprinkle with some combination of cooked sausage, hamburger, chicken, sausage, cheese, chives, green onions, cooked veggies such as potatoes, onions, peppers, peas, carrots, and so on. Then…no matter how you’ve prepared it, you then roll it up on the long side. Crimp together. Slice into pinwheels. Bake at 400 on greased cookie sheet until it’s a bit brown. Remove. Cool. If sweet, add a glaze, if desired, of powdered sugar and a bit of milk or water.
Flat bread: My children love this and used to call it Lord’s Supper bread because it’s not leavened. Mix AP flour with water until thin. Spoon out into hot oil like a thin pancake. Brown. Flip. Eat it as is or roll up with whatever you wish inside it.
That’s it for today. No matter what little we’ve got, a little creativity, some spices, and a bit of time can deliver a decent and perhaps somewhat unusual but tasty meal and we’ll be feeding our family well.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Photo by Anna Auza on Unsplash