Kentucky Fried Depression Meals
While I am from Indiana, my cooking influences don’t always reflect as such. I learned how to cook from my grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression. My Grandmother Libby grew up in a small community called Paint Lick, Kentucky. The kind of town where farmers lived and street signs donned surnames. Libby moved to Indianapolis, IN, to wash her hands clean of farm life. Harvesting tobacco wasn’t becoming for a lady like my grandma.
Despite moving to the city and working for the Red Cross, Libby kept Kentucky culture on her sleeve. If you were ever around at dinner, it’d show in Libby’s cuisine and dialect. You don’t wash the dishes in Kentucky; you warsh them. Pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet tea served with mint ice cubes are standard fare. Anyone who ever visited Libby’s house was always invited over for dinner. I don’t make the rules; this is just how it was.
I never thought much of my accent or food choices until I met my partner. My partner’s family is very much from the north. Over the years, I became aware of my Kentucky inspired culinary rules and recipes that I plan to share with you today to enjoy a classic depression meal. So pull up a chair and pretend you’re in Libby’s kitchen.
Paprika is not an option for deviled eggs; it is mandatory. You will be verbally chastised for suggesting otherwise. Although cayenne pepper is a substitute, it’s not a good one. Green beans don’t belong in your kitchen without being braised in bacon and onions.
Cheese is not the only vehicle for elbow macaroni. Mac n tomatoes are a perfectly acceptable summer dinner. Even better if they’re made from the garden. Mac N tomatoes are a different dish than spaghetti. Mac N tomatoes are meat-free unless you have extra money to splurge on beef. Otherwise, its mostly comprised of onion, garlic, roughly diced tomatoes, and butter.
Poptarts and cereal for breakfast are unfit. Standard breakfast is eggs, bacon, and toast. During the summer, you may find a grapefruit half with a spoon accompanying your breakfast. Grapefruit is a special treat. On weekends you can expect dried beef gravy and biscuits. Dried beef gravy is chipped beef sliced into small pieces and fried in butter. From there, a roux is made with squirts of flour, Worcestershire sauce, milk, and pepper. The origin of dried beef gravy dates back to the united states military. Most notably refereed to as S.O.S or shit on a shingle.
Pickling need not be done in a jar. For the salad, you can fast pickle cucumbers, onions, or whatever you like. Thinly slice your vegetable, pour a little white or wine vinegar over, sprinkle salt and sugar. By the time your entree is done, your cucumbers and onions will be done romancing the vinegar.
One of my favorite memories of Libby is her story of trying to make candy. My grandma stole everything she could from the kitchen without her momma noticing. In a crop field, my grandma made a small fire she, and she got to work attempting to make candy. This candy was inedible, and from that day forward, Libby vowed she’d learn how to make real candy.
Every December in honor of that failed batch of candy made in a crop field, my grandma made potato candy. Grandma Libby’s potato candy wasn’t inedible. People said that they couldn’t believe it was potatoes and it was delicious. As grandma got older and her arthritis got worse, swirls no long happened. My grandma would mix the peanut butter in the entirety of potato candy. The aesthetic may have changed, but it was still the great comfort of home.
I have long told people that gravy is happiness, and pimento cheese is love. What I didn’t quite realize is depression-era foods heavily influenced my childhood menu. Potato candy, pimento cheese sandwiches, and S.O.S for breakfast are some of my fondest childhood memories. The feeling when your depression meal is a literal great depression meal.
Looking forward, I wonder what will be COVID meals for our grandchildren. I know we may not be running into a field with mommas sugar and making fires. However, a lot of us have been spending a considerable amount of time in our kitchens. We are making memories for generations to come. The food made in uncertainty lives on for brighter days.