The depression era was a time of frugality and creativity. You might be wondering what parents during that era fed their families while staying on a tight budget. Indeed, maybe you’re looking to take their advice for yourself to save some money!
Depression-era foods that come to mind are hot dogs and, of course, that mystery meat in a can called Spam. But what kind of hearty, nutritious meals did they eat on a regular basis? By far, the most popular was chipped beef on toast!
This one-of-a-kind depression-era recipe is plentiful, inexpensive, and tasty. Today we’ll share our Chipped Beef on Toast Recipe from our Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression study.
So, whether you’re studying the 1900s through the depression era with your kids, or you’re just looking to save a few bucks, try including this meal in your weekly menu.
The Depression Era
Families who lived in the country during the 1930s grew their own fruit and vegetables, and raised chickens, cattle, and pigs. They even made their own bread, canned food, and sewed their own clothes.
However, city dwellers during this time bought their food like most of us do today – meat from the butcher, pre-packaged bread and eggs, canned vegetables, and more.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, an era called the Great Depression ruined lives and left many households unemployed and impoverished. While farming families were self-sufficient and could continue to put food on the table, city folks were in for a rude awakening.
Just ten years prior, during the Roaring Twenties, middle-class working families lived in a booming economy. These people lived comfortably with regular vacations, visits to the movie theatre, and frequent dining out.
A few short years later, the economy would be flipped upside down, and men, husbands, and fathers alike would be losing their jobs. If they were fortunate, they would keep their jobs but have their wages cut and their hours reduced to part-time.
The price of food skyrocketed, and suddenly it wasn’t just the poor kids who were hungry. Women, who were in charge of the household and meals, needed to learn how to stretch their food budget and make more with less.
One-dish dinners and church potlucks helped many families get by. Meals we still enjoy today – such as casseroles, chili, macaroni and cheese, soups, and of course, chipped beef on toast – were popular choices.
The History Behind Chipped Beef on Toast
It seems evident that homemakers invented chipped beef on toast during the depression era, but we actually have our WWII vets to thank for this one. This meal was a traditional army recipe that was super easy to make, cheap, and incredibly filling.
Chipped beef on toast – otherwise known by soldiers as S.O.S, which stood for “Save Our Stomachs,” “Same Ole Stuff,” or another acronym we’d rather leave out…
Chipped beef on toast often got a bad rap by soldiers as it was a bit bland and eaten practically every day. In its original version, ingredients typically involved beef stock, evaporated milk, flour, toast, butter, and dried beef.
The idea was to toast some bread and combine all of the other ingredients together to create a gravy with meat – resembling what we know today as “biscuits and gravy.” Even after the war ended, vets returned home, longing for comfort food like S.O.S.
Although the meal started to become well known in America, it didn’t become a staple food until the Great Depression. Notorious for being inexpensive and filling, women were encouraged to adopt this recipe into their weekly meal planning.
Even though many Great Depression-era children probably weren’t picky eaters, this “next to nothing” recipe just downright wasn’t very appetizing. Many mothers would reinvent this recipe to make it taste better with various spices. They also added vegetables as a way to make it more nutritious.
How to Make Chipped Beef on Toast
The original recipe for chipped beef on toast may not sound so tasty. However, our recipe is an adapted form that is quite good! This warm and cozy meal is perfect on a rainy day and is sure to bring back memories of your great-grandparents.
While a side dish for chipped beef on toast isn’t ordinarily necessary since it’s already a very filling dish, a great side to include could be vegetables or even mashed potatoes.
- 5 oz. dry chipped beef
- 2 1/2 c. milk
- 5 Tbs. butter
- 5 Tbs. flour
- pepper to taste
- bread for toast optional: fresh or frozen
- peas (10 oz. bag)
- Chop up the chipped beef into small strips and set aside.
- Steam peas and set aside.
- In a large frying pan, melt the butter.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and milk until it contains no lumps.
- Add mixture to the butter and whisk until it forms a cream sauce. Add pepper to taste.
- Add in the chipped beef and peas and turn the heat down to simmer (if the sauce thickens, add milk sparingly to thin).
- Toast the bread.
- Place toast on plates and cover with creamed chipped-beef mixture.
Are you wondering, “where can I buy chipped beef”? Chipped beef comes in jars and can be found in the canned meat section in your grocery store. Note that chipped beef tastes VERY salty. So, feel free to rinse the beef in water to remove some of the salt.
More Historical Recipes and Great Depression Resources
We hope this historic recipe is a win for both your stomach and wallet! This recipe is also a great conversation starter with your kids – from WWII to the Great Depression, and even just about poverty and how blessed we are to afford the food in our cupboards.
For more resources on the Great Depression and the Stock Market Crash, check out our Industrial Revolution to the Great Depression study, covering several eras from the 1860s to 1939.
Topics include: The Transcontinental Railroad, The Indian Wars, The Gilded Age, Innovations & Inventors, Immigration, Growth of the Nation, People of Interest, The Progressive Era, WWI, The Roaring 20s, The Stock Market Crash, The Dust Bowl, and much more.
We also have six other Time Travelers U.S. History Studies, so be sure to check them out!
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